- Elevation: 1,971 m (6,467 ft)
- Prominence: 1,005 m
- Ribu category: Kurang Tinggi
- Province: Sulawesi Selatan (South Sulawesi)
- Google Earth: kml
- Other names: Benteng Ambeso, Ambesu
Tana Toraja is one of Indonesia’s most beautiful regions, and the little-known Gunung Ambeso is Toraja’s most fantastic half-day hike. Surrounded by karst ridges, fascinating local architecture and very friendly people, it may only be a matter of time before this mountain becomes much more famous.
At present, Ambeso is climbed a handful of times a year by local students from the southern part of the Toraja region. Anyone flying in to the new Toraja airport will be able to see Ambeso in clear weather and as flights become more frequent it is quite possible that interest in it will grow.
From the main road south of the airport, take a turning for Gandang Batu Silanan. Despite what map applications may suggest, it is best just to stay on the main asphalt road all the way to Benteng Ambeso rather than try any short cuts along narrow tracks. The scenery here is stunning, with karst ridges dominating the skyline in several directions. Like many parts of Toraja, this place is renowned for its high quality coffee.
At an elevation of around 1,300m, you need to take an unsignposted right turn and an immediate left up to where the road turns into a stone track. Motorbikes can be parked here at an elevation of around 1,340m. Follow the stone track up to a junction and take a left (1,369m). Soon afterwards, take a right behind a large wooden house (1,379m) which is ultimately the proper trailhead but has no signs.
Follow this path through coffee plantations before reaching a small wooden hut (1,455m). This is assumed to be Pos 1. Beyond the hut is a small pool of water (1,491m). Local hikers have tied bits of blue and green plastic to branches which help with navigation. Next is a rocky area (1,534m), which looks like an accidental walled garden of some sort. The views here to hills on the other side of the valley are great.
A small stream with a water pipe (1,539m) is the only place to top up water bottles, but given the shortness of the trek it is far from essential. Beyond the water pipe is Pos 2 (1,616m), at which point the trail has already entered proper forest. Pos 2 is a small, flat spot with enough space for a couple of small tents. Pos 3 (1,728m) is similar to Pos 2 in every respect.
Beyond Pos 3, the terrain gets rockier with large boulders (1,813m) and then a very short rope section (1,848m) on a steep section of trail, which marks the end of the forest and the start of truly stunning scenery as you near the top. Do take real care, as there are some deep holes and crevasses which are not always easy to see between the rocks and vegetation.
The vertical summit cliffs to the north are now in plain sight, and they need traversing round to the left. Pos 4 (1,932m) is not suitable for camping at and is really just a minor trail junction between Puncak 1 (the true summit) and the lesser Puncak 2 (1,965m).
The true summit really does feel like a fortress, with what appear to be stone walls at the top. The view is staggering and in clear weather includes countless karst ridges, the Pango Pango hill-top viewpoint to the north-east above the town of Makale, and the Latimojong mountains in the distance to the south-east. Most hikers will be up here in under 2 hours, and the view is a superb reward for such a short hike.
The Indonesian Bakosurtanal map lists this peak as ‘Buntu Ambeso’ with an elevation of 1,949m but the American AMS map (which labels it as Bulu Ambeso – both Bulu and Buntu are local words for hill) and GPS devices are more accurate, with 1,971m meaning that it is indeed a Ribu rather than a Spesial! The peak just over 1 kilometre to the west is Buntu Sangbuah (1,866m) and the peak around 2 kilometres to the south-west is Buntu Kuku (1,910m).
After enjoying the amazing panorama at the true summit, some may wish to visit the lower top known as Puncak 2. This is not essential but is only a couple of minutes from the Pos 4 trail junction. If you decide to visit Puncak 2, you will probably need a hand on the first scramble. This is the trickiest bit on the trail and needs concentration.
Most hikers can be back down at the trailhead in 90 minutes or so.
Gunung Sesean (2,160m)
The most popular short trek in the Toraja region is Gunung or Buntu Sesean (2,160m). This ridge is located in Toraja Utara (North Toraja) just a few kilometres north of the town of Rantepao which is the real heart of Toraja.
The hike can easily be accomplished in half a day as the starting point near Batutumonga is at an elevation of around 1,425m, not far from the very interesting megalithic site called Bori Kalimbuang, one of Toraja’s countless essential visits. On the main village road there’s a sign for ‘Sesean 4KM’ and motorbikes can be taken a little further up and left at resident’s houses for a small parking fee.
From here, continue up the wide track as far as the end where there is a house where you register and pay Rp10,000 for a ticket (1,463m). From here, take a left up stone steps. There is a sign for Pos 1 (1,476m) next to a couple of wooden shelters. Continue to follow the stone steps and admire the view back down to the rice terraces of the Rantepao plains. At 1,615m, a lovely ridge is reached and ahead you can see the higher slopes of Sesean, and over to the south-west the various popular viewpoints on the Lolai ridge.
A large flat rock (1,647m) is a particularly good viewpoint. Sadly, beyond here the trail meets an unnecessarily wide and unsightly vehicle track (1,657m) on the left presumably approved by the authorities but not in keeping with the environment at all. Thankfully, this construction site track is left behind (1,715m) fairly soon after, as the trail continues to follow the mountain ridge on the right of the wide track. However, it is not immediately obvious where to leave the wide track so, as usual, a guide is very much recommended to prevent confusion.
In this area, high up the mountainside, you are likely to encounter farmers and their buffalo, and there is a small wooden shelter (1,790m) where food for cattle is often left. Just beyond here the trail crosses a very small stream (1,800m) before reaching a junction where there are two tiny caves beneath overhanging boulder (1,810m). Take a left here and in just a moment you will be at a large flat area where local hikers camp at weekends. There is also a new wooden shelter.
For many hikers, this camping spot is the ‘top’ of Sesean, and though it is not by any means the highest point it is a good viewpoint if you can ignore the vehicle track scarring the landscape on the western side! Most hikers will have reached this point in 90 minutes or so.
It is recommended to continue higher up the mountain for another 20 or 30 minutes. The first interesting spot is a mini summit with a large stone on it (1,877m). This is a grand viewpoint. The trail then drops down a little way to a col before leading up to what from this angle looks to be the rocky knoll summit of the mountain. Near the col is a forestry map sign next to a large boulder (1,883m).
The trail enters mossy forest (1,914m) before leading steeply up to a mini ridge (1,980m) where the trail emerges from the forest behind the rocky knoll. Take a left on the ridge and follow the trail for just a few minutes to a large rock where there is a sign for Puncak Sesean 2,100m. Be very careful on this rock, because on the other side is an immense vertical drop! Despite what the sign says, this spot is around 2,013m high. However, it is a very worthwhile point to reach.
Beyond this sign summit is a higher top, just two minutes away but less people venture there as it looks a little dangerous to access. In actual fact, the Sesean ridge itself has two higher tops. The higher southern peak at 2,160m is still over 1 kilometre from the sign summit (2,013m). Further on is a northern top at 2,142m around 1.5 kilometres further north beyond a col at 2,055m according to the Bakosurtanal map. However it is not likely that either of these are visited regularly.
Most hikers can be back down in Batutumonga from the sign summit (2,013m) in less than 90 minutes. There is a very pleasant cafe overlooking the rice terraces and hills towards Rantepao.
Bagging information by Dan Quinn (April 2021)
- Getting there: Makale is the nearest town on the main road between Enrekang and Rantepao and is about 1 hours from the trailhead. The new Toraja airport (Buntu Kunik) is just 30 minutes from Makale and in April 2021 has flights from Makassar most days of the week (Citilink and Wings). From Rantepao to the trailhead would take between 90 minutes and 2 hours.
- Guides and GPS Tracks: Want a PDF version for your phone? Looking for a guide? Need GPS tracks and waypoints? Gunung Ambeso information pack can be downloaded here.
- Permits: Not currently required but it is best to take a local guide with you as route-finding at the start is a bit tricky.
- Water sources: There is a stream (1,539m) before Pos 2.
- 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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