Mt. Tambora Journal, Sumbawa Expedition

In June 2007, I intended to climb upon Tambora’s peak on Sumbawa Island in Indonesia. The mountain is 2851 m above sea level high, and aside of being the highest point in Sumbawa, the mountain has a strong background of history, and it also has some records, viz. the most abrupt explosion on earth recorded ever by human history –verified by Guinness Book of Record, and the deepest caldera in Southeast Asia. Sir Raffles previously noted Mount Tambora was as high as 4,300 m (14,000 ft), making it one of the tallest peaks in the Indonesian archipelago, and drai ned off a large magma chamber inside the mountain. It took centuries to refill the magma chamber, its volcanic activity reaching its peak in April 1815. The explosion was heard on Sumatra island (more than 2,000 km or 1,200 miles away). Heavy volcanic ash falls were observed as far away as Borneo, Celebes, Java, and Molucca islands.

The death toll was at least 71,000 people, of which 11,000–12,000 were killed directly by the eruption, most authors istimated 92,000 people were killed. The eruption created global climate anomalies;1816 became known as the Year without a Summer because of the effect on North American and European weather.

Agricultural crops failed and livestock died in much of the Northern Hemisphere, resulting in the worst famine of the 19th century. During an excavation in 2004, a team of archaeologists discovered cultural remains buried by the 1815 eruption.

They were kept intact beneath the 3 m (10 ft) deep pyroclastic deposits. Dubbed the Pompeii of the East, the artifacts were preserved in the positions they had occupied in 1815 With these exciting facts, beautiful landscape and history of the mountain, I was eager so much for the expedition (and who wouldn’t?). Unfortunately, I was dissatisfied by the incomprehensiveness of Lonely Planet’s details about this mountain, and there is not even any explanation about the climb, so I couldn’t rely myself on the book as I usually do. In my opinion, it’s a peculiar thing to abandon this superb view Tambora could offer. I have climbed many mountains in Indonesia, and surely this is one of the best stunning views overall, and that I strongly enforce people to experience this rewarding and unforgettable scene.

The last village to ascend the mountain is Desa Pancasila. There was no guesthouse, but you can stay at Saiful’s house. He’s a welcome and sociable person and he’s the head of K-PATA (Kelompok Pencinta Alam Tambora), and he organizes guides and orters for the climbers. Since it is obligatory to use guide, then you have to meet this person to arrange your climb’s guide. Please be in mind that the entire of the village has limited operational hours of electricity, starting at 7 pm to 5 am, so charge your camera batteries at night. His house was also used for staying, you will stay at a private half-built room

and his friendly wife provides simple meals. You will need to stay usually for two nights, one before ascent and one after descent. He wouldn’t quote the price for staying however, but it’s necessary to pay tips. He could also lend some basic gears for climbing, e.g. backpack, mattress, torch. The guide will act as porter too. Sometimes he will cook for you too. The fee is fixed, 70.000 Rp per day, and it’s including heir logistics. There are not much kiosks at Desa Pancasila, so the best bet to equip your logistic needs is to buy them at Sumbawa Besar or Dompu. Saiful will organize “ojek” too from his house to the utmost point of dirt track. The first track is 7 km through coffee plantations, Hindu temple and it can be passed by motorbike. For those who want to save energy for the climb, and consider 2-hour walking as taxing, you can opt this for 25.000 Rp. Ask him to pick you up again the day you come down if you want, and you will be charged another 25.000 Rp.

There are 5 posts along the way up. Some shelters are ramshackle or have gone completely ruined, and some still remain (second and third posts). Water is available at second, third and fifth posts, but the latter is still water and generally it’s better to avoid, particularly at the dry season. It’s advisable to bring a supply of fresh mineral water. Since the shelter is not enough to fortify yourself against the nature’s disadvantages, a tent and sleeping bag are compulsory. Those who are in a good shape can make a 2-day climb up and down, camp at the post number five and have the summit attack at three in the morning, then rush to pack the tent and gallop the way down before dark. But if you want to slow down your pace, and make the trip leisurely, you can arrange for a 3-day trek. If you choose the latter, you can set your tent at the third post. It’s the best campsite, with flowing water not afar, a flat clearing to see the ridge, and a wooden shelter.


The track itself is not really stiff from the base camp, mostly with bearable elevation. To the first post it can be easily done within two hours. But the first challenge appears shortly after the first post: leeches. A pair of leech-proof socks is definitely a good investment. Even trekking under the scorching sun, those creepy crawlies will prey your feet, as the rainforest is rather thick and dense and the path is narrow. You’ll soon discover that they cling on your boots, making their way to your skin. These brown leeches are terrestrial creatures that wait for passing blood pockets on the forest floor.

Luckily, I didn’t find tiger leech with its stinging bite that jumps from a leaf and blood sucks anyone’s neck. Bring along some pairs of dry socks as trekking at this track will leave your socks wet drenched. And don’t even think of going up with shorts, that’d be a wacky idea. A true suggestion: Don’t stop along the way from the first post until the third post to pee or drop dung, you’ll be approached by happy-go-lucky leeches, and you may not even notice them clinging on you (you won’t like the idea of spotting leeches sucking you beneath your underwear-yikes!). But, you won’t need to worry since they’re obviously harmless and only causing minor wound.

From the third post to the summit will take approximately 4 hours, so if you hunt for the sunrise you’d better rush and start climbing at dawn. The sun will be at the other side of the mount, so if you’re late, you will miss the real fabulous view. But this climb won’t be easy either. There will be no more leeches accompanying you, but it is stinging nettles

for your next venture. Wear long pants, gloves, balaclava, a T-shirt, and a sweater or jacket to cover yourself from those nettles and also when there are no more trees to block the strong cold wind. Just in case you get the sting from the nettles, sit a while, don’t rub or scratch or even spit the skin surface, just wait and try to relax as it’s just for temporary

period. This nettles bush is scattered all the way along the third post to the fifth post. From the fifth post you can continue without any hassles. Watch any directions for nettles whilst trekking. There are some tracks where you have to walk on a long fallen log,

with nettles bush on your left and right sides-such an experience! And bring along a headlamp instead of torch, this will keep your hands free to balance your pace and help you clamber up with both hands. Bring lip balm to protect your lips against getting dry and chapped. Also take your stove and water too, to make your lunch up on the caldera. Based on my experience, munching just snacks and chocolates are not enough to release energy. I was really sorry for underestimating and leaving the stove at the third post of which result were hunger pang and gurgling tummy.

From the caldera, you will be able to see the mighty Rinjani Mountain on Lombok Island. If you arrive early enough before the cloud rolls in, you can see the awesome land and sea sights below. The crater inside has a small greenish lake, and active steaming fumaroles down the caldera. The crater wall is exceptionally splendid. However, don’t stand too close to the edge of the caldera, the sand is pretty loose, you won’t like the idea of coming home in a coffin.

Walk further for the highest 2851 m point. From the top to the third post will take four hours or so. Spend a night here to rest your legs, and serve yourself hot drink to warm you up at night. The descent the next day will take several hours, usually you’ll arrive to the base camp at mid noon if you start at 7, but if you decide to finish the whole trip to Saiful’s house on your own (without ojek), allow at least additional two hours.

The guide’s rate is fixed, but if you’re pleased with their job, expect to give him one or two box(es) of cigarettes, it will do him a facelift.

There is a regular daily bus from Desa Pancasila heading to Sumbawa Besar, or Mataram in Lombok, departs at 9 am. The price at the time of writing was 100.000 Rp. to Mataram, add 10.000 Rp. if you desire a pick up from Saiful’s house (arrange it a day before).

It’s a 24-hour bus trip, with some stops, so buy something to chew or something o read. Then from Mataram you can easily slip to a bus from Mataram bus terminal to Denpasar in Bali. The bus

Writen by : Tata Widjoyo sending by email

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