It all began at the top of a hill overlooking the Temple of Borobudur and the countryside around. Slowly, the vanishing clouds revealed the fascinating cone of a volcano. This is Gunung Merapi, my guide Joko said.
A quick look towards my friend and it was decided: “We want to be walking up there tomorrow. Possible?” I told the guide. “Sure! No problem!”. We already had a very short night the day before, and we were going for a totally sleepless night climbing one of the most powerful volcanoes of Indonesia. We must be a little crazy.
Joko gave a few phone calls and quickly organized everything. A 4-wheel drive car came to pick us up and took us to some shelter on the lower slopes of the volcano to meet our guide on the volcano. It was around 1 a.m. when we started hiking.
In the beginning we were walking up a path among fields, under a starry sky, with a perfect view to the nearby Merbabu Volcano. I always love the feeling of climbing a mountain at night, your discovery of the place is limited by the night. As you can’t see much more than what your flashlight lights up, your other senses get more developed. That night, we were lucky to have a full moon illuminating the mountain.
After a long moment following the paths across the fields covering the slopes of the volcano, we reached a kind of very rocky plateau, at the foot of the top cone of the volcano. The night sky was very clear, with thousands of stars. In the distance could be seen the shining lights of the city of Solo, under a thin layer of mist.
That’s where the most fun part of the ascent began. The Merapi Volcano had exploded less than a year before we climbed it, and the top cone was made of a very unstable accumulation of ash and lava rocks. The main danger is that when several persons are climbing in line, the first climber can make some stones roll directly to the head of the persons below. It was really fun to climb that slope on all fours. I was like a kid. It was a real feeling of adventure and exploration.
We arrived at the top for a magical sunrise. It felt like we were on a platform high in the middle of the sky with the Earth at our feet. Across the giant hole of the crater, the triangular shadow of the volcano was projected on the clouds.
The crater was very impressive. A whole part of the mountain had been pulverized. That’s how you can realize the immense power of a volcano. It is tempting to say that you beat the volcano when you struggled and managed to reach the top. But with such sights you become a little more humble and consider that the volcano just tolerated you!
We stayed for a while around the crater, walking around and having breakfast against a big rock, with a light smell of sulfur in the air. Some toxic gas was escaping the rocks here and there, coming from the depths of the volcano.
It was time to go down. We let ourselves slide down the unstable slope and quickly reached the rocky plateau. I could finally see what this place looked like under a bright sun, as I had only seen what the moon light had allowed me to see during the ascent. There was a fantastic view to the neighboring volcanoes.
Amazingly, all life hasn’t been exterminated by the recent eruption, some shrubs and ferns were already growing back.
Then we had to cross the fields back. I disliked the last part of the descent. Most people find going up hard and find it easy to walk down. I don’t mind going up at all, and I find it very uncomfortable to go down a slope, because the gravity doesn’t allow me to go at my pace. But that’s just a detail in the whole experience anyway.
By mid-morning we were back at the car, ready to take us back to Borobudur. This ascent of Gunung Merapi was filled with fantastic views and feelings. It will remain a highlight of my traveler’s life.
A Little More About The Merapi Volcano
Gunung Merapi (“Mountain of Fire” in Javanese) is probably the most active volcano in the whole Indonesian Archipelago. It lies on the border between the province of Central Java and the one of Jogjakarta.
Its last eruption phase took place from October 2010 to February 2011. These panoramas and pictures were taken a few months later, in July 2011.
Mount Merapi’s eruptions are very explosive and powerful, and kill many with pyroclastic flows. Pyroclastic flows are made of extremely hot gases, ashes and rocks flowing down the slope of the volcano at high speed, destroying everything and killing everyone on its way.