Rising high above the Pasumah Plain near Pagar Alam, Gunung Dempo (3,173m) is the highest peak in the southern Barisan mountain range. This stratovolcano has erupted at least 18 times since records began in 1817, the most recent in 2009. The eruptions have been mostly small to moderate explosions but they’ve left no less than seven distinct craters and 400m wide crater lake cradled within the caldera complex.
Bagging the Dempo summit is a moderately challenging 1-2 day trek, popular with local students and mountaineering groups. As a result, there are several fairly well defined trails to the summit and around the crater complex. Of the four summit trails, the two most popular approach from the east, beginning in the tea plantations near the tiny villages of Kampung Empat and Tugu Rimau, about an hour by ojek from the nearest town Pagar Alam.
In terms of scenery there’s not a lot to pick between these two trails as they are quite close together. Tugu Rimau starts a little higher up on the mountain (1,850m) so it’s shorter but it’s also steeper. You could consider ascending via the Kampung Empat route and descending via Tugu Timau. Both trails are well trodden to the point of being badly eroded in some places requiring some scrambling over exposed roots and slippery sections. Once you leave the tea plantations and enter the forest there’s a definite upward trajectory resulting in burning thigh muscles and some lung busting sections but the cool, clear air and pretty lichen covered foliage makes a for pleasant hiking.
It takes around 5 hours to break out of the thick foliage and get your first decent views and a glimpse of the true summit through the trees as you reach false summit (3,043m); a gnarly hillock known as Bukit Dempo. It’s here that the Kampung Empat and Tugu Rimau trails converge. After the False summit, the trail drops down onto a pleasant plateau known as Plataran Valley. Presumably an ancient crater, there’s plenty of flat space, a small creek providing a reliable water source and plenty of shelter from the wind so it’s an ideal campsite for those doing Dempo over two days.
From Plataran, it’s a gentle 1 hour climb to the crater rim overlooking the crater lake. Don’t be tempted to descend into the crater as the walls are steep and crumbly but you can follow the trail around the rim to the right to reach the true summit. On a clear day, views extend to Gunung Patah in the east and westward to the Bengkulu coastline.
To summit Dempo and return in a single day would take 12 hours at a fairly steady clip and you would need to make an early start; 2:00am if you want to be on the peak for sunrise. Obviously this is only an option for super fit, hardcore trekkers.
Officially a permit is required to climb Dempo, obtainable from the state owned tea plantation headquarters. In practise it doesn’t seem to be uniformly enforced, however you may need to pay an entry fee to the plantation of around 5.000Rp. Guides aren’t essential or necessary as the trail is so well defined but you may need help to find the trailhead.
Basic hotel accommodation is available in Pagar Alam or in several bungalows and villas dotted around Dempo foothills among the tea plantations. Any if these should be able to hook you up with a guide and ojek transport to the trailhead. Pagaralam is 169km (4.5hrs) southeast of Bengkulu, 138km (3.5hrs) south of Curup or 104km (2.5hrs) southwest of Muara Enim. The town is connected to these cities by public bus services.