After a sleepless few hours, it was time. We left our shelter and climbed the final metres out of the shelter of the jungle and that’s when the fun really started. Climbing Mount Kerinci by the lights of our headlamps, we couldn’t see more than a few metres in front of us, the wind had reached speeds of 90km/hr and the rain was stinging our faces. We were climbing towards the 600 metre wide, open crater, there were sheer drops on both sides of us as we did our best to negotiate the rocky terrain. Hiding in crevices left from lava flows, we would take a minute to catch our breath, the cold was taking it’s toll now and we were at the mercy of the elements with no shelter to speak of. We continued on, following the dim shadow of Een in front. Now and then a gap would appear in the clouds and we would see a few lights from Kersik Tua, far away in the distance and then as quickly as they appeared they were gone again. Walking doubled over, keeping a low centre of gravity, was our only chance of not being blown over by the gusts which seemed to be stronger than ever. My headlamp was suddenly whipped off my head by the winds, gone forever and we were down to two lamps. In the pitch black night, we could smell the sulphur from the volcano in the air, we knew we were getting close and Een confirmed it.
The darkness finally started to lift a bit and we could see a little more but the storm hadn’t eased yet and we were wondering would we ever reach the crater. Een called us in behind a rock where we took shelter. We were here, or at least we were as far as we could go. Een explained that because of the weather, it was not safe to go any further. We were just a few meters from the edge of the crater but with the winds as strong as they were and zero shelter, there was every chance we could be blown into the volcano and that was a risk none of us were willing to take. Pausing for a few minutes, we tried to take a few photos of us at the summit but between the rain, having no feeling in our fingers and the howling winds, they didn’t come out as great as we would have liked. The good news was that we had made it, everyone was safe and we had succeeded, against the odds. The bad news was that we didn’t see a sunrise, we weren’t able to get close enough to look into the crater and we still had to get back to Kersik Tua.
Getting back to our tent, was step one and with the light growing it was getting easier to cross the rocky terrain. It was only now that we could really see what we had come through in the complete darkness earlier and it was clear taking a guide had been the right call. Without Een to follow, we would have been walking blind and in this weather, we most probably would have stepped off the edge.
By the time we reached the tent, the storm had all but stopped, we couldn’t believe it! The winds calmed, the rain stopped and we took down the tent and ate breakfast, cursing the weather. Unfortunately for us, we had no choice to go back up to the summit. As much as we wanted to, we didn’t have time; we had to make it back to Kersik Tua and get on the last bus to Padang in time to catch a flight early the following morning. As we descended into the jungle and down the path, we could see the bright blue sky through the leaves, birds were chirping, it was a totally different place. Of course the path was still incredibly muddy and we spent a lot of the way down on our backsides, slipping more times than we can count! It was getting much warmer as we descended and we stripped off layers as we went, sweating from our efforts at staying upright on the slippy trail.
Making good time, we left the steep section of the path behind us and were onto a more level area, gradually winding down towards the tea fields where we had started the day before. We rounded a corner, climbed over a fallen tree and a few moments later, we walked out of the jungle into the open, where two motorbikes were waiting to bring us back to Kersik Tua. We all congratulated each other on finishing the trek in such tough conditions. Een told us this was the worst weather he had ever climbed Gunung Kerinci in and that if he had known the storm was going to be as bad as it was, he wouldn’t have brought us.
Looking back at the volcano from the back of the motorbikes, we could see where we had climbed; clouds sat on the top of the peak and it looked postcard perfect against the blue sky. It was hard to imagine the weather could do such a dramatic turn around in only a few hours. Smiling from ear to ear, our muscles aching and smelling like, well, like we had crawled through a jungle, we enjoyed the motorbike ride back through the picturesque tea fields with only one thing now on our mind…. a hot shower! Then we would be packed into a little jeep for the bumpy seven hour drive back to Padang.