Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake and caldera on our planet. That makes it one of Sumatra’s most popular tourist destinations. What people usually do,
they come to the coastal town of Parapat, wherefrom they can take a boat to Pulau Samosir, the great volcanic island situated in the middle of the lake. Myself, as I arrived in Parapat, I immediately noticed the prices getting irrationally high and sensed the local peoples’ intentions straying somewhat from the customary sincerity of Sumatrans. Thus, notwithstanding I didn’t doubt a whit the uniqueness of the natural wonders Pulau Samosir has to exhibit, I decided not to venture at all across the waters, as many people do anyway and I did not see the reason why I should also be one of them. Instead, I chose to lead myself in a solitary expedition to the nearby great Mountain Pangulubao. And I definitely did not regret it, as it was going to be one of the best mountain adventures I had in quite some time… Splendid!
Mount Pangulubao, locally known as Bukit Manja, is situated by the east coast of Lake Toba. The starting point of the trek is found in the gardens of Taman Eden, a well-known conservation program, less than 20 km south of Parapat just by the main road. Having my backpack prepared, that morning, I first attempted to find some means of transport while strolling around at the center of the town. Many people showed eagerness to either take me there themselves or find someone else to do so, all of them in readiness to rip me off – they can literally ask you for whatever. I rather walked a few kilometers up to the main road where I easily found a local mini-bus to take me there for 10.000 IDR. No more than 20 m later I was dropped off in front of Taman Eden.
As I walked into the gardens, I soon found myself sitting amidst a very pleasant company of locals, drinking a cup of coffee and reveling in the sounding of the mirthful tunes a group of the people was producing with their flutes and other traditional instruments. There I also met with the owner of the gardens, Michael, who was born there, inherited the gardens from his father and, as he told me, he has merely ever left them at all, having reached the age of 40! He spoke good English, had a wide understanding of things and was keen to open any kind of discussion. I was quite struck to observe that guy’s composure and placidity of mind, and I was given many thoughts as of how some people may with such an easiness spend their entire life fixed in a place, while others, like myself, get suffocated when in stagnation – but that’s a totally different subject… The garden is loaded with plenty neat plantations and lots of unique plants and flowers, one could spend many hours wondering at. Even if one is not willing to get up the mountain, a visit to Taman Eden does definitely worth it.
If one’s orientation skills are not trustworthily keen, It’s highly recommended to hire one of the garden’s staff for a quite reasonable price, I’m quite sure, as I found this mountain to be excessively wild and the trail, at points, merely to be a trail at all. It’s also not very likely one should encounter any other hikers in the mountain. In my case, for the two days I stayed up I did not see absolutely anyone, and that was the best thing about this trip, as I had the entire mountain exclusively for myself, so the chance to experience truly profound isolation.
In order to get to the trailhead, one needs to follow the main path leading through the gardens till the trail is signposted as “hiking trail” at a point to the right. From there on the trail is obvious for some time and there are a few signs leading along the way to “Bukit Manja”. One of them does direct to the right off the obvious trail, which, if taken straight, leads after a short while to a deep and narrow gorge with a few waterfalls worth to be seen. Taking the right to “Bukit Manja”, the trail is then far from obvious, discernible enough though to easily lead to the next sign, nailed on the trunk of a pine and directing straight, that’s the last sign to be encountered. On the left of this sign, there is ditch starting, which might have been a trail at some time. If followed, zigzagging lavishly through the jungle and constantly pushing against ferns and shrubs, it will after 15-20 m lead to a rivulet. That’s the only water source to be found. After this point, one should carry ample quantity of water.
Back to the last sign, going straight you enter a pine-forest. There is nothing as a definite route I managed to detect. The forest is quite open making it possible to walk anywhere, thus a bit tricky to find the way through it. The best thing to do is to keep right by the side of the ravine and head steadily east until facing the steep slope of the mountain. Less than a 100 m from there, moving northwards along the foot of the slope, the trail may be seen ascending the steep slope in a straight line. This part of the trip is an arduous one. The angle of the slope is nearly right at points, the ground is generally muddy and slippery and, in many parts, roots or branches to grasp are totally lacking, obliging you to fall on fours and creep up. Finally, after an hour or two of exertion, you reach a small, flat glade signified with an Indonesian flag as the camping-ground at about 1700 AMSL. That’s where I spent my lonesome evening. There is some really amazing view to be marveled at to the surrounding mountains and down to the valley all the way to the lake. I also got briefly the company of a pair of eagles who came flying around me to perform their inspection. After the mountain moved facing the dark side of the sky, milliards of stars and the milky way made their appearance upon my head, coupled by the fewer, artificial lights twinkling down in the valley, and, so to contribute also, I made a big fire, which I stood staring at languidly for the course of several hours.
There was a bright beautiful morning I witnessed when I got up next morning. It was time to continue my trip up the mountain and the weather was to be my ally. Actually, that camping spot is the farthest people usually venture up the mountain, with the peak above scarcely receiving any visitors ever, as it definitely is a hard way. When one is to attempt it, a great idea is to not carry any big backpack, as I personally found out only after I had packed mine and started to bear it into the jungle, until I understood for good that it was not going to happen and I left it under a tree to pick it up on my way back. There is something like a trail leading up, though one should not really count on following it all the way. That part of the mountain is covered by thick, mossy jungle, and in order to cross through, one must get very tired, dirty and hurt. There are lots of compact thickets to push against boldly while getting profusely cut and pierced by thorns and splinters. Lots of massive fallen trunks to either clamber over or crawl underneath with chest and chin rubbing against the ground. Lots of steep, muddy passes or difficulties of any sort to somehow be negotiated… The way itself, even though the trail is not to be trusted, is fairly straightforward, as for the most part it just goes along the ridge. There is only one point where extra attention is needed, where, about half the way, two ridges coincide, with the wrong (south-north orientated) being the more apparent one when returning. About three hours after the camp, I finally made it to the point (a bit over 2100 AMSL) where a stone pillar and a rickety Indonesian flag are to be found. That’s not the actual highest point of the mountain, it is though the farthest anybody has made it. The actual highest (higher only for a matter of some few meters) point of the mountain is situated a few kilometers further away, and an extra day of well-equipped expedition would be needed in order to reach it. I only ventured for some short distance after the pillar, through a mossy forest of unbelievable beauty, till it was plainly impossible to continue without a machete, where I was obliged to return. That’s how that great adventure in the so wilder and fascinating Mount Pangulubao flowed on.