Indonesia is among the most volcanically active countries on the planet, which means there are considerable dangers associated with climbing mountain peaks. Indonesian and international volcanology agencies and local village advice should be sought and respected – it really can be a matter of life and death. A volcano that is erupting violently this year will probably calm down for a lengthy period at some point in the near future, so don’t risk bagging it and potentially killing yourself in the process – save it for another day!
There are several other considerations when Gunung Bagging:
- Weather – it may be hot and sunny at sea level, but at several thousand metres conditions can be very different and can change quickly and dramatically. Always take a waterproof jacket, sunblock, a whistle, maps, a compass, a spare set of clothes, extra layers, sleeping bag, tent, a lighter or means of starting a fire, plenty of food and water, and a basic First Aid kit including paracetamol. Above 3,200m the reduced levels of oxygen in the air can make each step harder – if you feel unwell, descend a couple of hundred metres until you feel well again. If possible try to boil mountain water before drinking it – but always take more water than you think you’ll need in the first place.
- Communication – you may need to ask for help from locals and arrange a guide. Pack an Indonesian phrasebook and have a willingness to try to speak Bahasa Indonesia. Take a mobile phone with you that has coverage in the area and be sure to conserve battery life by switching it off from time to time or – on longer expeditions – keeping it on only at certain pre-planned times of the day for emergency use. Always let someone know where you are going and roughly when to expect you back.
- Getting Lost – Using a GPS and making regular waypoints at any junctions or vague sections of trail should limit the chances of you becoming lost. Always take lots of extra batteries for your device. If you do happen to become lost, stay calm and don’t make any rushed decisions until you have had time to think about your options sensibly. Stay together with any others and only consider going further away from the original trail you were on either as a last resort or because you are close enough to easy terrain such as farm fields and civilization for it not to pose significant further problems caused by being even more difficult for search parties to find you. This is the time for you to use your whistle. Should you have to spend a unplanned night out on the mountain try to start a fire in time for first light the following morning so that you can be spotted more easily.
- Guides – navigating through tropical forests and extensive farmland can be difficult; trails often fork and you really ought not to rely on luck to choose the which one leads in the right direction. It is always best to arrange local guides, even if you’ve climbed the mountain several times before. It is also very important to emphasise your aim of reaching the summit of the mountain – if this is indeed your aim – because the concept of ‘reaching the summit’ is sometimes misunderstood by locals. It is often the case that a guide thinks he has taken you to the ‘top’ when, infact, you can quite clearly see higher peaks nearby!
- Porters – it might seem indulgent to hire porters, but this is standard practice when the hike involves overnight camping. You’re also contributing to the local economy. Remember to decide on a price before you set off. The reliability and quality of porters varies considerably and this should always be taken into consideration. We encourage you to post general comments about porters (and guides) in order to both improve the information on individual Ribus and also as part of a wider community discussion. Comments are moderated to ensure recommendations for accommodation, guides and porters are fair.
- Timing – areas of Indonesia often have their own micro-climate. For example, East Java and NTT are generally drier than West Java and Kalimantan. Generally the best months to climb are from late April until the end of September as the rainy season runs roughly from October to March; you should not attempt to bag anything significant during the rainy season and some national parks are closed for several months during this this period. It is vital that you do some research before making travel plans.
- Paperwork – unfortunately it is not always as simple as packing your bags and heading off into the hills. Some areas (particularly National Parks) require you to have a permit or to sign a visitors’ book. Most often this can be sorted out on the day but it is always a good idea to have some photocopies of your passport photo page and other forms of identification with you. Most areas in Papua require a permit to be arranged in advance. Disappointingly, Gede-Pangrango, Salak-Halimun and Mount Rinjani National Parks do not officially allow hiking from December to March inclusive.
- Litter – please remember to take all your rubbish home with you. Unnecessary litter is an all-too-common sight at campsites and some of the more popular hiking routes. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to leave the natural environment as you found it.
- Good Equipment – You may see some guides and porters climbing hills with nothing more that a sarong, flip-flops and cigarettes. However, it is essential to be well-equipped and prepared for any eventuality. One problem often encountered by Westerners is finding hiking boots in Indonesia that are large enough. Outdoor stores in Jakarta include the top floor of the large PasaRaya mall in Blok M (South Jakarta), the Eiger store in the Blok M market (beneath the bus station), the small shop in Pasar Festival (Jl Rasuna Said) and Zephyr Outdoor (1 Jl. Asia Afrika, Senayan).
- Maps – Indonesia’s National Coordinating Agency for Surveys and Mapping, Bakosurtanal, has published 1:25,000 scale maps for some parts of the archipelago, but many are not yet covered – notably much of Papua and West Papua. At present, Bakosurtanal maps are not readily available in bookstores or tourist shops so you have to either visit the office at Cibinong, between Jakarta and Bogor, or place an order by email. The impressive office is open Monday to Friday 8am until 3pm and the 1:25,000 sheets cost a very reasonable Rp40,000 each. There is also an outlet for the Java maps only in a rather obscure Jakarta shopping mall location – Blok D 06, Ground Floor, Mega Glodok Kemayoran, open Monday-Friday 10.00-15.00. Of course, most guides and porters do not use any maps whatsoever, but if you are considering going hiking without local knowledge a map is essential. Given the difficulty getting good maps, we have created a directory for GPS tracks.
- Placenames – in Indonesia the names and spelling of places often vary; for example, the Central Java city of Yogyakarta is often spelled Jogjakarta or Jogyakarta. It should be no surprise that many mountains have several spellings. We have tried to use the most common name for the main listing, but welcome information on additional names on the individual Ribu pages. This is a huge area and a collaborative research effort needs to be made.
We at Gunung Bagging go on frequent informal hiking trips from Jakarta during the dry season – if you are fit and wish to come along you are welcome to get in touch with us for more information on what we have planned. Happy hiking and “Hati Hati” – be careful!
A selection of useful Indonesian hiking phrases
Mendaki gunung – Mountain hiking
Saya mau ke puncak – I want to go to the peak
Saya cari pemandu untuk naik Gunung X – I am looking for a guide to climb Mount X.
Puncak paling tinggi – The highest peak
Berapa harganya untuk… ? – What is the price for….?
Jam berapa? – What time?
Berapa jam ke puncak? – How many hours to the peak?
Saya mau naik/turun – I want to climb/go down
Ada air minum? – Is there drinking water?
Ada kawah? – Is there a crater?
Ada tempat untuk berkemah dekat puncak? – Is there a place for camping near the summit?
Anda tahu orang yang tahu perjalanan ke puncak? – Do you know someone who knows the route to the summit?
Please note that the letter ‘c’ is almost always pronounced ‘ch’, e.g. ‘puncak’ is pronounced ‘punchak’.