Scaling Kawah Ijen
Wednesday, September 28, 2016 @ 12:00 AM

We stayed the night at Hotel Santika Banyuwangi, which was the middle ground to Ijen and the ferry trip we needed to take to Bali the next day. We settled for a quick dinner at a roadside hawker just next to our hotel. It was simple (and cheap!) foodfare, but it tasted delicious. We sat on the carpets they laid on the roadside with five different plates of local delicacies to share. The hawker owner seems happy to see us enjoy his cooking - he kept smiling in plain joy as we enjoyed the meal.

There were four of us, so we arranged for a jeep to bring us to Ijen from our hotel. It was 1am when we set off for our hike up to the mountain to witness the famed blue flames. We read that we could also take motorbikes up, but sadly we didn't. It would probably have been an exciting experience!

At the base of Kawah Ijen, we could choose to pay for a guide or do it independently. We decided to pay for the guide to bring us up and back, which proved to be a wise choice not because it was a difficult climb, but because he was most helpful throughout the hike. It costed us SGD20 for the guide. If one is well-prepared with headlights and the stamina, most probably one would not need to hire a guide as there are many people on the hike with you on the one-way track so it is quite impossible to get lost.

The guide prepared headlights for us, encouraged us when we were worn out from the steep incline, but never once rushed us to reach the top. He was also most patient when we whined and asked how long more of incline before we could stop (it was insanely tiring), although he never did lie. He would always state as a matter of factly how many more KMs we had to go before we would reach the top.

At the top of Kawah Ijen, we have to descend into the crater by stepping down rocks. It was really dark, so we were thankful for his headlights. He also helped us descend and made sure we didn't fall to our death, and was really patient with us although we were pretty slow. During the descend, we had to step out of the way multiple times so local sulphur miners could pass by with the sulphur rocks on their shoulders. They are so amazingly strong, it definitely highlights how weak we are to whine about the hike when they do it every single day for a living.

It was almost 5am by the time we reached the bottom of the crater. The blue flames were amazing to watch, and the sky was peppered with stars. It was beautiful. We found a spot to rest until the sky turned from night to day, before we started exploring the crater some more.

We asked if it was possible to touch the blue water in the crater, and was amazed by its warmth. The wind blew thick sulphuric smoke into us from time to time, and we realised why our little blue surgical mask was barely enough. People suggested using the thicker N95 mask, but it made it hard to breathe on our hike up the mountain so we decided to forgo it, and we realised why. It is incredible how the sulphur miners do this everyday, with zero mask nor protection. It is a difficult job indeed.

It took us another 2 hours to get back to the foot of Kawah Ijen. The ascend from the crater was a lot faster compared to the descend, for it was bright by the time and we needed the guide no more. The pictures above highlights the number of rocks we had to climb to exit the crater. The descend was a different story though. The path down the mountain was so steep, it took us a lot of effort and help from the guide to not slide all the way down. We had to resort to walking sideways like a crab to better balance ourselves on the way down, and although I would say it was not as tiring as the climb up, it was tedious as well!

Our two days worth of mountaineering was quite enough for us by then, and we were looking forward to relaxing in Bali. Still, it was an incredible experience. We managed to push ourselves to conquer two mountains over a weekend, with no prior training nor preparation for it. Although one could say both the mountains are just beginners in the true realm of mountaineering, we were still insanely proud of ourselves for managing to complete them!

The view from the top of Kawah Ijen.

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