North Sumatra, Gunung Sibuatan

Written by on July 16, 2012 in Sumatra Mountains with 0 Comments

North Sumatra, Gunung Sibuatan



This Ribu is the highest in North Sumatra, and overlooks the northern end of Lake Toba. It could be considered the highest point of the remnants of the enormous Toba crater. Despite it’s height, very few hikers explore its wild slopes so it isn’t the easiest one to arrange a guide for. If you ask at your hotel, chances are that most people will look blankly at you and ask if you mean Sibayak or Sinabung! However, persevering is really worth it because once you have found a guide (try in Tongging or kampung Naga Linga at the foot of the mountain) you will be on your way to a truly undervalued and interesting mountain. Although the terrain can be frustrating at times, with countless tiny vines tripping you up and occasional spiny plants and razor-sharp grass, the views over the northern end of Lake Toba are stunning, plus you get to see Sinabung volcano from a different angle. The mountain is also home to a rich diversity of rare plant species, including a sizable number of pitcher plants and wild orchids.

The best approach to the mountain is from the village of Naga Linga, which is just 15 minutes from Merek and at an elevation of 1,500m which means less than 1,000m ascent to the peak. Villagers will probably be surprised to see anyone climbing the mountain – especially foreigners! You really do need a guide for this mountain because it is very easy to get lost, particularly on the lower slopes. A farm track leads towards the mountain past tomato, cabbage and potato crops. At the entrance to the forest, about 1km from the village, there are several trails but hopefully your guide will know the correct one to follow. Just a few metres into the jungle is a small river which is the last reliable source of water. The path of the river has been altered with the construction of a small dam by local people, presumably to divert water towards the crop fields.

From here, the trail leads up through forest and is very unclear and your guide may well need to use a machete to clear the way. Admittedly, this section of the hike is rather tedious but after a couple of hours you will be nearing an elevation of 2,000m. This is where you find yourself on a narrow ridge of small shrubs covered in moss. The vegetation has changed completely. Down to the left is a steep drop into a narrow, deep valley between this and another of Sibuatan’s ridges. To the right you should be able to enjoy a reasonable panorama of farmland below. Looking back down the trail you should begin to catch a glimpse of the huge expanse of water that is Danau Toba, plus Gunung Sipiso-piso to the left of the lake. This mountain is bald except for the very top where there is still a little bit of jungle left. There is a local legend telling of why Gunung Sipiso-piso looks the way it does – with just a small ‘hat’ of forest left on top. Ask your guide if he knows.

The trail at this point is slightly easier to follow, as there is really only one way to go on this ridge – up! From about 2,000m elevation you will begin to see clusters of rare pitcher plants from time to time. The only other instance that my guide could remember of another foreigner having climbed this mountain was when two Germans came here – over a decade ago – to do some research on the pitcher plants. As you do battles with the tiny vines that seem to trip you up every couple of minutes, the panorama opens out quite spectacularly. To the right, you should be able to see Sinabung and Sibayak volcanoes near Brastagi and each meter up the mountain improves the view back down towards Lake Toba and Pulau Samosir. The only decent places to camp are all above 2,200m, where there are expanses of flattish areas covered in very low-growing vegetation. This would be a great place for watching sunrise and sunset.

As you get above 2,400m, you enter another section of dense, mossy forest. It is very damp in here. You will soon have reached the ‘east peak’. It is not marked and there is no view – just a plateau of mossy forest with a small trail twisting round old branches of stunted trees. This peak is actually just a few metres lower than the true peak, the west peak, which lies another 800 metres to the west. There are a few pieces of string tied to branches by the very occasional party of student hikers from Medan, but in poor weather you will probably need your compass.

It takes about 30 minutes to reach the west peak from the east peak. The trail drops down slightly into another open area of low scrubland before ascending so a rather more shapely peak which is crowned with a cement triangulation pillar with ‘Sec. Triang. No 191′ written on it. This is from Dutch days and marks the true high point of the mountain. Again, there is no view from the true peak of the mountain, but you should congratulate yourself on having bagged a very infrequently climbed mountain. All in all, assuming you did this as a dayhike with small packs, it should have taken you about 5 hours to reach this point.

You can be back down at Naga Linga village in between 3 and 4 hours, including time to pause on the higher slopes to admire the stunning view of Lake Toba, Gunung Sipiso-piso, Sinabung and Sibayak. From Naga Linga it is just 45 minutes back to Tongging, or 20 minutes to the Taman Simalem resort. If staying in Tongging, do call off at the Sipiso-iso waterfall where you can enjoy views down to Tongging and the lake and also take a decent photo of the waterfall with Gunung Sibuatan behind it.

Bagging information by Daniel Quinn (September 2011)


Getting there

If you arrive at Medan airport, walk the 100 metres or so out to the main road (to avoid the airport ripoff taxis) and grab an ojek to take you to Padang Bulan. From here buses run frequently to Brastagi (2 hours) and will only cost Rp 10,000. From Brastagi, take another angkot to Kaban Jahe and change for a third angkot to Merek. Then get an ojek to Naga Linga (or a hotel in Tongging). Bagus Taxis also operate throughout the region so it may be worthwhile getting touch with them to see if they can arrange a convenient drop-off / pick-up rather than having to rely on public transport.


Plenty of places to stay in Tongging. The best budget one is Roman Sinasi. There is also the luxury Taman Simalem resort signposted ’8km from Merek’.


None required but take a photocopy of your passport photo page just incase.

Water sources

Only reliable at the beginning of the hike at the entrance to the forest where there is a small river. It is best to take sufficient supplies with you.

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