A Journey to the Top

Saturday, August 31, 2013

So the legend has it. Java used to be a floating piece of land on the sea. The almighty decided to nail it to the earth with a mountain brought from Indian sub continent. To make the story short, the mountain was put in east Java and its peak became the highest ground on the island.

Many people sacred its peak and said that it was home for holy ancient spirits. That’s why it was named Mahameru, a Sanskrit for Great Mountain. As for the mountain as a whole, it was named Sumeru, also a Sanskrit, the central world mountain in Hindu mythology. Today, the mountain is well known as Semeru.

After going through a yearlong planning, the day to hike that mountain finally came. And just like the previous year trip to Rinjani, I went with Gilang, a friend from college, and would spend three days and two night trekking in that huge volcanic highland that nailed Java to the earth.

Thank you for coming.

Day One 

After taking a nearly fifteen hour trip by train from Jakarta, we arrived in Malang station of Kotabaru, 444 meters above the sea level at around nine in the morning. Andi, a driver from the trekking organizer had waited for us in front of the station and was ready to pick us up to Ranu Pane, where we were going to start our - first day trekking in Semeru.

It took about three hours to reach Ranu Pane from Malang – we only stopped twice; at a gas station to take a bath at its public toilet and at the way down to Mount Bromo to capture its vast savanna from above. 

We met Purwanto, a guy from the trekking organizer at the parking area of Ranu Pane. For the next two days, he would be our guide and would cook our meals. He is a local resident who had hiked Semeru for thousands of times.

Writing down our names, addresses, and contact numbers – in case of emergency – on a paper was the first thing we did when entering the information centre at Ranu Pane. We also had to show a doctor’s certificate, declaring that we were health and eligible for this hiking activity.

While Gilang was declaring all the things we brought to the mountain to the officers, I stepped out to the back of the information centre to capture the lake of Ranu Pane. Forgive me for this not so amazing picture. I’m not so fond of landscape photography.

At around 12.30, we began the trekking after having a quick lunch at a local food stall. The weather was cloudy and I could sense that the rain would fall anytime soon. After walking three kilometers on a relatively flat ground, we entered what to me looked like a forest called Landengan Dowo, 2300 meters above the sea level.

What made this forest looked different than the one I had seen in Rinjani was the paved way that guided us. So, no need to be afraid of getting lost as long as we walk on the track.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any more pictures as the rain started to fall. One rooky mistake that I made in this trip was not bringing a proper rain coat. I thought a disposal rain coat would help. Turned out it didn’t. The rain had completely wet my backpack and my camera bag. Our shoes were covered with mud. Walking in the rain inside the forest made me feel like being an American soldier invading mountainous jungle of Vietnam.

At 16:32 the rain turned to drizzling, allowing me to capture the lake of Ranu Kumbolo from above. We were going to set up our tent at its side. Before that, we had to walk along the hill side before walking down to the lake. 

At 16:57 we started to set up the tent. It was cold and I was wet. For a moment, I couldn’t feel my hands. Our first dinner that night was noodle soup, rice, canned fish and fried salted fish brought from Purwanto’s house.

Considering that it was a long weekend, many people came to hike the mountain. The camping ground on the lake side had been transformed into a fair. It was not easy for us to sleep in such a noisy condition. Thanks to the flu pill I brought from home that put me to sleep that night.

Day Two  

The next morning I woke up a little bit late and soon realize how crowded the camping ground was. We were not in the right side of the lake to capture the sunrise. So Gilang and I just walked along the lake side, capturing anything we saw with our cameras. We returned to the tent for breakfast.

Since everything was all wet from the rain on the other day, the sun light in that morning was such a huge blessing. We put all of our stuffs on the grass, hopping to dry them out. Before nine o’ clock, we packed our stuffs and then left the camping ground for Kalimati. It was going to be our next camping ground, located 7.5 kilometers away from the lake of Ranu Kumbolo. We had to walk around the lake before reaching another camping ground on the other side of the lake.

One of the most challenging part of this – second day trekking was when we had to hike the steep slope of “Tanjakan Cinta,” just few meters away from the lake of Ranu Kumbolo. It was literally took our breaths away.

But soon after we completed the hiking that steep slope, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of a beautiful landscape. It was Oro Oro Ombo, a vast savanna covered with vegetations that to me looked like lavenders. Well, of course those were not lavenders since I didn’t smell any fragrance there. 

Instead of walking down the steep hill to reach the savanna, Purwanto preferred taking the less popular and less steep path by walking on the hill side above the savanna. This option gave us the possibility to enjoy the view of savanna and the hill side at the same time.

The first thing I did when we reached the savanna was taking pictures of the purple flowers which I thought were lavenders, then walking toward the pine forest.

At 10:15 we arrived at Cemoro Kandang, 2500 meters above the sea level. It was a thick pine forest that reminded me so much of the same forest I had seen in Mount Tangkuban Perahu in West Java. The route seemed flat but it was actually not. I felt like walking on a ramp with grass on both sides.

At 11:20 after walking for three kilometers, we reached Jambangan, 2600 meters about the sea level. At that point, Mahameru seemed to be very close and we were going to climb it at night. After walking through an open grass land, we walked through another pine forest before finally reached Kalimati, 2700 meters above the sea level at 11:45.

Purwanto had set up the tent not far from the pine forest. We decided to take a break in the tent whilst watching the Mahameru which that time, was covered with clouds. To obtain clean water for drink, Purwanto and I walked few meters to the woods where there was a water spring of Sumber Mani. Walking ups and downs with five big bottles in my hand had completely made me exhausted. Soon after having lunch, I fell asleep in the tent.

Waking up at four, I found the sky was a bit a clearer than before. I guessed it was the right time to capture Mahameru. From this place, the peak looked intimidating with its steep slope (I guessed it was nearly 45 degree) and also the volcanic sands and stones that covered it.

We had a quick light dinner at dusk and then tried to put ourselves to sleep. We had to wake up at 23:30 to start the summit attack. That’s right; we were going to reach the summit, the highest altitude in Java, 3676 meters above the sea level.

Day Three 

Having an extremely late supper was not something I would do at home. But in such special case like that time, I would do anything to fuel my body with calories. We had rice and noodle soup at 23:45.

At around twelve, we all were ready to start the attack. Coming out of the tent, the first thing we did was of course to pray. With headlamps on our head, we started walking through the camping ground of Kalimati, heading to the forest. This time, I brought along my trekking pole.

Gilang and I managed to keep walking as we would really like to see the sunrise from the summit. Beside our breath and energy, we also had to save the water we brought. Walking through the forest of Arcopodo, 2900 meters above the sea level, I saw some people camped in the forest.

Walking out of the forest, it was time for us to climb the – fourty five degree – steep slope covered with volcanic sand and stones. There came the real challenge. It was not the mountain that we actually conquered, it was our mind. It was really about determination to reach our goal, no matter the obstacles we got.

I somehow thanked God that it was completely dark that night. I didn’t get to see the summit so I didn’t have to know how far I still had to climb and crawl to get there. All I had to do was doing what I was supposed to do to reach it. At my weakest point where all I wanted to do was giving up, I recalled what Purwanto had advised me on the day before. He told us to remember the God, and never stopped calling His name.

At 5:10 I looked up and saw a guy standing with the headlamp on. I guessed this was it. I was pretty close to step my feet on the highest summit in Java. Three minutes after that, I reached the summit and decided to walk around to channel my emotion. It was absolutely an emotional circumstance, and it was hard for me to describe it with words.

All the exhaustion of climbing up the steep slope was suddenly gone. Everybody reaching the summit showed their gratitude in different ways. Some of them bowed down on the ground, while others screamed “Mahameru!”

I could see the sun rose. It was not really bright at first, it was cloudy. Nobody wanted to miss this moment. The sacred summit suddenly turned into a tourism place where people took pictures with cameras. And I was one of them.


Standing on the highest summit in Java had allowed me to see many mountains in the region. It was magnificent and I became aware that Java was a truly volcanic island. Another magnificent thing that I saw on the summit was the volcanic cloud spewed by the mountain which happened in every ten minutes.    

At around seven, we decided to go down from the summit which meant walking down the steep slope. In a bright weather like that, I could see clearly what the track I had climbed looked like. Soon after completing the sandy track, we walked through the thick forest of Arcopodo, returned to the camping ground at Kalimati.

Despite the fact that I hurt, again, both my toe nails, I was really glad that I had reached the summit. Normally, people would take a long break at the camping ground after returning from the summit. But Purwanto said that we should start trekking again if we wanted to reach Ranu Pane before dark. With only a bowl of noodle soup for breakfast, I kind of push myself for another walk. 

We packed our stuffs and left the camping ground at Kalimati at 10:45. We walk through the same track like on the other day, between Kalimati and the lake of Ranu Kumbolo. First, it was Jambangan, then the thick forest of Cemoro Kandang, before walking on the hill side above the beautiful savanna of Oro Oro Ombo. It was drizzling that time and I could smell the wet grass as much as I wanted.


For the second time we had to deal with the steep slope of Tanjakan Cinta. It was 12:25, and this time we had to climb it down to reach the lake of Ranu Kumbolo.

In this picture below, a trekker was going down to the lake with a plastic bag of garbage. That bag would be brought along until Ranu Pani where all garbage would be collected. 

We took a so-called lunch break at the lake side and also sheltered from the rain that suddenly fell. I had two slices of bread with jam. I thought it would be enough for the rest of the trek. Turned out I was wrong. It really took lots of carbohydrate to generate energy. 

The following track that we took after leaving the lake of Ranu Kumbolo was different than the one we had taken on our first day trekking. That time we walked through Ayek-Ayek. This route was not really popular among the trekkers since it was actually opened for the locals.

I thought at first this route was going to be much easier and I believed that. We first walked through a vast savanna surrounded by green hills. The track was flat. But I started sensing that something was not right when Purwanto led us to hike one of the hills. The route might have been not too steep, but it was a very long winding slope to hike. Along this track, we only passed by with two trekkers. 


I was way too exhausted since I hadn’t got enough sleep on the previous night climbing up the summit, and also I had only taken small calories from the breakfast and lunch I had had. Aware with that condition, Gilang asked Purwanto to let us stopped and kindly asked him to seek help in the village nearby. We were evacuated with motorcycles to Ranu Pane.

It was disappointing however that we couldn’t complete this trip perfectly. But it was a consolation to me to know that not many people could complete the trek in Semeru in three days and two nights. Most of them do it in at least four days and three nights, or even a week.

At around five we arrived at the parking ground at Ranu Pane where Andri, the driver, had waited for us with his jeep. After signing off at the information centre, we left Ranu Pane for the motel reserved for us in Mount Bromo. We were going to watch the sunrise in the following morning.

In the jeep, on the way to the motel, I told myself to go back to the great mountain of Semeru and trek in there by foot with no help of motorcycle, even if I have to take more days to complete it.

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  1. LOVE IT..
    but seems that Rinjani much prettier...?


    1. Thanks Nas.
      What obvious to me is that Rinjani is much bigger than Semeru and has a wider savanna and a thicker forest.

  2. how about met a friend at the peak? why dont you write it? ahahaha...

    1. Haha... ya ya... I should have mentioned you at that part....

  3. mengerikan.....
    Mantap jaya Om WIb...

    1. Hehehe.... jadi malu sama yg lebih berpengalaman. Kemaren tepar pas hari terakhir mas.... sampe2 minum pun ga bisa masuk karena dimuntahin terus.

      Sepertinya ga cuma butuh latihan fisik ya.... mentalnya juga mesti tabah.

  4. Always love your writing and pictures.
    I really enjoy reading your journal Wib. Although, this one comes with a little twist. No longer too shy to pose for camera eh? :)

    1. Thank you Eli.... Of course I still shy away from camera. I just want to show you that I was there, standing on the summit. Hahaha....

  5. very nice yet breathtaking pictures! :)

    1. Thanks Dit. The trip itself literally took my breath away... You know what? Trekking in the mountain could make you loss some weight.... :)

  6. Naik gunung itu pada prinsipnya pindah tidur dan pindah tempat makan, jadi jangan sampe kurang tidur dan kurang makan dong.... santey aja, kayak di pantei hehe

    1. Haha... iya bener juga. Kebawa kebiasaan kantor. Apa2 kudu pake deadline. Kapan atuh yuk hiking bareng.

    2. ihiiiiyy.. tambora yuk. masa gw sendirian nih?

    3. Hehe sebetulnya pengen... cuma nunggu diajak aja. Ayo aja.... semoga makin lancar dari yg udah2....

    4. ya emang harus ada deadline tapi yang asik aja gitu jadwalnya. Oktober yok jangan yg jauh2 lah yang weekend-an aja dulu

    5. btw itu si Purwanto jail banget sih

    6. Wah boleh tuh... ada ide mau ke mana?

    7. Hehe.... iya tuh. Rada ngeselin pas hari terakhir.

  7. ashheekk. ayo Mal kita trekking bareng. Wib? insyaAllah kalo ada Mala mah sehat lah. terjamin makanan

    1. Ciremai? bisa liat kaldera nya. 31 oktober? kan liburan panjang tuh.

    2. Yaah... Oktober insya Allah mau ke Gede Gil.... Masa sebulan 2x naik? hehehe

    3. Gak papa kan joggingnya juga dua x seminggu he he Gw juga ada kemungkinan ke gede, diajak temen tapi masih geje.

  8. lain kali lo bawa makanan yang biasa di audax (balap sepeda) kayak wafer/ gel gitu tp itu kalorinya tinggi banget, satu wafer kalorinya sama kaya lo makan sepiring... krn biasanya klo audax kan kombinasi antara endurance, sprint & climbing..dan itu kecil2..lo bisa beli di toko sepeda.

    1. Weleh... baru tau gue. Coba ntar gw googling. Bisa jadi alternativ buat next trip. Thanks buat infonya.

    2. Alternatively, bisa bawa bbrp bar coklat dan isotonic water,roti gandum &selai. Selai energinya jg gede bgt. Klo energy waffle agak mahal sob. 1 bungkus sekitar 100rb-an.

    3. Masa sih selai kalorinya tinggi? Selai import kali ya?
      Btw, when is the best time to explore Pulau Ubin?

    4. when is the best time? on the weekend and public holiday...hehehehe..
      btw ngapain ke p ubin? mending ke tempat lain...

    5. Mmm... no reason except that I am obsessed to ride a bike on that island and see the last kampong in Singapore...

  9. hi..see u again...last year i asked u about RINJANI..i will (insya-Allah) hike Mahameru this year..so a simple question, how tough was it? easier or tougher than Rinjani?
    - nashrudean@hotmail.com-

    1. Hi Nash,
      Glad to see you again. Well, people have different way to perceive which one of those mountains are tougher. As for me, personally, Mount Semeru was less tougher than Rinjani.

      I can say Semeru was greener and had less stone paths than Rinjani. Good luck with your trip to Semeru.

  10. amazing.. hopefully satu ari nnt shin bisa ke semeru #insyaAllah