Summiting Mount Bromo

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People appear as black dots against white smoke at the edge of Bromo’s crater.

After a night’s rest, it’s back on our feet to climb Bromo. We descend back into the sandsea, this time wearing masks to minimize the amount of dust we inhale. Skirting the edge of a massive dust devil forming on the valley floor, we find the line of concrete posts heading out toward the volcano.

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Hiking across the sandsea to Bromo.
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A group of dirtbike riders pauses to watch as dust devil form on the sandsea.

The sandsea floor is crisscrossed with vehicle and foot tracks in all directions, punctuated by the occasional tuft of grass or thread of a dry riverbed. Volcanic rocks ranging in size from baseballs to truck wheels also dot the landscape. These are volcanic projectiles, part of the tephra (“volcanic stuff”) hurled from the volcano during an eruption. Projectiles like these were responsible for two deaths when Bromo erupted suddenly back in 2004 and are an uneasy reminder that the volcano could erupt again at any time. But for now, Bromo seems content to simply issue forth a peaceful stream of smoke.

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A tuft of grass grows in the sandsea.
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Stoytcho poses next to a volcanic bomb in the shadow of Bromo. The face masks reduce the amount of dust and sand we inhale on the hike.

Beside Bromo sits Mt. Batok, a sharp contrast to the volcanic caldera and surrounding plain with its verdant, vegetation-covered east sides. Though Batok is the Tengger caldera’s youngest volcanic cone, it is currently inactive. Life now flourishes on the side shielded from Bromo’s volcanic fury.

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Shielded from Bromo, the eastern side of Batok (right) is verdant and shows reduced erosion compared to the west side.

After an hour of hiking across the sandsea, we’re at the base of Bromo and the trail begins its ascent. Without any vegetative cover to hold sand and dirt, erosion here is extreme. The shallow streambeds that thread through the sandsea floor become ravines and canyons on Bromo’s sides that are six, ten, or twenty feet deep. They fan out on every side of Bromo, a vein-like network of valleys carrying water from the volcano’s surface during rain.

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Stoytcho picks his way through hills and valleys of erosion near Bromo’s base. We’re wearing jackets because we ran out of sunblock.
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Erosion on the slopes of Bromo.

Our hike up culminates in a final flight of stairs to the edge of Bromo’s crater. It’s a surprisingly mundane walk, punctuated only by our curiosity of why a smooth incline bifurcates the staircase all the way up. Maybe people drive their ojeks up here? Maybe they bring things up to the volcano on handcarts? Who knows?

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The final climb to Bromo’s crater.
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People climb the final stairwell to the edge of Bromo’s crater.

Then we’re at Bromo’s summit, staring into the smouldering heart of the beast we spend our whole lives walking around on with nary a thought to what goes on below. While it’s visually impressive, it’s the sound that gets us first: the hiss of the volcano’s offgassing is like the sound of a high-energy jet engine. The audiosonic spectacle is a manifestation of the power below Earth’s crust, the power that builds islands, makes mountains, and moves continents.

As we stare down into the crater, we can’t help but notice all of the items scattered along its sloping sides. At first it appears to be entirely trash, but when we squint we can make out bunches of flowers, herbs, woven charms, and food. These are offerings to the volcano god, the human attempt at appeasing this force of nature. While we’re staring down at them, a guy nearby takes notice. “They have a festival here,” he tells us in English, “where they throw things into the volcano, like food and chickens.” I nod and reply, “Looks like it.” The guy continues, “Men go down into the volcano, to there,” he points down the slope, at about the halfway point to the gaping hole in the Earth, “and people throw things and they catch. Sometimes they fall.” He gestures to the hole. I turn and stare at the guy, trying to ascertain whether he’s joking around with us. He’s not*.

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The view down into Bromo’s crater, with offerings in the foreground.
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An altar at the crater’s edge.

The barrier between us and Bromo’s crater is only two feet high, more a warning sign that the other side is dangerous rather than an actual barrier. Rising four feet over this barrier, Stoytcho is decidedly nervous walking beside it, but he bravely accompanies me from one end to another. Further along the crater’s rim, far beyond the barrier, I can make out a hiking couple. Maybe we’ll do that one day. But not today.

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People standing next to the concrete barrier illustrate how short it really is.
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And in some places, the barrier has collapsed entirely.
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Two people walk on the far side of Bromo’s crater.

We climb back down the stairs and start the hike back when *ahem* nature calls. I scramble down into one of the eroded ravines for privacy, and when I’m done I realize I can’t climb back out. I’m stuck navigating in the crevice for several meters, following it until there’s a twenty-foot drop, then doubling back and finding a slope gentle enough to clamber back up.

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Inside one of the ravines below Bromo’s crater.
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A twenty-foot drop in the ravine, probably a spectacular waterfall when it rains.
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Indifferent kind: plants grow above a twenty-foot drop in a ravine at Bromo’s base.

We rejoin the stream of tourists heading back to their tour jeeps and hotels, having climbed Bromo as it simmered uneasily beneath us. Hopefully it does the same tomorrow.

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A visitor shuffles his feet in the dust.
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Stoytcho crosses a dry streambed in the sandsea on our way back to Cemoro Lawang.

*Sort of. The only mention I can find of this is on the Wikipedia page of Mount Bromo under the culture section, which states that locals often climb down to retrieve objects. It may have evolved since then into a game where locals try to catch things when they’re thrown into the volcano, or it might have been a miscommunication.

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