Kawah Ijen – such high hopes but the weather destroyed them!

The Ijen Plateau is home to a massive volcanic crater, complete with blue burning sulphur fires at night and a turquoise lake. It has all the critical ingredients to make the 1am wake up and hike worthwhile.

After a long drive through beautiful, windy mountain roads, we finally arrived at the starting point for the hike up to the crater. This is the third hike in the dead of night I’ve done in the past month – starting to think I have a condition.

The first ¾’s of the hike were great – weather seemed fine (but we were hiking in darkness to be fair). The last quarter saw the conditions changing rapidly – heavy, thick mist mingled with the sulphurous fumes from the crater made it very difficult to breath, even with our gas masks, visibility was reduced to nothing and the strong wind was icy.

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The visibility was shocking. Believe it or not, but this photo was taken when it was still pretty clear.

Arriving at the viewpoint for the blue fires was such a disappointment as you literally couldn’t see 2 feet in front of yourself, let alone into the crater to see the flames. Seeing the lake once the sun rose was also impossible.

The video below is one of my favourites. Listen with some sound to hear the wind. That isn’t just mist you’re seeing – it’s sulphurous gas from the crater!

Myself and 2 new mates, James and Ruby, tried our best to explore what we could but it was impossible, and at some points, dangerous as the visibility was so bad and we were on the side of an active volcano and didn’t know where the edge was!

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3 rather disappointed faces after a 1am wake up for nothing but a difficult walk up a volcano, in the dark, breathing through gas masks. 

One highlight of what was a rather dismal day was seeing the local sulphur miners in action. These men walk down into the crater (tourists are banned from going that far down as it’s too toxic and dangerous) and they mine sulphur and carry it back to the top of the crater in baskets, on their shoulders. A typical load weights more than 80kgs! You’d think that it bad enough, but then they do it twice in a day and then wheel it more than 4kms to the road below to an awaiting truck!

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This is what 80kgs of sulphur looks like being carried on a man’s shoulders. It is stuffing heavy. 30 seconds of it and I was done. Can’t imagine doing it all day everyday. 

How much do they get paid for a kg of sulphur? R8!! These men are reducing their life expectancy for peanuts sadly. I chatted to one miner at the top of the crater – so kind and friendly. If that were me, I’d be the most bitter of arseholes to walk this planet!

We were going to climb to the plateau again today if the weather cleared but were once again unlucky. Ah well – such is life!

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A close up of the sulphur and the trolleys used to wheel it down the mountain once the miners have brought it out of the crater.

I’m in the main entrance point to Ijen at the moment, a town called Banyuwangi, staying in one of the best home stays I’ve been in called Banyuwangi Homestay. Will be here until Saturday and then depart for the Philippines!

Cheers for now

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