Having erupted at least 30 times since the late 18th century, the twin volcanoes of Mount Lokon and Mount Empung are among the most active in Indonesia. At 1,580m and 1,340m high respectively, they’re not particularly high but they are significant landmarks dominating the Tondano Plain just 10km due south of Manado. They’re also one of the most popular treks in North Sulawesi; at least when they’re not erupting.
To be specific, eruptions over the last 200 odd years have emanated from a crater complex situated on the 2km wide saddle separating the two peaks. Historically, eruptions from the so called “Tompaluan” crater are small to moderate explosions resulting in minor earth tremors, ash plumes and occasional bursts of incandescent material and pyroclastic flows. Tompaluan is not to be underestimated though. A Swiss hiker was killed from an eruption in 1991 which also forced thousands of locals to flee their homes. Since 2011, locals have been evacuated once or twice each year, sometimes waiting weeks for the all clear to return home. The most recent evacuation occurred in May 2015 and at the time of writing, April 2016, residents were again on standby to evacuate. Needless to say, for anyone living in the shadow of the mountains, the prospect of a major eruption is never far from their minds.
As you would expect, the volcano is under constant watch by a Volcanological Centre located in nearby Tomohon. Provided they give the all clear, trekkers can head up the mountain to the Tompaluan crater for an up-close encounter with this volatile behemoth. The starting point for the trek is the small city of Tomohon, around 6km south east of Lokon, but you can grab an ojek to take you right up to the foot of mountain using village laneways and farm tracks. From the base of the mountain, you can complete the return trek up to Tompaluan comfortably inside 3-4 hours.
Alternatively, you can complete a combined Tompaluan and Mt Empung summit trek in 5-6 hours. The combined trek usually starts to the west of Kinilow village, 5km north of Tomohon along the main road from Manado-Tomohon Road. After climbing to rim of Mt Empung’s summit crater, head across the saddle to Tompaluan then either return along the same route or head down towards Tomohon.
For either trek you’ll need a guide which the folks at the Volcanological Centre or any of the accommodation providers in Tomohon can help you find. Alternatively, the treks can be easily undertaken as a half day trip out of Manado. There are numerous private guides or tour companies offering Lokon-Empung trekking packages. Public buses ply the rout between Manado and Tomohon throughout the day every day of the week.