Climbing an active volcano: Mount Sibayak, Sumatra, Indonesia

Climbing Mount Sibayak Sumatra Indonesia

Above the clouds, Mother Nature rumbles below. The beautiful power of Mount Sibayak.

Indonesia has at least 150 active volcanoes including Krakatoa and Tambora, both famous for their devastating eruptions in the 19th century. Add violent storms, earthquakes and tsunamis into the equation and you’ve got one of the most geologically volatile countries on earth. Its shores and interiors are regularly hit by severe natural disasters, such as in 2004 when a 9.3 earthquake struck off the north coast of Sumatra killing 230,000 people in 14 different countries. It’s an unstable, unpredictable place to live: its population simply just having to deal with the fact that mother nature calls the shots here and there is nothing they can do about it.

In terms of recent eruptions, Mount Sinabung in northern Sumatra woke up in September, and over the next few months nearly 20,000 people had to be evacuated from nearby villages after it spewed a dense cloud of ash and rock 5km high into the sky. The area was placed on defcon alert: planes were diverted from Medan, makeshift shelters were built, and there was a period where I was monitoring the situation daily in case I had to rethink my trip.

Right now, Sinabung is far too dangerous to be in the vicinity of, let alone climb. At the time of writing, lava is flowing down its slopes. It’s a no-go area. Its direct neighbour, however – Mount Sibayak – hasn’t had any such restrictions placed on it yet. Some say it’s only a matter of time though. The eruption of Sinabung caused major shifts in Sibayak’s geological activity, with new violent steam vents appearing and a direct increase in sulfuric emissions.

I took the chance to climb Sibayak while I still could, witnessing the intense power of its geothermal activity first-hand, and reaching its summit above the clouds.

Climbing Mount Sibayak Sumatra Indonesia

Arrival in Berastagi the day before. Clouds and sulfuric gas rising above Sibayak in the distance.

Climbing Mount Sibayak Sumatra Indonesia

5am: cold ,dark and alive

Climbing Mount Sibayak Sumatra Indonesia

As the sun begins to break through you can start to see the steam vents below which are deafening to the ear.

Climbing Mount Sibayak Sumatra Indonesia


Climbing Mount Sibayak Sumatra Indonesia


Climbing Mount Sibayak Sumatra Indonesia



Climbing Mount Sibayak Sumatra Indonesia

Although its last eruption was more than a century ago, geothermal activity in the form of steam vents and hot springs remains high on and around the volcano. The vents produce crystalline sulfur, which was mined on a small scale in the past.

Climbing Mount Sibayak Sumatra Indonesia

My clothes still stink from the sulfur

Steam vents

Climbing Mount Sibayak Sumatra Indonesia

The descent on the south side is through the jungle, where the hot springs and finish point await.



To climb Sibayak at this time of day, and to see the sunrise, you really do need a guide – especially if you are doing it for the first time. Now I’ve done it once I could do it again on my own, but in the pitch black it’s hard to tell which direction to head next, even with a torch.

Guides cost 200,000 rupiah ($20), starting at 4am and returning to Berastagi at about midday. This includes going down the volcano a different route to go to the hot springs. The descent is much tougher than the relatively easy ascent, with the terrain changing from volcanic rock to jungle. If it’s wet, it’s tough, and I fell on my hole a good few times. As with any mountain at high altitude, it’s cold at the top so dress accordingly.

Climbing Mount Sibayak Sumatra Indonesia

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  1. Yes! Here you go. This is where I stayed, it’s a nice place, more like a homestay where you can eat homecooked food if you wish. There is wifi, and the owner also changed money for me to save me hassle. It was cheap to stay there. The guide is arranged by the house, just ring the house even if you aren’t staying there and they could arrange it for you. Have fun!

  2. Not long. Maybe 2 hours. Guide picked us up from Guesthouse at 4am and drove us to the base of the volcano. We got to the top for sunrise. 🙂

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