To Mt. Semeru Volcano: Hairiest Trip of My World Travels

"Lash of Lash World Tour profile photos"Lash, an expat American who’s been traveling the world solo since 1998, immerses herself in nature, culture and the arts of countries she visits.

Here she shares the story of her journey to the access point of Mt. Semeru Volcano.

I found myself sitting in pitch darkness in the back of a rough pick-up truck, under a heavy tarp, with five burly Javanese male laborers, inching our way up a steep narrow ridge-line in the remote mountains of central Java, Indonesia. Cold rain was pelting away outside, pummeling the tarp just inches above our heads.

All I could think about was that incredibly narrow uneven track that our pick-up was navigating. The track was barely wide enough for two rutted tire tracks. Only a few inches remained on either side before the mountain fell away into deep nothingness. Surely in this downpour the track must be getting progressively muddier and slipperier by the minute.

My senses went on hyper-alert for any sideways slip or twist of the truck, as I sat anticipating a sudden plunge over the edge of that precipitous ridge. I eyed the opening in the tarp at the back of the truck, visualizing how I could thrust myself out, should our vehicle begin to hurl over the edge. Could I jump out in time to save myself?

Meanwhile, I pondered, “How did I get myself into such a hairy predicament?”

Mt. Semeru, that’s how.

"Mt Semeru from Lash's tent in central Java, Indonesia"

Mt Semeru from Lash’s tent at a camp in central Java, Indonesia

I couldn’t resist attempting to climb Mt. Semeru volcano, Java’s highest peak at 3676 M / 12,127 ft. Semeru is also Hindu Indonesians most revered mountain, referred to as Mahameru, ‘Great Mountain’. More dramatically, Semeru is Java’s most active volcano, regularly spewing out toxic fumes.

Not surprisingly then, not many people climb Mt. Semeru. Of those who do, almost all are local Indonesian hiking enthusiasts and university students. Very, very few westerners attempt the still-steaming volcano. And even fewer attempt a solo summit.

When I reached the base of Semeru’s ash cone a few days later, I was greeted by over a dozen grim signs proclaiming the names of young hikers who had died attempting the summit. But I didn’t know that when I made my hiking plan.

What I did know from my guidebook is that almost everyone who does climb Semeru accesses the start point, Ranu Pani, from Mt Bromo. But I was planning to get there from Malang city, which lies west of the mountains surrounding Semeru. The guidebook mentioned it was possible to access the start point from Malang, though it was somewhat complicated.

“It’s possible” was all I needed to hear. I would get to Ranu Pani village from Malang, one way or the other. Doing so entailed catching a local bus from Malang up into the foothills, to another tiny village at the tail end of paved roads. From there it was dirt tracks and no public transportation. I’d have to hitch a ride on a supply truck heading to Ranu Pani village. That sounded fun to me.

"Local Javanese laborer, Indonesia"

Local Javanese man, Indonesia

So early one sunny morning, mountaineering bag packed with supplies, I made my way to Malang’s main bus station. There I found the correct bus easily enough. By 10am I had already reached the end of the road. Villagers stared at me curiously when I alighted in their little domain. Somehow I made it known to them why I was there. I wanted to get to Ranu Pani village. Perhaps the guest house owner in Malang had written me a note in Indonesian? I can’t recall.

In any event, the villagers clearly understood. When a big lumbering pick-up truck appeared one hour later, they called me over to climb aboard.

Strolling over, I found myself staring at an open-backed pick-up, nearly filled with supplies: boxes, cartons, produce, bottles and… five exceedingly rough looking Javanese laborers. Gulp.

I couldn’t help but wonder if it was safe or wise for me to climb into the back of that lone pick-up truck with five Javanese mountain men who may have never seen a foreigner. Should I climb in and head up into the remote mountains of central Java?

It instantly occurred to me that they could very easily rob me, rape me, throw me into the mountains and leave me for dead. Who would ever know? Who would even notice I was missing, at least until a few months later?

In such questionable situations, I always resort to checking out the locals’ reactions. If they looked worried, I’d know I was in danger. I peered at the local villagers. I didn’t detect any fear or apprehension on their part. I peered at the laborers I was about to join. I didn’t detect any lust or alarm or wrong-doing from them.

I only had a few moments to make a decision. The truck was not waiting around.

In a spur-of-the-moment decision, I took the plunge, let out a huge breath and climbed into the pick-up.

We headed up the mountain track: two well-worn ruts running up the ridge. Before long, that ridge narrowed into a razor-edged path that dropped off precipitously on both sides. Only about one foot of earth remained on either side of that rutted track. Any slip of the wheel, any heavy bump over a rock, could easily plunge us down either side of the mountain into oblivion.

There was nothing I could do about it, short of calling “halt”, jumping out and walking back down the way we’d come. I assumed, for nerve’s sake if nothing else, that the driver knew what he was doing. I was sure he’d do his utmost to prevent us from plunging over the edge to our deaths.

I sat tensely in the back, looking around at the scenery and passing quick glances at my five companions. I tried my best not to look too friendly. To my relief, they did not make any advances. I began to relax. I might just survive this truck ride, I consoled myself.

Then it started to rain. Not a light sprinkle or even a drizzle, but a heavy drenching downpour. The driver stopped. He pulled a dark tarp over the back to protect both the supplies and the humans from cold rain. Then he jumped back in the cab and continued up the dodgy track.

And so there I was under a tarp in complete darkness, with the five laborers, in a truck inching its way up a razor-sharp ridge-line in central Java, in a heavy downpour.

Up and up and up we drove in that heavy rain. An hour went by and we were still alive. Another hour went by with no slip ups. We drove up that mountain ridge for three whole hours.

But we never skidded sideways. Never got stalled with wheels spinning in mud. Never slipped over the edge.

In fact, we actually made it up that ridge-line and onto a plateau. Hallelujah!

And suddenly, there was a real road. Ah, the road that most people take to reach Ranu Pani village. Ah hem.

"Trekking signs with distances at Mt. Semeru Volcano in Central Java Indonesia"

Distance signs, Java Indonesia

Well, I reached Ranu Pani too. All in one piece. Without molestation. And with all my material possessions intact. I’d survived the day.

I checked into the village’s lone guest house, huddled by their fire for warmth in the cold rainy mountain air and prepared for my trek up Mt. Semeru.

The following day I began my 3-day solo ascent of Java’s highest mountain.

"Flag in rocks at Mt. Semeru summit in central Java Indonesia"

Mt. Semeru Summit

About the Author:

Lash is the author of two adventuring guidebooks to Bali, which are available in 3 eBook formats on LashWorldTour and in print on Amazon: Hiking in Bali / Cycling Bali She aims to inspire others to follow their dreams by sharing her cultural insights, narrative adventure tales, travel tips and photos at LashWorldTour.

Lash World Tour on Facebook
Follow @LashWorldTour on Twitter

Photos courtesy of Lash

"Lash posing with a group of Javanese student hikers  - central Java - Indonesia"

Lash posing with a group of Javanese student hikers

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!

3 thoughts on “To Mt. Semeru Volcano: Hairiest Trip of My World Travels

  1. Leigh

    Now that’s what I call a good story – since it all worked out in the end. I can only imagine the dark thoughts going around your head when huddled underneath the tarp.
    Congrats on a hard won summit. It sounds like getting to the trailhead was the crux of the hike.

  2. Rachel Kowalczyk

    Part of the appeal of summitting Mt. Sumeru is the fact that so few travelers do it, and of those, they’re like you — adventurous, attuned to your surroundings, and willing to cast off preconceived notions to experience something genuine. Thank you for sharing. Your photos communicate the mythical look this place retains, even in modern times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.