January 16, 2020
Written by Super Star Trekker 2019 and Trek Leader for Kilimanjaro Sept 2020 Asmita Ranade
The idea to climb this mountain originated while climbing Mount Semeru which happens to be the second tallest volcano in Indonesia. I thought well why not we climb the tallest one. The idea got into our founders inbox and she set the wheels in motion to come up with an itinerary 6 months later and a team was ready to go.
I signed up knowing well, how taxing a volcano summit push is. Climbing mountains is an addiction and I remain undeterred but always cautious trying to understand and study what it is going to take to climb it.
We started off from Singapore via KL and landed in Padang. A note to always be trek ready – carry your shoes in your backpack, waterproofs and essentials in case your luggage does not arrive. We were greeted by a smiling guide, Jet H, who remained a steady support throughout our journey. It was a 7 hour drive to Kersik Tuo, the village at the base of the mountain, with many a gut churning twists and turns and bumps. A warning to those with car sickness to be prepared with their dose of medication. We settled into an adequately clean accommodation – this was not a homestay, it was a hotel. As per Indonesian village standards was quite comfortable. We repacked our backpacks to ensure we had what we needed in the day pack and packed the dry bag with overnight essentials for the porters to carry.
We woke up nice and early to a lovely view of the mountain. We had our breakfast and left the hotel in a traditional minivan along yet another bumpy and dusty road for about 20 mins. Finally, we were ready to climb. The sun was out, our spirits were high, and we set off after a good stretch.
This is the rough breakdown of the climb
Basecamp - Summit (3,805 meters): 3 hours
Basecamp-Car drop off: 5.30 hours. Arrival around 2:30 pm
The trail was a dirt road for the first km and then went straight into a lovely rainforest. Beautiful tall trees all along the way sheltered us from the sun. It was humid and a tad hot. But as we went further up it started to cool down. We heard the sounds of baboons creating a racket- it was a drum like sound which felt eerie in the beginning. There were lots of chirping birds. Apparently, there is a lot of wildlife in this forest but we didn’t see much of it. It was a solid steady upwards climb up for the first 3-4 kms. The path was slightly muddy as it had rained the day before but w
asn’t that slippery. We stopped for lunch at a big clearing where the guides and porters set up a pop-up kitchen and we had hot food which was very welcome as by this time there was a cold wind blowing and having stopped we could feel it even more. We added on a layer of clothing at this point and after an hour long stop for lunch we continued onwards.
Now, the trail started to get interesting with some steep hoists and clambering required to get up and ahead. The path got slippery as it was moss covered in a few areas and the altitude started to play a part in the climb. I couldn’t breath as easily. I needed to stop every few minutes to catch my breath. I was tired and the path was getting steeper and trickier to navigate with the intertwined root on the paths and the gullies formed due to the lava flowing down and then the rain flowing down these gullies and them became muddy and deep. I had to take care not to slip.
The climb from Shelter 2 all the way to basecamp was a hard mental toil and with the paucity of oxygen in the body, it started to become a physical challenge. It was a sense of relief for me to get to basecamp with the lovely yellow tents all setup and ready for is to rest our tired bodies. The wind started to pick up quite a bit. We rested and had some food to eat. Around sunset time we walked a little further up at a vantage point to try to see the sunset.
It was a lovely evening with a carpet of clouds we could see below us. Fluffy, like brushed cotton with the sky turning pink as the sun started to set. Perfect setting for some lovely pictures. You should know, it is something we do a lot when we trek! We enjoyed that moment and started to come back to our tents as it was getting cooler and the wind was getting stronger.
The weather at the top of any mountain is always unpredictable. We were about to experience that in our own way. As it got dark the wind picked up speed. We were all huddled in our respective tents not daring to venture out as it got stronger and started raining which then meant we had to have dinner in our tents which was a welcome perk it was very cold by this point. A soup and some noodles warmed us up before we got into our sleeping bags with the intention to sleep. But sleep eluded us as the wind and rain got stronger and lashed our tents throughout the night. We were meant to leave at 4:30am for the summit push but it was impossible to get going in those conditions, so we waited until sunrise and left around 6 when it got brighter. The rain had stopped at this point, but it was still super windy.
The next few hours were a combination of a steep climb with less oxygen and lashing winds that threatened to push us off our feet. (The reader should note that the team that went 6 months before us had pristine conditions for the same climb – a clear sky with a bright full moon lighting their way all the way to the top- so this account is one that I faced and isn’t reflective of every climb up this mountain. It just depends on the time of the year. Mountain weather, however, is always unpredictable) It was tiring, it was scary, it felt long. But with every step we knew we were getting closer to the top which was enough to keep us going. We were walking in the clouds at time as visibility was not that great but as we reached the top the clouds parted and there was bright sun to greet us. It was a beautiful sight. There were waves of clouds below us ebbing and falling like a cascade of sea water. It felt surreal. It felt like we were someplace other than earth. We could not see the caldera clearly because of these clouds but we could make out the rim of the going all the way around to another peak in the distance. It was beautiful to sit there and take it all in.
We took a lot of pictures, refueled, and needed to get up and start walking as it was starting to get colder as our bodies cooled down. Thankfully the sun came out for a while, so it warmed us up a little but the walk was no means easy with that wind threatening to blow us over the top. The views on the other hand were beautiful as we started to come down from the cloud cover. We could see miles and miles away, these little houses in the villages that looked like little pebbles and mountains in the distance rising majestic across the horizon. These views are what makes all that effort worth it’s while.
We got back to basecamp, took some layers off as it was getting warmer and started the walk down to the car lot. The path down was very muddy and slippery after hours of rain the previous night. We trudged through it all as all we could think of by this point was a hot shower.
It took us around five and a half hours to get back to the bottom after a lot of slips, slides, falls, muddy boots, muddy bottoms, tired bodies but uplifted spirits after those breathtaking views from the summit.
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