Mount Rinjani dominates the landscape of the Indonesian island of Lombok. At 3726m it is Indonesia’s second highest volcano, and is a popular destination for thrill seekers and people who like a challenge.
An experience we were yet to achieve was a challenging volcano/mountain trek, so Mount Rinjani fitted the bill perfectly.
We arrived at Bangsal harbour from Gili Air where we were collected by the trekking company Yannick Tours (with whom we had booked our trip with). Our destination was the mountain village of Senaru, where we were spending the first night before leaving for our trek.
That afternoon our local guide Sapa, took us to the beautiful Air Terjun Sendang Gila waterfalls. Being a Saturday it was very busy with locals and tourists alike, many whom were braving the cold water.
The walk was a little tricky – passing through fast moving shallow rivers with slippery stones underfoot. We also used a man-made tunnel into which a river ran through to walk part of the way. We paid a local lad who had a torch to lead the way, and it proved to be a fun alternative to the pathway!
The forest surrounding us was also full of life – monkeys galore swinging through the trees which as always is wonderful to see.
So after our pleasant afternoon trip to the waterfalls, it was an early night in preparation for our 4 day trek which commenced the following morning!
We were up and ready for 7.30am, Rinjani looming in the background of our homestay basking in the morning sunlight. It was quite surreal to think we would be at the summit (all being well) the same time on the next day.
We met our guide and two porters (Renguo, Sapa and Birani) and were driven to the registration centre at Sembalun Village which is also the starting point for all trekkers. At this point I should just mention what a fantastic job the porters and our guide did throughout the four days – these guys carry all the camping equipment, food and water, sleeping mats and bags for five people on bamboo across their shoulders. Remember that they carry this equipment all the way to the crater rim (2639m) – a bloody tough job and for that you have to give them huge credit.
We set off at about 8.30am, raring to go and full of energy, although it is fair to say we were also quite nervous about what was to come!
The initial 3 hours were comfortable – walking over rolling hills with good pathways.
We stopped for lunch at 11.30am at about 1500m. The next part of the trek is where it got much tougher – the hills became much steeper, and the ground much less stable. The tracks were very dusty and slippery, and because you are gaining altitude your breathing becomes faster due to the lower amounts of oxygen in the air. There was one particular hill which proved to be the biggest challenge of the day, and that was ‘Unbearable Hill’.
Unbearable Hill is aptly named – it was truly a taster of things to come! It was very steep, the ground precariously slippery, and it took a long time to reach the top. As you slowly make your way up you suddenly realise you have reached the clouds – the views were breathtaking. It was a huge relief to finally reached the top of Unbearable Hill, and to our excitement we realised that this was were we would be camping for the night – Sembalun Crater Rim camp, 2639m.
Now this is most definitely a campsite ‘with a view’. We were literally on the crater rim, amoungst the clouds. Natural beauty at its best.
However I must also discuss with you the downside that Rinjani suffers from – human waste and litter. When I say human waste I honestly mean it in the literal sense – there were some areas your nose told you to avoid. Litter was everywhere – plastic (in our opinion one of mans’ worst creations), food waste, tissue paper. All down the side of the crater rim you can see the litter, a stark contrast to the untouched areas where the trekking tracks don’t venture. The shrub around the edge of the crater rim continuously rustled with rats and no wonder really it was easy pickings for them.
From reading up a little about it, recently tour companies have become much more stricter about collecting their waste during trips, and when advertising their packages many make it known they bring all their litter back down with them.
Rinjani is a well explored and trekked volcano, and has been for many years. I feel with this in mind, and the fact Indonesia isn’t well known for its’ waste management (again we have the issue of a developing and predominantly poor country so of course they lack the financial backing to promote suitable waste management) has lead to this huge build up of waste. Some of you may argue that all trekking should be stopped to let the area recover – and yes in a perfect world that would be viable. However that would mean many local people would be out of jobs – all the guides, porters, trekking shop and accommodation owners, restaurant and shop staff – all these people who directly benefit from the tourism that Rinjani brings to the economy. Something needs to change that’s for sure, but you cannot take these hard working people’s livelihoods away from them. I shall leave you all with that conundrum…
So, you may be wondering about our ‘toilet’?! Well I can tell you it was incredibly basic – a hole dug into the earth which was covered up when we moved on to our next base. We had a ‘toilet tent’ which gave us privacy, and it wasn’t very high so you had a nice view! No showers obviously so it was baby wipes to the rescue!
Our tent was absolutely fine, we had warm sleeping bags and decent sleeping mats. It got very cold once the sun disappeared so we were pleased to find we were warm enough at night.
It was a very early start on day 2 – at 2am we awoke to a coffee and a light breakfast ready to head off and conquer the summit at 2.30am.
Layered up and with head torches at the ready, we joined the sleepy precession of fellow trekkers and guides. The start of the trail wasn’t too bad, it was steep but the shingle was quite steady under your feet. This upwards trail probably lasted for a good couple of hours, and it really started to get quite tiring. Our guide near the start of the trail began to feel light headed so we stopped for a drink, Paul’s heart was also hammering away at quite a pace. At one point I felt quite nauseous so again we stopped until I felt better to continue. This is all altitude related issues, and isn’t unusual at all but you just need to take it easy, one step at a time. Our moto was ‘slowly slowly’ – we were not in a race, it was just a matter of personal achievement so as long as we completed the task at hand, it didn’t matter how long we took.
Finally we reached a flatter stretch of ground which was a huge relief after such a slow climb. This wasn’t to last long though, when we approached the last part of the trail.
This last part was by far the hardest trekking we had ever done. We were already knackered, our legs moving on autopilot. We could see the sun beginning to rise, however it was still so cold.
When we stopped to calm our heart rates down and have some water we would get so cold your only feasible option was to continue! The substrate under our feet had become very crumbley, you would take one step forward and two steps back. At this point it is much more than just physical strength, it’s being mentally strong too. All you want to do is say ‘screw this i’m knackered, cold and hungry’ but you’ve got this far! You cannot allow yourself to give up! At one point I literally threw myself onto the side of the path I was so done.
I could have just closed my eyes and slept then and there. I’m so thankful I had Paul there to help motivate me again! That is a huge bonus, doing something like this with your partner/friends/family – you can guarantee you’ll need that motivational boost from someone at some point during this type of experience.
We both finally made it to the summit (3726m) 3 hours after leaving base camp (with plenty of stops on the way) witnessing sunrise enroute. We had done it! It honestly was a brilliant feeling of achievement – I actually couldn’t believe I’d managed to do it. However at this point I must admit I would have loved a ski lift back down to base camp! The thought of having to walk all the way down was an exhausting one to say the least.
So, we made it back to base camp with a 5 hour walk already under our belts and it was only 8.30am! After breakfast we left the porters to pack away the equipment and continued to our next camp for the night which was at the crater itself. The walk down was incredibly steep and rocky, and it was made extra challenging because of the thick fog which had developed. Again hats off to the porters who caught us up very quickly, and with an average of 35kg across their shoulders expertly made their way down the slippery rocky path and put me to shame! I walk like a granny when it comes to this kind of trail, so I was very slow…I was just so afraid of slipping over and breaking a bone!
There is still a small part of the volcano which is live, and there is a hot springs here which is heated by the sulphur coming from the volcano. We went straight to the hot springs to have a bath, and wow it was wonderful! This is in fact our first bath in about 9 months, and our first (and only) opportunity for a wash during the trek. It was a bit strange as the water was yellow in colour (due to the sulphur) – no soap suds or bath bombs here!
Many locals were also camped alongside the lake, most of whom were fishing for carp. Again the litter was present in huge amounts.
After a great nights sleep we awoke to very achy limbs, however the fog had lifted so at least we could see where we were going again! After breakfast we started another 7 hour hike back up the crater, our aim was to camp as close to the ‘finished line’ as possible so we didn’t have far to walk on the final day! The walk up was very challenging, more so because our legs were just totally worn out. Mine were just not working properly, I felt like I had aged over night! I started the trek aged 29 and now felt like a 79 year old! My body has never felt so exhausted before. However no one else was going to get me back were they so I had to pull myself together and just get on with it.
We arrived at Sanaru Crater Rim (2641m) after a couple of hours of hard trekking, the started to wind our way down to our campsite. The habitat was quite different on this side of the crater – it was more thick forest rather than the grassy hills we originally walked up on day 1.
We had also been joined by a dog called ‘Mimbo’ who seemed to be familiar with the guides. He took a particular liking to Renguo so joined our team for the day!
The pathway became much more easier too (thank God) – more steady underneath your feet and less steep. We continued through the forest until an hour before sunset, then stopped to set up camp for the night. The forest was alive with exotic bird song and monkeys crashing through the canopy, it was a great spot to camp. So, day 3 was complete after about 8 hours of trekking.
Day 4 was a peice of cake! It made the extra hour we had walked the previous day worth the pain in our legs. We woke up tired, stinky, and totally ready to have a hot shower and sleep in a bed again! We left at 7.45am and with a smile on our dusty faces made it to the end of the trail after an hour and a half. What an exhuiberant feeling to have completed the Mount Rinjani summit trek!
We were taken to our next destination straight after finishing – Koeta, South Lombok. After a 3 hour drive which we spent catching up on some sleep, we arrived at our homestay and to much excitement a hot shower! I will never take a hot shower for granted again. To wash my hair just felt amazing, and to see my skin again after being covered from head to toe with a layer of dust was just great! So, we stay here for a couple of days to rest our weary muscles, eat the calories we burnt off, and to enjoy the surrounding beaches before flying to Flores – our base to visit the Komodo dragons.