Kawah Ijen is an active volcano in East Java, famous for its electric blue flames, the only place in the world where they are visible! While in Indonesia we decided that we couldn’t miss out on seeing them, so we did a 24 hour trip to hike Kawah Ijen with IndoTravelTeam.
We set off from Seminyak at 6pm on the Friday, and after a 4 hour car drive to Gilimanuk we got an hour long ferry to East Java, and then another hour drive to the base camp of Kawah Ijen. We were ready to be up all night, so spending the car journey sleeping if you can is the best way to prepare, to ensure you are fresh for the hike. We were told to wear warm clothes as it can get cold on top of the volcano, and dismissed it wondering how cold it could really be. Surprisingly enough, we were wrong and as soon as we stepped out of the car we were greeted by the chilly mountain air. As our guides explained some of the basics about climbing Kawah Ijen they also handed out warm coats to the foolish people like me that didn’t bring one, along with headlights to climb up in the dark and gas masks for the sulphur.
At 2am we set off from the base camp and started hiking under the starry sky. Being a city girl born and raised, I don’t often get to see the night sky unaffected by light pollution, and it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The hike can be intense and quite steep at parts, but it’s easy to walk since there is an almost paved path, as it used every day by the sulphur miners. It was easy also because we were continuously supported by the IndoTravelTeam guides. Having three guides for a group of twelve hikers was really good and it made sure that none of us were ever just walking around alone. Not that you would ever really be alone or lost, as there are quite a lot of both miners and tourists hiking up Mount Ijen at night. Harry and the other guides know the volcano inside out, and it was fascinating to hear their stories of when they hiked Kawah Ijen as sulphur miners.
After the first steep forty-five minutes the path flattens out a bit, which makes the second half of the hike easier. When we were about to approach the peak we were advised to put on our gas masks, as we were downwind form the mines and the sulphur was blowing in our direction. After an hour and a half of hiking under the stars we made it to the top, just in time to see the blue flames. This natural phenomenon happens due to the combustion of sulphuric gases. The gases emerge from cracks in the rock at high pressure and temperature, and when they come in contact with the air, they ignite, creating the blue flames. It was pretty cool to see in person, although to us it wasn’t the highlight of the night. You can’t get up close to the flames because of the high levels of methane gas there (not complaining, I’d rather be alive!) but it probably contributed to us not being overwhelmed by the flames. The beauty of the landscape, hiking under the starry sky and the unforgettable sunrise were what made the experience so incredible for us.
Once we decided we had seen enough blue flames the trek started again. We walked all the way around the crater to the east side, where we sat to wait for the sunrise. That moment of trepidation, sat with other hikers as the sky began to lighten was truly magical. As the sun came up everything around us became golden, revealing the beauty of the Mount Ijen landscape. We spent a couple hours at the top, enjoying the warmth of the rising sun and exploring the top of the crater, admiring the turquoise lake beneath us. While it looks pretty and makes you want to jump in to cool down after the hike, this is tactually the largest acidic lake in the world, so I wouldn’t recommend that. The hydrochloric acid is actually what gives the water that turquoise colour. The water became acidic due to the hydrogen chloride gas emitted by the volcano, which reacts with the water and made it acidic.
The hike back was considerably easier, although a little hard on the knees. On the way back we saw the sulphur miners carrying bamboo baskets, filled with up to 70kg of sulphurs on their shoulders. Some of the guys in our group had a “do you lift” moment and gave it a shot at lifting the sulphur baskets, they claimed they could have taken it down Mount Ijen like the miners but I have my doubts. It’s crazy to think that we hiked Kawah Ijen as tourists, admiring the beautiful night sky, the peculiarity of the blue flames and acid lake, and the stunning sunrise, while others were hiking it at our same time but for work, trying to make a living. That is one of the things I love about travelling, you see new things and meet new people, and it makes you reflect on your experiences and how you affect those you meet. If you want to find out more about the job of the sulphur miners at Kawah Ijen you can check out this documentary by the BBC or article by CNN.
Once we made it back to the base camp we then drove off to a traditional Javanese family house, for a typical breakfast. After being up and hiking all night this was much needed and appreciated. We then got in the car and got ready to nap on our 6 hour journey back to Bali. All in all hiking up Kawah Ijen was an incredible experience, made even more special by IndoTravelTeam, who ensured we were always safe and having a good time. Don’t forget to check out the video for the full footage of this amazing hike!
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