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Ascent of Ramelau on 2019-08-31

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Saturday, August 31, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Ramelau
    Location:East Timor
    Elevation:9721 ft / 2962 m

Ascent Trip Report

Mt Ramelau (9,721ft)

Highpoint of Timor Leste/East Timor

Eric and Serge

Aug 31, 2019

Link to full trip report and pictures.

I was in southeast Asia bagging country highpoints, and next on the list was Timor Leste (formerly known as East Timor). Timor Leste is one of the newest countries in the world, gaining independence from Indonesia in 2000 after being a Portuguese territory until 1975. It underwent some instability in the early 2000s, and had UN peacekeepers stationed in country for some years, but is now perfectly safe to travel to. 

 I flew out of Hanoi in the afternoon Aug 29, arriving in Bali, Indonesia that night around 2am. There i met up with Serge to spend the night in a hotel close to the airport. 

The next day we took a morning flight, landing in Dili, Timor Leste around 1130am.


Dili has a small airport with infrequent flights, and missing one of the infrequent flights could potentially mean waiting another 24 hours for the next one. I had fresh in my mind an ambitious winter highpointing trip 6 months earlier where I missed a critical flight and a cascading failure scenario unfolded where I almost had to skip a few country highpoints. 

Accordingly, this time I tried to build in some buffer time for Timor Leste to give a higher chance of success. I gave us 72 hours on the ground, which gave extra time in case a flight leg was missed. 

I had read from Lyngve Skredes report that it was about a 5 hour drive to the Ramelau trailhead on rough roads, and might require 4wd. It is possible to get most of the way on public transportation, to the town of Maubisse, but there is no regular public transport the remaining 18km to the trailhead. Without your own vehicle this must be walked or hitch hiked. Though traffic is infrequent. It may also be possible to get a motorcycle taxi from Maubisse to the trailhead. 

I wanted to have the highest chance of success in the time I had so decided to rent a vehicle to drive to the trailhead. Rentlo rents 4wd vehicles in Dili, though it is kind of expensive. Unfortunately I haven't driven a manual car in a few years so wasn't confident I could get up myself, but rentlo said I could hire a driver for $50. So I emailed them and reserved a prado 4wd for $150 per day for two days.

Serge was able to join and volunteered to drive and put his well-honed off roading skills to the test. 

From the airport we took a $5 taxi about a km to the rentlo office, eager to start driving. I had reserved the 4wd prado for 8am the next morning in case we got delayed, but we hoped we could pick it up early.

Unfortunately I hadn't completely done my homework for this trip. It turns out Aug 30 is referendum day holiday in Timor Leste and essentially all businesses are closed. There was nobody at rentlo, so we had to wait for the next morning.

I had booked us at the Timor Lodge, which is right next to rentlo. The lodge is the former UN compound, with all buildings converted to sleeping rooms, and the rentlo building is inside also. 

We got a $40 studio and dropped our stuff off. (They also have $20 small single rooms that I didn't see listed online). With the rest of the afternoon we walked into town to buy groceries at the mall, the only shop in town open, then went to bed early. Serge unfortunately had to adjust to a 12hr time difference from Montreal while I luckily only had a two hour difference from vietnam. 

On Aug 31 we walked over to rentlo just before 8am. I saw their cheapest 4wd vehicle was actually a Toyota landcruiser for $135 per day, so we took that for two days, plus rentlo insurance $20 per day with $500 liability. 

The landcruiser was perfect with lots of clearance and huge back seats to sleep on. Serge took the wheel and we started out of Dili at 815am. 

The pavement soon ended as we ascended out of town, and the high clearance was required to get over the deep holes and ruts of the broken pavement sections. We were stopped briefly for some road repairs, but then surprisingly at about 30km from Dili the road turned into fresh, smooth pavement. It continued like this another 40km to Maubisse where we arrived at 1045am.

We continued a few km past Maubisse then turned right at the green road sign that said Ramelau. The road from here was steep, narrow, and a mix of dirt and rock. It required high clearance but not 4wd. 

After 16km we reached the village of Hatu Builico, where it is possible to stay in a guest house if desired. We planned to camp, so continued driving a few more km to the trailhead.

This last section of road was much steeper and rougher. Somehow Serge managed to get up it without engaging 4wd, though there were a few places the wheels slipped. So officially we used 2wd the whole way dili to the trailhead. Granted, this was the dry season and I expect 4wd would be required after any rain falls. 

We arrived around 1215 for a 4.5hr drive. It would be closer to 4 hours without the road construction delay.

We parked next to the pink entrance gate, ate some lunch, then packed up to go. The trailhead is next to a big flat field with a few food stands. One guy came over to ask if we wanted a guide, but we said no. 


We headed up around 1pm. The trail started with a nice stone staircase, then changed to dirt. In a couple places there were turnoffs but we always stayed on the largest, least steep trail. I think the turnoffs were mostly shortcutting switchbacks. 


At one point we passed a wooden church with pews outside. By 245 We reached the summit, along with a few local Timorese hikers. 


The top was marked by a statue of Mary and a big flagpole. The locals lent us their Timor Leste flag for some pictures, and we admired the view.


We could probably see most of the country up there, including the coasts on the north and south, though it was very hazy. Forest fires were burning nearby, contributing to the haze. 


We soon turned back down, and stopped for a slight detour to hike another nearby peak that had a big white summit pillar on it. We referred to this peak as Ramelau Southwest peak since we didn't know it's name.


On the way down we passed a dozen hikers going up with overnight gear. That was a good idea since they probably got to see sunset and sunrise from the top. 


By 430 we were back at the trailhead, and there were at least 100 more people there!  It was a saturday night of a long weekend, so a popular time for Ramelau. Serge and I appeared to be the only tourists. It looked like most people took motorcycles up or walked from Hatu Builico. Though some came up in a few big yellow dump tracks that apparently act as taxis between Maubisse and the trailhead. 


There were two official-looking men near the food stands that asked us to sign in a visitor log book and pay $1 each to camp. In the book most people wrote that they were students from Dili. 


It was kind of noisy all evening and night with lots of campfires and music, but we crawled in the back of the landcruiser, put in earplugs, and went to sleep. I was pretty chilly with no sleeping bag (I was trying to travel light) but was ok when I put on all my clothes. It is austral winter in Timor Leste in August and the summit supposedly gets down to freezing at night. 


The next morning we headed out around 8am. Most people had already left to see sunrise, but a few were hiking up later and I gave them some of our extra food. 


We wanted to get some more hiking in, so drove east to a prominent peak we'd seen from the summit. We parked at a pass then hiked along a ridge, with some bushwhacking, a mile to the summit. There was a huge metal cross up there that had fallen over. We had great views of Ramelau across the valley, and of Hatu Builico below. 


We had time to tag one nearby peak, then started driving down at 1030am. There was no road construction this time so we made it back to Dili by 2pm. 


We had a few hours left til the vehicle was due at 5pm, so after a quick lunch at burger king we headed over to another summit. (Interestingly burger king does not serve beef on Sundays, perhaps because 98% of the country is catholic). 


Across the bay from town is a huge statue called Cristo Rei on a hill overlooking the water and we headed there. It was a fun hike up to the statue with many other people, and has a great view of Dili. 


After the hike we dropped off the car at rentlo, then ate dinner and stayed at the Timor Lodge again.


The next day we took the first flight out to Bali at around 120pm heading for our next highpoint, Kinabalu. 


Future recommendations:

If you go in the dry season i recommend saving money by renting a 2wd automatic rav4 from rentlo. This would be cheaper and could get to the trailhead. In the wet season it could still probably get to Hatu Builico, then you could walk the last few km to the trailhead. A car could likely not make it because of the deep holes in the road. I didn't see any cars once outside of Dili. 


The peak could be done with a 24hr layover coming from bali. You would land at 1130am, start driving, get to the trailhead by 4pm, do the hike, camp at the trailhead. Then drive back the next morning to catch the 120pm flight. But if you miss the flight in to Dili you would be out of luck for getting Ramelau, so a contingency day could be wise. 
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