Yet another of North Sulawesi’s highly active volcanoes, Mt Soputan offers a first rate volcano trekking experience. This relatively young stratovolcano has erupted at least 39 times in the last 600 years, with some of those eruptions lasting well over a year. The most recent was in January 2016 which sent a huge ash plume 2km into the air and forced the evacuation of everyone within a 4km radius of the volcano.
Typically, Soputan eruptions are characterized by pyroclastic and lava flows, lava domes and the ejection of incandescent cinders and lava bombs. The frequent and fiery eruptions have left Soputan with a bare, black basalt cone that is quite striking against the blue sky and green foothills.
As you can imagine, climbing Soputan is rather hit and miss. At times the mountain is completely off limits and the best you’ll get is a view of the smoking peak from several kilometers away. At other times climbing is permitted but only partway up the massif to the first crater Kuntung Soputan Tua, or the smaller peak of Gunung Soput (1,535m), 600m opposite the north face of the Soputan summit. If you’re lucky, you might be able to bag the peak but some hikers have reported being turned back by an overheated surface, steaming vents blocking the way or shifting volcanic sand. Bottom line, conditions on the mountain change frequently and can be unpredictable so use your common sense and don’t take any silly risks. Safety over summit! Before climbing, check the latest conditions with the Indonesia Centre of Vulcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation and engage an experienced local guide.
If Soputan is open for climbing, the most common route is from either Pinabetengan or Touure villages (the trails converge), located on the northeast flanks at around 800m elevation. The trail passes through fairly open farmlands and plantation before entering a pine forest at around 1,200m. There are quite wonderful views all along the way which only get better once you reach the bare upper slopes at around 1,400m. It takes about 4 hours to reach the smaller peak of Gunung Soput, and most climbers are content to leave it at that as there are great views of Soputan’s smouldering peak from here. If you want to try for the summit, assuming you’ve ascertained it’s safe to do so, it’s another 2 hours of hard scrambling.
The Soputan trek can be comfortably completed in a day but if you want to camp out overnight, there is a small “basecamp” in the pine forest located at around 1,325m, about 3 hours into the hike. The nearest accommodation is at Tomohon, 31km and 1 hour drive to the north. You’ll need to grab a taxi or ojek from Tomohon to take you to either Pinabetengan or Touure villages.
A guide really is essential for this trek. You should be able to arrange one in Tomohon but you could probably find a local in either village willing to guide you. There are no permits or fees required but you are supposed to sign a hiker’s registration book before you head up the mountain, although in practise this requirement is fairly loosely enforced.