“Hiking?!?! No wayyyyy…” I have never been an outdoor-sy person, and although I am by no means out-of-shape, I am not in-shape either. So, I have never thought that I will someday go hiking!
So, when my friend pitched to me the idea of hiking Mount (Gunung) Merapi – I surprisingly said yes. But at the back of my head, I kept thinking “well, If I can’t do it, I could just stop halfway up the mountain and enjoy the view from there”. (PS: Little did I know, the view is actually obstructed by trees all the way, and it’s only at the summit that you get a clear view)
So, at 2am in the morning, this virgin hiker wore his winter boots (the closest substitute to hiking boots!), carried his backpack (stuffed with 1 litre of mineral water, 1 litre of energy drink, two packets of biscuits and a few chocolate bars!) and started to climb Gunung Merapi with his friend, 2 German tourists and 2 guides.
The First Hour
“Huff… Puff… Huff… Puff…” 30 minutes into the hike and my body was already complaining. I felt breathless and my back started to hurt. Moreover, the start of the hike was merely on paved roads! Albeit – to give myself credit – they were on an incline. I blame it on the high altitude and thin air okay, I was just unfit! We finally reached the first pitstop in front of the “New Selo” sign and I was super thankful for a break. But even before I could inhale enough oxygen, the guides signalled us on – and oh no, that’s actually when the ‘real’ hike began…
The paved, inclined roads leading to the first checkpoint
(Photo credits to Jarek Makos)
The paved roads gave way to the actual jungle trail. The terrain continuously changed from dirt to rocks to tree roots, and from slopes to steps (carved by tree roots) to slopes again. But there was one constant: it was always on a 45-degree incline! My breathing got heavier, my back started to hurt more and my pace slowed drastically. At the second rest point, the guides devised a new strategy: one of them will guide my friend and one of the German up first. The slower party, being myself and the other German, will languish behind and follow the other guide. Hurray!
Picture yourself in total darkness (and without the huge-ass container) climbing
up this slope: This is what it is like for almost the entire hike!
(Photo credits to The Grizzy)
The guide told us there will be 3 more rest points: namely plateau 1, 2 and 3 (how innovative) and I thought to myself, “What?! I am not even halfway up the mountain yet?!” My breath started to get more laboured and I had to stop every few steps for gulps of fresh air. However, persevere I must! When my legs began to ache and lose its strength, I used my hands to give me that added push up the mountain. I lost all sense of time and had no idea of how long I had climbed, but I just thought in terms of fragments – reaching the rest points at plateau 1.. 2.. 3.
“Hell, it’s freaking cold!” Even the rest points proved to be a constant battle between two evils: catching your breath or freezing in the cold (I wore 3 layers!). But for me, the desperate need for oxygen always won the biting cold anyway ;)
The (near) Summit
“OMG. I can’t climb a single step more…” And at this very moment, 3.5 hours into the strenuous hike, I finally caught sight of the summit. More crucially, the blood-orange rays from the waking sun were starting to permeate the darkness of the night sky! It was a sight to behold, and I knew I had to muster up every last drop of energy to reach the summit before daylight broke.
“I have to reach it before sunrise! I have to reach it before sunrise!” kept running through my head. Energised by adrenaline flowing through my veins, I pushed forward with much vigour and took breaks only after longer intervals. Finally, I reached the (near) summit and lo and behold: these were the views that awaited me!
The reason why I said I had only reached the near summit: I couldn’t manage this
final hurdle of climbing 200m of slippery rocks and ashes to the actual summit.
If you are thinking of climbing it, you WILL need your hands!
After being enthralled by the views, feeling proud of achieving an almost impossible (to me) feat and snapping plenty of photos, it was time to go down the mountain. “The hard part is over, going downhill will be chicken feet!” Oh boy, how was wrong was I! Going downhill at a constant 45 degree decline meant I had to rely on the muscles on my legs to stop gravity from throwing myself down the mountain! It certainly did not help that my muscles were already sore from climbing up :X The end result? I tackled the slopes by sliding downhill on my butt! Not the most glamourous and cleanest method, but hey, it accomplished the task at hand :)
After three hours of descent, my dust-stained jeans and I finally reached the rest stop at the “New Selo” sign again! “There’s 100-Plus sold here!” Despite the 2 litres of liquid I brought for the hike, I was still completely parched. I probably downed 2 whole cans of 100-Plus in record-breaking speed!
“That was an experience!” Sore arms, thighs, calves, gluts and groin continued to plague me for the few days after, but Gunung Merapi was definitely a fitting end to an already-exciting Indonesian adventure! Pain is temporary, but memories are forever. Visualising the sunrise still conjures up feeling of delight and satisfaction til this day. This virgin hike taught me that the best views are always obtained after a bout of hard work, and there is immense pleasure to be gained from pushing through the pain barrier. It bred in me a love for hiking and this led to numerous hikes (eg Tongariro Alpine Crossing) in subsequent travels. Thank you Mount Merapi!