Climb of a lifetime: Mt. Marapi, West Sumatra

Mt. Marapi as seen from the back of my motorbike April 8, 2012

Sometimes things just fall into place. In this way my  plan to climb Mt. Marapi came to fruition.

After my recent visit to Bukittinggi, I contacted a local guide, Fikar, about climbing Sumatra’s “Fire Mountain.” He informed me that guides weren’t taking tourists up the mountain but said it was safe and still possible for me to climb.

“Just make sure that you are here in Bukittinggi first, then the rest [of what you want to do] will be manageable.”


So nothing was solid when I left for Bukittinggi. I arrived early Friday morning and as luck would have it, Andi, the kid at the front desk of my hotel, said he wanted to climb that night. We made a plan to meet at 10 p.m. and climb through the night to see the sunrise from the top.

At 9 p.m. I received a text from Andi, he’d been hit by a motorcycle and while he only suffered cuts and bruising, he was unable to climb. So at 9:15 p.m., after wrestling with the idea that maybe I wasn’t supposed to climb Merapi after all, I contacted Fikar.

Earlier in the day I had spent a few hours at Bedudal Cafe where I met him in person. We’d spent the day chatting about language, culture and the challenges of living in Riau. It was during this time that he told me he might have some friends who would be interested in climbing with me if I still needed buddies.

The start of the hike: 11:30 p.m. April 6, 2012 (L to R: Flip Flop, Hey Misster, Cakmaw)

Within an hour I was introduced to Cakmaw and OeDije (who I nicknamed Flip Flop because he did the entire hike in his flimsy sandals). For Rp. 350.000 they agreed to climb with me, and by 11 p.m. we were on our way to the drop off point.

Marapi is located near Bukittinggi in West Sumatra. It’s the most active volcano on the island and has been acting up over the last 6 months—most recently erupting in February of 2012. The most recent eruptions have been small though and locals continue to climb to the summit in spite of the volcano’s current “Level II” status.

The hike was intense, but incredible. At the start we  encountered a wild pig and had to wait for the cranky creature to clear out before we continued. It was during this time that Cakmaw, OeDije and I established a “teacher-student” relationship and began teaching each other words in English, Minangkabau and Bahasa. For the rest of the trip the exchange of language was a point of entertainment and laughter.

Narrow passage through the "red fern tunnel" about 1/4 of the way up the mountain

At about 4:15 a.m., after climbing up natural “ladders” of tree roots, through narrow passages covered in ferns, alongside sharp drop-offs and over moss-covered rocks, we arrived at the cadas.

The cadas on the way down. It was probably good that it was dark when I climbed up so I only focused on what I could see in front of me!

Cadas (said chah-dahs) literally means “rock” in Bahasa and it was by far, the most challenging part of the climb. The cadas is the area approaching the top of the mountain. It’s steep and completely covered in loose stones making finding acceptable footholds especially difficult in the dark. Hearing me yell “stupid cadas!” became common and often left Chakmaw and Flip Flop laughing quite hard.

Hey Misster at Abel, the monument near the top dedicated to those who have died due to Mt. Marapi. Approximately 5 a.m. April 7, 2012

We arrived at a monument near the top of the volcano at about 5 a.m. The sunrise was still over an hour away so we decided to lay out mats, huddle under sleeping bags and enjoy some coffee in the cold winds before the spectacle of the sunrise.

Early morning coffee break with the boys!

Around 5:30 a.m., our bellies now full of cookies and coffee, we pulled our shivering bodies out of the sleeping bags, packed up and continued on our way. Carefully navigating our way across a wide expanse of ash and rock we then followed a narrow path (about 3 1/2 feet wide) toward Merpati—the highest point on Merapi. To the left of the path was a gradual dropoff into a depression where various active and inactive craters were scattered and to the right was a dropoff, though in the darkness it was difficult to tell exactly what was located over the edge. Needless to say, we trekked carefully and I kept my headlamp focused forward.

Mount Singgalang and the full moon (bulan purnama) at about 6 a.m.

As the winds picked up and my muscles began to ache, my steps became more and more deliberate. Finally, just mere meters from the top, the path narrowed to a mere 1 1/2 feet wide. Cakmaw turned around and said “We’re almost there!” I looked at him with mounting fear and excitement and assured him that in spite of my nervousness, I was ready to alight Merpati. I literally crawled to the top, putting my butt squarely on the ground, both boys immediately busting out in laughter at my sudden worry. I just didn’t trust my legs to stand while the skies were still dark (Though I did stand later, once the sun was up).

Here comes the sun...approximately 6 a.m. as viewed from Merpati (the highest point of Mt. Merapi)

When we stood facing the main smoking crater of Merapi, to our left was Mt. Singgalang with the full moon shining over her, to our right was the ever-brightening skies where the sun was preparing to greet us and behind us was a landscape including Lake Siangkarak and Padang. And here, for over 45 minutes, we watched the world around us awaken in a beautiful dance of color.

Merpati on Merapi. In the distance Danau Singkarak.

And here’s where I will let the pictures do the talking.

Click the photos below for a larger view.


10 thoughts on “Climb of a lifetime: Mt. Marapi, West Sumatra

  1. How wonderful Panders! You have had some great adventures and will have memories of a lifetime 🙂 I am so excited that you’ll be coming home soon. I got home last night and am trying to adjust to the cooler weather. Love you Punkin!

  2. McKenna, you are having quite the experiences of a life time it looks!
    How I just love reading your blogs-
    the pics, views, yours friends, and
    your writings are so like I am there
    It makes it all the more interesting!
    Continue in safety and w/ our Lord
    Jesus Christ.
    Lots of Love McKenna and I hope
    To see u when you come home .
    Mrs. Redman

    1. Thank you for your support Mrs. Redman! I am happy that you’re following me on my journey from afar, I feel very blessed to have the support and prayers of so many people. I would love to see you when I am home again. I hope to spend some time in Michigan in August. Sending my love to you and Mr. Redman 🙂

  3. I climbed the same MT. Marapi, twenty years ago alone but not in the dark. I am glad it is still as wonderful as it was back then great to see other women having epic adventures –keep on trekking. May

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