The summit of Merbabu is 3,145 metres above sea level, making it one of the tallest mountains in Java.
Local hikers regularly climb Merbabu in a two-day hike, making camp at one of the shelters along the way. Foreigners more often climb this mountain in a day, starting from Kopeng either in the middle of the night to see sunrise or in the early morning to avoid having to trek in the dark.
This is a hike for the fit. The ascent is a six-hour haul from 1,600 metres straight to 3,100 metres with almost no respite. Most of the trek is exposed to the elements such as wind, rain and blistering sun as the small forest quickly gives way to mountain grasses and flowers, which provide absolutely no protection. At this point, being prepared for the weather is essential with long pants, long sleeves and a jacket a must and denim jeans a big no-no due to their inability to dry should they get wet.
There are no shops on the mountain, so all food and drink must be carted from nearby Kopeng; although there are said to be water sources along the way, its safety can't be guaranteed, as with most water sources in Indonesia. The descent of Merbabu only takes four hours, but is particularly punishing on the knees and fronts of thighs.
Most people will want to hire a porter to carry their stuff for them, but this does mean you will at times be waiting for your porter to catch up despite the likelihood of him being much fitter than you. Porters can be arranged for 250,000 rupiah from the post at Merbabu basecamp, 2.5 kilometres up the hill from Kopeng, but this should be done the day before the intended hike. The road from Kopeng to Merbabu basecamp can either be walked in 30 minutes or an ojek can take you there and back for 15,000 rupiah.
The friendly Ando who works for the local national park can also arrange porters upon SMS request. Simply text your request to him on (085) 3297 20365.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.