The rain continued mercilessly as I landed into yet another mud puddle. By now, my boots have turned murky brown, and my socks, drenched. Not that any of it mattered. All I could concentrate on was getting to our shelter for the night.
3 hours ago, we were slapping on sunblock as the morning sun greeted us at our lodge. Energy was buzzing from the team. It was hard to tell that we had barely slept since stumbling into the Kerisk Tuo lodge at midnight. The 8-hour van ride from Padang Airport, complemented with harrowing turns on narrow roads devoid of street lamps, had exhausted the team. Though, not enough to conceal the excitement of trekking up the highest volcano in Indonesia.
At 3,805m, Gunung Kerinci packs more thrill than just being an active volcano (it last erupted in 2013). It is situated at Kerinci Seblat National Park, Indonesia’s largest national park, and home of the endangered Sumatra Tiger.
Our guide, the amicable Endatno Ean, claims to have seen them out and about. He gleefully shared the information during our water break in the middle of the lush rainforest. Needless to say, the break was cut short once we heard his tales.
While part of me was eager to embark on this trip, I worried about my ability to keep up with my team of fit athletes, and to cope with the trek. Sanjay, our trip organiser, had pre-warned the team about acute mountain sickness (AMS), a symptom that can occur at heights above 2,400m. Before that, it had never occurred to me that climbing Mt.Kerinci carried such risks. While I took serious notes, I never imagined it could happen.
Until it did.*
The light headaches begun shortly after lunch, and soon developed into a full blown nuisance. Trudging in the downpour with my 10kg backpack, I found myself slowing down, taken aback by the intensity of the headache. Yet, despite that, I was adamant about continuing to carry my own backpack. To have someone help carry my backpack would have been akin to not truly completing this trek.
It was a foolish thought. And Sanjay knew right away.
He took my backpack easily, shouldering it along with his own. Deep down, I knew I needed the help. It was either accepting the help, or struggle and turn back down.
We stumbled into camp an hour later, spent, but thrilled to have complete the day’s trek. Endatno had sped up the trails, arriving well before to set up our tents, and to cook a simple dinner of instant noodles.
We dodged into our tents with the warm bowl of noodles as the rain came crashing down once again. My tent-mates and I slurped heartily on our condiment-filled soup, famished from the exertions of the day. I was relieved that my headache had subsided. My ravenous appetite was also an indication that my initial suspicions of AMS were untrue – great news especially since we still had to go higher.
Bellies warm with the simple dinner, we snuggled into our sleeping bags. Save for the gentle raindrops on the tent, it was silent. I drifted to sleep, comforted by the rhythmic raindrops, and blanket of stars above our heads.
We were awoken too soon, sleep-deprived and groggy. Engulfed in darkness, we scrambled to put on our drenched hiking boots.
It was 4AM when we started out trek again, this time to reach the peak. It was dark and cold, but thankfully, no rain. My dim headlamp did little to illuminate the path, and I found myself chasing after my team mate in front of me, desperately grabbing onto whatever object I could get my hands on to heave myself upwards.
It felt like a steep path, and it was only until dawn broke, that I saw how treacherous our route was. There were hardly any clear paths in slight, and we made our way up stepping on seemingly weak branches on a steep incline.
The sun broke through the heavy clouds as we reached the top. I stumbled onto the peak, overwhelmed to have made it on my first overnight trekking trip. The peak was engulfed in sulphuric smoke from the neighbouring crater, and around me, locals were taking turns holding a wooden board indicating the altitude, for a commemorative photo.
We stayed on the peak for a mere 20 minutes, taking the obligatory photos, before making the long journey down. Such is the short-lived glory of ascending a peak.
By the time we reached Kerisk Tuo, my hiking boots and pants were caked deep in mud. We had just a few hours to rest before making our way back to the airport to catch our flight home. A whirlwind trip, and one that made me understood first hand, that accepting help on the trek did not make reaching the top any less real, evident from the scars I still carry from the trip.
I looked at my team as we began loading our backpacks in the mini-van. A team of strangers two days before, and now, bounded with the memories of ascending Mt. Kerinci. I could not help breaking into a smile. There will definitely be more trekking trips to come.
* Rather than AMS, on hindsight, the symptoms pointed towards dehydration
Note: I took this trek in 2015. This was a 2D1N trek, where we spent the night at Shelter 3 (3,073m), ascended the next morning, and descended all the way to Kerisk Tuo.
This is a much more”local” mountain (we only saw locals on our way up and down). Expect basic shelter, expect lots of mud. Gloves, base layers, water-proof shell jacket and hiking boots are recommended. Do bring along a buff or mask to cover your nose and mouth at the summit as the sulphuric smoke can be suffocating. Mt. Kerinci is best climbed between the months of Feb to Sept, during the dry season.