searching for the extra from the ordinary

Lawu 2008: In Heavy Rain and Storm

In the end of 2008, I got a chance to go hiking to Lawu Mt. (3265 m above sea level). The mountain had a quite easy track, and I had predicted that the trip wouldn’t be so hard. In fact, my prediction turned out to be false. Heavy rain and storm surely was a disaster, especially on such height!

I departed from the city of Yogyakarta on December 30, 2008. The team consisted of three of us: two girls (including myself) and a young man-a friend of mine who voluntarily became our “informal” guide. We started the trip up to the mountain at 9 pm. It was a clear night, and we hadn’t had any thought of rain falling, though that was the month when heavy showers commonly occured.

Enjoying the trip, we hiked slowly while savoring the view of the below citylight under the dark night sky. Late at midnight, we reached the second checkpoint. At first we almost decided to set a camp there, but then we changed our mind and continued our trip.

Just minutes after we left the third checkpoint, strong wind started to blow around us. We continued walking while hoping that rain wouldn’t shower, at least not before we reach the next checkpoint.

Unfortunately, halfway to the next shelter, rain started to pour heavily. Accompanied by strong wind, it got us rather hard to continue walking steadily. Instantly, we sought for some flat land to set a temporary shelter. My girl friend started to prepare for the cooking while my guide and I worked on the fly sheet. Finished with the tent, we were about to get us some meal when we suddenly realized that the tent was leaking. Water started to drip into the tent; firstly slowly, but then it got harder and harder.

Shocked, we packed off the tent and all the stuffs. Too bad, we failed to rescue most of our logistics since they had been stored out from the safety bag. We got our shoes and trousers wet. Even our waterproof jacket couldn’t resist the rain for we were over-exposed to the heavy shower. To make it worse, storm started howling, making us almost panicked.

I had no idea what temperature we were in, but I believed it must be somewhere below 10 Celcius as we started to freeze. I hadn’t recognized any signs of hypothermia, not until my guide grabbed my arm and-in fact-I didn’t feel anything.

Under the heavy rain and the howling storm, we decided to continue walking to the fourth checkpoint, where we would find a stable permanent shelter. It was hard to walk in such weather, especially with our shoes wet and damp. Some of our additional batteries have gone missing when we put off our tent, so we walked in minimum lighting only from one single flashlight; we had to keep the existing batteries optimally.

Honestly, it was not the trip itself that frightened me; it was the weather that did most. I never imagined walking under heavy rain and storm, passing through rock steeps in only gloomy light, on the height of more than 2000m above sea level.

At about 3 am, we finally reached the fourth checkpoint, a permanent roofed brick-built shelter. Thank God we still had our additional clothes dry, so we changed our outfits, dry the wet ones near the portable stove, and had some warm meals. I had realized I almost got hypothermia only when I put my hands on the hot aluminium pots and I couldn’t feel the heat for the first minutes.

So, we stayed under the shelter. There were several other hikers with us, all stranded there for the same reason: the storm. Some of them informed that there had been several hikers went to the top of the mountain before them at the same night, and they were worrying about their safety.

Waking up at about 8 in the morning, the storm had faded. In turn, thick watery mists covered the sky. We could hardly see anything; we could only spread our view to less than 10m. After having breakfast, a hiker staying with us in the shelter offered some Vodka to warm our freezing bodies. Nice offer, honestly!

Just when we were discussing whether or not we should make it to reach the top of the mountain, several hikers came to the checkpoint. They had just been down from the top, and they strongly recommended us not to continue the trip. They told us that strong wind was still howling up there, accompanied by slight rain. Besides, rain had made the rock steeps very slippery, which surely wouldn’t be a good idea to make it to the top.

After a quite hard debate, we sadly decided to go down the mountain for the sake of our own safety. We tried to cheer up by taking lots of look to the misty scenery around us. When we reached the spot where we set our tent the night before, we tried to find if any of our stuffs were still there, but apparently the heavy rain had swept them away.

The hard thing has not ended yet. On our way home across Solo, rain showered hard, and on a certain path of our way we were slowed down by the flood that reached the height of my knees. We arrived back at Jogja at 11 pm, and the first thing I did was to take warm shower. Then, we gathered with another friend while sipping hot coffee.

This friend of mine told me he was almost panicked when he heard the weather news telling that storm is coming on the night we were on the mountain. He tried a hundred time to contact us, but his efforts only failed. My brother had also been worrying about me, and he had been able to reach my cellphone only after I reached Solo.

Just to feed my curiosity, I asked how far we were actually from the top of the mountain. I thought it would be more than halfway, but to my surprise, the shelter we were staying at was only less than a kilometer from the top, which meant that we would need less than one hour and a half to make it to the top. Disappointed? I was. But my friends cheered me up by reminding me that safety is what matters most. And, we could still find other chances-or make other chances-to go to the mountain once again. It didn’t really cheer me up to hear that, honestly, but it did make me feel better.

About two weeks later, I heard the news of some hikers missing in Lawu. According to the news, they went up there about a week after us, and apparently another storm swept them. Okay, this time I agreed that the decision of not continuing the trip was the best we could take at that moment.

Still, I was curious to reach the top of the mountain, and so I decided to set another trip there the next year. Did I make it? I’ll tell you later.

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