- Elevation: 3,145 m (10,318 ft)
- Prominence: 2,432 m
- Ribu category: Sangat Tinggi
- Province: Jawa Tengah (Central Java)
- Google Earth: kml
- Other names: none.
This Ribu is one of the most popular hikes in Central Java, and has spectacular views to other volcanoes in all directions from the summit area. It has five calderas, Condrodimuko, Kombang, Kendang, Rebab and Sambernyowo but no serious volcanic activity has been reported here for many decades. Merbabu can be climbed from several trails near Kopeng in the north (less than two hours by car from Semarang) with starting points at Thekelan, Cunthel and Wekas, or from the south at Selo (between Merbabu and Merapi and closer to Solo). There is also a newer trail from the west at Suwanting which is getting popular with hikers from Yogyakarta. As is often the case in Central Java, the basecamps at the trailheads (especially Wekas and Cunthel) are great places to get some rest, cheap coffee and noodles, and chat to other hikers.
The best hike is probably a traverse from north to south, because the climb from the north is a gentler slope and there are great views to Merapi when descending on the southern route. However, for those travelling from Jakarta for the weekend, it probably makes sense to use two of the northern trails as buses and trains to/from Semarang take at least two hours less than to Yogya and Solo. Do note however that there is a tricky section of trail just below the summit when approaching on one of the northern routes and not all hikers may be keen to attempt this. This hike could be completed in a day by very fit people, but an overnight stay on one of the summits is recommended. From the north, the hike is called the “seven summits” based on the fact that are indeed seven summits, although a few of them are more of a small bump on the ascent.
The starting point closest to Kopeng is Thekelan village (1,600m elevation), where you are requested to register at the tiny National Park Office. It is a long 6 to 8 hours up to the summit and you will need a sunhat and sunscreen as most of the trail is not forested. This has an upside of course – views are breathtaking, particular towards Sindoro and Sumbing.
There are 4 “pos” or shelters: 1) Pending (1,936m); 2) Pereng Putih (2,162m); Gemuk Menthul (2,330m) where there is a water source; and Lempong Sampan (2,510m). Strong hikers should take no more than 2 hours to reach Pos 4, but your porters may need longer. After the 4 pos, there are the seven summits. The first is Watu Gubug (2,735m) and the second is more obvious and called Watu Tulis or Pemancar or Menara (‘tower’ in English) (2,900m) where there is an old radio mast. It should take strong hikers no more 3 hours to get to this point.It is also where you meet the trail to/from Cunthel.
After Watu Tulis/Menara/Pemancar, the path drops down a little to Batas Kabupaten (2,840m) – a short cement pillar marking district boundaries. Here you meet the path coming up from the third northern route, Wekas. Just before the climb starts to Summit 3, there is a possible source of water near to an obvious crater area – a large outcrop of white/yellow sulphurous clay soil. You are likely to be able to smell sulphur in the air. You drop down an obvious path to the right and if you are lucky can hear the stream below very clearly. This area is a popular camping spot for those who do not want to hike all the way to the summits over 3,000m. If you do camp here, it means an early morning start if you want to get to the summits for sunrise, and you’ll miss the best views of the sunset.
Continuing along the ridge, the climb starts to Summit 3 via a flat area known as Helipad (2,895m) where there is a prominent memorial. To the right is an attractive minor summit called Gunung Kukusan, which strangely is not included in the ‘seven summits’ list. Summit 3 is Geger Sapi (2,987m) is not really much of a summit, and is more of a small hump on the fairly relentless steep climb towards Summit 4. This section is known as Jembatan Setan (Devil’s Bridge) and offers great views back down to the north – from some angles the range resembles Machu Picchu.
As you reach the summit ridge (3,080m), you can turn left to climb the last few metres (i.e less than ten minutes) to Summit 4, Syarif (3,119m). This is a fabulous camping spot, with views of Sumbing, Sindoro, Merbabu’s highest summits and Merapi. There are surprisingly many good flat camping areas, and you may well have the whole of Puncak Syarif to yourself, until the sunrise hikers make their way up from Summit 3.
Another great camping spot is Summit 6, which is near the true summit and called Kenteng Songo (3,142m). To reach Summit 6 from Summit 4, you drop back down and hike along the ridge between the summits. The path actually passes around the south-east side of Summit 5, Ondo Rante (3,100m), before the final steep climb to reach Summit 6. Both Ondo Rante and the steep scramble beneath Kenteng Songo are a little challenging, but whereas Ondo Rante can be avoided, if you want to bag Merbabu from this side you will need to take great care ascending a steep, rocky section of cliff then scree with a little bit of exposure.
Kenteng Songo has numerous signs at the top and seems to be the most popular of all the tops, especially at sunrise during weekends, when many hikers head up from Selo. Most of interesting of all are the ancient-looking stone jars at the top which look like miniature versions of Laos’ famous stone jars near Phonsavan. A short hop from Summit 6 is Summit 7 – Triangulasi – which appropriately has a pile of stones and a blue cement rock at the very highest point (3,145m). Triangulasi is the true summit of Gunung Merbabu, being three metres higher than Kenteng Songo.
All three of the main campsite areas offer wonderful views eastwards to Gunung Lawu, northwards to Telomoyo and Ungaran and south to Gunung Merapi, but the highest peak is definitely the best for watching Merapi. On your second day, return on a northern route or follow the steep but well-used track down to Selo (the village nestling between Merbabu and Merapi) which leads down from both Triangulasi and Kenteng Songo. This will take at least 4 hours and is hard on the knees. It passes through Jemblongan, Savana 2, Pos 3, Savana 1, Pos 2 and Pos 1, and the higher areas are very popular with campers. After the steepest part of descent along the eroded trail you reach a fairly flat grassy area where the trail gives you two choices; take the left (more easterly) option and drop down through some open forest that becomes a denser as you descend further. Another hour or two and you’ll reach some pine plantation and suddenly see the village that marks your exit from Merbabu National Park, and the end of a fantastic hike.
The Cunthel trail: Basecamp is at 1,670m. Walk through the friendly village and up the cement track which ends at 1,770m. The trail initially leads through pleasant forest and has several posts as follows…. Bayangan 1 (1,855m) where there is a decent shelter, Bayangan 2 Gumuk (2,110m), Pos 1 Watu Putut (2,235m), Pos 3 Kedokan (2,430m), Pos 3 Kergo Pasar (2,570m). It should take no more than 3 hours to reach Menara where you meet the trail from Thekalan. This trail is a good option to head down on if you are descending back to the north (i.e towards Salatiga and Semarang).
The Wekas trail: Basecamp is at 1,780m making this friendly village a very attractive starting point and perhaps better than Thekelan. Following a thin white water pipe for a considerable amount of time, the trail leads up past a grave (1,885m), Bayangan 1 (2,055m), Pos 1 Tegal Arum (2,100m), Bayangan 2 (2,250m), Pos 2 Wekas (2,505m) which is a large flattish area popular with campers, Watu Kumpul (2,755m) near an obvious crater area, Pos 3 Wekas (2,825m) which is just before Batas Kabupaten (2,840m) which is on the Thekelan and Cunthel routes too. Strong hikers can reach this point in under 4 hours.
The Suwanting trail: Apparently there are three posts (Lembah Lempong, Shelter Bendera, and Ndampo Awang) and like the Selo approach there are great views to Merapi.
Bagging information by Andy Dean and Daniel Quinn (last updated in July 2017).
- Recommended guide:
- Getting there: There are plenty of flights and train services from Jakarta to Semarang, Jogja and Solo. From there, public transport is available to all starting points but it will take much longer than if you can arrange your own transport.
- Accommodation: Plenty available in and around Kopeng, limited accommodation available in Selo.
- Permits: Register at one of the basecamps and pay the small entry fee. Take a photocopy of your passport photo page with you.
- Water sources: Available at Pos 2 on the Wekas route. Supplies usually available at Gemuk Menthul (2,330m) and sometimes between Watu Tulis (2,900m) and Summit 3 on the Thekelan route.
- Travel insurance
We recommend World Nomads insurance, which is designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities including mountain hiking.
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Origins and Meaning
Ashy Mountain. The name Merbabu probably evolved from merabu or merawu which consists of the prefix mer– and the base word abu or awu. Mer– (same as the Indonesian-Malay ber-) means “to have/possess the quality expressed in the base word”, and abu / awu means “ash”. So Merbabu means “the ashy one” referring to ash expelled during the mountain’s incessant eruptions. Merbabu hasn’t erupted in recent historical times, but the name Mount Ashy may represent a memory of the mountain that goes back well beyond recorded history. See also Mount Lawu. (George Quinn, 2011)