Fourth of July on a mountain

by Will Sanders on August 24th, 2009

What the hell was I thinking?  Seriously, what in the hell was I thinking?  How did I ever get myself into this?   Why did I agree?  What am I, a moron?

These were the demon questions which flew around my head like harpies on the first day of my cursed ascent of Welewrang and Arjuna.  We hadn’t even gotten to the mountain yet when I started huffing and puffing, wheezing and gasping, hemorrhaging sweat.  The guide book says that doing these two mountains is really just for experienced hikers and mountaineers, read: not beer and burger fed 32 year old fat guys.

I like to go a wandering, along a mountain track

Cowboy Eric of Chicago is one of my roomies here in mi casa and one of my hommies here in general.   He talks and walks with a swagger which he backs up with stories of the gangsters he used to run with back in Chicago or the ones about getting the living hell kicked out of him in a fight, he always smiles about those.  He is a nice guy who is always down for a beer or five and never messes up the kitchen, all around good house mate to have.  But don’t get me wrong, he is an asshole.  Lordy lordy is he ever an asshole for coming up with the plan and I am an even bigger asshole for agreeing.  Two assholes climbing two mountains in four days, and not just little mountains, huge volcanos which tower above the planet earth in a celestial direction, elephants among mountains, titans among molehills,  and landmarks amid horizons feircely rising in the distance and looking out keeping the rest of the land in fucking check.   What the hell was I thinking?  Why, man why?

That weekend was the fourth of July, and at the start we were two Americans full of bravado.  We hired a guide named Jenedi, nice enough guy with a little English, and mid day on thursday we were off.  That first day was the hard day.  Straight up an endless incline with a pound pack on for no less than eight hours up to a sulpher miners camp, our digs for the evening.  The whole day I kept seeing my big blue friend, the mountain I had once marveled at was getting smaller and smaller and further and further below us.  Eric the cowboy and the guide were going much faster than I was, with my pack and the straight up incline I was struggling and I admit it freely.  Hour three I was sick of the guide and Eric the cowboy waiting on me so I told them to go ahead, didn’t see them again until that night.  With hours left to go the sun went down and armed with a piece of trash flashlight I walked a ways and stopped, I walked a little while and stopped, maybe that boulder up there, I will rest there, ok, take five, look at the stars, maybe we are close to the sulpher miners camp, up up up up up I went endlessly.

When I go a wandering, my napsacks on my back

Finally, all alone in the dark dark woods climbing and endless staircase I started to scream at the top of my lungs, “There is no Sulpher miners camp!  There is no sulpher miners camp!”  I screamed this over and over again at the night.  I screamed with every morsel of fletting engergy I had left.  I imagined Eric the cowboy and Junedi the guide intrepidly tracking me through the forrest, a hundred yards away giggling at the joke.  A snipe hunt for grown ups, take the new guy to the trail with no end on the mountain with no top and tell him some malarchy about a sulpher minors camp.  Well I was having none of it, dropped my bag and began jumping up and down screaming alone in the night, not even above the tree line yet with mr Moon’s blue light everywhere nothing but more hours on on the trail above me and more hours on the trail below.  Just had to keep going.  Man did that suck.

But the trail kept climbing and so did I, slowly but surely.  I started trying to reprogram my thinking.  I decided I was the misfit team, the bunch of loveable losers who win against all odds, the underdogs, the bad news bears, the nerds from revenge of the nerds, the dirty dozen, the little engine that fucking could.  I think I can I think I can…..

One foot in front of the other endlessly.  Always up, never ever for a moment was it flat, a highway to Olympus.  And After hour six of all alone in the woods I started to visualize an endless incline for the rest of my life.  An animal started growling next to me and I ran with my thirty pound pack hauling ass straight up, imaging what may have been a squirel to be Predator.

I kept climbing, I came to a clearing with thatch huts, three of them sat near a big pile of huge yellow chunks of rock, the last one had a fire burning inside, this must be the place.  The hut made of thatched leaves and sticks, the roof was hay, as were the beds.  Eric the cowboy and the guide had done it in six hours I did it in eight.  They did it fast and I did it slow, but I did it, that’s the thing I like to tell myself.  We had to go straight to sleep which wasn’t a problem, we were waking up at three to go see the sunrise from the summit of Weliwrang.

Day two didn’t suck quite as bad, but it sucked just the same.  I was trying to keep up and they were running up the hill and I was going really slowly, lots of pain from the day before, lots of pain.  This path was a bit more muddy and slippery and still straight up.  We didn’t eat that morning.  I was pissed off and had absolutely zero energy and I crashed, man I crashed hard on the side of that mountain.  I told them I could see well enough where I was and for them to fuck off.  I was high enough.  But I kept chugging.  Kept going up.


A few minutes later I started going up again, and slowly but surely I got up to the top.  The top was an arid wasteland of geisures of sulpher steam venting in clouds erupting from within the mountain.  I got to the top, the very tip top and it was fairly amazing.  A cloud ocean surrounded us with peaks poking through in the distance.  It was windy and it was cold, it looked like the window of an airplane with no airplane.  I crawled into a ball and had a nice nap in some sage brush for a time, then got up and started going again.

This time the guide took us the the other end of the top where thick clouds of sulpher gas was erupting all around us.  Our eyes stung and our lungs burned with every breath, a real geological wonder.  Once in a while through the clouds we could see the bright yellow cones from where the gas was coming.  We didn’t stay long.  We couldn’t, we had to escape to where we could breath.  The sulpher minors, I am told, make five or six trips a day to this place where they cut the sulpher rock away and carry it back to camp.  They usually have a teeshirt wraped around the lower faces which does little to protect their teeth from rotting and falling out the first year on average, or from anything else I would imagine.  They make around five dollars a day.

The trail back to the camp wrapped around the outside of the mounain along a cliff, this was the track the miners walked to with their sulpher so much of it was flat.  When it started going downhill I lost the other guys again so I layed down and had another nap, this time in a flower filled meadow.  It was the sleep of exhaustion which comes insantly and it was blissful.  I slept an hour or twenty minutes somewhere in there I don’t know.

The camp was empty, miners day off.  This meant we had free run of the place and stayed in what was clearly the nicest of the huts, feeling a little bit like Goldie Locks.  The straw bed felt great under my sleeping bag and as we went to sleep that night in a thatch hut without water or electricity of any kind, our only regret was that we didn’t bring any beer along.  A beer would have been just right.

The plan for day three was Eric the cowboy was going up Arjuna, the even harder mounain which started from the sulpher miners camp.  He was camping on top and I made up my mind that I was happy having done one mountain.  Sorry you guys, I am getting back to the bottom where I would meet them for waterfalls and beers the next day.  I do not feel bad about this, not less manly or less macho, I am proud of myself for doing the first mountain and even prouder of myself for not having anything to prove.  Eric the cowboy was cool to do it on his own so we parted ways.  On my way out I finally met some sulpher minors, these were some toothless strong looking dudes.  I can’t imagine the lives they lead.  They will be in for a surprise when they find the money I left in that hut, not a lot but enough to say thanks guys.  Also gave them some peanut butter.

the way down was slow but nice, going downhill hurt my legs in brand new ways but it was nice because I knew there was a bottom as I had been there a million miles and a million years ago.  I was very encouraging to all the people hiking up, they were all really impressed that I was doing it alone, which I let them believe.  Lots of people wanted my picture.

Near the bottom a troop of black monkeys started swinging around over head, I watched them for a while, they flew through the air with the greatest of ease, bouncing from limb to limb, tagging each other in mid air, monkey sorts of things.  After a time I left, hiking further down the road.  I went around a corner, then down around another, looked up and there they were again.  I was being followed by monkeys!  They would stop in the tree tops when near me and watch with curiosity, craning their necks to get a better glimpse.  I was not sure so I tested my theory by running around the next bend and stopping to look up.  A few seconds later, tree limb to tree limb they started arriving in the canopy above, sitting and trying to make sense of what I was doing there.  Silly monkeys.  They followed me for a while but I started getting closer to the bottom which meant town so they finally took off.  Bye little monkey friends!  Good luck with the whole swinging around in the air and humping each other, sure looks like a good life from down here!

So finally I got to the bottom bottom, it looked like the end of the trail for at least the last hour, but finally all the sudden I was on the street.  Arms raised in a triumphant end of montage eye of the tiger Rocky Balboa moment I danced around like an idiot until some locals took notice, then I played it cool.  Hitched a ride back to hotel, beer, shower, beer, fried noodles, bed.

Just as I had fallen asleep that night there was a knock at the door.  I thought it must be the hotel staff so I had my grumpy scowl all on the ready, how dare you, growl, grrrrr.  I threw the door open, and as I live and breath there was the dirty stink filled ghost of Eric the cowboy.

“But HOW!” I dememded.

Him and the guide had gone to the top that morning, then for what ever reason he figured he wanted to be at the hotel where I was instead of camping on the summit of this huge mountain.  Too windy I think, plus he was thinking shower and beer.  So down he went, full speed to the sulpher minors where he had diner, then full speed down the mountain, a 12 hour feat fit for Hurcules, or Eric the cowboy.  He had stories about the alpine valley that was so beautiful it made me jealous.  He had stories of the Sulpher minor who was so tough he grabed a metal pot sitting on an open campfire to reposition it with bare hands, not even a flinch.  Me?  I would have loved to see those things, I would have loved to see the top of that thing, but I just wasn’t going to make it.  Still glad.

And then we cracked beers.  It was the fourth after all, we laughed and told each other stories, clinking bottles of Bintang beer every five minutes.  In the valley below somewhere fireworks went up, meaning somewhere in the distance was another yank.  We wondered if there were a few of them or just one guy on his lonesome.  But I can say that on the fourth of July I sat having beer with a fellow American on a mountain in Indonesia.


The next day we did a waterfall, which was really cool.  It was the one I had found on my last trip to Trettes, which I have already told you about.  The water was cold and the spot was empty, actually the guide wanted to take us to the public spot but I ran off and demanded they follow me, we went to my spot which is nicer.  Then we went to the public spot and everyone was smiling to see two whities, “hello mister, hello mister” They all waved.  Suddenly we saw a monkey on a rock next to the trail, with in arms reach really.  Eric was happy because the one thing I had over him so far was I had seen monkeys.  His joy was compounded by the fact that when spotted one monkey instantly grabed another monkey and got behind it and started going to town.  That was gold, pure gold.

At the water fall we became surrounded (I ain’t lying, surrounded) by mobs of families who demanded that we pose in pictures with them, each family struggling to ask the same questions, where we were from, did we like Indonesia, that sort of thing.  We had to work hard to get away finally, waving and smilling, no no no we had to go and more and more mobs of people with cameras trying to get us to pose.  Soon the waterfall didn’t mean anything to them anymore, we were far more of an attraction.  You think I am making this up but it’s true, all true I promise.  We finally got away after maybe a half hour of pictures maybe more.  It was great, you’d think we were famous and not just a couple of regular jerks.

So that was the trip.  Hard work.  Fun though.

I have been talking to Jane, my China girl every day on skype.  She is coming in a month or two to live in Indonesia.  I am so happy, and a bit scared.  Big news for me, wish me luck.

6 Responses to “Fourth of July on a mountain”

  1. Carson says:

    did you mail Marcus a sulphur souvenier?

    • Will Sanders says:

      I am sculpting a giant statue of Marcus out of sulpher. it will smell a lot like marcus does in real life actually.
      If you have sent a comment please be patient, it takes a while to get pan the rivers of spam for gold, I have a few hundred to sit down and delete now.
      But keep reading and commenting, thanks everyone.

  2. Doug Brown says:

    Good story. Of course, yr tracking that the best thing about going up a mountain is that you can always say, in the after years, yeh, I did that. That’s the construct I’ve built my life around anyhow.

  3. amy bugg burke says:

    When I was a little girl, my Grandaddy Bugg would tell us bedtime stories (usually after a hearty dinner of sauteed chicken bites, otherwise known as “Chicken McBuggets”). One of our favorites was about the time he was camping in the jungle and some mischievous little monkeys stole all of his things. Not a word of it was true, but I always loved picturing that little gang of monkeys up in the trees, wearing his watch and shiny belt buckle. Color me jealous Will Sanders. =)

  4. I’m very impressed with your hiking inabilities.

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