MY SECOND VOLCANO
having survived my krakatau experience, i was encouraged to plan another volcano climb.
we were still in indonesia, and there were several to choose from.
as we headed further east, along the island of java, we arrived at the picturesque city of yogyakarta.
just 28 kilometres (17 miles) north of that city stood my next target. gunung merapi
(literally fire mountain), is the most active volcano in indonesia. MERAPI AT NIGHT
my wife had had enough of danger, and refused to participate in my new plan.
so i hooked up with some local guides and some other tourist adventurers and set out to conquer merapi without her.
because of the extreme heat during the day, the guides had us wait until dark before we began.
so about two dozen of us headed up the trail, at night, with flashlights and two guides.
the billions of stars on a pitch black sky silhouetting the peak before us was a sight i will never forget.
the summit is 2,930 metres (9,610 ft) above sea level, but we were starting out from one of the villages which cover the slopes.
the goal was to hit the summit, rest, watch the sunrise, and head down during the dawn hours.
no ropes were required.
as we got higher, the trails disappeared and it turned into a steep incline.
we had to scramble over rocks and boulders, piled up in front of us.
we climbed up, over, and around for hours, feeling our way up the mountain, following our guides.
the guides were smoking cigarettes almost constantly, showing no signs of fatigue, which i found amazing and amusing.
i was in pretty good shape, but some of the other climbers were struggling.
occasionally, one of the guides would direct our attention to little rivers of lava in the distance, flowing like mountain streams, glowing red-orange in the black.
i was deeply impressed.
then there was a sudden grumbling rumbling sound, and the ground shook.
we all froze.
it only lasted a few seconds, but the next thing we knew, we heard the sound of rocks falling.
the guide closest to me shook his head and said "not good".
rocks, started coming down around us here and there.
not many, and most were the size of pebbles, but some were as big as coconuts.
at this point, the incline before us was greater than 60 degrees, fairly steep, and our group was strung out in a vertical line.
i was near the back of the line.
while we stood there, wondering what to do next, we heard a sound i will never forget.
the only way i can describe it is that is sounded like a giant walking slowly toward us. CRUNCH!
we could feel the vibration of each step as it got closer.
every flashlight in the group zoomed in on the black slope above us, searching for the source of the sound.
in the dark, it reminded me of a rock concert (no pun intended) as the beams swept the mountainside, and suddenly converged on a gigantic boulder bouncing toward us.
as it got closer, i watched as the flashflights flung themselves to the left and right in a desperate attempt to avoid the path of the oncoming boulder.
each person waited until the last second before chosing which direction to jump or run.
when it was my turn, i jumped left and threw myself behind a rock about 10 feet high.
in shock and awe, i watched a boulder the size of large truck bounce off the ground no more than thirty feet away from me and continue down the hill.
i had completely forgotten about the other smaller rocks which continued to rain around us.
of course, none of us had helmets or any sensible safety gear.
this whole thing probably lasted about 20 or 30 seconds but time was standing still for me.
after the crisis was over, our group huddled together for discussion.
several people were crying, there was panic.
my reaction, as usual, was hysterical laughter.
i was giddy, excited, thrilled, happy that i was alive with nothing but a few scratches and scrapes.
call it euphoria.
when a number of our party decided to abort the mission and go back down, i lost my temper.
this is what i said, more or less.
"we are on the other side of the world, halfway up the side of an active volcano, and it only JUST occurred to you now that this is dangerous??? are you stupid? why did you even come here if you didn't want the risk. i went to a lot of effort and spent a lot of money to get here and i am NOT going back until i hit the top of this volcano. we did not die, and we are not dead. going back now is not going to make it any safer. we could be killed going down as easily as going up. i consider this episode a bonus, and you should be happy we got to witness such an exciting event. i refuse to turn back.
one of the guides explained that we were almost at the summit and that this sort of thing happened often.
he was not scared to continue.
the other guide said he would be glad to escort the quitters back down to the village.
our group split into two and half of us made it to the top.
i felt pretty damn good when i p!ssed into the crater of merapi.
this is what it looked like up there.
i sat and watched the sun rise from the summit.
it was one of the most beautiful things i have ever seen.
the trip down was peaceful and quiet.
this is still one of my most cherished memories.