We arrived at Malang early morning 3:58am on Friday, 16 June 2017. Driver picked us up at Malang train station and brought us to a home-stay to wash up and had a few hours of sleep. By 7:30am, we packed clothes, necessities and snacks enough for 2 days and put the rest at house.
Although our itinerary is clear, there are smaller details which were unexpected. Like the medical check-up required for Mount Semeru trekkers. Although we are not climbing to the summit of the volcano, requirement is stringent. We found out later there were accidents and fatality. Hence, this is a precautionary measure put in place.
The trail started out easy. As the altitude is higher and air becomes thinner, the body adapts gradually too. I became so hungry for no reason and began to feel giddy. We bought 2 pieces of toufu at Post 1. The guide said it’s a bit expensive, IDR2,500 (equivalent USD0.19). Taken note of the cost of living. Even it’s 10 times more expensive, I would buy! When I looked at the ground of the first bridge we crossed, it looked as if the ground turned into quicksand flowing to the centre. Trail quickly became rocky and steep. There is no people living in the area. The guide said there are leopards and black panthers but there are no records of casualties. The latest fatal accident is an Indonesian climber to the summit hit by a rock on 13 May 2017.
Requiring more concentration not to lose my footing, I forced my mind and my stomach to cooperate, getting one foot in front of the other.
We continued our walk feeling the brush of tall grasses against our legs and seeing nothing but the dark silhouettes of trees in the thick tropical rain forest. Every 25 minutes, Mount Semeru had small explosions throwing out rocks and volcanic smoke. It is the second most active volcano after Mount Merapi
I meditate when i trek, giving focus to my breath and tried to empty my thoughts. As it’s Ramadan, there are less Indonesian trekkers. There were only a handful of them we met when going up.
It took us 5 hours to reach Ranu Kambolo. It is 2400 meters above sea level. Our guide and porters had already set up 2 tents for us. Lunch was ready, we tucked in. While walking around the lake and grassland, I saw 3 memorial stones for people who camped at Ranu Kamboll. 3 died in separate occasions. They died in their sleep. It’s not hard to find out why, not only because of its altitude, the low temperature (5 degree Celsius) was freezingly uncomfortable.
I did not have winter jacket and shivered the entire night. I lost count of the number of broken sleeps I had. My nature’s calls were done in the nature. We are whatever food that the guide and porters cooked for us. No complaining. Discomfort is not without reward. We saw a sea of stars that we never get to see in Singapore.
At 4:30am, I scrambled out of my sleeping bag and froze. I had to brave that cold, and before the sunrise, answer my nature’s call before sky turned bright. My hands begged for some warmth, we did not bring gloves. Our guide said at 4:45am, we could see the sunrise. The sunrise photo wasn’t spectacular. The early rise wasn’t disappointing though.
After breakfast, we climbed to the other side to a beautiful grassland. Absolute solitude, just the sound of the wind. As there were only 3 groups of campers, Ranu Kombolo is not over-crowded. When we descended, we saw large groups of trekkers. Perhaps it’s Saturday, people wants to have a weekend getaway.
Total distance covered is approximately 20km both ways. Walking down is easier. However, the last 2 kilometers is not without meting strange people. There was a man with knife kept following us. The man was a wood-cutter. This small episode is enough to frighten us. We finished in 4 hours, that is 1 hour shorter than ascending.
Nothing comes free. Trekking gives the delight of spectacular views; but also deprives us of all the energy we need to celebrate those moments. Hence, it is not only a vacation but also a learning experience.
From this volcano trek, I realize that being a competent long distance runner doesn’t equate an excellent trekker. My 1.9 meters tall, 120kg son was an excellent trekker in all these “expeditions” we did.
I love backpacking and trekking. On a trek we are miles away from any form of civilization. We are out of our comfort zone that we have so much taken for granted. A trek teaches us to be flexible, non-demanding, adaptable and adjusting.
Over the years, I’ve found ways to circumvent my knee issues, and in the process, have taken some truly mind-blowing trips. Without trekking sticks, the journey would definitely be harder. We don’t have porters to haul gear; we’re responsible for our backpacks. The altitude presents enough of a challenge. Porters here carry camping equipment, food stuff, pots and pans. They are usually indigenous peoples who are genetically adapted to their harsh environment. The ones we had at Mount Semeru trek are paid IDR200,000 per trip, prepared for us meals half way along the trek.
I don’t want to underplay the importance of being physically fit and well-conditioned for a trek. Getting a reputable company provides us with an outline on conditioning for our adventure. You need to be able to walk long distances, on steep, difficult terrain at high altitude. Be honest with yourself, and the company about your abilities. Heed guide’s advice and people who had been there. Listen to those who have walked the path ahead.