Jorge and I had just spent two crazy days in Padang City and were now sitting on this tiny “pimped” minibus with no air-conditioning, en route to Kersic Tuo. The village is at the foot of Mount Kerinci a little over 200km away by road. Our goal was climbing Mount Kerinci in the Kerinci Selabat National Park in the province of Jambi.
After they packed the minibus to the near point of explosion with passengers and goods, the journey finally began. I am not a person to get car sick, and I can literally sleep anywhere, but this was the windiest road I have been on in my life. 200km of constant sharp curves up into the mountains driving at maximum possible speed!!!!. I did not throw up (though my friend did!!!), but I had quite a bit of stomach pain and nausea for the first time in my life. In my journeys I have traveled some pretty crazy roads in the Alps, Pyrenees, the Atlas mountains, and in the Himalaya. So if you travel this way beware!!!!
Travel takes a very long time in Sumatra. There are many stops on the way but also because of all the curves. This 200km journey almost took 9 hours!!!. This was one for the books, but we made it and were at the foot of this impressive strato-volcano. The classic cone shaped volcano towers high above the village. When we saw it we couldn’t wait to begin climbing Mount Kerinci.
The minibus dropped us of a one of the few home-stays in town. It was the home of Pak Subandi. He is a bit of a legend here when it comes to the knowledge and experience he has with the National Park and its flora and fauna. Many nights we would sit in front of the fireplace where he would share his stories and knowledge. It is a very simple and basic home-stay, but the food was great and Pak and his wife really made you feel at home.
Pak Subandi can organize mountain, jungle and wildlife treks of varying difficulty and duration in the area. However I never use guides/porters when climbing and so only needed to buy the National Park entrance ticket. You can buy this at all the home-stays since there is no manned checkpoint for the park. Also you need to leave a photocopy of your passport. If you are not experience in path-finding in the jungle and use to climbing mountains, I recommend you take a guide.
Even though there is no real technical difficulty in climbing here, there still are dangers, especially for those with little experience. A few people have died on the mountain/volcano already.
Climbing Mount Kerinci
Mount Kerinci, or in Indonesian Genung Kerinci, is the highest active volcano in SE Asia and the highest mountain in Indonesia outside of Indonesian Papua (Irian Jaya). It is part of the Bukit Barisan Mountain range which stretches the length of the island. Sumatra is a gigantic island, it’s the world’s 6th largest, measuring 1790km long.
Mount Kerinci has a height of 3805m and the village below is at 1450m, so you have to make an ascent of 2355m. This is no small amount. However it is possible to climb it in one day, but not recommended. It would be very hard physically and when you arrive on the summit, it will most likely be cloudy.
On the trail to the summit there are a few bird watching shelters and a number of campsites. According to the official map there are a few water stations too, but don’t count on them. Also the one at Shelter 3 is most likely contaminate by sulfur from the volcano. So be sure to bring sufficient water and food. If you can’t carry so much water, then take purification pills or a portable micro filter.
We decided to do the climb in 2 days. Our plan was to leave at sunrise and then camp at Shelter 3 at the edge of the caldera (where the upper cone/old lava flows meet the jungle), and then get up at 3 am the following day to make our push for the summit. To sleep on the volcano you need to bring a tent, the shelters are just camp sites. If you are sleeping at Shelter 3, you need to bring a good sleeping bag too. Even though you are in the tropics and just below the Equator, temperatures at 3300m can be very cold.
All preparations were made. Pak Subandi’s wife prepared some take away curries and rice, which she packed in banana leafs for our trip. He arranged for a motorbike taxi to take us to the edge of the jungle. Between the village and the national park is the world’s largest tea plantation. The Kayu Aro Tea Plantation which has an area of more than 30 km2.
The name Sumatra has always conjured up images of a wild untamed jungle in my mind. As we began our walk through the jungle following on the well-trodden path we were surrounded by an endless variety of alien sounds. Jungles are full of life, but most of it is up high in the canopy and hard to see. The jungle was thick and the old trees would rise high up into the jungle canopy. I’ve been to many jungles but there was something special about this one. It really felt like an old mysterious forest, like an enchanted forest of Lord of the Rings.
The jungle around Kerinci is legendary, it has abundance in life and diversity. Here can be found the Sumatran Elephant, the Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Leopard, Siamang Gibbons, Bear, Tapir, 140 species of bird, Macaque’s, and Sumatran Surili. Amongst the flora there is the giant Raffesia flower, carnivorous plants, and many types of Mahoney just to name a few.
This park actually holds the largest population of wild tigers worldwide, totaling more individuals than the whole China and South-East Asia put together.! Another curiosity here is the legend of orang pendek, which means “Short person” in Indonesian. Orang Pendek is the Sumatran version of Big Foot. There have been a number of sightings in this jungle and failed attempts to capture it on film. The National Park is also huge, it is bigger than all the combined national parks of Costa Rica and 2.5 times larger than Bali.
Knowing all this and walking through this very old jungle without a guide stirs up certain feelings. After a few hours the path started to get difficult to follow but with some scouting we managed to stay on the trail. The trail in parts is very steep and can be slippery if it has rained recently. Also the path takes you through these steep “tunnels” carved into the slope. The lower half cut into the muddy slope and the upper part formed by the vegetation. As we got higher on the volcano the jungle was submerged by the clouds and visibility was limited.
After walking many hours, the jungle thinned out and we could see the upper part of the volcano. The summit was hidden as the volcano was releasing huge amounts sulfuric smoke/vapor. The volcano had been more active recently and was on alert level 2 of 4. It last erupted in 2009. It was an intimidating sight. The whole slope to the summit was scared and covered in old lava flows. Finally just 2 hours before sunset we arrive at the edge of the caldera at 3320m at the spot they call Shelter 3.
We set up camp and had our lovely curries which Miss Subandi had prepared for us. Then we had a truly spectacular sunset. As the sun was setting, in the clouds about 500m below us, there was a lightning storm. We could actually see the lighting rays departing the clouds to the jungle far below. It was jaw dropping. Also there was a stunning view of Seven Mountain Lake. It is the highest freshwater lake in SE Asia at 1950m.
As the last sun rays disappeared it started to get cold and we tucked into our sleeping bags. It was a very cold night for here with temperature’s dropping to 0 degrees Celsius. I had a down feather sleeping bag but Jorge only had a cheap one, and was freezing all night and could hardly sleep.
Our Summit “attempt”
We got up at 3am and took only what was necessary. As we trotted up the slope one could hear slight rumbling and the sound of smoke being pushed out of the volcanic vent. The sun began to rise and the world around us was revealed. The color of the soil was so red, giving you a feeling you were walking on Mars. Also the jungle far below us was waking up and one could hear the calls of the gibbons.
As we neared the summit the wind was blowing in the wrong direction, so the summit and its trail were engulfed in Sulfuric Smoke. Even when near it, it was unpleasant to breath. We brought some simple filter masks but they were not enough. At times more smoke/vapor was being released and where we stood it engulfed us too. So we were forced to descend a few hundred meters.
We waited for a few hours hoping the wind would change direction. Every time a new smoke cloud came in our direction we hid in holes and lava flows. Then Jorge started to get a bit sick from the smoke and we decided to abort and go back down. It was a difficult decision since we were only 80m in altitude from the summit. Knowing when to abort is very important when climbing but difficult when you have summit fever.
We did not make it but still had an awesome time. The volcano is going nowhere, we will be back. If you are lucky enough to get a clear summit day, you will be rewarded with the view of a 600m deep and 400m wide crater with a small green lake at the bottom and the Indian Ocean in the distance.
As we returned to Shelter 3 it started to rain!!!. We packed the tent and began our descent. A lot of water came down!!!!. The parts of the path that were curios tunnels on the way up were now slippery rivers. We had loads of fun slipping and sliding. I was glad I was returning to a dry bed tonight.
We spent one more day here, relaxing and exploring the village. The valley historically has been isolated from the rest of Sumatra and therefore has a very strong and unique cultural identity. I think the next time I return to this area I will spend a few weeks here at least!!!!. There is still much to be seen and explored.
when to go and accommodation
When you plan your climb, avoid the rainiest months from October to February. In March things begin to dry up. So the best time is April through September. It can still rain here in the dry season, so don’t forget to pack some waterproof clothes. Also you need to check on the Volcano’s activity, you can do this best at John Seach’s website, to find the most current news. When you arrive there it is also advisable to observe the volcano for a few days.
There are only a few homestays in Kersic Tuo, we stayed at the Subandi Homestay, there are a few more upscale options. Also you could stay at “hotel” in Kayu Aro 5km from Kersic Tuo.
how to get here
Kerinci is still quite isolated, but there are now several ways to get here. The most common in the past was travelling by minibus from Padang City as we did. Though since 2017 you can now fly to Kerinci. Wings Air flies daily from Jambi City (DJB) to Kerinci (KRC).
Jambi’s Sultan Thaha Airport has direct flights to/from Jakarta, Medan, Batam, Padang, Bengkulu, and a few other cities in Sumatra. Padang (BMI) is an international airport so you can fly to there from Kuala Lumpur and then either take the bus or fly to Jambi and then too Kerinci.
For Visa information please visit our page regarding this in the guide section.