Mount Kerinci (or Gunung Kerinci) is Sumatra’s highest peak, Indonesia’s highest volcano and is still active, with eruptions annually. It’s located in the Kerinci Selabat National Park, which is made up, mostly, of thick jungle and inhabited by the endangered Sumatran tiger and Sumatran rhino. So, with all this in mind, we decided to try to climb the 3,805metres to the crater on the summit to stare into the depths of the volcano. After much deliberation we agreed to take a guide with us for our hike. People have gone missing in the past on the route trekking alone, whether they fell into the crater, got attacked by tigers or just lost their way, nobody knows and so we decided to ‘play it safe’.
We had one shot at climbing this volcano and despite bad weather reports we decided to go anyway, it was now or never. From Bukkitinggi, we took a nine-hour jeep to the little town of Kersik Tua where our guide, Een, met us and we jumped on the back of his and his friend’s motorbikes and were whisked away to his family home where we would spend the night before beginning the climb the next morning. Een has climbed the volcano dozens of times and knows the area extremely well and so we were all ears during our briefing before getting an early night. Our aim was to hike to camp three, pitch a tent and get a few hours sleep before making the final ascent to the summit in time for sunrise, weather permitting of course.
Waking early the next morning, we were collected by motorbike and the three of us whizzed through the tea fields surrounding the base of the volcano until we reached the trail head. So far, the weather was playing ball and although it was cloudy, it was dry. As we disappeared into the jungle, the sky was no longer clearly visible due to the high trees and after about thirty minutes of hiking through the dense jungle, we felt the first few drops of rain. We put on our rain gear and on we went, hoping it was just a shower. Een pointed out various flowers and trees along the trail as we pushed further into the jungle.
After a few hours it was clear that the rain was not going to let up, it was coming down hard, the path was becoming increasingly slippy and was beginning to get much steeper. In places, the paths were completely washed away and for the next few hours we climbed, skidded, slipped and scrambled along the muddy trail as the rain continued to fall and the winds got stronger. Een had a worried look on his face and we discussed the possibility of turning around and going back. We knew this was our one and only chance to climb here and so we all agreed to continue and just hope the weather would clear. We could hear monkey’s howling somewhere across the valley, we couldn’t see much through the sheets of rain but at least it was a bit more sheltered under the forest canopy than out in the open. There was nobody else around; other than the monkey’s screams, the two of us, Een and a huge, bright orange leech the size of my shoe sucking up the moisture from the ground, we were all alone in the jungle in this terrible storm.
Hiking through the heavy mud, dodging flooded areas of the path and pulling ourselves up by the exposed tree roots where the path had disappeared, we finally arrived at shelter three. We were happy to be here but now came the difficult task of pitching the tent. Once we had found a suitable location, providing as much shelter as possible, myself and Een got busy clearing a space for the tent.
Together we managed to get the tent up, stretched another piece of canvas across the top, tied extra guide ropes to the trees and bushes and dug some channels to keep the water away from where we would be trying to sleep. With our shelter up, we got in out of the weather, had something to eat and tried to get some rest.
With the winds howling outside and the rain still beating down, it didn’t seem likely that we were going to get the mind-blowing sunrise we had dreamt of but we had come this far and we were going to finish what we had come to do. Our plan was to wake at 2am and begin the hike to the summit. None of us slept much, with the winds only getting stronger and the rain heavier outside the light canvas walls of our little tent.