Do it Before you Die: Mt. Merapi Volcano

Dreary-eyed and chilly, I kept trying to remember why we were up at 1am with our packs on. Apparently, if the weather is right, a magnificent sunrise can be seen from the top of Mt. Merapi volcano.

My friend Megan and I stayed the night in a quaint guest house, provided by our tour guide, Pak Shebi. When it comes to Indonesian volcanoes, he knows what he’s talking about. After being in the business of volcano-climbing for years, he still showed as much enthusiasm with us as he did in the photos from 15 years ago, smiling with other avid hikers.

Mt Merapi is the volcano overlooking the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta. It’s rare for its apex to be clear of cloud and fog. Only once we were able to see the top of Mt Merapi and it’s sister, Mt. Merbabu from Yogyakarta. That was the day before our climb. Once we saw the top, we began to feel butterflies in our stomach.

On the ascend, the trail became more wet, cold, slippery and vertical. Stopping a few times for snacks and water breaks also meant stopping to add a layer of clothing. The weather did not relent. With limited visibility, we tripped over rocks, slipped on stumps and undoubtedly stood on a number of snails. Pak Shebi definitely showed me up as the amateur but eager hiker that I am.

We reached the plateau just below the Apex. Megan and I huddled up in a tiny tent that Pak Shebi rapidly set up for us. It was still dark, and it looked like the weather wouldn’t clear in time for sunrise. We waited for at least an hour for light to appear so we could check out the conditions. Unfortunately it was too cloudy to see the sunrise. After frolicking around for half an hour taking pictures in a foggy, eerie moon-like atmosphere, we decided that was it, and started to leave.

Ten minutes later, the weather began to clear and we could see the apex. The sun was out! We welcomed it as it dried out our clothes and warmed our skin. We decided to go back and climb to the top.

That last leg of the climb was the most difficult, with gravel and volcanic ash falling out from under our feet. The solid rocks on the top were hot to the touch. Despite the high-altitude, I’d never felt so close and connected to the earth’s core.

After taking lots of pictures, the three of us sat in silence for a while. Pure silence. All I could hear was the murmur of the volcano’s crater, steam billowing out above us. Over-looking bustling, chaotic Indonesian towns and not hearing a thing was strangely humbling.

Descending was painful. But after experiencing that soul-cleansing silence and those breathtaking views, it was worth it. Megan and I were even invited to plant a tree each when we walked past some workers, making our visit to Mount Merapi even more memorable.

Written by Renae Verboon. Photos by Megan Clarke.

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