Flora & Fauna
Volume 88 | May 2012
insidesumatera.com | tourism & lifestyle magazine -
Old Man Climbs Mount
Jumat, 5 Februari 2010 | 10:17:08
Old Man Climbs Mount Merapi
by. Cahyo Pramono
Wish what you want to wish
Go where you want to go
Become what you want to be
Because you only live once
You only have one chance to do
All the things you wish to do
I wish you enough happiness to make you smile
Enough trials to make you strong
Enough pain to make you human
Enough hope to make you happy.
This early dawn, 10 years of waiting have been repaid in full. Today, at a height of 2,870 metres above sea level, tears of joy mix with drops of cold morning dew. It’s real, I’m standing on shaky legs on the summit of Mount Merapi over Koto Baru, Padang Panjang, West Sumatera.
This volcano crosses the boarder of number of governmental districts: The districts of
Banuhampu Sungai Puar (Agam), Pariangan, Batipuh, and X Koto (Tanah Datar).
This mission allows me to wallow in nostalgia. Nostalgia is the real reason for this climb at my age. I’m no longer a young man.
Ten years ago, I was transferred to West Sumatera. A most beautiful transfer. I immediately fell in love with my first view of the mountains surrounding Bukittinggi: Mount Singgalang and Mount Merapi. Two twin souls similar to Mount Sibayak and Sinabung in Karo Country–only later would I find out that in fact there is another mountain near them: Mount Tandikat.
At that time, I said to myself: “How wonderful it would be to stand on the peak!” Then I let business and all kinds of excuses dissuade from fulfilling that wish. For sure, every time I had a chance to return to Minang Country, these two mountain peaks beckoned me, reminding me of my wish, until finally, I could no longer, satisfy myself with reasons not to make my wish reality. I couldn’t just let myself get older and older, until my wish remained a dream forever.
A month before the climb, I ordered a ticket to Padang. I was getting older and my movements more limited. If I waited any longer my chances of actually doing it would be zero. The Israk Miraj public holiday seemed a perfect time to finally fulfil my dream, which was becoming rustier by the day. I chose Mt. Merapi as my first destination. I believed that there would be a series of climbs to follow: “Go where you want to go, become what you want to be.”
Climbing to heights of nearly 3,000 metres required both physical and mental preparation. For a smoker and office worker like me, some good preparations were required.
For 3 weeks prior to the climb, I went walking and jogging for an hour every day. I performed this routine every morning or afternoon, either before or after work. This was hard to do due to my tight work schedule, but I had to force myself to do it, or I wouldn’t have enough energy for the climb.
During this time, the internet became an important source of information about Mt. Merapi. Even though the information was quiet limited, I was able to get a good idea of where to start. There were a few blogs with brief descriptions of the climb. One climber’s blog even had a description by a researcher of being lost for 7 days on Mt. Merapi. This blog unsettled me a little.
None of my friends in Medan were interested in the climb. Neither were my friends in Padang. They were all busy with their own lives. Until finally I begun communicating with Linda Pluto who was studying in Japan at the time. By internet and phone I was introduced to Mutia Ramadhan an IPB researcher who was to join me on the trip, together with our 2 local guides, Erwin Perleng and Tata. By coincidence, Mutia was researching ecotourism on Mt. Merapi, and had never made the ascent either.
Then there was Aman Homonangan Siregar who equipped me with climbing gear. Aman Homonangan appreciated how much this climb meant to me. He emptied his entire stock from his shop in Jl. Mansyur, Medan for me from the Camel shoes, the 60 and 70 Karimor backpack, the, the Corona jacket, the Better walking stick to paraffin for cooking in emergencies.
Two days before the climb, I fell down in the road near my house. The bruises and cuts on my legs hurt whenever I tried to work. “Amangoi! (Oh my God)”…Had this month of preparation been for nothing? My left knee was cut, my skin grazed, my right knee slightly bruised, and cuts on my right toe.
“Bismillah…” I spoke meaningfully as I crossed the threshold. This ascent wasn’t a mission about defeating a high mountain. It was part of a spiritual coming-of-age, a Wipasana meditation practice I had learnt from YA Bante Pannarata. This was an internal jihad against myself, like practice for the big war of the prophet Muhammed SAW after his return from the Badar War.
This ascent inspired my feeling that he was on my side. I departed, my body aching and covered in cuts and grazes, buoyed by my faith. “I can do it! Even if I have to fight for every step!” Let me learn from Mt. Merapi’s harshness, let me learn to focus and accept whatever I was heading for, I prayed.
The midday flight was delayed to the afternoon. Afternoon was delayed to dusk. Dusk became night. “Dear God, what are the flights like in this country?” Was this a bad sign? What if this was a warning from God?” I thought.
In my prayers in the airport prayer room, I prayed for His protection. By 8pm, my flight hadn’t arrived. I was nervous as I had promised my climbing partners, whom I had never met, that would arrive in Koto Boru in time for dinner. At 11:30, I finally arrived in Koto Baru. After a warm welcome, I begged for forgiveness for my lateness.
Last plans were made while drinking warm tea in Koto Baru’s cold night air. At 1.30 in the morning, we were each escorted by ojek (motorbike pillion) to the Telkom tower situated 2 kms away at the foot of Mt. Merapi.
At 2am, in the cold and velvet darkness, we began our ascent. At first, the going was easy, but soon the ground began to slope, getting steeper and steeper. As we entered the rainforest, the path narrowed to one foot’s breadth, similar to a path in the paddy fields.
Once in a while we had to jump over obstacles in the path. We had to ignore the darkness and sounds of insects in order to avoid losing concentration.
Mutia, the IPB researcher, stopped every time there was a turn-off or special sign in order to record the GPS position. In order to make a map, she said. For me, this was an excellent excuse to stop to catch my increasingly ragged breath. In the first three hours of the climb, we had two different styles of walking. For those who were still young and energetic, they walked faster with longer stops. For me, I walked slower with short stops to catch my breath without sitting down. A stop of more than 5 minutes would have decreased my stamina.
A recording of people praying from a mosque in Koto Baru absorbed by the trees finally reached my ears. Soon it would time for morning prayers. I suggested putting up the tents, praying and taking a rest. WE were 1750 metres above sea level. Tata and Erwin looked for a flat place to set up camp and heated some water.
Changing into warm pyjamas was obligatory. Even pyjamas and a jacket weren’t warm enough in this location. We had to sleep in sleeping bags. We felt so tired, that we slept deeply until 8:30 in the morning. Lazily, we prepared breakfast, while horsing around. A young couple of climbers from Pekanbaru passed us by. Suddenly we realized that the time was 11 am. We were packed and on our way by 12.30.
The path we were following was one used by many people. We had heard that there were a lot of climbers on public holidays. It was said that, on one New Year’s Eve, there had been as many as 3000 climbers on the mountain. I couldn’t imagine how chaotic that must have been.
Our trek began to get more interesting. The weather had been on our side since the previous evening. Some more young climbers passed us, although in the end we were to pass them again. During the first three and a half hours of our trek, we passed through thick, tropical rainforest. Another part of the path seemed more like a gutter. Imagine we were walking in a dried-out gutter. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if it started raining suddenly.
Only a few birds could be seen on this path. The only other animals we saw were squirrels and insects. Did it mean that the animals were moving away from us?
The majority of the trees were in good condition although there were some which had been spray painted with graffiti and carved. Some had signs on to indicate the way to the top which were quite helpful. More specifically, there were some that showed the location of the nearest spring.
In the late afternoon, we began to get closer to the vegetation line. From here the Mount Singgalang and Tandikat rose up impressively in the distance. It is these three mountains which are known as Tria Agra. Singgalang rises up tall, with a masculine aura. Thin fog surrounds the base. Just like a festive cone of rice (tumpeng) surrounded by vegetables and side dishes. Meanwhile, the sun was beginning to wane to the right. What an expensive and exquisite view, a prize for those who want to struggle for it.
At ten past five in the afternoon, we were passing the last pieces of vegetation. To our right and left only bushes and small trees. Above us, bald, cruel rocks. Now we were at 2,525 metres above seal level. Our small group decided to make camp at this location, with an agreement to wake up at 4am to see sunrise from the peak of Mt. Merapi.
At dusk, we filmed the remains of the sunset. Slowly the red plate sank to battle with the small street lamps that divide the cities of Padang Panjang, Koto Baru and Bukittingi.
Subhannallah, the darkness didn’t only bring the sounds of insects, but wind and it began to get colder. That evening the temperature was 14 degrees celcius. I shivered like a Londoner in winter. The only entertainment was the lights from Padang Panjang to Bukitttinggi. Cars simmered below. One of us said it was like being on the Titanic.
The alarms on our mobiles screamed out to wake us up. Each ringtone gave a clue to the character of the owner of each mobile phone. Those who used a song to wake them up, were obviously not the type who had difficulties waking up, which was quite the opposite to those who used piercing ring tones. The sound of “beep-beep-beep” became louder and more piercing, threatening to deafen those who were awake. Even so, the deepest sleeper didn’t awake immediately.
Our plan to wake up at 3.30 am was delayed to 3.45. Outside the tents one could hear some climbers climbing past our tent towards the peak. After some preparations, we too left our tent with the same destination.
Cold, bleak, sharp stones. That was my diary entry that dark morning. It seemed that many climbers had decided to camp near our tents. Our journey to the peak became more crowded than the previous day. Step by step. I was overtaken by youths still full of energy on two occasions. The call to morning prayer accompanied me to the peak.
At 5.20 am we arrived at the flat peak of the mountain. Only sand and big rocks. This was the place is known as the “football field”. Indeed the width could be compared to a football field. Thank you God, You have accompanied my old body to the peak of Mount Merapi.
From the football field looking east, we saw our first crater. Up close the lips of this empty space showed walls which were less steep than the crater opposite. On our right side, to the south, was a path leading to a small peach. That is the peak known as Merpati peak. This narrow path seemed beautiful, but wind blew from the crater passed us. A breath of sulphur air, a rotten egg smell which caused us to choke. We continued to walk. Merpati peak is the tallest point of Mt. Merapi. Our GPS showed that we were at 2,870 metres above sea level when we approached the peak. Merpati peak isn’t wide; it can hold a maximum of 8 people. So climbers take turns taking photos while admiring the 360 degree view.
My friends, I guess you can imagine how my heart pounded with joy at that moment. I was so proud of myself. I even managed to send a note telling my family, I had reached the summit. I recorded the spectacular view on my video camera while saying: “Nobody is as lucky as I–Thank God!”
The Statue of Abel
Coming back from Merpati Peak and crossing the football field, one can see a knee high statue to the West. The statue is known as the Abel Tasmar statue, a tribute to his bravery and sacrifice.
One day, Abel was climbing in these parts, when there was an eruption of hot lava. Suddenly a female climber, a close friend of Abel, got stuck in the lava. Abel chased the girl, pulled and pushed her out of the hot lava flow. The female climber was saved but Abel had sacrificed his life to save her. The lava swallowed him up. He breathed in his last breath, as the person he had saved continued to breathe. I sent up a prayer for Abel in front of the statue. A thought crystallised: “Would I be brave enough in that situation?” Then I remembered a plaque had seen hanging on a tree branch earlier that day, saying “God favours the brave”.
Before the climb, one of my staff at the office had asked me in a surprised fashion: “Boss, you want to climb that mountain right?” “Yes,” I replied. Then, “After you reach the summit, you’ll come down again, right?” “Yes,” I answered.
He commented spontaneously: “Boss, I think you’re mad. Why would you bother going up the mountains only to go down again?” I stared at him, stupefied.
Friends, believe me, that however tiring it is to climb a mountain, it hurts far more to go down. Thighs, knees, calves all ache supporting the body against gravity. My toes pushed against one another, fighting for space, pushing against the end of the shoe. “Ouch, that hurts!” I exclaimed.
Not counting the youths who overtook me, hopping down the mountain. I even felt somewhat regretful why I had waited so long to make the ascent now I was older and had less stamina. Actually, there was no point in regret. Focus on yourself, take your time, turn on the radio walkman, and become yourself.
This is the reason people fight to attain important positions because looking at the world from above is indeed very different, beautiful and interesting. From above, the suffering and hunger below is invisible. That’s why those who are “above”, never want to step down, because coming down is painful.
By dusk, we reached the foot of the mountain. While catching my breath, I sit facing Mount Singgalang. It beckons me, waiting for me to climb to its peak.
· Height: 2,870 metres above sea level
· Distance from Minangkabau International airport to Koto Baru: 1,5 hours
· Taxi fare from the airport to Koto Baru: Rp 170,000
· Ojek (motorbike pillion) fare from Koto Baru to Telkom Tower (the beginning point of the trek): Rp 15,000
· Guide fee: Rp150,000- 300,000 per person per day (depending on negotiation)
· Telkomsel and XL signals can be received on the peak.
| 03/08/11. 08:44:30
I've been on the top in the early 90s. Glowing lava in the crater, hot steam. Great views, great experience I don't want to miss! Don't know how it looks like after the recent eruptions
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