- Elevation: 2,803 m (9,196 ft)
- Prominence: 1,218 m
- Ribu category: Tinggi Sedang
- Province: Jawa Timur (East Java)
- Google Earth: kml
- Other names: none.
- Eruptions: Ijen 1796, 1817, 1917, 1936, 1952, 1993-94, 1999, 2002
The Merapi-Ijen volcano complex lies within the much larger Ijen caldera on the eastern-most tip of Java overlooking Banyuwangi, the point of departure for the ferry crossing to Bali. The caldera is about 20 kilometres across and famous for its Arabica coffee plantations. Gunung Merapi – not to be confused with Central Java’s volcano of the same name or West Sumatra’s Gunung Marapi (sic) – is the highest point of the caldera complex, on its eastern rim. The Ijen crater lies immediately below, and on the western flank of, Gunung Merapi and contains Java’s largest crater lake renowned for the molten sulphur that exudes from vents in the crater. It is one of East Java’s most visited natural attractions.
Most visitors do not venture beyond the crater, which is fascinating in its own right but now so popular that anyone looking for solitude is not going to find it! But it seems that very few seek to climb Gunung Merapi let alone reach its highest point (‘true summit’). The ranger post at Paltuding (1,865 m) is the start point for both the crater and mountain where permits are obtained and guides available, though technically you need a permit from BKSDA Jawa Timur in Surabaya to visit Merapi (something that ordinary hikers will unfortunately not be granted).
Ijen Crater: Guides are not necessary for the pleasant walk to the crater. A well formed, three-metre wide, track leads two kilometres to Pondok Bunder (2,200 m) where the sulphur porters weight their loads and another kilometre to the crater rim (2,350 m). Most visitors take a break at the saddle on the crater rim (‘viewing point’) to view the sulphur vents and turquoise lake some 300 meters below. Here, you will see the porters carrying their 75-90 kg loads, in two baskets on their shoulders, up the steep crater wall and then a further three kms down hill to the collection point. Most porters make the journey twice a day, though in the last couple of years more and more porters have been using custom-built trolleys to carry their load. These trolleys were thought up by Heinz von Holzen and funded by many including the Swiss government. Whilst it makes life easier for the sulphur collectors, you will also see tourists either unable or simply too lazy to walk up to Kawah Ijen being transported in the trolleys!
You have three options at this point. You can climb to a high point, to the south-west, above the crater rim (2,400 m) for magnificent views; or, continue on around the rim, in an anti-clockwise direction, for even more expansive views of the lake and the larger Ijen caldera beyond. The third option is to take the very steep track down into the crater to the sulphur vents and highly acidic (H2SO4, pH = 0.5) lake. The descent normally takes about 20 minutes but you may spend longer taking photographs of the porters and the surreal surroundings. Give way to porters carrying their heavy loads up the track! Be alert to sulphur fumes emitting from the vents as these can make breathing difficult, even suffocating, especially when the winds changes in your direction. Face masks, dampened with water, can help to protect from the worst of the fumes. Needless to say, don’t even think about swimming in the lake!
Gunung Merapi lies directly above Ijen crater to the east. despite being a large, wild area of great natural beauty, it is currently closed to all but scientific researchers who have permits arranged with the BKSDA. We do not know when or if this unfair situation will end.
There are two possible routes to the summit, one of which is via a ridge rising from the north and clearly visible against the skyline from the eastern side of the crater rim. Continue around the crater rim in an anti-clockwise direction from the ‘viewing point’. After about 2-300 meters, you will pass over a small knoll on the rim. About 20 metres after this knoll, an ill-defined track leads down through scrub into a ravine below and up again onto the summit ridge. Be careful to make a mental note of where the track leads up from the bottom of the ravine (assuming it is visible and not totally overgrown) otherwise you may have to ‘scrub bash’ your way up onto the summit ridge – an exhausting exercise! Once on the summit ridge it is a steady, but steep and not enjoyable climb, to the rim through heavy undergrowth – bracken and burnt/dead trees. Long trousers are advisable.
The summit of Gunung Merapi consists of a now extinct, broken crater with five or so knolls (high rounded hills) around its rim. The old crater consists of several open, flat, sandy areas, alun-alun, that would probably be flooded in the wet season. A pleasant camp could be made on these alun-alun, out of the wind, if dry; otherwise, on the rim by clearing some undergrowth. There is a striking little crescent moon (‘bulan sabit’) of vegetation in one of the dry craters and some local hikers refer to the area as Kawah Bulan Sabit (Crescent Moon Crater).
The ‘true summit’ (2,803 m), one of the five knolls on the rim, lies on the northeastern side overlooking Banyuwangi and Bali and is marked with a large old Dutch triangulation pillar. After emerging onto the rim from the summit ridge, continue in a clockwise direction around the rim – if you want to reach the summit, do not descend into the sandy crater. As the ‘true summit’ is rarely climbed, you may have to bash your way through thick undergrowth. Also, note that the approach to this knoll is quite steep.
The views of Bali’s Gunung Agung and Lombok’s Gunung Rinjani from Java’s most eastern mountain would be fabulous especially at sunrise so a night on the summit would be worthwhile. Peaks to the west include the massifs of Gunung Raung and Argopuro. Gunung Baluran can be seen to the north. Perhaps the most impressive view is the Ijen crater lake 500 metres below best seen from a knoll marked with a small handmade sign (2,775 m) on the western side of the rim looking directly over the lake and the Ijen caldera beyond.
It is possible to reach, and return from, the ‘true summit’ of Gunung Merapi in one long day if you start early and do not spend too much time at Ijen crater on the way. However, it might be advisable to camp a night there and really explore what is such a great area. It seems that the local guides, who mainly take visitors to the Ijen crater, have little knowledge of the route up Gunung Merapi and even less about which of the knolls is the ‘true summit’. In fact, there is really no need for a guide if you can find your way from the Ijen crater rim across the ravine and onto the summit ridge. The rest of the climb – up the summit ridge and around the summit of Gunung Merapi – is quite transparent. If you do hire a guide, make sure that he, at least, knows the track across the ravine. Of course, the ranger post at Paltuding may insist that you be accompanied by a guide and even dissuade/forbid you from the climb if not! If you plan to hire porters to camp on the mountain then you will need to make more detailed arrangements.
Gunung Ranti / Rante
Since at least 2019, a new hiking objective has been on offer in the Ijen area, namely Gunung Ranti (2,626m) which lies just south of Paltuding. Being one of the Ijen caldera’s main peaks, this is a really great viewpoint and the trailhead is just two minutes’ walk from the Kawah Ijen trailhead. It sees far fewer hikers than its too-popular neighbour, but the trail is already quite eroded!
It takes most hikers 2 hours or so to reach the viewpoint at the top and less to descend. If you want to enjoy the sunrise, get started by 3am. The trail leads pretty much straight up, passing the remains of a shelter (1,962m) and getting progressively steeper and more slippery, with small rocks making it hard going at times. A water pipe follows the middle section of trail and at around 2,282m you can usually fill your bottle up if necessary. This is soon followed by the remains of a second shelter (2,304m) seemingly abandoned after the forest fire here in 2019. For the same reason there is not much shade so be sure to take sun cream with you if you burn easily.
The ‘summit’ (2,578m) has a few summit markers (with the rather optimistic height of 2,601m), a pleasant wooden table and the remains of a substantial shelter. There is enough space here for ten tents or more. This spot has excellent views back over the valley to Ijen – which will probably have a sulfurous cloud hanging over it, and the taller Merapi, and eastwards over to Bali’s Gunung Agung.
Perhaps best of all, however, is the view west to the meadow-like plains of the Ijen caldera below, and behind the jagged Gunung Raung, all seen from just one minute away beyond some vegetation. Another jagged peak can be seen from here, much smaller and little-known, lying near Taman Galuh to the left (north) of Gunung Ijen. According to the Bakosurtanal map this is Gunung Ringit (1,983m). It looks like something out of a fantasy film!
Further south, through more vegetation, you will see the true summit of Gunung Ranti (2,626m), lying almost one kilometre away beyond a col. Almost all hikers only go as far as the lower ‘north top’ here at 2,578m and it sounds like the true summit is overgrown and difficult to reach without a machete. However, if you want to avoid the crowds on Ijen, Ranti sounds like a great choice whether you reach the true southern summit or not.
Bagging information compiled by Nick Hughes from information provided by Heinz von Holzen, Nicholas Hughes, Mykhailo Pavliuk and Dan Quinn (updated Aug 2020)
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- Name and location: Pak Budi, Surabaya, East Java.
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- Getting there: Best approached from Banyuwangi. No jeep needed anymore as the road has been resurfaced. It takes one hour from Banyuwangi to Paltuding. There are also now direct flights to Banyuwangi from Jakarta.
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- Permits: Easy for Gunung Ranti and the Kawah Ijen tourist trail, though at peak times you are supposed to book online for the latter. For the highest peak of Gunung Merapi, officially you are supposed to arrange a permit in advance from BKSDA in Surabaya. If you are a regular hiker simply wishing to enjoy the scenery and views you will probably not be given permission. If you are a scientist conducting specific research then it may be easier. Entry ticket for the usual trip to Kawah Ijen now (2020) costs a ridiculous Rp100,000 on weekdays and Rp150,000 at weekends and even if you work in Indonesia, pay tax locally and have a KITAS/KITAP if you are not Indonesian you will have to pay this high rate. Local price about a tenth of the foreigner rate.
- Water sources: None available except a water pipe at around 2,282m on the Gunung Ranti trail – for all others take sufficient supplies with you.
Local Average Monthly Rainfall (mm):
Origins and Meaning
‘Ijen’ is Javanese for ‘alone’ or ‘lonely’. Merapi means ‘mountain of fire’ and from the appearance of the craters it is obvious that Gunung Merapi was a very active volcano in previous centuries.