Gunung Lawu: the mountain that pushed me over the edge / by Jessica Lee



In life, everyone has metaphorical “mountains” they have to overcome- some sort of man vs. self, man vs. man or man vs. world archetype like they talk about in English lit classes. In Hamlet for example, the protagonist has to face his uncle who is trying to kill him. In Catcher in the Rye, Holden faces the world of "phonies".

I found my mountain yesterday. It is a literal mountain in Indonesia called Gunung Lawu. It is 3265 m above sea level and much much much too steep.


I did not know to expect such a hard climb. Here I was thinking it would be a two hour leisurely hike, at most three hours. I imagined this mountain to be something like one of those hikes in Algonquin Park, Ontario, you know the ones families with young children do together.

I did not expect to be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

The hardest climb I’ve ever done would have to be climbing to the top of the mountain at Lake Louise in Alberta. It was 2744 m and it just seemed to never end. Mount Lawu was much worse. There are six posts in total and I was ready to give up before reaching post number two. Indonesian people are incredibly fit.

We started the climb at 3 pm after lunch. Waiyu, my new Indonesian friend, ordered satay rabbit with rice and I followed his lead. I had never had rabbit before so it was an interesting experience. It's chewy.


Here are some other weird things I was introduced to:

These were some sort of chips.


And some other snack I was introduced to...


Waiyu didn't know the English translation for these foods so I never found out what they were.

The plan was to climb up the mountain, sleep overnight at one of the huts and watch the sunset in the morning.

This is what I pictured: a leisurely two hour stroll up a mountain and then plenty of free time to play cards and read books. He said the climb normally took him three hours and it usually takes beginners six hours.

Here I am at the beginning of the climb:


I didn’t think of myself as a “beginner”. I have a solid hiking history and have been keeping active throughout high school and university. Okay maybe not my entire university career, but I am pretty active during summers.

This is one of the huts people sleep in to camp over night:


We reached post one in a little over an hour. Post two took a little longer as I started taking rest stops to catch my breath. The sun started to set.


We were pretty much climbing boulders which remotely resembled stairs. It was a purely vertical climb. I thought back to when I climbed the C.N. Tower (Toronto’s iconic tower) in high school for charity. It was one of the most painful 30 minutes of my life. I had an aversion to stairs for about a week afterwards. But at least on a C.N. Tower climb, you know there are others struggling as well.

Here on the mountain, I was alone; thinking what a foolish decision it was to want to climb this mountain in the first place. Clearly I did not do enough research. The guidebook said it took roughly six hours to climb this mountain but at the time I read about this mountain, 3265 metres did not mean a thing to me. Being on this mountain, nowhere near the top and about to give up was incredibly humbling. I realized how weak I truly was.


Here is where the doubts and fears began tumbling in. What was I doing struggling on a mountain in Indonesia when I could be at home in Toronto sipping a mocha at a café with soft natural light shining through its windows or at home lying in bed listening to music? I had it pretty good back home.

On this mountain, all my past achievements meant nothing now. How is being able to put together a magazine or playing all the major scales on the piano going to help me climb a mountain?

We eventually made it to the top just before the six-hour mark. It wasn’t really joy that I felt when I reached the top, more like disbelief. I couldn’t believe that I had made it to the top. With the amount of thoughts, doubts and positive self-reassurances going through my head, it felt like I had gone through a lifetime by the time I reached the top.


My favourite part was walking along the mountainside with just the moonlight guiding our way. No flashlights or city lights. It was beautiful, like how I’d imagine people of the past walked at night.

At the top of the mountain, there was a hut that housed an old woman and a younger man. It also had lots of camping space, which is where we slept for the night. We had an early night as we would be waking up early the next day to watch the sunrise.


For food, we ate instant noodles and had a hot malt drink- both were made over a hot fire using a cauldron. It was extremely cold and I was glad I had Waiyu to tell me that I needed to pack a warm quilt. I didn’t expect freezing temperatures being that the day before, it was over 30 degrees in the city.


We woke up at the crack of dawn to the sounds of a rooster the next and I surveyed one of the most spectacular sunrises I’ve ever seen.




The climb down wasn’t much easier. I wished there were ziplines or waterslides built from the top of the mountain. Waiyu echoed my thoughts, saying when he was younger he wished he could fly from the top of the mountain down to the city.


Would I climb Gunung Lawu again, if given the chance?

Probably not. The point of accomplishing something is so that you can enjoy the achievement and move on to other bigger things. Maybe now that I’ve done this, I will add Kilimanjaro to my list. Here’s to a bigger and brighter 2013!