Five Things I Learnt from Hiking My First Peak Over 3000m

Happy me enroute to Arjuno. The view was amazing!

The last time I did a relatively high peak was back in November 2013 where I hiked to the Ijen crater in Surabaya (2,799m) in East Java. Ijen was doable, just that I really lacked the stamina and hardly worked out back then.

Fast forward to 2016, the very same friend who somehow convinced me to do Ijen, once again asked if I would like to try Arjuno (3,339m) and Welirang (3,156m), twin volcanic peaks that are also in East Java. Perhaps it was the desire to want to challenge myself, or maybe it was because I set a travel resolution for myself this year – to go outside of my comfort zone – that I said yes pretty readily.

I am now freshly back from hiking/climbing both Gunung Arjuno and Welirang. I survived, albeit with a sore wrist, ankle and many bruises and cuts. Being up there 2000 – 3000 metres high for three consecutive days, with zero connectivity, I had a lot of time to think and reflect after each day’s hike. I also made a lot of newbie mistakes during the whole process, so here I am sharing them, so that if you ever decide to climb these two peaks, or any others for that matter, you won’t make the same mistakes I did. Let this also serve as a note to myself, since I’m sure this will not be the last volcanoes I climb.

(These tips are more specific to those who stay at least one night out in the open while hiking. Day trips are great too, but you might not find these tips relevant to you.)

Lesson #1 – Pack light

Being the most experienced hiker among us, Jo had shared a recommended packing list a few weeks before the hike. Me, being highly inexperienced, stuck closely to the list and also added on a few items “just in case”. That was a mistake. If you find yourself pondering about whether you need something… you probably don’t. The most important things when you’re up there in the wilderness, will probably be sufficient outerwear and drinkable water. Rule of thumb, after you are done packing, try to reduce it by at least a third. Chances are that you might be way too tired from all that hiking to even bother about changing. I learnt it the hard way, when I had fresh clothes every day, but also suffered from having to lug my almost 8-9kg backpack up my first peak.

Lesson #2 – Falling is inevitable. Get used to it. 

During the last day, when we descended Arjuno, it was wet and rainy. I slipped on foliage, wet rocks and mud at least 20-30 times. The first few times I slipped, I have to admit, it was painful and very discouraging. I nearly wanted to give up because I felt like I was going nowhere. But the point is, if I just sat there and mulled over my sore bum, I would have never gotten down. So yes, falling, especially when you descend is inevitable. It will happen anyway, so just get used to it, and of course, move on along in the process.

Lesson #3 – Ziplock everything. 

We climbed both peaks during rainy season, and rain it did. First day we spent half our time hiking in the rain. Second day we were blessed with good weather, but the third, was also marred by rain. I also had the misfortune of having my hydration pack leak on me, so the inside of my backpack was wet. I had made the mistake of placing majority of my items in ziplock bags, but neglecting a few loose items like socks and caps. Dry socks are a major life-saver in the cold, and having most of my sock collection wet when I reached the base campsite cold was just really, really sad.

Lesson #4 – Train up!

My greatest mistake, I daresay, was not training in advance for my hike. I only begun panicking about my lack of altitude training about 2-3 weeks before, which is of course not sufficient. Clock in mileage running and/or walking, and get used to walking 2-3 hour stretches. Stairs training is great too. I live in a 12-storey apartment, and I did a bit of stairs workout. Gradually factor weights while climbing the stairs, because you’re going to have to get used to climbing with your backpack with you.

Lesson #5 – Bring extra batteries!

I did, but my guide didn’t, so I gave him my batteries. But yes, having extra batteries are super important, especially for your head lamp. Based on our schedule, we were not supposed to do any sort of night hiking, but things happen and our hike got delayed so we ended up hiking in the darkness for a good 1-2 hours. You might put in fresh batteries right before your hike, but you’ll never know if your batteries fail you, so bring extras! Also your head lamp will come in handy at night when you need to get up for the toilet, so that you don’t accidentally step into a bush/off the edge.

The good thing is that my mistakes were not deadly, and they have definitely helped me learn, so that I don’t make the same mistakes on my next hike. My detailed Gunung Arjuno-Welirang hike post will come soon, I promise!

What peaks have you conquered? Share your hiking tips here!

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