Long trek up Mount Argopuro

Long trek up Mount Argopuro
PHOTO: Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures

At the top of Mount Argopuro - the highest of 19 peaks in the Argopuro mountain range in East Java - there is only a heap of stones with a red-and-white flag fluttering on a casuarina tree and several notice boards marking the summit.

From the top, the sight is different from the peaks of other mountains with their gorgeous background scenery, veil of low clouds or crater lakes.

But climbers enjoy the atmosphere of Argopuro's peak at an altitude of 3,088 meters despite its lonely environment with only casuarina trees and small groups of climbers.

Climbers generally spend about 15 to 20 minutes at the summit after days of trekking, taking group photos before descending to hike to Arca or Hyang peak and Rengganis peak, the other two major summits, while the rest cannot be explored because there are no access trails.

The Arca/Hyang peak also only features a damaged statue with stones around it and casuarina trees. The Rengganis peak features the ruins of a Hindu temple where the smell of sulfur is strong owing to the summit being composed of sulfuric rock.

The mountain range gives an impression of mystery. Unlike other mountains, climbers are faced with stretches of trails extending from one highland to another, while the three popular peaks are not readily visible from a distance because of the mountainous terrain. The savannas, forests and steep banks demand physical exertion, patience and co-operation.

The forest on the Argopuro highland, totaling 147,000 hectares, including the three peaks, partly constitutes the Hyang Highland Wildlife Sanctuary, covering 14,177 hectares in four regencies - Probolinggo (7,452 ha), Jember (4,375 ha), Bondowoso (1,275 ha) and Situbondo (1,075 ha).

With the whole range situated between 1,900 and 3,088 meters above sea level, Argopuro is flanked by two mountains with special features, which are Mount Semeru (Mahameru) with the highest peak in Java (3,676 m) and Mount Raung (3,344 m) with its very difficult trails.

Meanwhile, Argopuro also holds the record of having the longest route in Java with the longest time to scale. Climbers can take four to five days to reach the peaks of Argopuro, Arca/Hyang and Rengganis.

Argopuro is accessible from Baderan to Bremi or the reverse. Most climbers take the route from Baderan village, Sumber Malang district in Situbondo regency to Bremi village, Krucil district in Probolinggo regency.

"We prefer the Baderan-Bremi route because there are many places and water springs for camping," said Ridho, a climber from Tangerang, Banten.

There were also Eko and Erwin from Surabaya (East Java), Kenyo and Ebo from Jakarta, Fidel from Makassar (South Sulawesi), Satria from Surakarta and Agung from Semarang (Central Java). Satria and Eko, who have climbed Argopuro four times and twice respectively, led the entire group.

Cikasur, a vast plain well over the halfway point known for its savanna, is said to have served as an airstrip in the Dutch colonial period. However, part of its runway was destroyed by Japanese troops when they occupied Indonesia.

Climbers paused for a drink at Rawa Embik (marsh) and collected water for the ascent to Selonceng, another open area where they could stop for a rest before proceeding to the three summits of the Argopuro mountain chain.

On the way from Rawa Embik to Selonceng, there was a field of edelweiss. The fascinating mountain plants with the so-called eternal flowers reach a height of 2 to 3 meters.

Exhaustion was no longer felt as the group finally arrived at Rengganis, after previously scaling Argopuro and Arca peaks.

With joyful faces, the stony path of Aengkenik, a stream located between Cisentor and Hutan Lumut, was traversed.

By dusk, we were approaching Hutan Lumut, a forest with various large and soaring trees growing densely, preventing sunlight from reaching the ground, thus leaving the area dim during daytime.

About 1.5 hours' walk through the gloomy forest with head lamps led us to Taman Hidup, with its lake on the outer fringes of Hutan Lumut.

Most hikers enjoyed the lake after days of a grueling trek. Taman Hidup was also the last stop as it is close to the mountain's exit. Taman Hidup in fact leads to Bremi village, Probolinggo. Along the way to this village, the trail goes downhill, passing through Hutan Damar, a forest with thousands of resin-bearing trees in neat rows.

Argopuro, with its longest climbing trail in Java, is also a source of many mystical tales, including the famous story of Dewi Rengganis, a figure widely believed to be present on Rengganis peak.

Rengganis is more familiar to Baderan villagers than Argopuro. It's the name of a legendary princess kept alive in the hearts of people living on the slopes of Argopuro. According to local belief, the summit is where Dewi Rengganis stays and reigns.

A Baderan elder recounted a story passed down by ancestors saying that Dewi Rengganis was a daughter of the king of Brawijaya and one of his concubines. As her position was not recognised, in the company of a chief minister and loyal followers, she fled the kingdom and set up a palace on the peak.

The ruins found on this peak are believed to be those of a 12th century Hindu shrine. The Rengganis site indicates a structural design of prehistoric and latter classical periods in Java, with walls around what represents a shrine more than a temple.

"Mystical lore indeed prevails in Argopuro. As we reach the first water spring from Baderan, there's a place for offerings in a corner.

Passersby put cigarettes or money there, a tradition also followed by climbers. We may wonder who they're making the offering to, but that's the reality," said Sam Haji from the Argopuro Natural Resources Conservation Center in Baderan.

"When local residents enjoy bumper harvests especially, from their coffee and clove farms, they throng Rengganis peak in large groups to pray and present offerings.

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