Climbing Gunung Merbabu Dormant Volcano

Climbing Gunung Merbabu in Central Java, Indonesia

Climbing Gunung Merbabu (Mount Merbabu in english, whichever is your preference) is one of those unforgettable high altitude treks that will be in your memories for a lifetime if you are in Central Java and you get a chance to do it. It’s a great adventure and the views from the peak are unforgettable.

spectacular view of gunung merbabu dormant volcano
Mount Merbabu (3,145m) as seen from Bandungan
Climbing Gunung Merbabu is not a particularly easy trek but is extremely rewarding when you have ascended to the dizzying heights of Central Java and achieved what you set out to do. It takes roughly 7 hours to reach the summit (I have heard it done by some in 5 hours, on a shorter route or going like a bat out of hell I don’t really know) but for me going slowly throughout the night and including a few lengthy breaks along the way was pleasantly comfortable having a good break at the antenna and also included an attempt in the dark to find the source of drinking water on the mountain. To descend was around 5 hours for me, again at a leisurely pace, so with an hour or two up there to take in the mind blowing views it is quite an arduous trip!
landscape view of gunung merapi from gunung merbabu
Merbabu with Gunung Merapi in the background
Mount Merbabu is a dormant stratovolcano so you have no fear of nasty eruptions taking you by surprise unlike its neighbour across the way, the highly active Mount Merapi. The spectacular views from the summit of Mount Merbabu are said to be some of the best in Indonesia and I’m not going to contest that. Many other Volcanoes can be seen from the peak and of course the best time to take in this otherworldly scene is at sunrise…
landscape view scene climbing gunung merbabu
Views to the north (Watu Tulis – old radio mast at 2,900m)
From the summit you have a 360 degree vantage point of unbelievable natural beauty laid out before you like an enchanting Persian rug. In a word, Magical..
  • To the west you see Gunung Sumbing, Gunung Sindoro and the Dieng Plateau
  • To the north you see Gunung Telemoyo and Gunung Ungaran
  • To the south you see Gunung Merapi
  • To the east you see Gunung Lawu
two volcanic peaks of gunung sindoro and sumbing
Twin Peaks – Gunung Sumbing and Gunung Sindoro

The Ascent – Starting Point

There are two ways to ascend Mount Merbabu. Climbing Gunung Merbabu can be done either by way of Selo to the south of the mountain which is located in-between Merbabu and Merapi (steeper ascent) or via Kopeng (northwestern flank) and easily accessible from Salatiga City.
Kopeng itself isn’t the true start point but as it is a local tourist destination there are lots of cheap hotels and eateries and places to pick up some food and drink for the trek. There are a couple of true start points which are also a couple of km’s walk away from Kopeng unless you can find an Ojek (motorbike taxi) to take you to the small base camp and hut where you pay a small fee and register at Tekelan village or at Cuntel village which is where I opted to start the climb from.
Watu Tulis (second summit) and the old radio antenna at 2900m seen from Kopeng

The Hike!

Merbabu consists of seven summits in total although not all are what we would actually call true summits but they are good reference points nevertheless. A lot of people do this hike with an overnight camp at one of the summits where there is ample room to put up a small tent. Personally I walked through the night again as it is cooler and aimed to arrive at the summit for the spectacular sunrise for around 5.30am which I succeeded in doing. It was the night of a full moon when I set off at 10.30pm from Cuntel basecamp.
From here you walk a while on a well marked path beside cultivated fields until the route starts ascending at a steeper angle through the pine forested slopes. Its a very meditative to be walking in silence with the pine forest smell, that aromatic citrus scent flooding into your nostrils and beckoning you onwards but alas it ends all to soon when finally after passing a number of small camp grounds or Pos –
  1. Pending – 1,936m
  2. Pereng Putih – 2,162m
  3. Gemuk Menthul – 2,330m
  4. Lempong Sompan – 2,510m
You begin to notice less trees now but the views begin to open up and on a full moon with a star filled night sky what better way could there be to experience climbing Gunung Merbabu! The views to the east of Gunung Sumbing and Sindoro looked surreal with a faint wisps of cloud gently passing by…
view of distant volcano climbing gunung merbabu
Gunung Sumbing view when climbing Gunung Merbabu during the night
view of salatiga city in lights at night
Salatiga City seen from summit 2 Watu Tulis
The Seven Summits during the Climbing Gunung Merbabu Trek
  1. Watu Gubug – 2,735m
  2. Watu Tulis – 2,900m
  3. Geger Sapi – 2,987
  4. Syarif – 3,119m
  5. Ondorante – 3,000m
  6. Kenteng Songo – 3,142m
  7. Tringulasi – 3,145m

Watu Gubug is little more than a mound although to fit in with the name of the hike ‘Seven Summits’ I guess something had to be included.. Watu Tulis or summit 2 is a great landmark, the old radio mast or antenna with an old ‘bunker’ which can be used as a shelter is good place to shelter from cool winds as you are quite exposed to the elements at this stage. I actually carried wood up (as there is little up here) from pos 4 and made a fire here and had a good long rest before the final push. Expect between 3 and 4 hours walking to reach this point.

stock photo gunung lawu at sunrise
Gunung Lawu from Syarif
From Watu Tulis the path becomes narrow as you are walking on a ridge and drops down before climbing back up to summit 3. Just before you start ascending again there is a steep little path down to your right where you can find a source of water. I needed a refill so ventured down here although much to my astonishment after research led me to believe it was quite close I found myself with quite a trek on to get down to the spring which is located nearby yellow sulphurous clay and air panas (hot springs) and back upto to the main track! The Tekelan route also joins the Cuntel route around this point.
mount merapi at sunrise seen when climbing gunung merbabu
Gunung Merapi at Sunrise
Summit 3 again is not much of a summit but from here on in the ascent becomes very steep and relentless until you finally arrive at summit 4 which is Syarif. Views from here are astounding, absolutely breathtaking and there is space for a number of tents here on a flat sandy area surrounded by long grasses and slopes which drop away on all sides. Here you can actually see the true summit and the path upto Kenteng Songo. You don’t need to bother with Odorante as you can skirt around the side of this.
true summit seen while climbing gunung merbabu
True summit of Gunung Merbabu with sunrise casting a shadow of the peak
stunning lawu volcano sunrise stock photo
Gunung Lawu to the east at first light
After dropping down from summit 4 Syarif you circumnavigate summit 5 Odorante and then it is a final steep climb again to Summit 6 Kenteng Songo and but a stones throw away from this you will find yourself on the true summit Triangulasi at 3,145m with more astounding views especially of Mount Merapi just over the way. From here you can choose to return the way you came or descend to Selo village a steep knee trembler of a trek back down and if you haven’t already done so stay there the night and go for a Mount Merapi ascent the following night!
gunung sumbing and gunung sindoro volcanoes
Two Volcanoes of Gunung Sumbing and Gunung Sindoro
wide angle landscape view from climbing gunung merbabu
Wide angle view awaiting you after climbing Gunung Merbabu
For a more concise account of Climbing Gunung Merbabu along with many of the other volcanoes throughout the Indonesian archipelago check out this great site – Gunung Bagging

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11 Responses

  1. Noushka

    I can only agree with Senad when he says it gets better and better!
    Your photgraphy is oustanding and certainly gives the desire of discovering these magical landscapes for oneself!
    Thanks for showing us with Google maps, I am quite interested to have an idea of where you were.
    Cheers and keep well Anto!

  2. Senad R

    Very nice, spectacular landscape in tha part of world. Thanks for inspiration, it's time to go somewhere and climb volcano 🙂

  3. Antony

    Thanks guys for the thumbs up, must say it's certainly a bit warmer here than the mountains in Sen's part of the world at this moment in time!

  4. Anonymous

    Hey.. I am planning a trip to Mount Merbabu. Which side did you climb from? Can you suggest any guide that we should take?

  5. Anto

    I climbed Gunung Merbabu from Kopeng side. It's actually all explained in this blog post. The nearest town to Kopeng is Salatiga. It's half hours drive upto to Kopeng from there. From Kopeng you have two options, start the trek from Tekelan or Cuntel village which are both a couple of Km's from Kopeng and have a checkpoint where you register for a very small fee. I chose Cuntel village. The path is very straightforward, you can't really go wrong hence I never used a guide so I cannot recommend you one but if you feel you need one ask around in either Kopeng or at the checkpoint where you register.

    I suggest you climb through the cool night with a strong headlamp to arrive on the summit for sunrise, it is mindblowing.

    The other route from Selo village is very steep and I would think more strenuous to go up or down.

    Please let me know how you found the climb with a follow up comment if you don't mind so other people can be well informed. Thanks.

  6. Anonymous

    oops, i see that you didn't choose guide for merbabu.

  7. Anonymous

    Hi Anto, Thanks for your comment. I'll surely follow up here after my trip. I am planning Merbabu – Merapi and as pointed out by you, it seems a good idea to climb from Kopeng side and get down to Selo for Merapi. Your photos have been an inspiration to pursue this.

    Do you remember the guide that you took or you climbed on your own?

  8. Anto

    Hi, you are more than welcome.
    Merapi is a walk over compared to Merbabu but if you do it the following day or night you will certainly know about it!
    Best of luck to you, you won't be disappointed…

  9. Storyteller

    I am back from Merbabu trek. I did it from Wekas village. After consultation with few guides this seems to easier, anyway another option for the reader of your blog. We walked down to Selo from summit. It is al long walk but gentle slope. The continuous view of Merapi makes it worthy to take this route.

    We didn't do merapi as we were too tired. Inspired by your work, i have put in my first post.

  10. Anonymous

    Hi thanks for writing this!

    May i know how long you took to finish this Merbabu trek with the 7 summits?

  11. Antony Ratcliffe

    Hi there,
    It took me around seven hours to do the ascent (go up) but I stopped at least half hour at the Antennae to take in the beautiful views of the pretty lights of Salatiga Town, and took small rests elsewhere too. Further up after the Antennae I also headed down to the spring water but it was dark and messy with lots of rivulets and wet/slippery underfoot so I wasted time and energy doing that.

    The descent (going down) was around five hours but I also veered off from the main track and ended up going through a lot of forest and eventually came out at a village quite far from the starting checkpost but one of the villagers was kind enough to take me by motorbike back to Kopeng.

    It is well worth doing the trek as the views from the summit are simply amazing! In good weather you can take your time and rest anywhere you wish. If you do it I wish you the best of luck and I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

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