MOUNT MERAPI

MOUNT MERAPI

Mount Merapi (25 kilometers north of Yogyakarta, near Borobudur) is by some reckonings the most active of Indonesia's 127 active volcanos. Located in Central Java, it is a 2968 meter-high (9,737 foot-high) stratovolcano with steep slopes and an almost perfect cone shape. According to volcanodiscovery.com: “It erupts on average every five to ten years and is feared for its deadly pyroclastic flows - avalanches of hot rocks and gas that are generated when parts of new lava domes constructed during eruptions in the summit crater collapse and slide down the mountain's steep flanks.” The name "Merapi" comes from the old Javanese language and means "the one making fire". It is a popular name for volcanoes: another volcano with the same name Merapi is in the Ijen Massif in East Java and similarly one called volcano "Marapi" lies on Sumatra Island.

The United Nations cites Merapi as one of 16 volcanoes worldwide that pose especially serious threats because of their activity and vicinity to major population centers. Despite this many people continue to live on the volcano’s flanks and farm the fertile soil. Merapi dominates the landscape immediately north of the city of Yogyakarta in one of the world's most densely populated areas. Despite its frequent eruptions, Mt. Merapi is very central to the lives of the Javanese people and kings. For through its eruptions Merapi spews lava, ash and minerals to the surrounding areas. These provide nutrients for the soil.

Merapi has determined the lives of kings and kingdoms. In the early 11th century, the once mighty ancient empire of Mataram mysteriously disappeared, and power suddenly shifted to East Java. Scientists surmise that a violent eruption of Merapi in A.D. 1006 was behind the change. This massive eruption also buried the nearby Borobudur temple .

Every year, the Sultan of Yogyakarta makes an offering of his hair and fingernail clippings to Merapi. The volcano plays an important part in the accepted cosmos of the Javanese sultans. The Kraton of Yogyakarta faces the mountain in one direct line. Merapi is also guarded by spiritual “guards” who give offerings to the mountain. Annually, on the anniversary of the Sultan’s coronation, offerings (labuhan) are brought from the Kraton of Yogyakarta to Mt. Merapi, together with similar offerings carried to the Indian Ocean to the south, to appease the spirits of the mountain and the sea, in order to bring welfare to the inhabitants of Java.

Mount Merapi Eruptions

Since the 1820s, Merapi has erupted with deadly force at least two dozen times. In 1930 a pyroclastic flow incinerated and suffocated 1,300 people. In 1960, pyroclastic flows raced down the mountain’s southwest side, killing 60 and injuring 300. In 1969 there was another major eruption. This one was predicted and the large cloud of ignited gas resulted in few casualties.

In 1994 Merapi erupted violently again, killing 60 people. It has been very active in recent years. In June 1998, pyroclastic flows raced down the western flank, destroying farmland. In January 2001, there were a number of earthquakes and scientists predicted a major eruption that didn’t occur. After a five year period of relative calm, a new eruption started in April 2006. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated during the peak of the eruption in late May-mid June. A particularly powerful pyroclastic flow killed two workers trapped inside a shelter that was overrun by a flow. In 2010, Merapi roared to life again, killing 324 people over two months.

According to volcanodiscovery.com: “Merapi is the youngest and southernmost of a volcanic chain extending NNW to Ungaran volcano. The steep-sided modern Merapi edifice, its upper part unvegetated due to frequent eruptive activity, was constructed to the SW of an arcuate scarp cutting the eroded older Batulawang volcano. Pyroclastic flows and lahars accompanying growth and collapse of the steep-sided active summit lava dome have devastated cultivated lands on the volcano's western-to-southern flanks and caused many fatalities during historical time. Since 1953, activity has been characterized by extrusion of lava into the summit crater, with periodic lava dome collapse and nuée ardente formation. Summit lava dome growth has continued since the 1969 gas explosion.

Merapi is continuously monitored from the Merapi Volcano Observatory (MVO) in Yogyakarta. There are a number of earthquake posts and monitoring stations. Inhabitants are warned of impending eruptions. Despite frequently giving out smoke, Merapi still attracts hikers and climbers. Sometimes tourists are allow to hike to the crater. It is a 5,000 foot climb to the top mountain. Inside the crater are glowing red fissures of lava. Scientists monitor the volcano for signs of activity and local residents annually climbs to the crater's edge to make offerings. Selo is the main trailhead . The trail can be steep and the ascent takes about four hours. Treks are organized in Yogyakarta. Many begin at 1:30am to catch the sunrise. But the mountain is often closed. There are good views of Merapi form the hill station of Kaliurung.

Climbing Up Merapi Volcano

Mount Merapi can be climbed when it is calm. The climb is arduous but the reward on reaching the top for extraordinary views from the top of one of the world’s most active volcanoes. The peak of the mountain can be cold and dark, especially if you are trekking before sunrise so it is recommended to bring a flashlight, warm clothing, water, food and sturdy shoes. It is possible to arrange tours to Mt Merapi through travel agents and tour operators in Yogya. Indonesia Expeditions can arrange guided treks up Mt Merapi.

There are two ways to reach Mount Merapi: from Kaliurang, south of the mountain, or Selo, on the north side. From Yogyakarta, Kaliurang hill resort can be reached by public transport or by car. Kaliurang stands at 900 meters on the slopes of Merapi. Selo can be reached from Muntilan or Boyolali along a winding, scenic road. Although Kaliurang is only a short drive from Yogyakarta, hikers are banned from using this route since it is regarded as too dangerous. Thus, Selo Village has become the ‘basecamp’ for Merapi hiking.

Depending on your level of fitness, it usually takes around 5 hours to climb up and 3 hours to return. If you are willing to make the effort and leave very early in the morning you will be able to see the sunrise from Mt Merapi. The 360 degree panoramic view of sunrise from the crater rim is amazing. There are observation posts built on the mountain from which you can take in the view of the lush Central Java landscape and the surrounding mountainside. The dramatic volcanic landscape is spectacular.

There are some basic accommodations in Selo but most hikers stay in Yogyakarta and climb the mountain at night in time to reach the summit at dawn. There are no explicit rules which prohibit camping on and around the mountain. You will need to bring in all your own equipment and you must keep yourself fully briefed with the latest safety reports. Also make sure you bring enough water, as the springs and streams on the mountain are very sulphurous. Ratri Homestay has the only rooms available close to the starting point of hiking. Offering fairly clean rooms and bathrooms, the homestay charges IDR75,000 including breakfast. Sony is the owner and is also the leader of guides at Selo. Phone number: +62 813 29287256, +62 815 67792923, +62 878 36325955.

Guide Services available are: 1) Guide Association ("Magic"), Merapi Guide Club. Tel: +62 878 36325955. 2) Grandum, local guide in Selo, can arrange sunrise trekking Phone: +62 082 134430945. 3)  Kartika Trekking, Jl Sosrowijayan 8, Yogyakarta Transport and climb for Rp 250,000 per person for groups of three people or more. For Merapi Camping Trips you can arrange with kartika trekking for $200 per person with facility transportation from hotel/airport yogyakarta, equipment gear tents, sleping bag, matras, water and meal, head lamp, profesional guide and porter, Tel. +62 85742357666, +62 274 8087474, +62 274 562016.

A taxi from Yogyakarta airport to Selo Village and return will cost you around IDR 1,000,000 for about 2 or 3 hours’ drive. Most drivers will happily wait for you while you climb Merapi and will take you back to your hotel. Alternatively you can hire a scooter in Yogyakarta and ride out to the summit. Ride north out of Yogya on Jl. Magelang for 45 min. When you reach Mungkid, turn right onto Jalan Bololali - Mungkad and head towards Ketep. At Ketep, turn right and continue following the Jalan Bololali - Mungkad into Selo. Reaching Selo Village, ride up the steep road (on the right as you come into Selo) to the trail’s entrance where you can park your scooter.

Hiking Up Merapi Volcano from Selo

Situated 1,560 meters above sea level at the foot of Mount Merapi and Mount Merbabu, Selo village is administratively located within the Boyolali Regency, in the province of Central Java, aproximately 80 Kilometers from downtown Yogyakarta. For the fit and healthy, from Selo it’s a 3 hour hike to the summit of Mount Merapi, for others it will take 4 hours plus to climb, and nearly the same time for the descent. Most hikers start at midnight, or just after, in order to reach the summit before the first light of dawn. This is because Merapi generally emits more gases as the day goes on, so early morning is the safest time to visit.

Upon arriving at Selo, passing the entrance gate of the village, hikers will be greeted with the big sign saying: “NEW SELO” which is the starting point for the hike. Hikers’ basecamp to gather and prepare for their trip is located before the start of the trail on the left. The basecamp is also the first climbing post where Guide services are available.

For the first 30 minutes beyond the sign, the path follows a rather steep track through large plantations with a deep drop to the left. This small path can be very dusty during the dry season, but it still offers plenty of grips on the way up. By the time the last fields are left behind at an altitude of around 2,000 meters, gradually forest trees become smaller and grow further apart, and with it, the surroundings offer terrific views back down the trail. As the woods become sparser the path starts to gradually grow rockier. Passing the national park sign, it will take approximately 45 minutes of good hard uphill climb before reaching Post 1 at an altitude of 2,150m. After a comfortable 30 to 40 minutes hike, the next point is reached. The many memorial plates here (at around 2,400m) are reminders that the utmost care must be taken when getting to the top of this very active volcano.

From here the path actually leads downhill for a short 300-400 meters before ascending steeply to a large new monument (built in 2011). Subsequently, it is a just a five minutes’ stroll to the middle of a huge boulder field known as Pasar Bubrah which is often full of tents at peak hiking season or weekends. Here hikers are also presented with magnificent views of the twin cones of Mount Sumbing and Mount Sindoro.

From Pasar Bubrah the steep rocky cone of Merapi is clearly visible. It will take about a difficult 45 minutes of slipping over gravels — and avoiding rocks sent down by the person ahead — to reach the actual crater rim. It’s a very tiring section of the trail and inevitably, shoes will also be filled with small rocks and volcanic sand. As hikers reach closer to the summit, the panorama grows even more splendid with every step. To the east, hikers are presented with the magnificent view of the towering peak of Mount Lawu as it beautifully pierces the heavenly clouds.

Approaching the summit area, the grounds feel a lot warmer, and in a few areas several vents are seen blowing out piping hot volcanic steam from the mountain. From this point it will take only about 15 minutes to get to the eerie crater rim. The final 100 meters of the hike unveil an unbelievably arid scenery of scree (loose rock debris covering a slope) and huge shards of volcanic rocks deposited by the enormous 2010 eruptions.

Prior to 2006, the highest point of Mt. Merapi was a huge shard of rock called Puncak Garuda. After the 2006 eruption, however, the highest point of the volcano became part of a new lava dome, and impossible — or at least incredibly dangerous — to reach. Nevertheless, the devastating eruptions in October and November 2010 led to great changes in the shape of the summit area. There is now no longer a lava dome, and its stead is left a huge new crater.

From the rim (2,905m) are tremendous views down into the 200 meters-deep and 500 meters-wide crater. Needless to say, extreme care needs to be taken on the rim because it is a very dangerous place quite apart from the volcanic activity. Making a complete circuit of the rim is utterly impossible, however from the point at which the rim is reached, hikers can walk perhaps ten or twenty meters, both left and right. Taking the left, hikers can climb up to a flat section of the rim which arguably offers the finest views on the rim.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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