Sing a Sweet Siung…
3/7/11 - Sitting in the smoky haze of an internet café in downtown Jakarta, my girlfriend Lisa and I stumbled upon a surprisingly comprehensive website for climbing beta throughout the Indonesian archipelago. Perhaps this was the click we’d been waiting for? The Indonesian Climbing Federation (http://fpti.seacf.org/main.php) told of a hidden gem called Siung Beach – an area in West Java that is home to an alleged 250 sport routes, all lusciously pocketed limestone. Five minutes later, we booked two tickets on the next overnight train to Jogjakarta.
We spent a couple days in Jogja searching for elusive ‘magnesium’ and arranging transportation to Siung – it isn’t exactly on the tourist maps; you really have to want it before you can make its acquaintance. We spoke with a local tour company owner who explained our options for making the two hour trip: 1. A series of local buses, bemo (minivan bus), and ojek (motorcycle taxi); 2. A taxi he would provide for the bargain price of Rp 300,000. The price for the taxi sounded a little steep for our unemployed, nomadic climbing lifestyle – so we resigned to the puzzle of public transport. Fortune shined upon us as we walked by his office later that evening – an Austrian couple had stopped by that same afternoon – also asking about transport to Siung with the glint of bolt-clipping anticipation in their eyes. He hopped on a motorbike to retrieve Flo and Marina, and within a few minutes we decided to share a taxi and leave the next morning.
The two hour cab ride carried us through sprawling suburbs and rolling jungle hills down to roaring shores and towering walls. While we snacked on pisang goreng (fried bananas), our driver helped us arrange accommodation in a stilted wooden hut on the beach (not a soul spoke English in these parts). The sun had passed its peak for the day, so without further delay, we stowed our packs in our beachside home, grabbed our sport racks and raced toward the cliffs. Weathered blue signs stood at the trail head, pointing every which way and speaking of ‘Bloks A through K.’ This discovery brought us to the swift conclusion that the crag at Siung Beach is actually a compilation of many smaller crags tucked between crashing waves and undulating jungle. Time to explore…
In order to keep from crossing our own paths too many times, we tried our best to make a sequential survey. But with so many rocky nooks and ledgy crannies, it was fruitless to temper our excitement for long. Darting our way through the craggy terrain, scrambling over jagged piles of black limestone, dropping into vine-filled ravines, and poking our heads into the dark mouths of gaping caverns, we instantly reverted to thirteen year olds on a Goonies adventure. As we pressed on, we slowly uncovered a very unfortunate truth. In plain English, the bolts were rotten. It appeared that the price of stainless steel, coupled with heavily salted air, was a combination too lethal for this coastal crag to thrive. Every corner we turned, we were deterred by flakey brown spinners and corroded metal. It seemed our dreams of scaling these pristine seaside cliffs fell apart as easily as the hangers.
With the midday equator sun beating on our backs, feelings of hope and desperation intertwined deep in our hearts. But we continued on, determined to find the precious shiny things we traveled so far and long to clip. Working our way back into a pocket of a canyon and its promise of shade, we finally happened upon the single pitch lines of “Blok D.” Sunlit hangars gleamed beautifully in cloud-skewed rays, drilled into routes that we surmised were somewhere in the 5.10 range. Before my excitement had a chance to register in my heat-soaked brain, Flo was racking his draws. It appeared that along with our lost routes, we’d also found our rope gun.
Once our Austrian friend finished the dirty work of slinging an anchor through the crowning tufa, I decided to give it a go. The unique pockets and knobby ribs inspired movement seldom exercised at my hometown crag. After clipping bolt one, the limestone began asking me to reach deep into my toolbox – to pull out movement I had long forgotten. A three-fingered lie back into a deeply carved pocket brought me to bolt two. From there, I moved on to pinch a neighboring stalactite at bolt three before regaining my center with a stretching toe hook near bolt four. The final piece of the puzzle became a balancy, overhanging sequence with only the slightest ribbons of stone under my feet. With fingertips sliding ever so slowly from their shallow purchase, I felt that too deep a breath would bounce me back to bolt two in an instant. This is when I began to slightly freak – but while giving the face one more frazzled scan, I saw it plain as day: the mother of all underclings. I knuckled my hand deep into its grabby maw then finished with a desperate clip to the dynema. Here, we were content until the last of the day’s light dipped behind the neighboring cliffs. A sweet Siung indeed.
The Following Day…
Silken pink hue, then all was golden. The sun arrives early on the equator. Well-traveled rays found every crack and pinhole in the weathered ceiling and walls before having their morning dance on the cabin floor. I rolled to my back where the thin straw mat formed a salt-rimmed bond with my bare skin. As I rose to my elbows, I listened to the waves punishing the rocky shore just outside – Mother Nature’s alarm clock told me it was time. Spirits high, I headed down to the warung (shop/small café) for some nasi goreng (fried rice), hot java and Indonesian language lessons from the local cook. On to another day in Siung…
Having exhausted all the routes of ‘Blok D’ the previous day, we decided to take a further look at ‘Blok F’. Scrutinizing the twenty-five meters of limestone face, we slowly pieced together the nine stained and spinning hangers that dashed their way up what may be the finest line on the beach: Kuda Laut. This sensuous 5.11 was to be my first ever of this grade. With explosive waves rushing at the jagged coast below, the energy was palpable. I donned my harness and tuned in to the rhythm of the sea. The waves surged, then exploded in a cadence that buoyed my ascent. Just below the surface of the frothy green stew there was raw power, to be channeled through every extension of my body. Ebbing, flowing, floating – climbing.
Throughout the following few days, we uncovered eighteen more sport routes that we deemed ‘safe enough’ to climb. During this exploration, I couldn’t help but daydream what this area must have been like when it was first bolted over fifteen years ago. Ancient black limestone peppered with gleaming hangers, each route demanding reverence. Coupled with rampant shores, kilometers of caverns, and smiling locals, Siung must have been a place for a climber to truly lose himself. Armed with the proper skill set, hardware and respect for both the stone and local culture, anyone could help Siung rise again. The local villagers have opened their doors in encouraging climbers from across the globe to come and enjoy this extraordinary place. In moderate doses, this attention could bring a much needed boost to the local economy, improve local facilities and produce greater environmental awareness throughout the local community.
Next time you’re thinking about booking that ticket for another trip to Tonsai, consider something a little further off the grid – not only will you have the crag almost entirely to yourself (at least during the week), you’ll also be contributing to the development of what could be the next world-class climbing destination. And your time there could make a world of difference.
When to Go: The weather is at it’s finest in July and August. Though, you can expect fairly consistent weather throughout the year in the region. Try your best to avoid the weekends or you will encounter throngs of littering tourists from Jogjakarta who will assemble into audiences of no less than fifty around the base of the crag - each brandishing cameras and blazing cigarettes.
How to Get There: From Jogjakarta, it’s easiest to reach Siung by taxi. Call Nomad Travels (0274) 378085 for a lift. Total cost will run about thirty bucks to charter the whole taxi and will take around two hours of travel time. If you’re feeling adventurous (or if you’re a cheap bastard) you can piece the trip together yourself for about ten bucks per person. Take the city bus to the main terminal and hop on another bus to Wonosari. From here, take a bemo going toward Jepitu – but ask the driver to let you off in the village of Nangun. Once in the village, ask if one of the locals can deliver you to Siung via motorbike (it’s about five hilly km more). Bemo frequency is spotty at best– and you can expect the driver to take fifteen minutes of break time for every ten minutes of actual driving. Needless to say, this method may take about half the day, but what’s the rush? You’re in Indonesia!
Where to Stay: We caught our z’s at a community owned beach hut known as the ‘Basecamp Lodge.’ After extensive negotiations, we came to the price of fourteen dollars a night for the four of us, though it could easily fit 10-12 people if you make friends or go with a group. This included water (from the public mandis (combo squat toilet/wash basin) next door, a kerosene lamp, a padlock for the door, straw sleeping mats and a hard wood floor. All proceeds go directly to the village. Alternatively, crag side camping is abundant and free. We also heard rumors of a ‘climbers hut’ tucked a little ways off the main parking lot area – but never saw it and can’t speak to its facilities or rates.
What to Bring: You can grab a copy of the climbing guide by checking in with any of the climbing shops near the university in Jogja or by contacting the Indonesian Climbing Federation. An Indonesian phrasebook will be your only line of communication with the locals – very useful if you want a little variety in your meals. In addition to your typical sport rack, bring runners to sling that wonderful tufa. And last, but certainly not least, bring beer. Being a Muslim community, alcohol is not readily available in Siung - though consumption is not generally frowned upon.
What to Expect: Approximately 20 well-bolted sport routes ranging from 5.8 to 5.13b. Rare and mischievous long-tailed monkeys, plotting schemes from the treetops. One-dollar plates of food that will make you breathe fire. And scrappy local climbers who will dance up ridiculously overhanging 5.12’s…barefoot.