Climbing Gunung Merapi – Ring of Fire

Climbing Gunung Merapi

Climbing Gunung Merapi in Indonesia one of the ‘World’s Most Active Volcanoes‘.

Mount Merapi seen from Mount Merbabu stock photo
Gunung Merapi (2,930 m) as seen from Gunung Merbabu summit

This part of the World is famous for the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, a region of the world that follows the earth’s tectonic plates which encircle the Pacific Ocean and is home to hundreds of volcanoes many of which are in Indonesia. In fact there are around 150 Volcanoes in Indonesia and it has the highest number of Active Volcanoes in the World. In 2012 Indonesia had 127 Active Volcanoes with around 5 million people living in the danger zone!

Indonesia volcanoes map
Indonesia Volcanoes Map – Part of the Ring of Fire – Wikipedia
Gunung Merapi or Mount Merapi (gunung means mount or mountain in the Indonesian language) is one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes listed in the ‘World’s Most Active Volcanoes‘! It has a fiery history if you will pardon the pun…Quite literally the name given to it ‘Gunung Merapi‘ means Mountain of Fire.
It has a history of regular and formidable eruptions dating as far back as 1548. Within the last couple of decades it has been particularly dangerous to the local inhabitants. In 1994 hot gas from an explosion killed 27 people, in 2006 another major eruption changed the actual summit area of Merapi and this was the beginning of the end for the longstanding and famous Puncak Garuda (Puncak means peak or summit).

List of Volcanoes in Indonesia

Fast forward to the year 2010 and we have an eruption that completely changes the summit altogether. The lava dome that was created after the 2006 eruption disappears revealing a huge crater some 200m deep and 500m wide which we see to this day.
The 2010 eruption killed around 300 people, the majority of which lived in villages on the slopes of the mountain. Now Mount Merapi Puncak (Peak) is 38m lower than before the eruption, the present height is 2,930m compared to 2,968m.
backpacker looking at sunrise while climbing gunung merapi
Beautiful start for Climbing Gunung Merapi
Climbing Gunung Merapi is often quite safe but it is always worth checking with locals or at the Pos (Checkpost) before attempting an ascent. When I did it in July 2012 it was 5 days after a minor eruption and I had made sure the warning had been downgraded to safe before ascending. I had heard there was some glowing lava to be seen in the depths of the twisted and gnarled even sinister crater! but what I saw at the time was somewhat of a letdown after Climbing Gunung Merapi due to the huge amount of sulphurous gas billowing out of the crater. It was impossible to see into the crater due to this nevertheless on descent of the mountain some great views of the surrounding mountain landscape were to be had.
Gunung lawu sunrise silhouette Stock Photo
Sunrise viewed from Mount Merapi
Gunung Merapi is reached from two main starting points, Kaliurang in the south which is a short distance from Yogyakarta or from Selo to the north which is a small village/town nestled at altitude, 1300m a.s.l to be precise between Gunung Merapi and Gunung Merbabu and accessed from Boyolali to the east or from Magelang to the west.
I took the route from Salatiga to Boyolali and then hit Selo early evening and booked into a room for a few hours sleep.
There is a guesthouse near the small junction in town that leads up to the starting point of the trek. I departed at 1.30am as walking through the night with strong headlamp is much more comfortable than ascending by day with the oppressive heat bearing down on you also get to appreciate better views the following morning on the descent rather than the views being obliterated by cloud clover or heat haze during a day climb which is usually the case during the hot season. Clouds often close in from between 9am and 10am onwards at this time of year.
High Altitude view of dieng plateau Stock Photo
Beautiful Sunrise after Climbing Gunung Merapi
From the junction in Selo you follow the road directly up the hill to the New Selo signs, you will pass basecamp on the left side of the road a little bit before the New Selo sign and here u can also take snacks of hot noodles and sleep on a mat on the floor if need be.
I believe there is a small fee to pay at the Pos for entry onto the mountain but at 1.30am there was nobody around for me to pay and no log to sign into so people are aware that you are actually on the mountain. I wasn’t taking a guide as I was assured by some good local friends who have been Climbing Gunung Merapi for years that it just wasn’t necessary. If you do want to take a guide figure on 250,000 IDR these days for the round trip.
I did meet another individual though at this point so we decided to do the climb together. It turned out that we were the only people at the summit come sunrise which was a bonus as we didn’t have falling rocks on traversing the scree section for the final ascent. It was during the week so the weekend crowds were nowhere to be seen.
sulphur gases pouring out of gunung merapi crater
Gunung Merapi craters edge with Gunung Merbabu in the distance
From New Selo it’s a pleasant stroll on a sandy path beside terraced fields of tobacco and vegetables until you are naturally lead through the trees, there is a drop to the left which you will be aware of as the wind whistles through, eventually this gives way to rocky ground. Pos 1 at 2,150m is reached about 1 and half hours after leaving the New Selo sign. Memorial stones and plates are reached within another 30mins at 2,400m and then its a short way through boulder strewn area to Pasar Bubrah.
High Altitude view of dieng plateau Stock Photo
Pasar Bubrah as seen on the descent after Climbing Gunung Merapi
From Pasar Bubrah it’s a 45min to 1 hour ascent to the crater rim through grey volcanic sand and scree. You will find yourself generally taking two steps forward and one step back, the calf muscles begin to burn and you will wonder when you will get to the stable rocky ground you see above the scree line. Once here it’s a simple matter of onwards and upwards making your own path through this rocky craggy area until you reach the summit or at least the crater rim.
looking up at gunung merapi crater edge
Looking up at Gunung Merapi Crater edge
The true summit at present is to your right and extremely dangerous to try and bag, my recommendation unless you are a confident free climber is to be happy with arriving safely at the crater of one of the worlds most active volcanoes. And if your are luckier than me you may be peering into the awesome jaws of the crater devoid of sulphurous gases! The biting winds can be chilly up here too as the whole volcanic crater rim is openly exposed to the elements so better arrive there just as the sun is ready to rise.
Mountain peak of Mount Merapi
Gunung Merapi – True Summit at rear, Gunung Merbabu background
After Climbing Gunung Merapi, the descent is quite straight forward from the crater, I found the best way was to follow the rocks down pretty much to the right of the scree as you descend, keeping well off the scree which otherwise fills your footwear with grit. Its then a short distance veering left diagonally across the scree/sand back down to Pasar Bubrah.
topography when climbing gunung merapi
Topography views when Climbing Gunung Merapi
On the return to Pasar Bubrah it was nice to veer off the path to the left over the boulder field and after a gentle descent a short way you will have great lookout point to view the twin peaks of Gunung Sumbing and Gunung Sindoro along with Dieng plateau to the rear of these volcanic peaks. To the right is Gunung Merbabu and Gunung Ungaran in the distance.
aerial view from mount merapi Stock Photo
Aerial view from Gunung Merapi at Pasar Bubrah
mountain twin peaks volcanoes rise above clouds
Gunung Sumbing, Gunung Sindoro seen while Climbing Gunung Merapi
From the New Selo sign to Mount Merapi summit took roughly four hours with a few short breaks on the way. Leaving at 1.30am and arriving at 5.30am to catch the first rays of the sunrise. Descent is half that time where back at the New Selo sign the car park will no doubt be full of local tourists admiring the view of Gunung Merbabu and Selo town itself over a coffee or soft drink available from one of the many warungs or small provisions stores there and simply dreaming about Climbing Gunung Merapi for a better view some other time. It can be hot on the way down so bear in mind the need for a hat as the route is very open to the sunlight with little shade to be had along the way. One big bottle of water (1.5ltr) should be sufficient for the night climb. Good Luck.

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3 Responses

  1. Senad R

    Envy…..:) Very nice Anthony!

  2. Antony

    Hehe, thanks Sen but I feel this hike would be far too easy for you to even contemplate!

  3. Senad R

    Nothing is easy, i fail many times, but secret is i kept fighting 🙂

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