The International Steam Pages

Climb Every Mountain, Gunung Sibayak, 2017

This is part of our report on our visit to North Sumatra in 2017.  You can read about the rest of it from the links below.

Click here for the Penang Hills and Trails index.

Gunung Sibayak is a beginner's volcano at a reported 2094m asl and it's possible to get most of the way up by road. Staying in Berastagi, we opted to take a charter car (Rp 220,000) to the parking spot where a path leads to the crater. If you need to economise, you can take a Kama minibus from town to the terminal at Jaranguda where everyone pays a nominal Rp 4000 and then walk up the road through the jungle, but it will take about 3 hours. It's a personal choice whether to go up in the dark for the sunrise but bear in mind the final ascent is in poor condition. Again, clouds tend to build up during the day, often leading to showers or worse, and you would be wise to start as early as possible - the basic walk we did took about two hours plus a half hour drive each way, there was absolutely no need for a guide. There are two other reported routes down, one to the hot springs at Semangat Gunung and another longer one to near the Drinking Water Bottling Plant on the main road from Medan. For the latter, especially, it seems a guide would be a very good idea because many people have got lost on this mountain on the ill defined paths, particularly getting disorientated when the clouds come in. Since we rather like Berastagi, we'll try one of them next time. 

The start of the route is clearly signposted and starts through a tunnel of these prickly monsters.

For most of the way it seems there had once been steps, but now nearly all are broken and the high rainfall has damaged the path. Although it was a little misty, there was a good view of Gunung Sinabung, rather higher at 2460m asl and reported as a much longer climb. It had a major eruption in May 2016 killing 7 people after a long period of dormancy and again erupted in November 2016. According to reports on the web, it has been off limits for some time and it is still not possible to climb it at the moment.

At a couple of points there had been a recent landslip across the path, similarly parts had fallen away. These were no great problem and were probably the result of the magnitude 5.7 earthquake (link dead by May 2023) a couple of days earlier.

We came across a small group of youngsters from Pematang Siantar camping out. I was told later that at weekends there are maybe 200-300 up here. They were very cheerful considering how much rain had come down in the last 24 hours. A lot more was forecast and while not rushing we weren't going to hang around at the top. Ahead we could see one of fumaroles hissing steam.

Kawah Ijen (in East Java) it was not, but this kind of reminder of the power inside our planet is always impressive. For the true volcano 'baggers' the highest point, I suspect, is either inaccessible or would require professional equipment to reach.   

We'd been under clouds up till now, but right on cue, the sun came out for our personal souvenirs:

Going down is always an anticlimax, especially when you half expect to get soaked. It's not much fun being a plant in this niche environment, it's made even harder when some visitors make a habit of collecting the bushes to use as firewood.

All too soon the car park was in sight, we just had to remember to be careful at the point where the steps lead to a two metre drop.

At the bottom there's a sad notice from the Friends of Gunung Sibayak requesting visitors to remove their rubbish. I suspect this pile had been brought down by them. It's not too surprising there is a problem, Berastagi is a nice town but it has a 'rubbish problem'. If towns of a similar size in East Java like Situbondo and Bondowoso can keep their streets clean, why can't Berastagi? If they don't want to spend money, then at least they could educate the many schoolchildren here about maintaining a good environment. (I wrote this before I saw a large group of children out on a clean up near the school shown elsewhere.) Anyway, it was time to jump in our luxury transport but first Yuehong had to photograph the Arabica coffee beans which had been left out to dry.  

As for the rain, we needn't have hurried, it didn't arrive until late afternoon although it may have been earlier in the hills. Sibayak is rightly Berastagi's #1 tourist attraction and alone worth making a visit.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson