Gunung Semeru (3676m) is the highest mountain in Java, and one of the most active volcanos in Indonesia. In 2010 we turned back due to volcanic activity, but 3 years have passed and we're back to make a new attempt.
From Surabaya to Malang
After a few lazy days on the beach in Gili Islands, we flew with Citilink (subsidiary of Garuda) from Lombok to Surabaya (1 hour, USD 40). Arriving Surabaya after dark, we decided to stay one night in this chaotic city. Next morning we headed for the huge terminal outside of Surabaya and quite easily found a bus to Malang. This is just a 2-3 hours busride, depending on traffic.
Not many travellers go to Malang, but the few who do, seem to prefer Helios Hotel. They have rooms in all kind of price categories, starting from 100,000 IDR, as well as a dormitory option for backpackers on a very tight budget. We had no particular time constraints, so we decided to stay in Malang for one night. Then we would have plenty of time to check out the transportation options to Ranupani and also buy food supplies for the trek.
From Malang to Ranupani
Next morning we headed for the bus terminal (Arjosari) to see if we could get a cheap Angkot (share-van) to Tumpang. We found the Angkot, but it took an awful lot of time to wait for other passengers. Actually no-one showed up during the next 30 minutes, so we gave up. We had no more time to waste, so we headed over to the taxis to negotiate a price to Tumpang. When we figured out it was only 100,000 IDR for the 45 minutes drive, we agreed instantly. The Angkot would have taken almost two hours to cover the same distance to Tumpang, so taxi is indeed a timesaving and quite affordable alternative.
Once in Tumpang the taxi driver was very helpful in finding a jeep for Ranupani. We already knew that a jeep would be costly (600,000 IDR), but there is almost no other alternatives. A motorbike taxi (150,000 IDR) might be a good option if you are a solo traveller and you don't have a heavy backpack. But I was worried about rain and safety, so I much rather preferred a jeep. The jeep driver asked us if he should bring us to the doctor in Tumpang first. I told him that we already have obtained the necessary health certificate required for Gunung Semeru. As a minimum it must contain information about your blood pressure, BMI and a statement from your doctor that you are fit to climb Gunung Semeru. This requirement was introduced a few years ago, after some cases of heart attacks on the mountain. I personally think that this kind of red tape is very silly. At least it's quick and cheap to obtain a health certificate in Tumpang, if you don't have one.
The old Toyota jeep must have suffered a long and hard life in Bromo National Park. We arrived Ngadas after one hour on a paved road, although the engine could merely cope with the steep incline. From Ngadas the road got a lot worse. We had to stop and wait several times due to an exhausted engine, while the driver was trying to fix the problem. We also ran out of fuel, so the driver had to flag down a motorbike. We waited for another 15 minutes and the motorbike returned with 3-4 liters of extra petrol. This was enough to get us the last few kilometers to Ranupani. The drive had taken us a total of 2.5 hours including all the problems.
We stayed in Pak Tasrip Homestay (75,000 IDR per person including breakfast), one of very few options in the small village of Ranupani. The old mother of Pak Tasrip made decent food and there was a fireplace to keep us warm in the evening.
It was raining all night long, and the bad weather continued the next day. We had no desire to start the trek to Semeru in this kind of conditions, so we decided to take a rest day in Ranupani. It was indeed a boring day, but in between the rain showers, we enjoyed some short walks to the Hindu Temple and the lake. We also obtained a permit for Semeru at the nearby check-point. We handed over the health certificates and a copy of our passports, then we paid 72,500 IDR per person plus a tent-fee (30,000 IDR).
2-days trek to Gunung Semeru
Next morning the weather was back to normal for this season, a perfect blue sky and no wind. We started to walk from Ranupani (elevation 2100m) around 8 AM. I had already imported a gps-track of Gunung Semeru to my Garmin device, thus it was easy to find the start of the trail. Once on the trail, it's difficult to get lost because there is only one trail. We had a short rest at every "Pos" (there were four of these shelters) before we arrived the very scenic Lake Kumbolo after 3.5 hours. This must be one of the highest located lakes in Indonesia at 2400 meters elevation. Sadly we saw a lot of garbage along the shores, left by mindless hikers and local tourists who don't know any better. We reluctantly refilled one bottle of water and labeled it for emergency use only. I was really glad that we had carried 3 liters of bottled water each, so hopefully we didn't need to drink this polluted water. The lake seems to attract a lot of clouds, and it started to rain when we had our lunch there.
From Lake Kumbolo we continued up a steep hill, then through a wonderful landscape of purple flowers. The gentle trail then went into the forest before we arrived the Kalimati campsite (2700m) a couple of hours later. Two guys from Poland approached us. They wanted to continue to the next campsite (Arcopodo) but they couldn't find the trail. They had been searching for one hour already, so I was happy to help them out with my GPS. I then walked back to Emily and discussed if we also should continue to the next campsite, but we agreed that it would be best to stay at Kalimati. We had a look inside the building/shelter at Kalimati but we turned around instantly because of the waste and smell inside. We found a nice place to pitch our tent, just a few meters away from the shelter. Suddenly a girl showed up from nowhere. The solo hiker from Canada had problem finding the trail to Arcopodo. I guided her into the correct direction, same as I did with the Polish guys.
Every hour or so, we could hear Semeru rumbling and the ground trembling a bit. It was kind of scary to have this massive power so close to us, and we couldn't even see the volcano because of clouds and low visibility. But shortly before sunrise, the clouds started to disappear and we could finally see Gunung Semeru looming above us. A few minutes later, another mini-eruption started and thick smoke rose into the sky. What a spectacular place to be.
After sunrise it was getting very cold, so we decided to seek shelter inside our tent, trying to get warm again inside a thin bivvy bag that we shared. We had a simple dinner and then we fell asleep. Every now and then we woke up freezing. It was surely not going to be a comfortable night, especially not for Emily who is not used to this cold climate. We were entirely alone at the peaceful campsite, but around 10 PM I woke up hearing voices outside our tent. Unfortunately it turned out that a large Indonesian group of hikers had arrived. What the fuck! Why did they arrive so late and start making all this noise? Bad planning I assume. The group took shelter inside the building and it eventually turned quiet. A couple of hours later we woke up again, when the big group was preparing for an early departure. At 2 AM they eventually left and it got quiet again. Now we had no more time for sleeping, so we decided to start our own preparations. We set out around 3 AM, but something was wrong with Emily. She had a painful cramp in her leg, maybe because of the cold and unpleasant night. I realised that it was not possible to continue and that we had to turn around. I didn't want to leave Emily alone in the middle of the night, so I decided to go back to sleep with her.
At sunrise I wanted to do a second attempt, while Emily stayed behind in the tent. I set out in a furious pace because of the late start. I gained elevation very quickly and passed the Arcopodo camp. Then I started on the horrendous slopes of ash and sand. The big group from Indonesia was spread out on the hill, and I was overtaking one by one of them. They looked like walking zombies, pale and frozen. I also noticed that they rested frequently, maybe every 5 steps or so. I continued my fast pace, although I was feeling increasingly more deprived of oxygen the higher I got. In the upper part of the ash slopes I slid down after every step, hence my pace was reduced accordingly. I arrived at the summit exactly 1 hour and 40 minutes after I set out from Kalimati. I've read that the normal timeframe is 4+ hours, while the Indonesian group behind me would probably take at least 7 hours.
I was very happy to notice that the first summit actually was the highest point of Semeru (3676m). No false summits, how often is that the case? Almost never. The active crater a few hundred horizontal meters away was for sure much lower. Thus it was pointless for me to head over there, not to mention the hazards of doing so. Instead I could stay fairly safe on the true summit and wait for the next mini-eruption. Finally, after 15 minutes of waiting, the silence made way for a roaring sound, similar to a jet engine, only much bigger. The crater spewed out thick sulphuric smoke and it formed like a huge mushroom on the sky. For a few seconds I really thought the toxic smoke was heading into my direction, so I panicked and started to run away. But the volcano calmed down again fairly quickly and it felt less intimidating. I had successfully bagged a new peak and seen an eruption live, so I was quite satisfied and started to descend. I was easily sliding down the ash and sand slopes, while smiling to the local guys who seemed to be in no progress towards the summit. It took me only 45 minutes to get back to Kalimati. Emily was still inside the tent, but awake. We enjoyed a breakfast in the warm sunshine, before we started on the long hike back to Ranupani.
It took us 5-6 hours to reach Ranupani. Although fairly late, we managed to hire a jeep and share the expenses with another tourist. It was dark when we arrived Tumpang. From there we chartered an Angkot to bring us to Helios Hotel in Malang, where a hot shower and a big dinner awaited us.
10,000 IDR = 1 USD (as of July-2013)
Link to my GPS-track at EveryTrail (also possible to download)