When I finally reached Pos Paltuding, I found, to my dismay, that all the rooms had already been booked. Fortunately, there was a lone tent that had been set out, and according to the tout was the only option that was left. The tout asked for IDR150k but after a little bargaining, I managed to get it lowered down to IDR125k. I found out soon after that the amount did not include a sleeping bag and that if he were to include one, there would be an additional charge of IDR25k. Sigh, so much for the bargaining.
I was told then that the trail that lead up to the crater only opened at 03:00 – apparently the time was changed from 01:00 to 03:00 after an incident where some poisonous gas was released that had left several workers hospitalised – and so decided to try to sleep early. It was late afternoon by then and thunder rumbled off in the distance, so I figured that there wouldn't be much to do anyway. Sleep did not come immediately however as I ended up finding out that Indonesians really love to sing, and absolutely sang the night away at the top of their lungs. If a group was not singing along to the melodies of a guitar, another group somewhere else would be blaring music from their phone and singing along to that instead, sometimes in Bahasa Indonesia and sometimes in Javanese. Things seemed to quieten down a little around 21:00 (either that or I was just too exhausted to let the singing keep me up), and I managed to drift off...
Still groggy from the few hours of sleep that I had somehow managed to squeeze in, I repacked my bag in the light of my headlamp and paid the IDR100k entrance fee (for foreigners; IDR10k for Indonesians), before walking towards the gate that marked the entrance of the trail. The walk up to the crater rim was supposed to take an hour with an additional half an hour or so for the descent down to the lake. It was only 04:00 then and sunrise was apparently around 06:00, so I figured that I had more than enough time to see some 'blue fire'. The trail was not as steep as I had expected it to be, but it was definitely a constant uphill walk, at least until reaching Pondok Bunder (elevation : 2214m), a small hut that was located 1.79km in. When I stopped to adjust the altitude reference on my Suunto Ambit, I realised that it had taken me about 30 minutes to reach that point.
The trail began to zig-zag from there on, switch-backing up the mountain for a while before leveling off and following the contour of the mountain around to the right. I caught the whiff of sulphur as I rounded the mountain, just before the path cut in to meet the rim of the caldera. The massive 320 lumens from my LED Lenser P7.2 torch lit up a large, bright cone in front of me as the sulphur fumes wafted in from over the edge of the rim.
The occasional glimpses of a scarred, desolate terrain off to the left were fleeting and barely visible in the pre-dawn darkness, and the deep lines and ridges lead my gaze down to the dark, nether regions of the lake below. The sun had yet to rise then so the terrain was still monotonous, but as I ascended up the rim, bits of colour started to creep in and lighten the sky, casting a silver sheen on the terrain in front of me.
The touts that were located at the gate entrance just before the descent down to the lake insisted that I would need a guide in order to descend. It was all just a scam however, and they stopped pestering me after a while when they realised that they weren't going to get anywhere with me. Fortunately, I managed to locate one of them who was renting out gas masks for IDR50k. My partner had insisted that I use a gas mask if I were to descend down to the lake, which was very wise of her as the buff that I had been planning to use would not have offered adequate protection at all. The mask allowed me to keep breathing as the sulphurous fumes occasionally billowed towards me, leaving my eyes watering.