Since that very first moment I set my foot on the fascinating land of Sumatra, the anticipation of one oncoming juncture was constantly prevailing in my wild fantasies. And that’s so, only as far as it concerns anticipation. When it concerns fancies, that occurrence, that was, now, soon to take place, had been raging inside my ecstatic daydreams since some very early days of mine. What was to soon happen,
was that I was finally going to confront one of the world’s most tremendous volcanoes… the almighty Mount Kerinci!
Mount Kerinci is the highest volcano in Indonesia, as well as the highest mountain in the country, let aside Papua. It belongs to the great Barisan mountain range which spans all along the western part of Sumatra from its north to its south extremity. Its massive cone occupies an area of 13 km in width and 25 km in length and reaches an elevation of 3805 AMSL. It is one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes, with its enormous, 600 m deep, crater constantly emitting loads of sulfuric gas, the column towering at times as much as one whole km above the summit, and nearly every year breaking out to violent phreatic eruptions. On its slopes and the dense forest surrounding them, a large number and diversity of unique wildlife may be encountered, from several endemic bird species and reptiles, to big mammals, as Sumatran rhinos, elephants, sun bears, tapirs and various species of felines, with Sumatran tigers being the most renowned inhabitant of the Kerinci Seblat National Park. In fact, this park alone, it hosts the largest by far population of wild tigers worldwide, amounting to more individuals than in the whole China and South-East Asia put together!
Originally I was intending to spare about one week, a quarter of my visa’s span, for exploring this outstanding mountain. However, for my great grief, fortune had a different idea. Getting in Padang, the provincial capital of West Sumatra, I was struck by a fiendish mishap… For the first time in my adult life, I fell sick – and I mean like truly sick -, being thus forced to waste four full days lying in bed recovering. So, sadly, I had to compromise confining myself to a two-day trip to the top and back only, which, nevertheless, was still to be categorically rendered unforgettable.
It was that late evening when that car, the one that was to get me to Kersik Tuo village at the foot of the mountain, after waiting for it since the morning, finally came and picked me up from that guesthouse I was sojourning in Padang. It took another couple of hours driving around the city and picking up more passengers till the car was suffocatingly full, before leaving the city and the coast behind and taking our course uphills and southwards. Dawn must have been approaching, though darkness was still unadulterated when the driver suspended my sound sleep to let me know that we had arrived in Kersik Tuo. I was soon after dropped off outside a homestay. Both because I didn’t want to wake its owners up at such an hour and because I thought of saving one night’s accommodation costs, I decided to wait outside till the advent of the morning, reassuming my sleep on a bench I found there. However, the owner of the house proved to be well vigilant of what’s happening outside his dwelling and he soon opened the door inviting me in. He was a very kind Javan man who could speak English and was bearing heavy loads of peculiar knowledge of the local flora and fauna, as well as of the history of his small community. His wife was also quite an authority in matters of kitchen, making for me gigantic portions of the most delicious food I happened to taste in Sumatra for very reasonable a price. I’d like to recommend that place to anybody happening to visit the area. I do not remember its name – nor if it had any at all – but it’s situated on the main road, some 20-30 meters south after the junction leading to the trailhead of the mountain.
The morning after the next, having spent a day to get prepared for my trip, my backpack was packed and I was totally ready to start on my way to the top of that amazing volcano, which so proudly was, now, showing off itself through the clean, bright sky. One of the first things that guy at the homestay offered to help me out with, was to arrange for me a good guide. And severely startled he got when he understood that I meant for good my intention of going up there all alone, a thing done extremely rarely – if ever at all – by anybody. So, instead of a guide, he rather arranged for me a motorbike to take me to the trailhead for free, which I can perceive in no other way than a highly appreciable favor.
It was 8.30 am when I was left at the end of the road, by the margin of the tea-farmlands, and the guy with the bike headed back to the village while I started right away placing my feet one in the front of the other successively, always facing the jetting crater of the volcano. It only took a few repetitions of my pace, and the mountain with its crater, as well as everything else more distant than a few meters, was lost behind the dense foliage of that majestic forest I had just entered. It was a morning of exalted beauty. The rays of the mighty sun were penetrating in bundles, here and there, through the lofty canopy, into the jungle and, furthermore, into the most mystical quarters of any soul that had the chance to experience that moment, as I and the numerous flying creatures, which were perfectly expressing with their joyous, orphic songs what I could only express in awe and strict silence, had.
The first part of the trail, though very muddy at points, was generally smooth and even. It was at that first part, which lasted for an hour or so, where I crossed a couple of descending parties. From there on I would meet nobody, being utterly alone and enjoying in the utmost that unexampled feeling of having such a great mountain all for myself. By the time I stopped for my lunch, at about 11 am, circa 2500 m of altitude, the weather wasn’t as fair anymore. A dark haze had encircled me, lightning was flashing all around me and thunder rumblings were echoing through the gloom of the air. Though luckily, no drop was fallen until I finished my lunch, and only after I had well packed and waterproof-covered my stuff and myself the skies broke apart. I continued my way under heavy showers for the rest of the day, struggling to clamber up the slippery muddy parts and getting soaked all the way to the marrow, till I decided to stop for the day and camp at a very nice spot I found at about 3000 AMSL. I pitched the tent as rapidly as I possibly could and perched inside neatly, surrendering to a balmy nap under the raving fuss of the falling water.