Blue Volcano: The Majesty and Fury of Mt. Ijen.

Descending into the volcanic crater introduced me to a level of stress and concern about my safety that I’d not previously known.
Mt. Ijen, Indonesia. Photo Courtesy National Geographic.

Mt. Ijen, Indonesia. Photo Courtesy National Geographic.

 

Once in a lifetime experiences.  That's my thing.  As a child, I dreamed of raiding tombs like Lara Croft's character in Tomb Raider, trekking otherworldly jungles, visiting Mars, scaling the Great Wall of China, diving for aquatic treasures, and searching for the lost city of Atlantis. Save for trekking through mystical jungles (I've acquired a fear of monkeys and the deadly Fer-de-Lance), the insatiable desire to pursue once in a lifetime experiences followed me into adulthood, and so, once I learned of volcano in Indonesia that spews stunning electric-blue fire there was no question of whether or not I would hike it. Going, of course, was the only choice.

 

View from Bali's Gilimanuk Ferry. Photo Courtesy J.Thurston

View from Bali's Gilimanuk Ferry. Photo Courtesy J.Thurston

At one point, I considered quitting....
 

THE EXPERIENCE

Mt. Ijen, renowned for its blue "lava" and flames that shoot up to heights of 16-feet, is best experienced at night as the flames tend to disappear from sight at the day's first light.  Given the nocturnality of the flames, the laborious trek up Mt. Ijen's steep terrain begins at 12:00 a.m. and lasts for nearly two hours.  Contrary to what pictures would have you believe, Ijen's blue "lava" isn't actually lava.  It's the product of sulfuric gases emerging through the cracks of the volcano at 1,000+°F, igniting with the air.  In some instances, the sulfuric gases condense into liquid and flow from the volcano's cracks giving the illusion of blue lava.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see flows of blue "lava" during my Ijen visit but I’ve consistently heard that it is, indeed, a magical sight.

 

Most excursions to Mt. Ijen require a minimum of two people and, well, as a solo-traveler, that presented an issue.  As one who will spare no expense when it comes to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, I would have taken no issue with paying whatever I needed to pay to ensure I would experience the majesty of Ijen.  I called Viator where I found the excursion, paid for myself and an imaginary friend, and forked over the contact details for one of my friends back home in the states. (Yes, I lied to the Viator rep. You probably would too! Don't judge me.) That, my friends, is how I was able to experience Ijen.  I would later meet my new friend, Shiree, while in Bali and go on to ask her to join me since the ticket was already purchased. On the morning of our excursion, off we set, eventually meeting our tour guide, Nanang, and the rest was history.  Take care to dress warmly. It is COLD on Mt. Ijen.

Armed with a gas mask and water, the collective 17-mile trek began at 12 a.m. and entailed walking through forested darkness with only a flashlight to lead the way.  My friends and I climbed steep inclines until we ascended to the top of the volcano (imagine being on the stairmaster for 2 hours….that’s the trek up Ijen) and then we descended into the volcano's crater.  Usually, descensions are easier than ascensions, however, that was not the case with Ijen.  Descending into the volcanic crater introduced me to a level of stress and concern about my safety that I’d not previously known. We climbed down a steep field of jagged rocks and slippery boulders that rolled, occasionally stopping to “hug” rocks so that miners who work on Ijen could make their way up while we were making our way down on the one-path way.  There was no room for tripping, slipping, or stumbling.  To do so would mean death or serious injuries.  At one point, I considered conceding my adventurous spirit back to God and quitting! “WHAT AM I DOING? I’m out here at 4 a.m. about to die for “lava” that isn’t even lava.  Thanks for this adventurous spirit but after this I won’t be needing it anymore. I WANT TO GO HOME...NOW!” Dramatic, I know.

 

The gas masks that Nanang, Shiree, and I wore were integral to our health in Ijen’s toxic atmosphere where clouds of sulfur mercilessly billowed from the crater’s acidic lake, so thick that the lights from our flashlights failed to pierce them. After a few minutes of being at the bottom of the crater, our eyes began to burn from the sulfuric gases and fumes, and I was given to wonder about how the miners could work in such harsh and toxic conditions day in and day out with less protection than was afforded to us.  Despite the use of a gas mask, my senses were still assaulted. My eyes burned, my throat felt as though it were beginning to close, and my sinuses opened.  I could only take 10 minutes of being near the 12 ft tall flames before needing to climb back up to where the air and visibility were slightly better, and so, the arduous ascension out of the crater’s depths began.  We trekked upward and onward further up Mt. Ijen to witness an incredible sunrise. 

 

If you ever find yourself on Mt. Ijen, be sure to stick around for a majestic sunrise that will leave you in awe of creation.  It won’t disappoint and will prove to be redemption from the night’s hike.

 

 

Mt. Ijen at Sunrise. Photo Courtesy J. Thurston

Mt. Ijen at Sunrise. Photo Courtesy J. Thurston

 

Booking the Excursion and Getting There

I found the excursion for Mt. Ijen through viator.com and booked with Java Exotica Tours which is owned and operated by Aldo.  Aldo and his friend (now my friend), Nanang, ensured that my time on Mt. Ijen was both educational and fun!  Nanang is an AMAZING guide who not only shared his knowledge about Mt. Ijen but went to great lengths to ensure that Shiree and I were well taken care of by proactively packing snacks and water, frequently checking in with us to determine if rest was needed, and helping us down the steep crater field of Ijen.  On the drive back, we stopped by a waterfall for further fellowship and tea!  I highly recommend Aldo and Nanang to all!

 

Shiree and I stayed in Ubud, some 5.5 hours away from the pick-up point of Ketapang Ferry serviced by Java Exotica Tours.  We called our taxi driver Wayan and discussed a round-trip drive from Ubud to Gilli Manuk Port and then let Nanang know that we would contact him once we arrived at Ketapang Port.

 

The ferry ride from Gilli Manuk Port to Ketapang was roughly 45 minutes long.  True to our word, we contacted Nanang once we arrived and off we went to Mt. Ijen.  I’ve listed the contact numbers below for Wayan, Aldo, and Nanang.  If you’re ever in Bali, be sure to contact them as they will ensure you are well taken care of!

 

Driver Services for Bali

Wayan

Whats App Contact Info: +62 877-8479-2508

 

Mt. Ijen Tour Booking

Darma “Aldo” Ardianto

Whats App Contact Info: +62 813-3122-3323

 

Mt. Ijen Guide

Nanang Fauzi

Whats App Contact Info: +62 852-3267-0680

 

Live and Travel Well,

Jasmine