We were awoken by the cold at
about 4 a.m., after a few hours of half sleep. We had come ill prepared,
not expecting such a dramatic drop in the temperature, and were suffering
the consequences. The drive up on the previous day had taken some 5
hours from Bondowoso and we had arrived in Jampit at around 10 p.m..
From here, a sulphur collector had guided us up to our sleeping quarters
in the old vulcanology station, which lay a further hour's climb up
the mountain. The silence was magnificent. The only sound heard at these
heights was the soughing of the wind in the cemara trees. Audible for
several kilometres, the wind could be heard whistling around the rim
of the caldera, sometimes taking a full minute to reach us.
After photographing the changing colours of the early morning sky, from deep purple/blue/gray to golden yellow, we focused on the mountain peaks. Raung, Pendil, Suket and, far to the west, the faint outline of Mt Argopura and the Iyang plateau, lay like so many islands floating on a sea of cloud. As the first rays of the sun lit up the peaks, we set off on the last stage of the journey, a 45 minute climb to the crater rim of ijen.
"If you lose your way, just look out for the sulphur trail", someone had advised us the day before. Now the meaning was clear. A continuous flow of two way traffic, carrying the sulphur down the mountainside from the lake and trudging up again to re-load, had left a yellow trail on the well worn path. Work obviously started early, since already at first light the men who had shared our accommodation had left for the lake shore to load up their baskets.
The Ijen crater lies at approximately 2,300 metres above sea level. It forms a twin volcano with the now extinct Mt Merapi. The enormous crater lake, which is 200 metres deep and covers an area of more than half a million square metres, contains about 36 million cubic metres of steaming, acid water. A walk around the lake takes a full day.
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