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Climbs of Passion: Exploring Ketep Pass

Posted by Bryan Cockrell on
Climbs of Passion: Exploring Ketep Pass

It took me a long time living in Indonesia before I was able to tick Magelang off my cycling to-do list. When I finally did what a hidden gem I discovered the whole area around Magelang to be. If you are willing to get off the beaten path to explore, and aren’t afraid of getting lost and steep climbs then you are up for a treat. 

Mornings in Magelang are stunning; it gets light early, the air is cool, and a thin fog covers the ground. It is so serene that you want to freeze time and savor the moment. However, for this particular morning cycling awaits. 

My plan was to go for an easy 1.5-hour ride and I wanted to stay off the main road. I trusted Google Maps to navigate me the shortest route up to Ketep Pass, in the shadow of mount Merbabu. The route looked suitably hilly without being crazy, or so it looked on the map. 

temple project cycling gunung merbabu

A quiet, narrow, two-lane road takes me out to the countryside with not a car in sight. The serene morning scene is accentuated by the occasional motorbike, a farmer tending his fields, kids waking up for Saturday school, and the proverbial chickens crossing the road.

I don't notice as the gradient quietly picks up. A welcome downhill provides a brief rest as I cross a small river, and suddenly I'm running out of gears. I didn't expect to climb standing up so early. Surely it is a short power climb. My Garmin shows the gradient is in the high teens occasionally pushing above 20%. The road twists, and the expected flatter section doesn't come.

The gradient picks up in steps again. I try to recover on the 8% sections and notice that I'm zig-zagging to make the climbing easier. All the while I am surrounded by stunning mountains - Merapi, Merbabu, and their lesser known siblings. It makes the pain in my legs almost bearable as the climb keeps going up and up.

temple project cyclilng grabag kopeng

It’s funny how ride stats averages tend to hide the real story. My climb seems to be only 10km with a 7.2% average gradient. But the numbers hide the typical Java road power steps which are anything between 100 meters to 1-kilometer-long with 15-20% gradients. This morning’s climb in particular features a 4km section with a 12% average!

And this is just one of hundreds roads that climbs up slopes on Merapi and Merbabu on the east side of Magelang. And I haven’t even mentioned a mystic Dieng plateau which is over 2,000m up, west of Magelang! It is definitely a climber’s paradise.

I would recommend a compact chainring (50/34) paired to a 28 cassette. I was using a 52/36 chainring and the steep climbs were painfully slow at 50rpm.

The course: The downhills are steep and twisty. Make sure your breaks are set up well. When climbing don’t forget to look around, the view is amazing and adds to the entire experience. 

How to get there: I would recommend going to Magelang via Semarang. Semarang is underrated as most tourists would go via Yogyakarta, but it is a wonderful city with lots of character, great food, and is very hilly. 

Where to stay: If your budget allows you may consider Mesastila Resort. It offers a top-level experience including a great spa which is perfect for your post-climbing workout. Otherwise there are plenty of good enough hotels in Magelang (just check Hotel Puri Asri is conveniently located and offers great views.

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