Ranu Kumbolo: a Glimpse of Paradise Before the Throne of the Gods

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From top-left clock-wise: A selfie with Mount Semeru on the descend; Verbena brasiliensis- a pretty parasite; Chilling with a view!; Enjoying Oro-oro Ombo; Can’t get enough of photographing this purple beauty; Oh, wait, what a bout seeing the hills upside-down?

Being the tallest volcano is the island of Java, of course I have heard of Mount Semeru so many times. The mighty peak of Mahameru which literally translate into the the peak of the Gods surely gives out chill and excitement for beginner and experienced hikers alike. I was indeed challenged but I knew I was not ready to reach the summit yet- but the beauty of the trek lured me to go anyway. It was in May 2017 that I finally found my pack to go on a slow hike from Ranu Pani to Ranu Kumbolo, the first leg of the journey one got to take for Mahameru conquest.

The journey began in the city of Malang in East Java. I was on the hike with a group of friends- 6 of us, 3 lads and 3 ladies. We flew early morning from Jakarta, arriving at Malang to devour the famous soto/ rawon (Javanese style soup) Rampal for breakfast. Yum! We spent the day at Batu to chill and relax while our two friends were on to try the paragliding experience. These two were also the ones who are on the way to the summit whereas the four of us will be happy just to camp at Ranu Kumbolo.

What I love about this pack I went with was, we were there purely to enjoy the time, no rush, no strict goal- just go with the flow. We also committed to cook and eat properly at the camp so right after the Batu hangout we went on for groceries shopping that ended up looking like a preparation for a banquet rather than a camping meal. The good thing was, that was not being wasted away as we actually cooked and prepared a feast up in the mountain!

Yes, we cooked all this outdoor by the lake!

Late in the afternoon, after a bowl of Bakwan Malang, we changed ride to finally reach Ranu Pani. Our SUV won’t do the job of delivering us to the village for the terrain was quite challenging. We made a stop at Tumpang and had our previous driver arranged a Jeep rent for us. We then had a deal for a two-way Jeep ride. As we arrived at the gate of Ranu Pane we had to walk to our guest house. No four-wheeled vehicles were allowed to go further from there. As we walked in the dark, our fingers were crossed that the Jeep driver will remember to pick us up on the day after tomorrow.

We were welcomed by the guides at the guest house with hot tea. With some introduction and a short briefing we then went straight to bed. All I could remember was to get ready at 6:30 AM in the next morning and to attend the “official” briefing by the rangers of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park (TNBTS). I woke up refreshed on the day after. We also managed to have a delicious breakfast of Nasi Goreng Telor while watching Ranu Pani in all its morning glory.

Gorgeous morning from Ranu Pani

The rangers’ briefing kicked-off at 8:30ish AM. It was held in the small hall of the TNBTS office in Ranu Pani. I was quite surprised that the hall was so packed- Yea, of course it was a long weekend! Although the TNBTS official limit the hikers to only 600 pax per day, seems like the quota is full almost all the time. In holiday season or long weekends, hikers must be prepared to share the hike with that many of people. Also, be prepared, any prospective hikers should register 3 months prior the hike. Details for the online registration and rules can be found here.

The briefing was very informative and it was mandatory as the rangers will check your team and hand your hiking permit out after the briefing. Based on the information in the briefing, typically the legs of the hike to Semeru would be Ranu Pani- Ranu Kumbolo (normally- 4 hours), Ranu Kumbolo- Kalimati (3-4 hours), Kalimati- Arcopodo (1 hour) and finally the summit attack to Mahameru (3 hours). Hikers were actually recommended to hike only until Kalimati. Having said that, the hike to the summit were not recommended and totally at your own risk. It was certainly no joke, as when I was in Oro-Oro Ombo the next day- I saw with my own eyes a dead body being carried across the savanna.

We left the post at Ranu Pane at 9:30 AM and it took me almost 7 hours to reach Ranu Kumbolo. The first part of the 10 KM hike to the lake was a well paved road by the side of Ranu Pane’s villagers farms. Not so long after that, came the first ascend entering the forest area. The hike in the forest was my favorite, because as I stood in silence I could literally hear the voice of all beings singing in harmony. Hikers must be prepared as the trek in the forest will be quite narrow with the valley on the left side- though not so steep of a hike.

I was so lucky to find my pack for the slow hike- We called ourselves the Syalala Team and my other two friends who are aiming for Mahameru the Summit Express Team. The Syalala Team made so many stops (sorry not sorry, duh!) and pretty sure we grabbed a bite at every posts on the way to Ranu Kumbolo. My energy booster during the hike was watermelon- which can be found at every food stall in the post. Yes, the locals set up a humble “coffee shop” at the posts all the way to Ranu Kumbolo, such a unique experience for the hike in this national park.

The misty trek in the forest, I love it!

Arriving at Ranu Kumbolo around 4:30 PM in the afternoon all I did was soaking in the beauty of the lake, figuratively. It was prohibited to actually take a dip in the lake. However, hikers may take water from the lake to cook and drink. This rule was made to protect the lake and also the hikers themselves. Only two years earlier the lake was severely polluted and it needed a major clean-up effort to restore the health of the ecosystem. A sad truth but need to be told for awareness and respect.

The guides already set our tents up and cooked us dinner. So grateful for the wonderful gentlemen helping us throughout this journey. We just chatted over coffee and  green tea latte (all hail grocery shopping!!!) that afternoon, laughing over the journey and cheering for the Summit Express Team that will depart later that night to summit Semeru. It did get very chilly at night by the lake, make sure to layer up. A fleece and a wind-breaker will help to survive the night by Ranu Kumbolo.

As I was asleep, I heard the fuss from the boys’ tent over the departure of the summit team. It was 11 PM, and believe it or not, they reached the summit 5 hours later. Truly an express team! Meanwhile the Syalala team continues to sleep until sunrise in the next morning. The sunrise view over the twin hills with Ranu Kumbolo as the foreground was a sight to behold. We spent the morning photographing the sunrise and getting ready to cook breakfast. What a camp life!

The sunrise by Ranu Kumbolo right in front of our tents.

Right after breakfast, my two friends and I hiked Tanjakan Cinta- right behind the Ranu Kumbolo camping ground. On the top of the hill, we were literally surrounded by beautiful views. I turned my back- and I was spoiled by the bird-eye view of Ranu Kumbolo. Whereas, in front of me was Oro-oro Ombo a savanna with Verbena brasiliensis (purple, lavender-like parasite) carpeting its surface. Oro-Oro Ombo means “vast pasture” in Javanese. And it was indeed vast that it would take some time to actually cross the verbena carpet. It took 15-30 minutes from Ranu Kumbolo to Oro-Oro ombo and if you camp at Ranu Kumbolo, a small hike to Oro-Oro Ombo in the afternoon or in the next morning is a must! …and are you in for another surprise? We found another “coffee shop” at the top of Tanjakan Cinta! Was surprising to learn that the price of the watermelon doubled up there! Economy at its best, LOL 🙂

The other-worldly Oro-Oro Ombo. Stunning!

As we were exploring the area, we got to witness another unique spectacle from Mount Semeru. Janggring Saloka crater expelled volcanic gas known to local as Wedus Gembel. The phenomena happened every 15-30 minutes. Semeru is indeed an active volcano! Unfortunately, the moment we were having fun photographing and enjoying the nature, we got to witness the harsh truth of the risk of climbing. I saw four men rushing- looking so tense carrying what we believed was human body wrapped tightly in fabric. It was 9:30 AM in the morning, and news travel fast. We learnt that somebody was killed when summitting the volcano as soon as we were back at the camping ground. May her soul rest in peace.

Quite a shock for a beautiful morning. But truth to be told, you can never take the risk of climbing lightly. When we are out in nature, you have to be aware that anything could happen. One can only do the best to prepare but always prepare for the worst. I suddenly recall what the ranger told us in the briefing the day before;

The ultimate goal for the hike is not the summit, but to go home safely.

Janggring Saloka crater in action. Semeru was just behid that hill!

We were so grateful that an hour later we got to welcome our friends back from the summit. Safely and happily. It was always a joy to share adventure stories, when somebody came back from one. As what I saw from my friend’s phone that morning, it was a magnificent view from Mahameru. There was an Indonesian flag up there and the sunrise view was just epic. I could imagine it was THE reward everybody was expecting when they reach the summit. I believe it was all worth the effort to climb those loose sands and stones for three solid hours. So proud for all those who made it to the top!

Can you guess which ones are syalala and summit express team?

After a feast by the lake- you MUST a look back at the wonderful nasi tumpeng photo up there 🙂 , we got ready to descend.  It took us another 6 hours to get back to Ranu Pane. This time on we walk as one group almost all of the time. I was not in good mood at the end of the descend. I was sooooo tired and feeling like giving up and just want to ride ojeg (motorcycle taxi) as soon as we reached the paved road. Of course the ojegs were nowhere to be seen, it’s maghrib (sunset) after all, duh! When I was rumbling, crying almost- one of my friend said “Ah, come on, Christine. It’s nothing about your body, it’s all in your mind!” I didn’t know why, but his words just got right into my ego and I ended up reaching the guest house half-running. Yup, I’m a living proof, that your body will actually do what your mind is telling you to do!

At the guest house, we were in for another round of hot caffeine and got ready to leave Ranu Pani. We left the guest house knowing that we still have to walk to get to the jeep parking ground. Bummer! Uh-huh, another walk in the dark, but this time we knew we have accomplished a memorable journey. The night sky was also very pleasing. I saw the milky way very clearly from the jeep parking ground- but too lazy to pull out my camera and tripod. Well, I decided to just marvel at it this time. As we rode the bumpy road back to Malang, I was so grateful that all of us could come back home safely. That’s the ultimate goal after all.

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