Bagging It!

On the map, Gunung Beratus is Balikpapan’s local mountain, lying just 60km away inland from this large city. However, what appears to be one of Borneo’s most accessible Ribus currently remains rather more complicated in reality. This is remote forest currently rarely-visited by hiking groups.

From the east (Balikpapan-Penajam-Sotek-Gunung Beratus):

As with Gunung Lumut, the other relatively accessible mountain in East Kalimantan, hikers setting out from Balikpapan first need to get across Balikpapan Bay to Penajam (also spelt ‘Panajam’). During the day, there are three main options. Firstly, the cheap Kelotoks (traditional wooden boats) running between Kampung Baru in Balikpapan and Penajam. These can transport motorbikes onboard and the journey takes just under 30 minutes. Secondly, more expensive speedboats plying a similar route in less than 15 minutes but not normally willing to take motorbikes across. Finally, the large boats which car drivers use between Kariangau (30 minutes from the centre of Balikpapan) to Penajam (estimated journey time also around 30 minutes). A road-bridge over the Bay is planned but may not be a reality before 2020.

Assuming it has taken you about one hour from Balikpapan to Penajam (including the usual ‘waiting around’ time), it should be about another 90 minutes to two hours to reach Sotek, which is where a logging road heads into the hills, reaching an elevation of around 400m on the lower slopes of Gunung Beratus before descending in the more populated areas in the direction of Melak. If for some reason the boats are not running between Balikpapan and Penajam (such as during the night), it is possible to go the long way round the Bay but this is not recommended as it will add perhaps 2 hours onto the journey time (minimum 4 hours total from Balikpapan to Sotek).

The road in from the Sotek crossroads is signposted ‘Melak’ and is very close to the new BRI Bank and ATM. However, this road is a logging and palm oil plantation road used mainly by HGVs and is not paved. In wet weather it can get very muddy and slippery, so ordinary cars and bikes could well have serious difficulty. Therefore it is only recommended for those with 4WD vehicles or off-road trail bikes (‘motor trail’). It is also recommended that you only attempt to reach Gunung Beratus from this side during the drier months of the year (September to November) but in this part of Kalimantan the drier months are not significantly drier than the rainy season.

Other than the occasional truck or motorcyclist or local pedestrian farmer, you will not meet many people on this road at all. The first major landmark is a small settlement at a fork in the road after 28 kilometres from Sotek where there is a very small shop. Make sure you head left here and continue for another 4 kilometres to a larger settlement and better-stocked shop (‘warung’) called Warung KM32. You should have reached this after just over one hour from Sotek (depending on your vehicle and the weather). You can buy simple items – including fuel, noodles, tea and coffee – but be aware that prices are roughly double what you would ordinarily pay back on proper roads. Look out for hornbills from this point on as there are lots of them.

Importantly, at KM32 you need to take a right. You will soon have glimpses of Gunung Beratus, a pleasant but unremarkable-looking forested peak in the distance. After about 45 minutes from Warung KM32 you should have reached an old wooden bridge over the very pleasant Sungai Toyu (Toyu River, KM53) where there are a few simple wooden houses presumably providing accommodation for plantation workers. A further 30 minutes and you will be at the highest point of the road (roughly 400m above sea level) before it begins to lead down to villages including Jambuk, Resak, Tanjung Soke, and eventually Melak where there is an airport.

Just beyond this highpoint of the road is a green wooden building on the right of the track known as Pos KM64 (i.e 64 kilometres from the start of the logging road at Sotek). This is the starting point (or very close to it) for the trek to the top of Gunung Beratus and the summit lies less than 4km away. At present, the mountain is only very rarely climbed, meaning that there is no proper trail to speak of and it is very easy to get lost in dense forest without the help of a local person who has hiked to the top recently.

Unfortunately, there are very, very few people on the Balikpapan and Sotek side of the mountain who have climbed it. Indeed, there are very few people at all on this route in!

From the north-west (Melak – Resak / Jambuk / Pering Talik / Tanjung Soke):

There are numerous villages on the north-western slopes of the mountain, all the way up from Melak where there is a regional airport with flights to and from Balikpapan. From Pering Talik to Pos KM64 takes around 90 minutes. To reach Pering Talik from Balikpapan takes the best part of ten hours by road (apparently via Samarinda) but the roads are surfaced and not liable to the sorts of dangers you face on the Sotek route in during rainy periods. These villages are the places to find guides who have hiked to the summit recently and request permission from the relevant Kepala Desa to climb.

For both routes in:

The full round trip from Balikpapan is likely to require 4 days. Day 1 to Pos KM64. Day 2 up to the peak. Day 3 back down and day 4 back to Balikpapan. As is often the case, your speed will depend on how recently a group hiked to the top and whether or not you are using their freshly-used route.

Note that Pos KM64 is usually unoccupied and is large enough for accommodate 20 hikers or more.

The beginning section of trail may well be the most difficult and confusing as there are many small streams and knolls where little progress seems to be made. Additionally, GPS devices may have trouble getting a signal from time to time. The trail may actually begin at the highpoint of the road about 500m back along the logging road from Pos KM64 (in the direction of Sotek, so roughly KM63.5) at a small rock. However we cannot currently confirm the exact start point – check with your guide but it is somewhere very near Pos KM64. Take extra care not to get lost in this difficult terrain.

If a few more hiking groups hiked this mountain it could well grow significantly in popularity. In 2017, there was a successful expedition by KOMPAS of Samarinda in April. Their GPS recorded 1235m at the summit which sounds about right. The Bakosurtanal map suggests the peak is only 1,213m but this appears to be an underestimate. Local hikers also reached the summit for Independence Day on August 17th 2017.

It appears that both groups went in from the Pering Talik side (north-west) and had local help from villagers. However, for those adamant on heading in from Sotek, it may be possible to arrange to meet local guides at Pos KM64 rather than having to go beyond the mountain and then back again to Pos KM64 to start hiking. There is intermittent phone signal in the area, and just 1 kilometre beyond Pos KM64 is a large rock with Indosat written on it. This presumably signifies that phone signal by this rock at the side of the track is normally reliable.

According to KOMPAS, Pos 4 is known as Sulau Manau and the summit is known as Teringkang Tajau. For some reason, lots of locals mistakenly call the mountain ‘Meratus’ which is very confusing because the Meratus mountain range is in South Kalimantan (Gunung Besar or Halau-Halau is the highest point).

Tanjung Soke appears to be a very interesting village worth visiting in its own right. There is a collection of ceramic vases and wooden or stone carvings of unknown antiquity.

It is hoped that we will return to Gunung Beratus for a successful ascent in the near future.

Information by Dan Quinn (September 2017)

Local Accommodation


  • Getting there: Most people will initially fly to Balikpapan. There are then two main approaches. The first is 64km up a logging road from the east at Sotek.  You will first need to cross by boat to Penajam. The second is from the Resak / Jambuk side of the mountain which is much further from Balikpapan but reportedly has better roads and guides available. For the Resak / Jambuk side it may be worth flying Balikpapan to Melak first to save time.
  • Guides and GPS Tracks: Want a PDF version for your phone? Looking for a guide? Need GPS tracks and waypoints? Gunung Beratus information pack can be downloaded here.
  • Permits: Take a photocopy of your passport photo page and register with the Kepala Desa if hiking from the Resak / Jambuk side of the mountain.
  • Water sources: Plenty available in numerous streams near Pos KM64 (400m above sea level). Reliable sources much less likely higher up the mountain.

Local Average Monthly Rainfall (mm):



4 thoughts on “Beratus”

  1. If Jokowi’s Nusantara project continues as planned then Gunung Beratus will be the closest Ribu to Indonesia’s capital city. I imagine that the road running over the range to Tanjung Soke and beyond will get an upgrade, and make the area much easier to actually get to. Interesting that it is currently labelled ‘Bawo Katar’ on Google Maps. There are no other results when doing an online search, so this could equally be a made-up name or a more accurate one from local villagers. Who knows?

    If the Ibukota Nusantara plan does fully materialise, I wonder what will become of access to Gunung Beratus. Theoretically it ought to become easy to hike with improved access and more people. But in reality this could lead to additional bureaucracy from the forestry department who quite rightly want to preserve the forests but unfortunately often view hikers as a nuisance rather than something to encourage or collaborate with.

    I intend to pay the area another visit in due course, perhaps once the new Nusantara airport is ready.

  2. I do not wish to berate Gunung Beratus (pun intended) but finding reliable information on a reasonably-accessible mountain has rarely been so difficult! In total, I must have contacted about 20 different people – members of student hiking clubs, village men, licensed guides in Balikpapan – and now, even after having visited the foot of the mountain itself, I am still trying to put together an accurate picture of how best to get there, find a guide, and reach the summit! The whole experience I kept thinking the following phrase ‘sudah dekat tapi masih jauh’…. ‘already close but still far away’.

    I booked my flights for the long weekend months ago and had hoped to find someone who had been to the top and was available to try to do it in 3 days (to/from Balikpapan). Some folk had barely heard of it but those who had said finding a guide on the Sotek/Balikpapan side of the mountain would be near impossible and the road dangerous. They were certainly right on the first point!

    I ended up going with Pak Yanto on his trail bike (off road tyres suitable for the muddy, bumpy conditions on the logging road in from Sotek). Things didn’t get off to a wonderful start when my flight from Jakarta to Balikpapan was delayed by 4 hours (despite the information screen saying it was on schedule!) I got 2 hours of rest at the hotel before Pak Yanto arrived at 5am.

    Alas, with it being Idul Adha, there were no early morning boats over to Penajam from Kariangau. We decided to go the long way round – thought it may only have saved an hour maximum as it is a huge detour. At Sotek I thought I had found the correct junction – Trans Riko – but on double-checking this is NOT the road you need. The correct junction is infact a crossroads near Sotek BRI bank and has a signpost for Melak, though it would take a whole day to get over to Melak, I assume.

    A few kilometres down the logging road was a huge squashed biawak (monitor lizard). Despite the occasional truck carrying logs this is a very remote and wild area – no real settlements other than a couple of hamlets on this side. We got a puncture around KM28 but luckily got it fixed at Warung KM32 before continuing to the foot of the mountain. All in all, it took about 7-8 hours to go the long way round from Balikpapan in good weather on a trail bike. In rain, it would be much longer. If we could have taken the boat over, we may have reduced the time to 5-6 hours total at best. Either way, very painful on the backside!

    I noticed a rock at a highpoint of the logging road, with a trail leading into the forest below Gunung Beratus. I was hoping this would be the correct starting point. Pak Yanto continued to see if he could find anyone local to either enlist as a guide or at least confirm the correct starting point. No luck – there are very few people out here and it is over an hour down the other side to the nearest villages (where you should be able to find people who can help).

    So, we decided to try alone. The path from the stone at the side of the road looked promising at first, but it soon disappeared into pathless jungle. We dropped down to a stream, then clambered back up again, then dropped down to another small stream, before clambering back up again, and so on. After 2 hours of heading towards the mountain, we were perhaps at a lower elevation that at the logging road where we had started! Very complex terrain, and poor GPS signal meaning waiting several minutes for clarification on our positions (I also used Google Maps app and obviously a compass as backup). We were running out of daylight and it was clear that without finding the trail that previous groups had used or going in with a local guide who knew the contours of the land, we were either going to fail to reach the top within my timeframe or get lost, or both. We decided to head back towards the logging road and camp in the jungle for the night.

    Being so wild, Mother Nature’s Orchestra was astonishing at dusk, with one particular creature playing a beautiful ascending 5 note melody repeatedly. Utterly intoxicating. I also spotted the largest leech I have ever seen in the wild in Indonesia, so big that you would definitely know about it if I dropped onto you. Luckily we had little rainfall so the leech problem remained low. However a large earwig or millipede of some sort gave me a nasty nip on the head when I put my hat on, not knowing it was using my hat as some kind of shelter! Do check your boots and clothes here as the forest is teeming with life!

    The next morning we got on the motorbike and headed a little further down the logging road. Just 500 metres further was the green wooden building – Pos KM64. Empty but seeming like another potential starting point for the hike. Sure enough, a trail led down to the left of the building, past 2 or 3 makeshift toilets. From what I could later find out from hikers I contacted after the trip, this is indeed the correct starting point! So…. We were just 500 metres out, but now didn’t have sufficient time to give this route a try. It would have to wait til next time. I contented myself with taking photos in the early morning sunlight, though the peak of Beratus remained in cloud throughout.
    We made it back to Balikpapan in about 5-6 hours, again in generally dry (i.e ideal) conditions. The following night it rained non-stop for 12 hours or so, causing flooding in some areas of Balikpapan, so I was very relieved not to have to negotiate the muddy logging road in such conditions.

    I hope to go back before long and perhaps fly to Melak, visit Tanjung Soke to see the unusual statues, and find a local village guide on that side of the mountain. I may even combine it with Gunung Lumut as an 8 or 9 day hiking extravaganza.

    Many thanks to all those who provided information or put me in touch with acquaintances who have assisted.

  3. I recently received email from a researcher currently based in Kalimantan Timur – apparently both Beratus and Lumut are climb-able….they’re definitely two of the most accessible Ribus in Kalimantan….
    “Getting to Beratus should not be too difficult, it’s about 4 hours driving from Balikpapan, that is if the road is still decent enough. My colleague here told me locals are keen on taking visitors up the mountain and he said it’s also a 1-2 day hike.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top