Crazy in a Good Way: Climbing Merapi Volcano After Midnight

In spite of having arrangements at a beautiful French home stay in Lencoh, we finished our long day of coffee picking and education and then decided to do a 9 hour hike. One of our group members asked if anyone wanted to climb Mt. Merapi (a famous, and previously devastating, volcano). We had to leave at 12:45 AM to climb the 4km to the summit before the sunset, and I forgot my ankle brace (I tend to roll my ankle because of a cyst), but being crazy in a good way, Anna and I accepted the offer.

I feel confident in saying that Merapi is the hardest hike I have ever done. It was my first night hike, and almost the entirety of it was straight up like most hikes are right before the summit. On the way up, the guide said there was a 45 minute “flat” stretch. We all realized this was false. I joked, “If this is flat, then the world is flat.”

merapi 1

The terrain changed several times starting with compacted dirt in narrow trenches with steep drops, then turning into volcanic sand just before the summit, and then turning into massive rocks. Climbing was required from grasping tree roots and branches to climb up out of the holes in the trenches, to climbing up rock for a decent stretch after the volcanic sand.

I have never in my life been more thankful for my firm-toed keens with good traction. Two of our friends, high schoolers Rio and Dawa, climbed wearing river sandals. Anna climbed wearing very worn-out puma tennis shoes (and, with two men, still raced up and down the mountain ahead of me).

The summit was cold, but incredible. It was still fairly dark when we reached the summit, so we got to see the whole sunrise including watching the moon and the last star disappear before the sun came up. I have seen very few sunsets in my life and never from as great of a vantage point. I put on my jacket and Anna made me a sandwich out of Kaya (egg jam). It was lovely.

merapi 2

The descent was difficult, but I spent a lot less time on my back and hindquarters than I expected. I still used my hands a lot, but instances of rolling my ankle were shockingly seldom. I think that perhaps this is because the trenches were too narrow to give me enough room to hurt myself significantly. I was in way less pain than I thought, and my asthma was fairly well controlled with my inhaler.

All in all, the hike was awesome. I prefer to go for hikes that are less steep so that I do not have to devote so much attention to my feet, but Merapi was an extremely cool experience. It was very beautiful and a great opportunity to hike late at night. Anna and I are looking for more hikes and climbs in Jawa. Like a true addict, Anna wanted another hike almost the moment we got down. Hopefully we will get a chance to do a few more before she goes home.

We hung out at Parangtritis beach the next weekend, and we are heading to visit a sustainable farm tomorrow. I will write again when I get the chance.


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