Kerinci: Hiking the Tallest Volcano in Indonesia

With 141 volcanoes —76 of them have erupted at least  1171 times within historical times—Indonesia is the volcano capital of the world. Two of them, Tambora and Krakatoa, made such apocalyptic disasters they literally fucked the world.

Today, Kerinci is the highest volcano in Indonesia, towering at 3805m, it’s one of the most active volcanoes and the second tallest mountain in Indonesia, just 1079m shorter than Carstenz Pyramid, the highest mountain in the country and part of the World’s Seven Summit.

Birthday Hike

Last year, I wanted a luxurious hike to Kerinci on my birthday ( I’m so lazy to write that this post should be written ten months ago). So I contacted Yuda, the founder of Jelajah Kerinci, a local travel organizer with good reputation.

Hiking the mountain is possible from Kersik Tuo village. The mountain has almost straight trail climbs a long incline through thick rainforest, making the hike to the summit possible in just 2 days. But the trip to Kersik Tuo takes 5 to 6 hour drive from Padang, which means it took normally 4 days to complete Kerinci.

Kersik Tuo is a lovely and calm village in Kayu Aro district. It’s known for its high-quality tea leaves. The plantation, the widest in the world in a single vast area, managed by the government under National Plantation Company  (PTPN).

Tea plantation at Kersik Tuo
Tugu Macan, the village’s mascot

Day 01: Into the jungle

It’s now my second day in Kersik Tuo. I spent the first day visited Danau Kaco, a pristine small lake in the middle of the jungle, 3-hour drive from Kersik Tuo, but that’s another story.

After a good night sleep, I skip morning bath because it’s too damn cold. I eat a big Indonesian breakfast (Fried rice with sunny side up egg), checking my gears after, then hop on the minibus that will take me to the entrance gate and registration post. Yuda brings his two friends, Romes and Hedy, to help carrying logistics and equipments for me and Nadilla, a trail buddy from Malaysia.

We drive through the tea plantation that seems endless. The hike starts approximately at 8 AM, the starting trail is wet and muddy through thick damp forest. I have to make little jumps to pass the muddy parts of the trail.31593422904_98677576eb_c

The Entrance gate that needs to be fixed

At 8:50 AM I see an open space, it turns out that we arrive at “Batu Lumut”, one of many checkpoints at Kerinci, rest for 10 minutes then proceed walking for 38 minutes to “Pondok Panorama Hut”. As I walk deep into the forest, the trail is getting steeper, big roots covered our path, a few fallen trees that are getting rotten obstruct the trail. The sound of the jungle dwellers are getting clearer and louder.

Batu Lumut
Pondok Panorama

We encounter some enclosed pathways formed by a swarm of branches created a tunnel-shape trail. Most of these tunnels —known among hikers as “Rat’s Tunnels”—are so narrow that you have to crawl like a rat in order to pass through.

We stop at 10:50 for lunch at Shelter I. There are three big water containers at the shelter but they’re empty. At 12:00 PM, we continue the walk and arrive at Shelter II at 2:10 PM. I feel that the temperature gradually drops, I check my watch for barometric pressure and it’s falling, the sign of bad weather.

Shelter I
Hard-working shoes

The trail from Shelter II to Shelter III is the most challenging. Basically, the path is a deep gutter, it’s very difficult to walk on the narrow path especially when it’s raining, the water would fill the gutter up to the waist.

Romes tells me to grab branches grow on the upper sideway of the path and swing from branch to branch in order to pass through, it’s fastest rather than walk on the gutter. Because of this swinging method, the trail from Shelter II to III is known as “Ninja Warrior Track”.

The rat’s tunnel
Shelter II
The beginning of “Ninja Warrior Track”

At 4 PM just a few meters from Shelter III, we receive a proper greeting: heavy rain followed by sporadic gust. Yuda, Romes, and Hedy quickly set up two tents in the middle of the rain. After they’re finished, I slip into the tent half shivering. Considering shelter III is a wide open space above the tree lines, heavy rain with strong wind like this is a very cold experience.

We wait for an hour until the rain stopped. As I walk outside, I can see smoke coming out from the crater. Kerinci is an active volcano, but it’s getting intense for the past two months, the smoke is getting darker and thicker.

Yuda says “As long as the wind blows to the east and doesn’t change, we’re safe. But if it changes direction toward the camp, we must go down without exception”. So far there is no sign that the thick smoke gonna change direction anytime soon.

After dinner, the wind is getting stronger and the temperature drops dramatically. The tent’s flysheet is flapping like crazy. There’s no way I will go outside, so I just sitting there in the tent, having small talks, and then..getting some rest for tomorrow.

Shelter III
Cooking Dinner

Day 02: Going Up and Down

4:30 AM we’re finally awake. The alarm is supposed to be ringing at 3:00 AM but has been mysteriously silent . Well, there goes our plan to watch sunrise at top of Mount Kerinci.

We walk toward the crater at 5:30 AM. Yuda stays at Shelter III so he can prepare breakfast and some snacks when we’re back from the summit. The track profile changes from green and friendly to cold and grey, filled with sharp gravel in scattered-boulder fields.

At 7:15 AM we arrive at “Batu Gantung”, it literally means “Hanging Stone”, a big stone on the trail, very helpul as a marking guide to navigate in the fog.

“Tugu Yudha” is the next checkpoint, approximately one-hour walk from Batu gantung. There’s a plaque commemorating Yudha Sentika –not to be mistaken with Yuda our guide–, a missing hiker who got lost in the fog when he walked down from the summit 27 years ago. His body was never found.

Heavy smoke from the crater
Lake Gunung Tujuh, seen from the trail between Batu Gantung and Tugu Yudha

8:20 AM, touchdown. Finally I’m at the highest point in Sumatra Island, the highest volcano in the country. The thick smoke from the crater indicates that the mountain is highly active,  I peek into the crater and smell sulfur, if it suddenly erupted, then we’re definitely finished.

23 minutes on the crater’s rim after taking pointless selfies and wefies is enough, we’re walking back to Shelter III. Fog suddenly appears and reduces visibility less than 10 meters, there’s no trail mark or  trees, only rocks. Without GPS or a guide it’s easy to get lost or fall into the cliff, I think that’s how Yudha Sentika got lost and missing 27 years ago.

Tugu Yudha
Commemoration plaque
The top of Mount Kerinci, 3805m

9:30 AM we’re back at Shelter III, Yuda has already prepared a welcoming breakfast: fried bananas and chocolate pudding. Yum!

The fog disappears and I enjoy my time at Shelter III, sunbathing and drying my shoes, socks, and baselayer. I have an unobstructed view of Kayu Aro district from Shelter III. I can see that tea plantation dominates this area, Romes says that the National Park area has shrunk significantly in the last 20 years that the field that used to be forest is now either a plantation or residence.

We finished packing and ready for leaving at 11:15 AM. Yuda at the front, followed by Nadilla, me, and the rest. We’re swinging from branch to branch on the trek to shelter II & I, I have difficulty maneuvering because of my trekking poles, so I tuck them on the backpack and continue swinging.

Heavy fog reduces our visibility less than 10 meters
The tiny yellow dot on top of the left hill is the tent at Shelter III
Hedy and Romes, packing equipments at Shelter III

12:36 PM, we arrive at Shelter I. It’s time for light snacks and instant noodles. Romes and Hedy pull out the stove and start boiling water for hot tea and coffee. 30 minutes later, we’re back on the trail. I walk down fast, half running and ignore the advice from my physiotherapist. As a result, the ITBS (Illotibial Band Syndrome) is back and I start walking down with moderate pain on the outside of my knees.

Fortunately I bring two trekking poles, they are super helpful in a painful situation like this. I’m lagging behind Yuda, Hedy, and Nadilla with 10-15 minutes gap. Romes accompanies me until we reach the end of the forest.

Approximately at 3 PM I finally arrive at the starting trail where the others are waiting. The minibus arrives 30 minutes later to pick us up. As we drive back to civilization, I can see Mount Kerinci from the distance, covered in white clouds, still coughing that thick grey smoke.

Get well soon, buddy.

Preparing snacks and hot beverages at Shelter I
Mount Kerinci, before sunset



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