The party of 10 hikers left Jakarta 7.00 in the morning of the 23rd August 2002 for Padang along with a tribe of surfers and a plane full of assorted other passengers. Everything ran smoothly and the advance party was waiting at the airport with a large bus and a rubbish bin full of cold beer for our 250km journey to Sungai Penuh. The beer supply on this trip was to prove excellent. Top marks Ronnie! We loaded up our packs and rumbled through Padang and up over the hills along the road leading to Sungai Penuh several hundred km back east in the middle of the Bukit Barisan mountain range. The bus driver did pretty good negotiating the winding roads without scaring us to death but was sorely challenged by the gearbox every time he needed to change down from 3rd to 2nd. He slowed down so much it almost always necessitated a stop and into first to get going again! Not to worry...he might have got dangerous if he had learnt to double de-clutch changing down. A beautiful road through the mountains; past lakes, along rivers, past stands selling passion fruit, small red onions, cabbages, and finally cinnamon forests. We stopped for lunch (Padang food) and then again in a high valley at the village of Kayu Aro where the turn off to Mt Kerinci leads off to the South through a tea plantation. The attraction of bundles of dried cinnamon bark at 5,000 rups a kilo proved too hard to resist and 20 minutes were spent loading up the bus with this spice shortly after Kayu Aro. The weather was cloudy and cool and hinting of rain the whole time and we arrived in Sungai Penuh around 5.00pm none the worse for wear.
If you don't like Padang food you are going to be severely challenged in this part of Indonesia! Fortunately you can ask them to cook something else without a kilo of chilies in it. Padang food consists of up to a dozen or more dishes of fish, meat, egg and vegetables in an assortment of mild to hot coconut curries. They are brought to your table in little saucers and if you try it you have bought it. You don't know when the dishes were cooked as Padang food is usually served cold with hot rice. Some of these dishes are so hot they must burn the feet of the unfortunate flies that decide to rest on it. One doesn't know if it is any good until you sit down and tuck in. The food does vary from place to place both in taste and quality!
The entire Kayu Aro area seems to be dedicated to this spice. Hectares of forests with peach colored tipped leaves abound. When the trees reach a certain age the trees are stripped of all the bark which is laid out on the roadside to dry. As it dries it curls up into rolls and turns the brown cinnamon color. The remaining wood is cut and bundled up to be used for firewood.
Sungai Penuh and the Aroma Hotel and more Padang food.
Unfortunately the Hotel, the Aroma and the Padang food at the hotel left lots to be desired and after checking out the next morning for Kerinci we decided we would stay somewhere else in future. In retrospect perhaps one should stay in the losmans at Kayu Aro as they can't be any worse and you can easily arrange your climb of Kerinci from Kayu Aro.
Up at 4.30 AM a quick bite at breakfast and an hours run back to Kayu Aro saw us loading the porters and on our way up the trail by 7.30 AM. It had poured like hell all night so we were wondering what was in store for us on the mountain but it had cleared up by day break.
Always a problem on a volcano. Work out how much you need for drinking and cooking and double it. You won't be far off!
Most of us took 4-1/2 liters of water each, but 6 would have been better. The water from the small seepage at the high camp was dirty and polluted by the thousands of climbers that went to the top during the 17th August National day celebrations. Our guide said 2,000 people were on the mountain that weekend!
The path starts out on a gradual climb past farmlands then through the forest from the road end at around 1800m with some steeper parts and progresses to mostly steeper parts with few flatter bits! The sign at the start says 16km to the summit.
You pass a few shelters spaced about 30 mins apart and the final shelter at 2500m has collapsed. The trail is eroded in parts but easy to follow. The lower forests are full of wildlife from monkeys, squirrels, birdlife, pigs, bears and supposedly tigers. Take your time and look and you will see something for sure. The hard part starts after the broken shelter which incidentally is the last shelter on the trail. From here on the going gets steeper and steeper. It would not be much fun in the rain. Just wait till you start coming down and you will see how steep it is. Funny how you don't notice it so much going up! The trail is direct so you make altitude quite rapidly and in about 4-1/2 hours or so you should have reached shelter less 'shelter II' at 3,060m. From this point you can see a bit more as the scrub is only a meter or so high. It is also the first high camp site. Even though it was mid afternoon the sweat soon cooled on our bodies and I put on my 'Swandri' (Kiwis will know what I mean) for the rest of the day.
Don't stay here but muster up some more energy and keep going up to shelter III at 3,302m if you have a tent and are spending the night. The trip from shelter II to Shelter III is a gut buster and probably the hardest part of the trail due to the erosion. It is like walking up a 40 degree ditch. Better to get it out of the way the night before you go to the top. It took Berndt and me about 2 hours to go 462m of distance gaining 234m of elevation. Ahh the wonders of GPS. It was pretty steep but we plodded away and got to shelter III just before 3pm. It hadn't rained but it wasn't looking good. The rest of the party were erecting tents and cooking things but tent first for this little kiwi and a well deserved rest.
Shelter III is in the open at the edge of the scrub line and consists of a few level areas for about 6-7 tents on the side of the mountain. More exposed than shelter II the possibility of water nearby, (to the left if you are facing the mountain) and proximity to the summit would make it the better choice for most well equipped parties. If the weather is bad or you don't have a tent consider shelter II.
Tent up it was time for a wee rest before tea. Didn't feel like much and a few slices of corned beef on crackers and a tin of mandarins filled me up pretty quick. The porters got some water from the spring but it didn't look too good. Lots of sediment. Spring had been messed up by the folk coming through the weekend before. Surprisingly not too much rubbish had been left. There was, as always, bits of plastic all over the place but not too bad for several thousand guests the week before. Seems as though plastic wrappers lying around does not constitute an eyesore for most folks here Tried to dig a trench around the tent to divert the water should it rain during the night but as the tents were quite closely spaced it could only run under the tents beside and below us. Phil in his wisdom had pitched the tent in the best spot, (good on ya mate!) slightly higher that the rest and not in a potential stream. For once it was even level!
Fortunately it didn't rain during the night but the thunder and lightning was all around. Lower down it rained hard from 4pm till 11pm. Them's the breaks I guess.
We all slept pretty well and seeing the weather was good we were all up around four AM for a five AM start to the summit.
Kerinci - the big one. Highest volcano in South East Asia. Highest peak in Indonesia outside Irian Jaya. The moon was out and the going firm. You are in the open on firm scoria all the way to the top. No shelter. Desolate. The trail is not too steep and quite straight forward, but no signs. Trail goes up and then veers right to the final steep 100m climb to the summit which is part of the crater lip. Progress was steady and by 0700m most of us were at the top of the crater lip peering down into the crater and taking photos. Stop when you get to the lip because it is the top and the sheer drop down the other side into the crater doesn't bear thinking about. No ropes or handrails here. Kerinci is presently under observation because it is belching out clouds of Vapor. Looked rather gruesome from the camp but we couldn't hear any bangs or smell any sulphur so not sure what was in the vapor clouds. Found a dead feral pig 50m under the summit. What the heck he was doing up so far and how he died is a mystery indeed. If the weather closed in while one was on the top, care would need to be taken to follow the same path back to the bush line because if one got lost on Kerinci it is very remote. A small error of judgment up high can put you in the bush miles from where you intended. The only trail is the one you walked up. It would be best not to lose it!! The trail follows the eroded channels and some rocks have pink string tied around them but that’s about it. If you get clouded in above the bush line it is probably better to wait rather than descend and get lost. A Swiss guy is still missing from 1999.
We were all back in camp by 0800 and after a leisurely breakfast we broke camp and began descending around 10.30. Down down down to the road end and the chest of beer.
I lost count after 3 bintangs but I have it on good authority that we all returned to Sungai Penuh, stayed in another hotel and ate Padang food once more.
Back to Padang
The next day even Herb seemed to have had enough Padang food and promised us a picturesque trip through the mountains to the coast where we would feast on Sea food and succulent durian, as we followed the coast back to Padang. The trip was beautiful through kilometers of virgin forest and past lovely white sand secluded bays and beaches, but the seafood and durian proved illusive and at 2.00pm we were tucking into Padang food again. By the sea I might add! We checked into a hotel by the beach in Padang and straight to a sea food restaurant for dinner. At last!
An excellent trip. Thanks to Herb and Yati, Hans and Edith, Dave and Mai, Berndt, Rosita and Phil, and Ronnie and the crew for keeping the beer flowing and stitching things together so well.