Climbing Mount Rinjani

Gunung Rinjani. At 3726m above sea level, this active volcano falls just short of Sumatra’s Gunung Kerintji by a mere 80m, making it the second highest volcano in Indonesia. Situated in the north of Lombok, it can be seen from Sumbawa, the Gili Islands and Bali. The Balinese call it ‘The Seat of the Gods’ and this is probably the most apt description of the towering peak I can think of. 

There are many different trekking options for Mount Rinjani, with 2 different start points, numerous opportunities to stop along the way, and different length itineraries. I chose the 3 day, 2 night itinerary, which would take me from Senaru to the top of the volcano’s crater the first day, descend to the lake within the crater and up to base camp for the summit on the second day, and finally summit on the third day. 

I set sail for Lombok with a group I’d met on Gili Air, landing in the harbour of Bangsai. From here we had a 1 hour drive to the village of Senaru, situated in the northern foothills of Rinjani. I was instantly struck by how lush and green everything was in Lombok, with palm trees lining the roads and sprinkling out over the sprawling rice fields. One thing is for sure – it’s not like this back home. As we approached Senaru, the clouds cleared in the sky and we came face to face with our gigantic challenge for the first time, and I’ve got to say, I felt a little intimidated. 

  
Although there’s not much to Senaru – just a few shops and home stays climbing up the only road that passes through the village – it is situated in a beautiful area, with options to trek to numerous waterfalls through the beginnings of the mountainous rainforest. However, knowing what I had in store over the next few days, I chose to visit one of these, because it was only a 10 minute walk away. On the way down I passed a group of mischievous looking monkeys, so I got my head down, held onto my sunglasses and went on. Fortunately, this group were a little shiver than those in Bali. This was supposed to be the least impressive of the waterfalls around, and if this is actually the case, I feel like I must have missed out by not venturing on. See for yourselves. 

  

After stocking up on food the night before, and having a double breakfast, I felt ready to go. We were waiting for some more friends to arrive from Gili Air that morning which pushed our start time back from the usual 8am to 11am – we were going to have to climb fast if we were to make it to camp before sunset. 

Our route up for the first day was through the forest. The terrain was steep, sandy and full of rubble, so I soon abandoned my attempt to climb in flip flops, switching to my less comfortable but much more practical Sumatran jungle shoes. It was a tough time but with some amazing scenery, my only disappointment was of the amount of rubbish that gets discarded by many of the trekking groups. I was pleased to see that our group were all taking their rubbish along with them. As Chief Seattle said, “Take only memories, leave only footprints.”

As we neared the top of the crater rim, the steepness of some sections really started to take its toll. That combined with the speed at which we’d been climbing left me exhausted at out camp in day 1, but the views from our camp were more than worth it. On one side we had views down into the crater, and on the other, the remaining sun lit up the sides of the mountain above a perfect blanket of white cloud. When the sunset, the whole sky lit up orange against a perfectly flat horizon overlooking Bali’s Gunung Acung.
Four porters accompanied us on our trek, carrying all our camping gear, food and water for the three days. They each carry approximately 20kg worth of gear and manage to do the trek in half the time we do, leaving later after packing up camp, and rushing on ahead to start cooking the next meal. It really is astonishing how they manage to do the trek so easily. 

   
   
  
As night fell, so did the temperatures. We were at 2700m above sea level, way up above the clouds. With a makeshift campsite, I was amazed at the quality of the food we were being given, so we sat back and ate as the stars started to appear above us. The sky was perfectly clear, and with no light pollution around us, a full sky of stars was visible before daylight had even disappeared. As darkness surrounded us, we laid back and looked up, admiring the sight of the Milky Way stretching across the sky. 

   
 An early rise was called for the next morning, with another long day of trekking ahead of us. Unfortunately, no sooner than we’d gone to our tents for the night, the wind really started to pick up, leaving the inside of the tent flapping against my face and body as the tent struggled to handle to conditions. 

I think I finally managed to drift off after a few hours but woke up shivering in the middle of the night wondering why I could see the stars. The tarp had flown off the top of the tent leaving us cold, exposed and in need of a repair. Not the relaxing night I’d needed after the exhausting first day. 

When we woke up we were informed that if the wind was so bad the following night, we wouldn’t be able to attempt to reach the summit. But as the sun overcame the shadow enforced by the peak of Rinjani, the winds faded as we set off for our second day. 

The first half of the day was a descent into the crater. It was going well and we were well ahead of schedule when we had our first incident of the trek. 

We’d stopped for a water break when we heard a warning cry of “Rock” from above us, and turned round in time to see a large rock flying down the mountain side and disappearing into a section of long grass just above us. As it popped out, I had no time to react as it slammed into the back of my leg, knocking me off my feet and into a bout of intense pain. I was with a group who were able to check my injuries, but as groups above clambered to get a glimpse of what was going on below, a second, larger rock was displaced, this one came flying through our group at head height, only narrowly missing two members of our group who already stood on the cliff edge. I’d never been so scared in all my life, and even though I could barely stand, I was helped to my feet so that we could get out of the danger area before things got even worse. 

Although my first thoughts had been about how I’d get off the mountain, I was soon able to walk, or limp, along on my own, and after a long descent to the crater, my cuts were bandaged and I stretched out my leg. I missed out on a swim in the 6km wide, 200m deep blue lake, and also on a chance to bathe in the  natural hot springs which would have provided a much needed wash from the dust and dirt that stuck to every part of my body, but after a few hours rest, I was actually able to continue on the next section of the climb, and was counting myself very lucky. 

It was a few more hours worth of hiking up to our camp for the night, where we’d gain the same elevation as we’d descended that morning. By the time we were at the camp, my leg was sore, but was no longer hindering my walking. 

At our camp site, a local had set up a shop full of snacks, drinks and beers that he’d carried all the way up. I bought the most expensive pack of Oreos I’d ever found, but it was totally worth it for both me and the seller. 

We ate dinner that night with the most spectacular sunset view, giving a better dining experience than any Michelin star restaurant could claim. We were overlooking the lake as the sun set behind the cliffs of the crater that we’d been sat at the top of the night before. Eventually, the clouds rolled over the lake below leaving the sky an orangey red with the blanket of cloud reflecting these colours. It was truly stunning. But as darkness finally took over, we headed to our tents to rest before our summit attempt in the morning.

    
The wind had died down compared to the previous night, and at 2am my alarm rang out, and we layered up and set off with the aim to make it to the summit in time for sunrise. The stars were out in all their glory again and a crescent moon was glowing a dim red. 

It was a gruelling climb early on with steep rocky, sandy sections meaning you needed to find previous footprints to step in to avoid sliding back down. We found some momentum after a while and started to make some good progress. The climb was tough but manageable, until we hit the top section. This was so steep and full of loose volcanic rock that for every 2 steps you took up, you slid back down one. Many people resorted to climbing on hands and knees to overcome the challenge. By this point I was really struggling with my leg, putting extra pressure on it to make the ascent, but the end was in sight and the sun was starting to rise. 

I was exhausted, but made it to the summit just after the sun rose. Whilst nearing the peak, I could see the horizon being slowly taken over by an orange glow, with the mountain peak obscuring the actual point of sunrise.

The views at the top were unreal, the spirit in our group was exuberant, and I was thrilled to have made the summit, especially given the circumstances. We shared a beer as we looked down at the clouds and islands below, shivering through our many layers even though we were wrapped in sleeping bags we’d brought up with us. 

And the summit is where my story ends. After 2 and a half days of climbing we’d made it. Once our fingers had warmed up enough, we took one last group photo, along with one last breath of mountain fresh air and took in one last view of the panorama around us. 

All I can say is I won’t be rushing to climb Everest any time soon. 

   
   

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