Gunung Semeru is the highest volcano and one of the most popular hikes on the island of Java. With its hourly mini eruption and amazing summit dome there’s no wonder its a popular hike. The way to the summit is beautiful but the last 2.5km is some of the hardest hiking in the whole Indonesian archipeligo. My GPS told me it took 1 hour and 24 minutes to go just one kilometre so be warned, the summit day is tough. Apart from a tough summit day the hike is extremely beautiful and relatively flat. You will need a decent level of fitness to make it enjoyable as the return journey is over 38kms and not to be underestimated. 

I climbed Semeru at the end of June 2019 so I’ll detail my account below.

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I had just climbed Arjuno and Welirang (you can read that account by clicking here) the day before and I was in Malang for a night to rest before I headed to Ranu Pani to climb Semeru. I had rented a scooter from Surabaya and all my camping gear from there as well but you can also rent it from Malang if you need. There is a lot of choice in Surabaya and if you start your trip there it would be advisable to get the gear from there. If not then you can certainly choose Malang. Ranu Pani is a small town and they don’t have a whole lot in regards to gear so its certainly best to bring everything you need with you. 
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There are a few ways to get to Ranu Pani and I just rode my scooter from Malang. The journey was about 2 hours as they were doing road works at the time but it could be faster. The road is also quite steep in parts and I had the worst scooter. At one point I had to get off and push it about 200m up the hill just to get over a peak. I was thinking am I even going to make it to the start? Thankfully, the scooter made it but it was not a good scooter. If you are going to choose this method of transport then be sure to get a powerful scooter. 

 

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The other option is to take a jeep. They are share jeeps and take 10 people for 600k total. They leave from Tumpang which is around a one hour drive from Malang. To get from Malang you’ll need to take a local bus or get an ojek to Tumpang. If you don’t want to stuff around too much then taking your own scooter is by far the best way. There is safe and undercover parking in Ranu Pani so you don’t have to worry at all about the motorbike when you go to climb the mountain. You just pay 5k per day that you park it there and there is 24h security and every other hiker parks their scooter there so there is absolutely nothing to worry about. I even left a small bag with some clothes on the bike (with the bag strap locked under the seat) and put the helmet over the top of it, its totally safe there, just take all valuables with you though. 
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Important note : If you are a foreigner there is NO NEED to book online. There is a quota of 600 hikers per day but this only applies to Indonesians. As a foreigner just go to the base camp at Ranu Pani and you’ll see the registration office. You can register there. There is one line for Indonesians and one for foreigners and the day I went the Indonesian line was about 50 people long and the foreigner line – 0. 

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How to register for the hike 

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Registering for the hike is quite straight forward and you will need a medical certificate and a copy of your passport. I got my medical certificate at Tumpang on the way from Malang as I wasn’t sure if there was a checking place in Ranu Pani. As it turns out there is a medical check place right across the road from the registration office. I paid 15k for my check which is just height, weight and a blood pressure check. It’s best to get a copy of your passport before you arrive so you have it already. 
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Once you have the copy and the medical check just walk over to the registration office. This is the first place in Java that I’ve found they can speak good english. If you don’t have Indonesian skills you’ll be fine here. Just say you want to hike over 2 days and the officer will give you 2 forms, that are exactly the same to fill out. One is for you to take and the other is for them to keep. Fill this out and give them the copy of the passport and the medical check. 
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The fees are 210k a day on the weekdays and 310k a day on weekends, so it’s certainly best to go during the week. As they have a cap now it doesn’t really matter but a few years ago i went on Indonesian Independence day and I’ve never seen so many people on the mountain. Also some Indonesians camp for 3-5 days so if everyone did that there could theoretically be 2-3000 people in the park at one time. And as the trail is mostly single trail this would make for a very slow journey. 
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Once you’ve payed and given the paperwork you will then be given a ticket stapled to your form you filled out. Put this in your bag and you’re ready to go. It’s probably best to leave before 12pm if you want to get to Kalimati before dark. The hike is 15kms and if you just cruise will take about 5 hours. 
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Starting the hike 

I had lunch at a small warung in town and started off towards the gate. From the registration office to the entry is a 1km walk along the road. Just follow the main road and you’ll see the gate on the right. There is a guy here checking your ticket and i imagine if you came at an obscure hour then you could certainly just go in there for free. No one was ever checking the paperwork and even when I came back no one cared. There is also peak hour on the trail and as it is single track most of the way to Kalimati you’ll have to pull off or others will pull off for you. The Indonesians hike in huge groups so sometimes you have to pull off for 10-15 people. Peak hour hiking can add some time as you’ll most likely be asked for heaps of selfies and everyone will be interested as there is a high chance that you’ll be the only foreigner. Peak hour is from about 11am until 5pm on the trail. 
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There are 3 small shops selling watermelon and water along the way and you can stop here and rest. If the weather is bad these spots will be invaluable as they are good shelters.
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The hike from the gate to Ranu Kumbolo took me around 3 hours and the distance was 10kms. The trail is very smooth and I wore flip flops all the way to Kalimati. My shoes were giving me some trouble so I wanted my feet to have a rest for a little bit. I rested and had some food at Ranu Kumbolo before continuing on. 
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Ranu Kumbolo is a really beautiful looking lake and a lot of people choose to camp here. When I stopped for lunch the wind was intense and I’m told that this is a very cold place to camp. There are some shops here that sell just about everything and if you need extra food or don’t want to drink the lake water then this is the spot to stock up. 
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From Ranu Kumbolo to Kalimati it is a 2 hour hike across some really nice grassy fields and then through the forest. This part is very flat with the final part into Kalimati downhill. I reached here just after 5pm and quickly set up my tent before it became dark. 
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In Java, the sun sets at 525pm so you’ll want to arrive before this for sure. All the Indonesian camp over by the trees on the Semeru side of the field and I chose to camp on the other side, away from every one. They don’t sleep and choose to climb at 11pm to get to the top. It is like a party zone over there so if you want some sleep and rest before attempting the summit its best to camp away from the ruckus. 
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I had my dinner and chatted with some local hikers before heading to bed at 6pm. It was quite cold in the tent and I had all of my clothes on. I tried to sleep but sleep was hard to come by. It was cold and I just wasn’t used to sleeping in the tent yet. 
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My alarm went off at 1.30am and I was up and out of there. Sleep wasn’t happening and I had just laid awake for quite a while. When it’s cold like that you’re just waiting for the alarm to go off so then you can get up and get moving. 

Summit day 

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From Kalimati to the summit is quite hard and I found it probably the most difficult summit hike of all the volcanoes I’d previously been up on Java. Its only 2.5kms but the scree makes it insanely hard. You take 2 steps forward and then end up going back one. It’s very similar to Rinjani so if you’ve climbed that already you’ll have no trouble. The thing about leaving so late was that I was worried about the line of people climbing. I thought for sure I’d end up getting stuck behind a group of people but it turns out there are 2 ways to the summit through the trees. I must have missed a turn somewhere because I popped out of the trees after an hour or so from Kalimati, 100m across from a line of what I guess was around 300 people. It was insane. The head torches stretched from as far up as I could see to as far down as I could see. I was glad that I’d missed the turn other wise I would have been stuck in the line. 
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I carried on up through the scree path until I’d passed most of the people. There were around 20 people up ahead and I decided that I’d joint he main trail now that I’d passed most of the people. The main trail was so much easier! I was on a part that no one used so the rocks weren’t as compact. Once I got to the main track I could go much faster due to the more solid ground. By this stage it was around 4am and I checked my GPS and saw that I was at 3400m. At this speed I was going to be on the top far too early so I stopped for 30 minutes to eat some breakfast. I would usually eat on the summit but I had some time to spare so I found some shelter behind a rock and relaxed for a bit. The wind wasn’t that strong so the temperature was quite manageable. 30 minutes is a long time to stop and I found it hard to get going again. 
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After my breakfast I passed 3 more Indonesians and found myself at the top of the head torch line. I crested the final rock at 5am and reached the summit alone, just as the sky was starting to get light. Around 15 minutes later the 3 guys joined and we had the summit to ourselves for another 30 minutes. 
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To be on the top at 5am was amazing and the glow on the horizon is incredible. The true top, where the flag is, is quite boring so I went down to investigate the weather station that you can see from the top. This is decrepit and obviously not in use anymore. From here you can see the crater so I made a bee line straight for it. There is a little track leading down there but it wasn’t until i walked back to the summit that I could see that they had laid rocks to note that you can’t go down there. There is a viewing platform there where you can look right into the crater and I don’t know why they say you can’t come here, it had obviously been used for many years as a viewpoint. 
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I stayed here for over 30 minutes hoping to see the mini eruption but it didn’t happen. I made my way back to the summit and by now there were around 100 people on the summit. I stayed here for an hour talking to people and taking it all in. It truly is an amazing part of the world and the views down to Bromo are amazing. After a lot of selfies and chatting with some really cool Indonesians it was time to leave the summit. I had to get back to Surabaya that night so I was on a bit of a schedule.
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Heading Down

I left the top at 7am and was back in camp 40 minutes later. What had taken 3.5 hours to climb was an insanely fun scree ski all the way down to the tree line before the trail hardened up a bit. It was in this section that I could see where I had gone wrong. The national park staff have used yellow danger tape to mark off certain areas and I must have continued up past a blocked off part. The trees here are quite sparse and if you find yourself in the same situation you can’t really get lost at all. As long as you go upwards then you’ll break through the trees eventually and you can then get to the main trail across the scree. 
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I packed my tent and was on the move by just after 8am. The tent and fly had got wet from the dew so I waited a bit longer for that to dry, otherwise I’d have to pull the tent out again later on. 
The way back was pretty monotonous as it was flat and I had already been hiking since 130am. I was back at Ranu Kumbolo after an hour and as there was no one on the trail yet I could move quite fast. From Ranu Kumbolo to the parking area where I left my bike took me 2 hours and 15 minutes. Total time from Kalimati was under 3.5 hours. I was pretty dead as I’d been on the move for almost 11 hours straight. I still had the long ride back to Surabaya. I punched the destination into my GPS and when it said it was over 4 hours away I nearly cried. I knew that google maps in Indonesia are usually 1 hour faster than reality so I knew i’d have a 5 hour ride ahead of me, all after that huge hike. 
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Once I was back I went to the registration office and told them that I was back and handed in my form. I had a huge meal and then got on the bike for the long ride home. I was pretty tired and didn’t get to Surabaya until after 5pm that evening. I returned my camping gear and the motorbike before settling in for a really well deserved sleep in a real bed. 
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If you do have your own bike and not a driver the drive back to Surabaya is very long. If you have time it would be better to go back to Malang as it is less than 2 hours away by bike and spend the night there. 
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Logistics for the trip

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How to get there

I spent the night in Malang and rode to Ranu Pani the following morning. The ride from Malang to Ranu Pani is around 2.5 hours and you’ll want to be leaving for the hike no later than midday to make it to the final camp before dark. The road at the moment is having some upgrades so the it takes a little bit more time than it usually would. The road is also very steep so you’ll need to make sure you rent a high powered scooter to get your self up the hill. My scooter was really bad and at one point i actually had to get off the scooter and push it for around 200m to make it up the hill. I was still a fair way from Ranu Pani and I wondered if I’d even make it up there at all. 
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If you are coming from Surabaya the trip would be considerably longer, around 5 hours, and you’ll have to pass through Malang anyways. You could leave Surabaya at 7am to make it to Ranu Pani by midday but you’d then have to go back there the following day, if that is your schedule, and that would make for 2 very long days. 
A reliable guy in Surabaya is Eko. He rents scooters and camp gear so he can be your one stop shop. You can contact him by clicking here.
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Where to Stay

I stayed in Malang the night before and found a room on booking.com through Airy rooms. They were having a sale so I got the room for 80k rupiah for the night. Surabaya is another option but this is quite far away. You could also stay in Ranu Pani as there are a few guesthouses there. I stayed there in 2015 at the Marcel Guesthouse. Very basic and quite cold as Ranu Pani is at 2300m elevation. Guesthouses in Ranu Pani run at around 200k per night. There really is no need to stay in Ranu Pani as it really isn’t the nicest town. It has a very strange run down feel to it and you’d be better off staying in a bigger town or city rather than here. 
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How long is the hike

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In a word, long! My GPS calculated 38kms with 2900m of elevation gain. This hike is not for the unfit, especially the summit day. The first day is very flat and doesn’t have that much up. It is 15kms from the gate to Kalimati camp (last camp before the summit push) and if you don’t take too many rests its quite easy to make it there in 5 hours. Day 2 will be 3-4 hours from Kalimati to the summit and then 4-5 hours walk back to the gate. Day 2 is certainly harder as the distance is 23km compared to 15 on day one. The hardest part is by far the section from Kalimati to the summit. You’ll be climbing up a 30-40% scree slope and it is very slow going. The distance is only 2.5kms but allow over 3 hours for this part as it is quite strenuous. Be sure to take hiking poles as these will greatly help you on the way up. 

Gear to take 

 
  • Sleeping bag 
  • Mattress
  • Cooker
  • Gas
  • Lighter
  • Hiking Poles
  • Tent 
  • Hiking boots/trail shoes
  • Sandals or thongs for camp
  • Water and water treatment – at least 2l and then you can refill but boil or treat do not drink raw
  • Cold weather gear – no need for gloves really its not that cold. Might get to 0 but that’s about it
  • Hat
  • Camera
  • Phone
  • Torch
  • Food
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 Do you plan to hike Semeru? Let me know in the comments how you get on.

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