Guest Videos: Climbing a Rainforest Volcano

Mount Kerinci, in west central Sumatra, is Indonesia’s highest volcano at 12,500 feet.

This active fire mountain is rather like Mexico’s Popocatepetl in that it frequently emits gas and ash plumes and has low-level eruptions.

Here is Kerinci, rising majestically above nearby tea plantations and doing a perfectly orthodox “Popo puff” (enjoy the sunshine because the next video is rather soggy):

The same processes that shaped the rest of Sumatra’s Barisan Mountains are responsible for this beautiful landscape.

This particular section is Kerinci Seblat National Park, one of three national parks that comprise the UNESCO-designated Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra.

Kerinci draws trekkers from all over the world. Most of their online videos are about the journey to Indonesia as well as highlights of the climb.

But Kerinci attracts and challenges local people, too. And they are all about getting up to the top.

Oregon’s Mount Jefferson — not a tropical volcano but beautiful. (Image: US Forest Service, public domain)

If you have ever lived near such a dramatic landscape feature, you’ll understand how it draws the eye and seems to call for climbing.

I have felt this in the Adirondacks and Green Mountain/Taconic ranges, as well as at Sandia Peak near Albuquerque, New Mexico. Even now, though I am too old and out of shape for it, I want to explore nearby Mount Jefferson every time I see it.

In Indonesia, these young people did climb Mount Kerinci.

The video is not in English, but their story of what it’s like, step by step, to climb through the rainforest to the rocky summit of an active volcano, and the euphoria that accompanies success, comes through loud and clear:

  • Note that they are in a park that is home to more Sumatran tigers than any other place, in addition to clouded leopards and an assortment of small cats and other carnivores, like sun bears and dholes.
  • Going up with guides or in a group is recommended because solitary hikers have disappeared up there; trails are rough — obviously — and the path turns into slippery clay with just a drizzle. These climbers endured some heavy rainfall at times.
  • Uh, the volcano has been at Level 2 alert since 2007, is having emissions currently, and there is a 3-kilometer exclusion zone in effect around the summit. They were lucky. But luck never lasts for long on an active volcano, not even for volcanologists: never count on it.
  • The immediate area around Mount Kerinci isn’t densely populated, by Indonesian standards, but more than a million people do live within 65 miles of the volcano. Hence the gorgeous view of city lights in the distance during the night climb.


Sure they missed sunrise. It’s the RAINforest.

But the sun does occasionally break through at the appropriate moment.

That wispy fumarole is rising from the 2,000-foot-deep crater of an active volcano that’s under Level 2 alert and with a 3-km no-go zone. There are other, quieter fire mountains on Sumatra and in the rest of Indonesia. Weigh the risks before you decide which one to climb to experience this in person.

Featured image: buitenzorger, BY-SA 2.0.


Chaussard, E.; Amelung, F.; and Aoki, Y. 2013. Characterization of open and closed volcanic systems in Indonesia and Mexico using InSAR time series. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 118(8): 3957-3969.

Global Volcanism Program: Kerinci. Last accessed July 17, 2019.

Wikipedia. 2019. Mount Kerinci. Last accessed July 17, 2019.

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