Mount Kerinci (3805m) is the highest volcano in Indonesia. Eruptions happen frequently, tigers are roaming around and I was there to climb it at the height of Ramadan. Could I deal with it?
Going to Sumatra during Ramadan
I booked a cheap flight with Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur to Padang. At the airport in Kuala Lumpur I met a student who was going home on vacation to her parents in Padang. The departure was delayed by three hours, so we had plenty of time to kill. I received lots of information about Sumatra. She especially warned me about the taxis, and the dangerous girls in Padang. Upon arrival in Padang, we walked through the immigration and I paid USD 25 for the visa. Then we picked up our luggage, and we were greeted by her muslim parents, a friendly and warm couple in their 50s. The family insisted to give me a ride into town and I accepted their kind offer.
I checked into Hotel Hangtuah, a low-end hotel in downtown Padang which I had booked through Agoda. Then I asked the front desk to reserve a seat for me in a "travel-taxi" to Kersik Tua. I was really worried that all seats were fully booked, because this was the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the muslim holiday Eid Al-Fitr. After a few calls, the front desk told me that I got a seat and that I had to be ready the next morning at 9:00. That was indeed good news and I immediately felt less anxious. I walked over to the shopping mall across the street to fetch some food. I passed KFC and noticed that it was full of people. Everyone had a pile of food in front of them. But none of them were actually eating, they were just looking on the food. According to my watch it was still a few minutes more until they could eat. They had to wait for sunset, this was Ramadan....
A long drive to Kersik Tua
The next morning a car arrived my hotel at the agreed time. The Toyota Avanza had 8 seats and almost no space for luggage. Thus I was relieved when the driver managed to squeeze my big backpack into the small trunk. I paid 140,000 IDR (14 USD) as agreed, and climbed into the cramped back row together with a muslim couple. The taxi drove around in Padang City to pick up the remaining passengers. This took a lot of time in the busy traffic, maybe an hour or so. When the car was full, we finally headed out of town and into the mountains.
The driver was calm and relaxed, so this was not going to be a crazy drive on winding roads. We had a break about halfway to empty bladders and refill calories. It was lovely to stretch out, because my long legs really suffered in the back row.
I was excited to see Gunung Kerinci in the horizon. But there was still a long way to go, because of heavy traffic and a winding road. The car finally arrived Kersik Tua shortly before 5:00 PM, and I told the driver to stop outside Pak Subandi's Homestay. I went inside and asked the lady if she had any available rooms, and I was really happy to get a positive answer. I also met another traveller there, a French woman who was the only other guest. Later in the evening we had dinner, and the wife of Pak Subandi served us heaps of meat, eggs and potatoes.
High population of tigers
Based on my normal pace in the mountains, I could have done Kerinci in a very long day. But that would have taken away the enjoyment of such a lovely hike, and effectively stripped any chance of clear view from the summit. So in consultation with Pak Subandi I decided to go for his all-inclusive package with guide, transportation, permit, equipment (tent etc) and meals on the mountain. Kerinci Seblat National Park holds the highest population of tigers on Sumatra, estimated to be between 165-190 individuals. It also has the highest occupancy rate, with over 83% of the park showing signs of tigers. There are more tigers in this park than in all of Nepal, and more than in China, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam combined. So maybe I freaked out of the prospect of being alone :-)
Hiking to campsite
Next morning after breakfast, the son of Pak Subandi drove me and my guide to the trailhead located at 1750 meters elevation. We did not have any porters, so we shared the equipment equally in our backpacks. We started to walk shortly after 09:00 AM, initially across open terrain where the sun caused some discomfort. Then the trail continued into the jungle and we got shelter from the evil sun. The trail was in fairly good condition, but it gradually became steeper. Occasionally we had to climb over fallen trees and negotiate dense vegetation. A number of rest areas (Pos 1, 2 etc) have been made, and we took short breaks at each of them. We eventually arrived Shelter II (3050m) our destination of today. I was told that this should take 6-8 hours, but we did it in slightly more than 3 hours. It was still early, so we could easily have continued to Shelter III (3300m), but the guide had already decided that we should stay in Shelter II. It should be noted that Shelter II has access to water and it's significantly less exposed to weather, thus I agreed with his decision.
We pitched the tent, had lunch and we still had quite a few hours to kill. I regret that I did not bring a book. The view was very limited because of tall trees and clouds. The food was of surprisingly good quality and the portions were large. Dinner was followed by more snacks and cookies. When we were going to sleep, we could hear noises outside the tent. Maybe it was a tiger? No, it was just a marten who was roaming around the tent.
A terrifying crater
After a good night's sleep, we set out in darkness around 4:30 AM. We soon got over the tree line and then passed the upper camp (Shelter III), where a tent was standing alone. We continued uphills and eventually reached the summit, after 1 hour and 40 minutes on the trail. There were some clouds on the horizon so it was not a spectacular sunrise. But the wide view of Sumatra and especially Lake Tujuh was fantastic. The summit plunges steeply into an abyss and to the bottom of the crater, where I could see red bubbling lava. Only three months have passed since the last eruption, a fairly big explosion which spewed rocks and smoke 600 meters into the air. One of nature's great powers at work. It's a terrifying thought that a new eruption could happen any time, maybe as we are standing here.
On the way down we met the 3 local guys who had pitched their tent in the upper camp. Then we continued down to our own camp. We had breakfast, packed our stuff and then continued down. We could hear many singing gibbons in the forest, unfortunately we couldn't see them.
We arrived back at the trailhead shortly before noon. Pak Subandi's son picked us up as agreed, so we didn't have to walk the last 5 kilometers back to Kersik Tua. I decided to spend another night at Pak Subandi's Homestay. Next morning I paid the bill, it was 1 million rupees (100 USD) everything included. Pak Subandi then sent his daughter out to flag down a travel-taxi along the road. After 10 minutes of waiting she came back and told me to jump into the car. I had the entire car for myself, thus it was a comfortable 6-7 hours journey back to Padang. The driver didn't speak English so I was a bit worried that he would rip me off, because he was short of other paying customers. But it turned out that he was a good guy, and he only charged me the normal price (140,000 IDR).
10,000 IDR = 1 USD (as of July-2013)
Link to my GPS-track at EveryTrail (also possible to download)