At the end of April we joined Java Lava for a trip to climb Gunung Slamet in Central Java. The travel novelty was getting the train from Jakarta to Tegal to start the hike rather than having to fly. Andy and I took the train from Bogor on Friday afternoon and spent a couple of hours at Gambir station watching the buildup to the royal wedding in a café. The train journey takes about 4 hours and was very comfortable in the AC executive coach with table service for drinks and food (better than a UK train journey any day!).
We arrived in Tegal about 9 pm and piled into waiting minivans for the journey to a losmen near to Bambangan. Arriving at 11 pm we went straight to bed for the early start the next morning. After a 5am fried rice and egg breakfast we got back in the vans for the drive to the trailhead at 1500m in Bambangan village. We were walking through fields of spring onions and chilies by 6.30 am, with lovely views to the top of the volcano, although we could see the clouds gathering in the west. The path soon entered forest and we started the slog up to the lunch spot at the tree line at 3050m. The day was still early but the clouds were rolling in, so we went quickly up to the camping area where the vegetation ends at 3200m. We got the tent up just before the heavens opened and spent the rest of the afternoon hiding inside and mopping up the drips from our leaky old tent, which was turning itself into a paddling pool. This trip certainly showed us that we really need to retire our old tent, and we spent the night with survival bags on top of our sleeping pads which were soaking up water coming through the floor. We were warm and dry, but we wouldn’t have liked to have to pack our gear and use it again on a second night!
The rain stopped late in the night and the next morning dawned reasonably bright and clear, and with none of the infamous wind that Slamet is notorious for. We packed our gear and were making our way up to the summit by 7 am. The final 200m is very steep exposed rock but the top itself (3420m) has a very large flat area with a huge and very active crater at one end. There were great views down to the coast of north Java and we could see Gunung Ciremai (to the west near Cirebon) and the twin peaks of Gunung Sindoro and Sumbing (to the east close to Yogyakarta). One of the guys on our trip took to opportunity to propose to his girlfriend on the summit, although he had an unintentional Lord of the Rings moment when he dropped the ring into a gulley! He managed to retrieve it and she said yes.
We skirted round the crater to find the path down the other side, walking through steam coming from fumaroles and peering into the crater billowing clouds of volcanic gas below. The first part of the descent was the least fun part of the hike as it was loose slippery rock for more than an hour until we reached the tree line and reentered the forest. Andy and I were far ahead of the rest of the group and had the walk down to ourselves, and also managed to beat the torrential rain that arrived in the afternoon. We arrived in the village of Guci about 12.30 and went to a local hot spring hotel who had laid on lunch for us. We spent a very pleasant couple of hours rehydrating with cold beers and had hot showers in the spring to clean up before heading back to the train station by minivan for the ride back to Jakarta.