Climbing Merbabu or Merapi?
Merbabu (3145m) is less known sibling of infamous Merapi (2968m) – highly active, one of the decade volcanoes. Nevertheless climbing Merbabu is probably more pleasant experience due to green scenery around, less crowds and amazing views on Merapi on the way from Selo.
Which one of these 2 climb? Tough choice. Merapi can be climbed quicker in about 5 hours from New Selo as opposed to Merbabu´s 7 hours hike from Selo, which can be important factor if you want to ascend during the night to catch sunrise on the summit. 2 extra hours of struggle during the night are probably not on the pros list.
On other hand Merapi is highly active volcano. While it might sounds cool to conquer such beast, there are risk coming with it. Also it is very touristic, especially in high season between July and August and on weekends, so it will be probably far from peacefull hiking experience. That is also the reason why many locals at the base camp will try to persuade you that it is mandatory to hire a guide to climb Merapi, especially if you are Bule (white person). It is huge business for them. To this date (18.8.2016) it is not mandatory to have a guide to climb either Merapi or Merbabu.
If you don´t have experience in hiking volcanoes and how to react in emergency situation consider hiring local guide. It will costs you about 300 000rp. You will support local economy beside maybe saving your life.
Whether you decide for Merapi or Merbabu, you need to register yourself in basecamp before you start. Locals pay 15 000rp while foreigners pay 150 000rp. If you know few phrases in indonesian you can try to tell them that you are student from Yogya and they might give you price for locals. This will more likely work in Merbabu because of the reason mentioned above.
After considering all the pros and cons, we decided for ascend during the night from Selo to catch sunrise on the summit of Merbabu and descend same way immediately in the morning.
Another possible trail is from Kopeng which is not that steep, but bit longer.
Because we were located in Yogya, we rented a scooter for 60 000rp per day in our homestay and around 9pm started driving direction of Selo. After we escaped the maze of Yogyakarta the journey was straightforward and easy to follow. Katya sitting in the back held the mobile with gps coordination in hand and shouted the directions of journey. Surprisingly efficient.
Reaching the basecamp
After 2 hours of driving we arrive to Selo and turn left from the main road to drive up to the basecamp of Merbabu. The road turns soon into paved path climbing up through the hill. We already start to feel cold mountain temperature. Another 5 minutes and we are at the basecamp gate at the altitude of 1800m. Here
Despite it’s close to midnight there is a guy who show us where we can park a bike and he charges us 5000rp. Beside that the place is very quiet and nobody to be found around the gate. Because we want to register ourselves (and to be sure that somebody knows we are climbing up) we start to look for staff of the park. After knocking few doors, group of youngsters come out. We are not sure if they are part of park or not, but the hassle starts.
They speak as much english as we speak indonesian, so its very difficult to reach anything. Our fears come truth and they want us to pay 150 000rp per person, which we refuse with our prepared sentence that we are students of Yogya. Another 5 minutes of hassle and they ask with surprise in their face “you go now?”. After our confirmation they suddenly don’t want our money at all and tell us to go. With good feeling that somebody knows about us we start our hike. Its shortly after midnight.
The beggining of the hike is mild, slowly crawling up through the forest. As the temperature is about 12 degrees it is very pleasant walk. We reach Pos 1 at 0:56.
Shortly after that we start to feel hungry, so we sit down for a while, eat our peanutbutter sandwiches with chocolate and enjoy the silence of the night forest. The path continues in similar manner till Pos 2 which we reach at exactly 2:00. Until here the forest is covering the view to the valley so you cannot see much, but the canopy is giving you shelter.
From here the forest open and path starts to narrow up a bit till Pos 3. We reach it at 2.44. Here is great place to build a tent and we see few of them with hikers inside already waking up to get ready for sunrise ascend. We don’t lose the time and continue hiking. For a moment we cannot find a path out of Pos 3 campground, but gps quickly gives us correct direction. It is good it’s night and we don’t see what’s ahead of us. Just close silhouette of the volcano against the sky might warn us that now starts the proper climb.
The trail is so steep here that we need to rest every few metres. Our body gives us first signs of exhaustion and lack of sleep. Moreover at the fork where is warning sign of falling rocks we choose to go to the right, which is definitely not recommended unless you want to experience some via ferrata. Sometimes we need to literally climb, clunching to the roots of trees to make it up. When we realize it was wrong decision it’s too late to go down, so we are checking GPS and hoping we will meet the trail soon. After another 15-20 minutes of climbing we really find it and continue on the trail till Pos 4. We reach it at 4.07.
Here starts amazing views all around, but right now we see only lights of the city somewhere far away. Because the terrain is open now the wind is getting under our thin jackets so we take out one more layer from backpack and put it on. It’s also another possible place to camp when climbing Merbabu. From here the path goes up and down several times before next steep part. We really starts to feel sleepless night, but excitement of upcoming sunrise pushes us forward. We reach Pos 5 at 5.14 and its obvious we won’t make it to the top for sunrise.
The temperature is about 8 degrees, but that’s about to change soon.
We walk another 15 minutes when we decide its time to sit and enjoy why we came here. The sun comes up. Despite we are in the middle of the hill around 200m under summit its amazing show. Climbing Merbabu at night was all worth it.
After the sunrise we decide we saw the best already and despite its only 40 minutes till the highest peak we still have to go all the way down, so we have a breakfast and starts to descend.
During the descent we enjoy amazing views which we couldn’t see during the night. Clouds are lazily rolling towards the Merapi and sun finally warm up our bodies.
We slowly remove one layer of clothes after another. The way down seems to be neverending. Our knees and back starts to protest. Last few kilometers we really suffer and hope for the basecamp. We are happy to finally reach it at 11.30, but that’s not an end of the journey. Another 2 hours by motorbike back to Yogya.
Before we start driving we buy lunch and coffee in village of Selo to be at least a bit prepared for the ride. Again the crazy traffic of Yogyakarta and we are finally back at our homestay where we left 15 hours ago.
If you decide that riding motorbike for 2 hours in crazy traffic of Yogyakarta after sleepless night is not the best ending of your hike, you can stay a night or 2 right at Selo village nearby basecamp. The closest accommodation you can book online are these 2 homestays. They are only 2km from entrance to the park.
There is Merapi volcano observatory nearby the homestays, so you can check it in free time.
To be aware of
There are no sources of the water on the trail from Selo, so bring at least 2l per person for night hike, 3l for the hike during the day. While its possible to buy some food at basecamp, further on you will be on your own.
Despite the hike is very easy to follow, its always good to have gps device with you. Even smarthpone with gps will do. Just download free Locus map app, trails from wikiloc and follow. The trail for climbing Merbabu is here.
The temperature near the summit might be close to zero. Don’t risk hypothermia and bring enough of warm clothes. Hiking shoes are recommended. If you climb during the night headlight is must.
Hiking up and down in one day is exhausting and you should be reasonable fit for that. We are not top athlets, but have hiking experience and know what to expect. Still next 2 days after the hike our leg muscles were sore. Most people were recommending us to divide the hike into 2 days and camp in the middle. For sure idea to consider as like that you can enjoy both sunset and sunrise.
Please don’t leave the garbage on the trail and always carry everything down with you.
Merbabu is peak over 3000m and if you are caught there in bad weather the hike might become very nasty. Always check weather forecast here before climbing Merbabu and consult gunungbagging website before the hike.
Enjoy the hike!