Gunung Gede-Pangrango, Jakarta’s Twin Peaks

I’m been thinking of a city by the mountains and the sea. A dozen million people and it’s pretty as can be. LA? Rio? Nope, it’s Jakarta.

Because this is where, on a very clear day in Feb. — if you can just find a south-facing window about 25 stories up . . .  that opens,  you’ll see the lush volcanic range that backgrounds and backstops greater Jak.Mt. Pangrango — let’s call her Gede-Pangrango.

Mt. Gede means big in Javanese and reminds me — why would it be — of the Grand Tetons back in the other state abbreviated ID.  And it does beat all, since up there it’s covered with sage brush.

Anyway, here’s what the official tourist literature from around 1900 had to say about these twin peaks:

In the west monsoon [Dec.-Feb.] the volcanoes of the Preanger district are (p. 50) often visible from [Jakarta Bay]. From West to east they are called the Salak, the Panerango-Gedeh, and the Tangkoeban Prahoe.

Lithograph by German-born naturalist Franz Junghuhn (1809-1864)

And from the same source we learn that:

The toilet of various colours of the Soendanense women [at the market near Sindanglaja was] a pretty sight on a Saturday morning.” [It]cannot be compared with that of the native landies in the Padang highlands, but they have red cheeks and smiling faces; for the life of the natives in this part of Java is certainly very much happier than that of many a small farmer in Europe”(46).

Panajachel IndonesiaWe also learn that climbing “the Gede and the Pangerango ” back then was very much the same as today — an exhausting stunt requiring a lot scrambling under, over  and between logs and very little sleep.

There is an option and temptation to camp in the saddle between the two peaks. But it’s like camping at in Yellowstone (or Europe) and a bit pointless since you’re almost there already.

Instead of returning to Sindanglaja, you can continue the walk up the mountains toward Tjibeureum along the road that branches off below Tjibodas. Along a mountain path, here and there densely overgrown and badly kep, through a primeval wood, we reach the bat grotto, and get to the waterfalls of the Tjibeureum (130 meters high), flanked by those of Tjikoendoel and Tjibodas, over slippery bridges and a rocky ground. The majesty of this scene is overwhelming.

From this point we must return to the open place, where the road divides, and chose the left path to ascend the Gedeh. Still climbing, we reach in two and a half hours Kandang-Badak (badak=rhinoceros).

Those denizens of the wood have, if not entirely, at least for the greatest part, dissapeared from this mountain. Once couple is said to be still living on the Pangerango. Continuing to climb, taking the path to the right, we reach in another hour and a half, along steep slopes and narrow paths, the summit of the last-named mountain, called Mandalawangi (47).

So to summit by sunrise and see Jakarta and the rest of the wubbulous world below you either travel by night or else chill there in cleavage of the beast at Camp Badak so as to be able to hit the trail early. Just rehearse your little story about how fast you conquered  the Gede (just under 3000 m) and/or the Pangrango (just over 3000 m, hey nobody’s perfect). Because if you shave off a couple hours from each leg you’ll look a lot better. (As the tourist brochure makes amply clear, guys have been doing this for centuries.  I talked to an old guy and he said the trail used to be 10 times worse.)

Anyway, we reached the hot springs (light years from the summit) just before dawn just in time to see the twinkling lights of Cibodas fade to white and the geothermal mist swirl up the volcanic slopes and roil the giant ferns like something out of Jurassic Park.

After nearly a day of hiking in awesome silence Murray and I emerged from the national park to find the electricity out in Cibodas. Less than 2 hours from the X2 on a road that is as gridlocked on weekends as any in Jakarta the stillness was deafening — as they say — because we expected the opposite. To me it seemed as if I had left Indonesia and I didn’t really have any words.

“It’s so peaceful,” said Murray, racking up a double letter and double word score for that little-heard gem.

So there we were in this centuries-old Javanese base camp a couple thousand meters below the Rhino Ridge and the hot springs swapping stories with other climbers — mostly Indonesian college kids, easily 20% female — by candle light.

I bought a a pair of flip flops, threw away my boots and climbed on the buss. (Never wear a pair of sturdy-looking hiking boots from the Sharehouse lost-and-found to climb a volcano). Twenty hours on the dark, wet, cold trail (Kadang Badak was freezing)  — without any view and no sleep, the trip will remain forever rooted (and logged) in my memory.

And we went back for new years.

Hot springs at dawn

Photo Credit: Instant Expat

Meanwhile, the tourist brochure  concludes:

The whole chain of mountains which is named the Gedeh, belongs to one of the most remarkable volcanoes of Java, as the two crater-pits by which they are bored through, are of an extraordinary circumfrence. (48).

Guide to the Dutch East Indies:Composed by invitation of the Koninklyke Paketvaart Maatschappij (Royal Steam Packet Company) by Bemmelen, J. F. van (Johan Frans van) (p. 46-50) Translated from the Dutch by B. J. Berrington. — New Editition revised by Otto Knaap. London— Thos. Cook & Son (1903). Amsterday — J. H. De  Bussy (1903).

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