Ijen Crater – East Java

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The view from the rim of the Ijen Crater

The view from the rim of the Ijen Crater

This trip report is a continuation of an earlier report about a visitation to Mount Bromo: http://www.megaworldasia.com/indonesia/the-volcanos-of-east-java-part-one-mount-bromo/

I was on a private tour with Bromo Ijen Tours – http://www.bromoijentours.com/ – and about to embark on the second leg of the trip, a trek into Ijen Crater.

After a long night at the Bromo Tengger Caldera we were back on the road at around 10 AM and hunkered down for the seven hour drive to Banyuwangi which is at the Eastern most extremity of Java. The roads, in keeping with the conditions with the drive into Bromo, were just as packed heading out. We left the temperate climate of the higher altitude behind and re-entered the tropical heat zone as we got back to sea level. The plan was to drive through the day and hopefully arrive in Banyuwangi at around 5 PM, whereby I’d check into a local hotel for a few hours rest and then be ready to head up to the next volcano at midnight. It would then be a 1.5 hour drive from Banyuwangi to the final point of vehicle access, a parking area approximately 1700 meters above sea level. The final 750 meters of elevation was to be done on foot and according to my guide Luchis it would take approx. 3 hours to hike up to the volcanic rim; some 2400 meters above sea level. The track to the top, with the exception of the final 500 meters of flat section, was a medium incline which definitely got the heart pumping and the lungs puffing hard in some of the steeper stretches. Most of it was wide and reasonably smooth to accommodate the large numbers of sightseers heading to the top and it was only the last steep section, after the tea cabin, in which one needed to be sure footed due to the slippery surface. As with Bromo the chill factor at the top was enough to ensure a jacket and a woollen hat were essential items and not an option.

Notes on Ijen:

The volcano is 2700 meters at the highest point, and 2400 meters to the volcanic rim. If you want to see the sunrise you’ll need to hike the extra 300 meters of elevation above and beyond the track at the rim.

The hike to the volcanic rim: There’s a 1.7 kilometre trek to the rim from the car park. Some sections are quite steep. The final 500 meters is along a flat track. Actual elevation from the carpark to the volcanic rim is approx. 750 meters

Its cold up there: The weather at the top at night is cold and the wind chill is a definite factor. After the 2 – 3 hour hike from the car park you’ll be hot and perspiring but will soon cool off in the cold conditions. A jacket and a woollen hat are must haves for the few hours you’ll spend down in the crater. The wind whips over the rim and swirls around inside and there is virtually nowhere to shelter from the cold air, save for a few large boulders and the sulphur miners shack next to the lake.

FEES: The park entrance fee is 120,000 INR. If you choose to go down into the crater to see the “Blue Fire” the fee is an additional 150,000 INR.

GAS MASK: Is also an essential item if you plan to drop into the crater. These can be hired down at the parking area for 100,000 INR.

LIGHTS: These are essential for a night trek into Ijen as there is no artificial lighting along the track or down in the crater. The best form of lighting is a head lamp, the type which miners use, which then enables you to use both hands for climbing purposes.

Descent into the crater: A steep, rock strewn descent of about 300 meters down to the crater. There are handrails in some stretches of the descent but for the most part it is a rocky trail with only boulders to hold on to as you work your way down. A descent in the dead of night can be hazardous and a torch light is an essential item. Work your way down slowly and be sure footed as the track is littered with loose rocks.

In the crater: There is a blue, acid water lake at the bottom of the crater. The strong, pungent smell of sulphur fills the air within the carter and is at its worst at the bottom where the vents are. Yellow sulphur is thick on the ground around the vents. The swirling winds within the crater blow the sulphur clouds in all directions at any given moment and for this reason if you intend getting in close to have a look at the miners a gas mask is a must have.

The blue flame:  This is obviously only visible at night so a descent in the dark is required. The blue fire apparently only occurs at Ijen, and one other site in Iceland, so it’s well worth a look. Time it so you won’t have long to wait before the sun rises and lights up the bottom of the crater otherwise you’ll be hanging around in the cold for longer than need be.

Photography of the sulphur miners: These guys work damned hard in hazardous conditions for a meagre return so don’t be cheapskate. If you’re going to take photos of them at work or carrying their loads, tip them. The standard tip is 5000 INR or 40 cents US!!!

A time lapse shot of hardy souls making their way down the crater wall in the dead of night

A time lapse shot of hardy souls making their way down the crater wall in the dead of night

The blue fire of Ijen Crater

The blue fire of Ijen Crater

The Job From Hell: The sulphur miners of Ijen Crater. The next time I feel like I’m being hard done by I’ll just think of these guys and know I should be grateful for what I’ve got. They toil relentlessly for a meagre return, working long hours in a sulphur polluted atmosphere. As they chip away at the hardened yellow cake across the crater floor massive plumes of volcanic sulphur erupt out of vents that surround them. The sulphur steam outlets appear to have been engineered by the miners in an effort to harness it and make sure the yellow cake continues to be produced in one small area near the bottom of the crater. The wind swirls around the crater walls and the toxic clouds often envelope the miners as they go about their hazardous work. Thankfully they’ve got the good sense to wear gas masks at all times. Even so the sulphur clouds eventually take their toll as the eye’s, respiratory system, and skin become irritated. But with no other means of making an income, these hardy fellows toil on, often working from sun up to sundown. The price of sulphur is currently around 1000 INR (Indonesian Rupiah) a kilo. Each miner carts 50 Kg’s of the yellow cake up the steep, rock strewn crater face to the rim, twice a day. A monumental effort considering the distance involved and the fact the 50kg load is spread between two buckets and balanced across their shoulders on a length of bamboo. If they manage two trips for the day their return is less than 10 USD!!!

The following is a pictorial account of the miners at work in the crater:

A miner contemplates his task for the day; sulphur vents in the background

A miner contemplates his task for the day; sulphur vents in the background

Miners at work chipping off the yellow cake and loading up their baskets

Miners at work chipping off the yellow cake and loading up their baskets

The wind changes direction and a cloud of sulphur fumes envelope the miners

The wind changes direction and a cloud of sulphur fumes envelope the miners

Clear of the sulphur cloud, the miner steadies himself for the long climb up the rock face

Clear of the sulphur cloud, the miner steadies himself for the long climb up the rock face

The load up point; prior to heading up to the rim, some 200 meters above

The load up point; prior to heading up to the rim, some 200 meters above

Time to get on with it; no time for a rest, just head straight to the top with the first load for the day

Time to get on with it; no time for a rest, just head straight to the top with the first load for the day

A wider view of the conditions the miners work under; the toxic sulphur fumes are never far away

A wider view of the conditions the miners work under; the toxic sulphur fumes are never far away

Miners run for shelter behind boulders as the wind changes direction

Miners run for shelter behind boulders as the wind changes direction

Miners silhouetted against the ever present hazard of sulphur fumes

Miners silhouetted against the ever present hazard of sulphur fumes

Tourists taking photos from a safe vantage point

Tourists taking photos from a safe vantage point

A hardy miner carries his first 50 kg load for the day up the 300 meter rock strewn track

A hardy miner carries his first 50 kg load for the day up the 300 meter rock strewn track

Summary:

Although it was quite a hard slog with lots of sleep deprivation for two consecutive nights, I thoroughly enjoyed my visits to both volcanoes with Bromo Ijen Tours. On reflection I would say the more satisfying of the two attractions was Ijen Crater and even though it was the more arduous to visit, it had less of the mass tourism feel encountered at Mount Bromo. My guide Luchis was friendly and informative at all times and Bromo Ijen Tourshttp://www.bromoijentours.com/ –  are a professionally run operation; their timings were always spot on. Whether you are a solo traveller or with a group I would highly recommend these guys for a satisfying tour to Bromo or Ijen, or both. The three day/two night tour is an excellent way to do both in a short space of time and even though you won’t get much sleep for two nights in a row the reasoning for is perfectly understandable; to avoid the day time traffic jams and to be in place for the sunrise at each location. In fact I would say hiking into Ijen at night makes perfectly good sense as, according to my guide Luchis, day break often sees the weather close in at the peak. This was the case on my trip there. For the first 1.5 hours after day break the conditions were fine but as the sun rose the clouds moved in across the peak and by the time we’d climbed out of the crater the fog and rain had set in across the rim of the volcano. For those arriving late it was dismally cold conditions with heavy rain belting in and not much joy for anyone intent on some serious photography.

A wider view on the volcanic rim; at this altitude the weather can and does close in quickly

A wider view on the volcanic rim; at this altitude the weather can and does close in quickly

A note on personal safety:  

The toxic sulphur fumes at the bottom of Ijen Crater are serious health risk. If you plan on mingling in amongst the miners to do some close-up photography, a gas mask is an absolute must have. Even so the toxic fumes are pervasive and constant and although you may do your best to avoid the clouds emitting from the vents, eventually you will get enveloped as the swirling winds in the crater push the sulphur clouds in one direction and then another very quickly. If you get enveloped enough times, as I did, the sulphur will irritate the eyes and, even allowing for the fact you’re wearing a mask, some is bound to work its way into your respiratory system. Don’t take chances and hire a mask at the parking area before you begin your hike to the top; the hire fee is only 100,000 INR. Wear warm clothing, its cold up there. For hiking at night, a flash light is an essential item; particularly if you plan to descend into the crater at night. Be safe, don’t take risks as you are on a mountain and hazards abound.  

Safe travels,

Mega

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