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Java March 2020: Peak-bagging on the brink of lockdown

Java March 2020: Peak-bagging on the brink of lockdown


Postby RobW » Sun Jan 03, 2021 10:31 pm

Date walked: 13/03/2020

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(Adapted from an April 2020 Bagging without Borders forum post) The trip that nearly didn’t happen. As I wrote this, on a sunny Easter Saturday, the UK and much of the world was in lockdown, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The first Easter in 3 decades which I’d not spent on the hills. The plan, meticulously assembled by Dan Quinn, was for an ultra-prominent peak in North Sulawesi, then four ultras in Peninsular Malaysia, with (mandatory) guides and 4x4 transport all arranged – too good an opportunity to miss. I would then spend a leisurely couple of weeks climbing some of Java's iconic volcanos.

Central Java workaround
10 March. As I prepared to leave London Heathrow, word arrived of restrictions which would prevent us from travelling to Sulawesi – one peak down before we've even started. Plan B: Dan needed a revisit to the multi-summit Ungaran 2050m P1320, a Ribu (Ribu is the Indonesian word for 1000: Indonesia is where the listing of 1000m prominence summits started) so this made a good compensation peak; an easy 5-hour train journey east from Jakarta followed by a pre-dawn start for a sunrise summit,

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Mar 13: Dawn view of Gunung Merbabu by Rob Woodall, on Flickr

with excellent views of nearby ultras - Merbabu looking superb,

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Gunung Merbabu from Ungaran west peak

and further east, Sumbing and Sindoro in silhouette.

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Ungaran summit: view of Sumbing and Sindoro

From the tourist summit we found our way across to Puncak Botak, the (rarely visited) highest point. On our way down we detoured through tea plantations,

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Tea picking

to visit a cave.

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Ungaran and tea plantations

Dan then headed home to Jakarta, while I made my way by bus and ojek (motorbike taxi) to Kopeng. It was still the rainy season on Java (although not in Peninsular Malaysia where we were due next), so the next day, to avoid a soaking I made an 0220 start, a road walk getting me to the trailhead of Merbabu 3145m P2432 in an hour. Like all the popular Java peaks, it has a good trail, well marked and not difficult to follow by head-torch.

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Gunung Merbabu sunrise

Daybreak saw me at a minor (2900m P68) summit,

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Merbabu ascent: transmitter summit

then a gentle ridge led down to a col then steeply up to Merbabu’s main ridge, where a short cabled section and some delicate pebbly scrambling led to the tourist summit, Kenteng Songo, which was busy with several dozen folk.

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Gunung Merbabu tourist summit

Clouds were building but I’d arrived in time to see Merapi, Java’s most active volcano, looking superb in the morning light.

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Merapi from Merbabu

I continued a couple of minutes to the (deserted) highest summit, Triangulasi, 3m higher,

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Merbabu highest summit, Triangulasi

enjoying brief views before the clouds closed in. Then down, enjoying nice sunshine,

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Merbabu descent: transmitter summit late morning

and back to the hotel. It certainly makes sense to start early there, especially in March, where most days I avoided an afternoon deluge. After the rain finished I got an ojek up nearby Telomoyo 1894m P617.

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Mar 14: Telemoyo entrance

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My taxi driver

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My two new friends

Back to Jakarta; Karang day trip
The next day I found my way back to Semarang then took the train back to Jakarta,

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Mar 15: Railside rice fields

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Jakarta Gambir station: who needs footbridges?

ready to head for Malaysia … or not. Dan had been studying Covid reports and status and it was evident that it wasn't viable to head for Malaysia for the four Ultras planned there (very disappointing, after all the planning, with guides and flights booked). The decision was borne out when Malaysia went into lockdown a couple of days later, with our planned peaks closed – we would probably have been trapped there.

It was tempting (my friends were saying, sensible!) to just head home. But there was no immediate sign of Indonesia imposing a lockdown (it never did), and flight connections seemed solid thanks mainly to the Gulf carriers, so I hired a car and driver for a day to bag the Jakarta’s nearest ultra, Karang 1778m P1705, a straightforward 3h30 forest hike on a good trail.

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Karang ascent: Bottle gourds

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Karang ascent

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Mar 16: Karang summit

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Insectivorous plant

Several friendly groups were ascending as I headed down; I was stopped for a couple of selfies. En route back to Jakarta we stopped for a tasty Indonesian meal (another selfie, with the staff). I liked the driver so, having assessed the Covid situation, I booked him for few days (at least, I thought I had!), with an aspiration to tackle the remaining four West Java ultras if feasible. The car meant I could get back to Jakarta airport on any given evening if things changed. The original (post Malaysia) plan had been to do these peaks by public transport, at a more leisurely pace a couple of weeks later.

West Java Ultras or bust: Ciremai and Cikuray
The Central Java peaks (including Merbabu and Ungaran which I'd just bagged) were already closed due to coronavirus restrictions, and in the West the national park peak of Ciremai 3078m P2792 with its impressive crater, seemed likely to go the same way - indeed it closed four hours after I finished climbing it! Sabto collected me at 3 a.m. and with the usually-crowded Jakarta streets quiet, we were at Apuy before 7 a.m. I was then taken up to the Park gate in a small pickup, with a wait while onions were loaded onto a truck.

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Mar 17: Ciremai: onion-related delay

Park entry was quite a performance; a few hikers were waiting but I was fast tracked, probably as I was a high value foreigner: 215,000 Rupiah (11 GBP) was quadruple what Petter Bjørstad paid last year! It included a medical (height weight and blood pressure, but not temperature despite the ongoing coronavirus crisis).

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Ciremai trailhead

The ascent was mostly on trail,

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Ciremai ascent: rooty trail

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Ciremai campsite

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Ciremai: busy trail

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Ciremai: trig pillar

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Ciremai crater

with some minor bushwhacking;

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Mar 17: Ciremai summit

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Ciremai crater wall

5h50 round trip. The fee included a free meal after the hike as I later discovered, quite tasty. After resolving some misunderstandings, with the pickup driver over the price, and with my driver who thought he had another client the next day … we booked a cheap hotel for the night and next day I climbed Cikuray 2821m P2105, which seemed to be open (the office in the village was open although not the one at the trailhead),

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Mar 18: Cikuray HQ

and an ojek was arranged to take me up the jolty track to the trailhead). The 4hr round trip started through tea plantations,

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Cikuray: tea plantation

then a good trail led up through misty forest to an open summit. Despite no lockdown, social distancing was encouraged and the universities were closed, with the (unintended) result that the peaks were full of sociable students! I refused a cup of tea on Ciremai, but somehow got into a group photo on Cikuray.

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Mar 18: Cikuray summit: social distancing Java style


Pangrango the hard way
4 out of 6 Ultras – so far so good. However, the next ultra, Pangrango didn't seem too feasible (bureaucratic at the best of times) so instead, after a motel overnight

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Mar 18: Bukittunggul: Java motel

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Bukittungul: toilet roll alternative to beat those panic-buyers!

I bagged Bukit Tinggul 2209m P1345, a nice easy climb to a forested summit

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Mar 19: Bukittunggul ascent

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Bukittunggul descent: pine sap harvesting

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Bukittunggul descent: mud fest

with no baggers in sight (just a welly-shod dog walker); 3h15 round trip.

Calling at the Pangrango entrance that afternoon "for a look", I spent an hour checking out the start of the "unofficial" route used previously by Mykhailo Pavliuk and Petter Bjørstad and it looked well-trodden, at least initially, so I found a hotel nearby, and sent my driver back to Jakarta for a night with his family, extended the car booking for an extra day and arranged for him to collect me the following afternoon. That day and evening I spent a few hours on the phone to Etihad and Opodo trying to bring forward my flight a couple of weeks to the Sunday, before giving up and buying a new Emirates flight.

My version of the Pangrango 3019m P2426 route had a rather unorthodox start, through narrow streets (and past slightly bemused locals not used to white hikers) before reaching the fields and hill path. The route through the forest was overgrown in places;

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Mar 20: Pangrango ascent

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Pangrango ascent: clearing near summit

the usually busy summit was deserted, and in cloud;

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Pangrango: summit deserted

the 24km 1900m 9h20 outing was the longest of the trip.

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Pangrango descent: unfrequented trail

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Pangrango descent: unfriendly vegetation

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Pangrango trail: tree scramble

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Pangrango: veg fields near trailhead

Sabto was waiting at the hotel when I got back, and we were on our way just before the afternoon monsoon, which was particularly intense that day. I commented to the driver about the appalling driving conditions – but to him it was quite normal.

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Mar 20: Pangrango: afternoon monsoon


Salak and home to Lockdown Britain
The final peak of the trip was Salak 2211m P1679.

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Salak ascent: workers motorbikes

Access was a somewhat grey area, but despite some initial confusion over a permissible parking spot, unfriendly dogs on the way up and a rough slippery rooty path,


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Salak ascent: rooty trail

I enjoyed my last summit of the trip, again deserted, with a view of the previous day's Pangrango.

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Pangrango from Salak summit

The route passes some quite fancy play equipment, and on the way down I passed a group who asked if I was from the American embassy… They (and their dogs) seemed a little surprised to see me; my non-local appearance probably kept me out of trouble.

Finishing early afternoon, I headed straight to Jakarta airport, when my temperature was checked and I was allowed into the rather quiet airport, very happy with how my week had worked out, but happy to be heading home.

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Mar 21: Jakarta airport unusually quiet

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Airways closing down

My early morning flight (Sun 22 March) took off as planned and a text message from the UK Embassy had assured us that there would be no quarantine trap en route (assuming no Covid symptoms). Unlike my two-thirds-empty outward flights, the Emirates flight was full, as was Dubai airport for the layover. My neighbour on the flight was a NZ based UK national who had been refused access back into NZ, due to the very strict lockdown there (which seemed extreme at the time, but worked well for them). My rearranged flight got me in to Stansted - a deliberate choice as Coronavirus was already quite widespread in London itself. A nearly empty train took me back to Peterborough,

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Mar 22: railside fields, Cambridgeshire, UK - nearly home

and in view of stories of panic buying and empty supermarket shelves, I was pleased to be able to pick up a few supplies in Waitrose (conveniently next to the railway station - the first time I've ever been in a Waitrose!) before my walk home, a couple of days before the UK went into lockdown. A pedestrian end to a quite exciting, rather unpredictable but very satisfying trip, with six P1500m Ultras, two P1000m Ribus and a P600 bagged.

Many thanks to Dan Quinn for the original idea and for his support and advice throughout. His Gunung Bagging site is an essential resource for Indonesia and Peninsular Malaysia peak-bagging.


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Gunung bagging

Route descriptions and GPX route files are linked from within this report and can also be accessed via my Peakbagger 2020 ascents page

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Java March 2020 Ascents
RobW
Hill Bagger
 
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Joined: Dec 16, 2020
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