Mount Raung: Rock and a Hard Place

In the far east of Java island, there’s a mountain that has no water springs, demands technical approach with rocky terrain, narrow paths and deadly cliffs, there isn’t any safety fence, and it’s a nightmare if you have irrational fear to height (Acrophobia). Do you feel like you want to climb it?

If not, then Mount Raung isn’t for you. If you have panic attack or vertigo while climbing Mount Raung, accident would happen and death is almost certain.

Last erupted in 2015, Mount Raung is one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia. The name “Raung” literally means “Howl”, from the sound of howling wind that often heard from its 2 km-radius caldera. The highest peak (Puncak Sejati) with elevation 3344 m, can only be accessed through Kalibaru village.

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Mount Raung and its glorious rocks

First Night

Day#1: 27-10-2016 | The journey to “Puncak Sejati” begins at the house of a humble women in Kalibaru village, Mrs. Suto, whose house was  transformed into a basecamp for climbers. There are showers, hot meals, and you can spend a night here before and after the climb.

In order to climb Mount Raung, it’s mandatory to hire guide and porter to carry equipments or water if you have zero technical climbing experience. Even if you’re an experienced climber, you still have to carry 20 kg pack including 6-litre of water, logistics, and climbing gears. Well, you can say goodbye to ultralight hiking.

I definitely can’t carry pack that heavy. So last year, I took the easy way and booked a trip operated by Cimara Adventure. It was a big group, with approximately 30 people including the supporting team. The advantage was I only had to carry my own hiking gears, 6-litre water, and personal climbing equipments (belay carabiner and harness). The rest of the equipments were the operator’s responsibility.

My backpack’s weight was 14 kg including 6-litre water, it was still over my threshold but I could manage it.

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Mrs Suto’s house (Basecamp)
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Briefing before trekking

There are total of 9 campsites (pos) on the trail. From Kalibaru to Pos 1 you can walk for 2.5 hours or hire a motorcycle taxi for 30 minutes.

Pos 1 (894 m) is located in the middle of coffee plantation and has the only water source on the trail. From here, the track is wide, clear and gradually inclined up to Pos 2 (2.5 hours walk).

Just before Pos 2 (1476 m), the vegetation changes from plantation to typical rainforest: damp, dark, and very much alive with various exotic plants and the sound of jungle dwellers. The campsite has wide space and can hold up to 10-15 tents.

Pos 3 is only 60 minutes walk with 174-meter elevation gain through narrow steep trail. It’s getting dark when I walk further into the forest, dense plants formation and big tall trees are blocking the light.

At 1:30 PM with steady steps, I arrive at Pos 4 (1823 m). It’s the place where we’re gonna spend the night. The remaining people arrive at dusk, some with slower pace arrive at night. The space at Pos 4 isn’t wide, normally it can only hold 5-10 tents, but after all team members arrive and set up their tents, I’m a little bit surprised we can manage to establish 15 tents.

The temperature is moderate 100-150C, I can even sleep with half-opened sleeping bag.

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Pos 3
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The mystery of the missing frames (Pos 4)
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TNF Vs. Terranova at Pos 4
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Cooking Dinner

Day Two: A short hike

Day#2: 28-10-2016 | Due to the mountain position at the far east of Java Island, the sun rises early and at 5 AM, it’s already bright. After small talks with others while sipping hot beverage and having breakfast, I pack my gears into the backpack and hiding a 1.5 litre bottle of water in a bush, it’s for water supply the day after tomorrow when I descend from Pos 7. It’s quite relieving to shed 1.5 kg weight off my pack.

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Hot beverages and small talks
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Ready to rumble

At 8:44 AM I begin to walk, there are only two people including me at the front, the others follow soon. We arrive at Pos 5 (2035 m) at 9:30 AM, rest for awhile then proceed walking. Pos 6 (2239 m) appears 21 minutes later, here we eat some snacks, energy bar and hydrate.

The path after Pos 6 is steeper, muddy and slippery with some fallen trees blocking the path. At 11 AM, we arrive at the campsite: Pos 7 or “Pondok Rasta” (2586 m), there’s a small shelter with red and yellow paint. In my opinion,“Half-rasta” is a proper name because one thing for sure: the green paint is definitely missing.

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Pos 6
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Pos 7 (Pondok Rasta)
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Master and apprentice

I set up my tent and spend time around the campsite. The others arrive a few minutes later, and the rest of the team appears 3-4 hours later. According to my stopwatch, I have walked for 2 hours and 20 minutes. It’s quite short for one day hike.

Before sunset, the weather is perfectly clear and I manage to take a few stunning snaps.  The night is chilly, and after dinner, I try to shut my eyes but can only sleep for 3 hours. I’m probably just anxious about the climb tomorrow.

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Checking the equipments
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A stunning afternoon

Four Summits of Mount Raung

Day#3: 29-10-2016 | It’s 50C in the morning, I wake up at 3:30 AM and preparing necessary gears for summit attack. We gather at 4 AM and after a short briefing and distributing breakfast to each team member, the walk to the summit begins. White spots from the headlamps are dancing on the trail, the wind is sending chilly air to the entire mountain, I tighten my jacket and keep walking.

I reach Pos 8 (2856 m) at 5:35 AM and 28 minutes later arrive at Pos 9 (3067 m). Here, me and 4 other fast-paced friends are having breakfast. With full stomach, we wait for others that appear 1.5 hours later.

7:55 AM, we walk toward the summit, 10 minutes later the edge of vegetation zone appears. From here forward there are only rocks, lots of rocks: Small, big, and huge fucking rocks, you name it. A perfect embodiment of “Rock and a Hard Place”.

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Pos 9
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Puncak Bendera

Mount Raung has 4 summits: “Puncak Bendera” (Flag Peak), “Puncak 17” (17 Peak), “Puncak Tusuk Gigi” (Toothpick Peak), and “Puncak Sejati” (True Peak). The first summit is an easy 15-minute walk from Pos 9. But the others need technical approach that involve climbing gears.

The guides are walking toward the first steep terrain located on the edge of the cliff to fix ropes on anchors. After they’re finished, we walk slowly through narrow rocky path and waiting for our turn to ascend the 4-meter vertical slope.

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1: Puncak 17, 2: Puncak Tusuk Gigi, 3: Puncak Sejati

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First vertical slope

At 9:38 AM, I arrive at the second peak: “Puncak 17”, there are two paths: It’s either ascend to the top of “Puncak 17” or take a small detour around the bottom of the peak. I choose the second path, it’s also the easiest. After that, we descend to “Sirotol Mustaqim” bridge, a name taken from The Holy Koran, a narrow rocky path with abyss on both sides ready to devour anyone sloppy enough to step out of the path.

Then it’s a 20-meter descend on a second vertical slope. Suddenly I can hear the sound of a thunder followed by fog, the temperature and air pressure are dropping, the sign of rain. Some pray to God to delay rain but He doesn’t care and gives us rain anyway.

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A slight detour around the bottom of “Puncak 17”

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Sirotol Mustaqim bridge
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Rappeling down
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Anchored rope

We walk on a long steep rocky path to the third peak, “Puncak Tusuk Gigi”. My hands feel numb and my shoes are soaking wet. Heavy fog reduces our visibility down to 20 meters. I stop taking pictures and store my cellphone and camera safely in a ziplock bag in the waist bag.

The path from “Puncak Tusuk Gigi” to “Puncak Sejati” is a little bit tricky, I have to find a small opening like a mini cave and crawl through it, then…voila…”Puncak Sejati”, the highest and final peak appears. The 2 km crater can be seen clearly from the top. Smoke comes out from the crater indicates that the mountain is still active.

In the middle of the rain and dangerously standing at the highest ground, I watch lightning flickering around the mountain. We even make a stupid joke about it and shout “God, can you take our pictures without using flash, please? Thank you!!” 

At 1:30 PM, shortly after watching a few strands of my friend’s hair strangely standing (the sign of static electricity), I decide it’s really time to go down, I surely don’t want to be grilled well done by lightning.

The ascend is quick, in just 3 hours, I arrive at Pos 7. Making emergency clothes hanger and drying my rain poncho, shoes, and socks that are soaking wet is how I spend my spare time at the campsite. The last people who descend from the summit arrive 3 hours later. Everybody’s safe and sound, it’s time to eat dinner and having some sleep.

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The huge caldera of Mount Raung
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Going down
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Puncak 17, covered in fog. Picture is taken when headed back to Pos 7

Back to the Basecamp

Day#4: 30-10-2016 | The sky is perfectly clear this morning, hot and sunny. The girls are preparing breakfast, the rest are either still sleeping or just wandering around the campsite. 7:30 AM we eat breakfast, and 30 minutes later we start packing. 9 AM, I begin to walk down with 7 other people, most of us are old timers and past our prime years but still have the ability to descend half running.

11:00 AM we arrive at Pos 4, I pull out my hidden 1.5-litre bottle from the bush and fill out my water bladder that’s almost empty. On our way from Pos 3, rain begins to fall, it’s time to wear my rain poncho and continue walking.

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Preparing breakfast

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We reach Pos 2 around 1 PM, the rain has stopped, so we put back our rain gears into the backpack and rest for awhile. A few smokes and stories later, we continue walking to Pos 1. It’s 2:32 PM when I smell the fragrance of Coffea Arabica flower from the coffee trees. That’s when I know I’m officially back to civilization.

10 minutes later, I arrive at Pos 1. Several motorcycle taxi drivers are already waiting, I rest for 15 minutes then hop onto one of the motorcycles, driving back to the village in the middle of rain, leaving the mountain behind, a pile of rocks and definitely a hard place.

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Plastic bottle scavenger at Pos 2
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Coffea Arabica flower
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