Mallory was famously quoted when asked why did you want to climb Mount Everest as having replied because it’s there. Indeed, there are many reasons why you might choose to climb a mountain: the natural beauty; the sense achievement; the priceless photo at the top. But no one really prepares you for the mental challenge involved in climbing up to one of the highest viewpoints in the world. Especially when you decide to do one of, if not the most demanding hike in Indonesia.
“It is one thing to decide to climb a mountain. It is quite another to be on top of it.” Herbert A. Simon
We chose to climb Mount Rinjani with local trekking company Adi Trekker, who were completely flawless. Don’t buy a trekking package from a foreign tour company; you’ll pay more than you need to and the local porters are truly amazing. Adi was incredibly helpful in our communication prior to our arrival in Lombok and Andy, who would be one of our porters for the weekend, was waiting to pick us up from Teluk Nara when our fast boat arrived at the harbour from Bali. He then drove us an hour to Senaru, one of the Rinjani basecamps and the location of the Adi Trekker office. This was also where we would stay for the night before our hike began – at an absolutely beautiful guest house called Rinjani Lighthouse. From here, we spent the afternoon hiking to Sendang Gile and Tiu Kelep Waterfall, which was perhaps the most magical place I’ve ever been to. It is safe to say that we fell instantly in love with Lombok.
After a hearty breakfast at 6am of banana pancake and Lombok coffee, we met with Sanir; our incredible guide for the next 48 hours. We left all our things in safe hands at the guest house and set off in the back of a truck, armed with a hiking pole and a small rucksack packed with suncream, warm clothes and a head torch for the summit ascent the next morning.
REST POINT 1
The 2D/1N summit ascent of Rinjani begins from the village of Sembalun, about an hours drive away from the Seranu basecamp. Here, we registered with the National Park and our adventure began. The first couple of hours of the hike were hot, through long savannah grass. The incline began slight and steady, yet looking towards our destination somewhere in the clouds, we both exchanged looks along the lines of what on earth are we in for. In under two hours, we arrived at the first rest point and Sanir produced a Beng-Beng for us both, the Indonesian equivalent of a Twix. We would muscle through plenty of these over the next 24 hours.
REST POINTS 2 & 3
It was another two hours hike to reach our second rest point and lunch stop. Our two porters had gone ahead of us to set up, taking on the mountain in flip flops and carrying an impressive 50kg on their shoulders. We were in awe of them the whole way – these guys were seriously strong. Not only that, but they were also very handy with a portable stove. We enjoyed an enormous lunch of vegetable fried rice, egg, chicken, prawn crackers and a fruit platter for dessert. It’s safe to say they kept us well fed throughout the climb! Morale was high and we ate our food chatting to other climbers who came from all over the world. Then the rain began. We had to quickly throw on our waterproofs in the downpour and finish our food under the tarp where the porters were cooking. When it finally eased, we started off again.
From this point onwards we started seeing more and more rubbish on the mountain. Sanir told us that whilst the guides and porters who climbed the mountain regularly treated Rinjani as ‘their wife’ and would respectfully carry their litter with them, the locals were unfortunately not so environmentally conscious.
Just forty minutes later, we reached the third and final rest point before the crater rim.
THE CRATER RIM
To reach the crater rim we were in for a difficult 3/4 hour climb over the ‘seven hills’ of Rinjani. Each of these hills got more and more difficult and the rain got worse and worse. At hill 5 we really started to struggle. The terrain had turned from dirt to black grit and sand, on which was increasingly difficult to find your footing. The rain was now coming down something stupid; Sanir was draped in a black overall that made him look remarkably like a deatheater from Harry Potter, which made momentary light of the situation. But the conditions were hideous. On hill 6, I remember asking Livvi what the chances were of a landslide if it rained for any longer and on hill 7, there were small rivers running down through the tree roots and into our boots.
Finally, the crater rim was in sight. But our hopes to meet with the incomparable view of the crater itself, the one we had seen branded across the billboards of the local trekking companies, was missing. Instead, we stared into a wall of thick cloud, soaked to the skin and covered in mud. Sanir said he had never known weather like it. But he handed us a Beng Beng and a Sprite, which somewhat revived us enough for the photo below. In front of the infamous view…
The porters joined us shortly after we arrived and set up our camp. We had our own tent, toilet and seating area whilst the guys slept in a larger tent next to us. Then followed my lowest moment on the mountain. My ‘waterproof’ rucksack was definitely not waterproof; all of the warm clothes I had packed for the summit ascent at 2am the next morning, as well as everything I was wearing, was soaking wet. Getting dry and warm seemed impossible and we both had no idea where we were going to be able to muster the will to put our feet into cold, damp boots the next morning. I crawled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep.
An excited Liv woke me up about an hour later and announced that the cloud had started to clear a little. We could just about make out the menacing outline of the summit above us and caught a glimpse of the beautiful azure lake in the crater below. Sanir appeared with hot chocolate and banana frittas – the omnipotence of which was unparalleled in that moment – and after a delicious dinner, we decided 6:30 was a somewhat acceptable bedtime.
At 2am we woke up and looked out of the tent to see a string of tiny lights already making their way up to the summit. Thankfully it hadn’t rained on us during the night; it was very still and clear. I have never seen a night sky like it. The stars were unbelievable. Sanir, by some miracle, had somehow managed to dry my leggings in their tent overnight and gave us both plastic food bags to tie around our feet to keep them dry from our wet socks and boots. That day we hiked for 14 hours with plastic bags on our feet.
We left our backpacks in the tent and set off with our poles, ready to summit a mountain.
The climb was 3.5 hours. It took 3.5 hours to climb less than 1 km. I cannot describe it as anything other than a vertical wall of sand. But it wasn’t just the physical exertion; this was an enormous mental effort too. Two steps forward and you’d slip one step back, then need to pause for a minute or two. At points we had to throw our pole in front of us and clamber over rocks on all fours. And all the time the summit never seemed to get any closer. I will never be able to convey it in words. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. But oh, so worth it.
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” Jack Kerouac
About 5 minutes away from the top, the sky suddenly flushed a beautiful scarlet. This gave us such a morale boost for the final scramble up to the top, where we sat exhausted, wrapped in a sleeping bag, waiting for the sun to rise.
The photos do the rest of the talking.
As it got lighter, alongside the incomparable feeling of being above the clouds and on top of the whole world, I suddenly started thinking what the hell have we climbed up here for. The sun revealed the path we had been on for the past 3.5 hours; a path no wider than two of me in places with sheer drops either side of it. One wrong step and you were gone. Thank god it had been dark on the way up.
On the way down, we linked arms with Sanir and ran. MAD. But it was so much easier than risking slipping and going slowly. Much quicker as well. For fear of falling off the side of a mountain, I looked down at my feet the whole way and tried to ignore the edge. But at the same time, the view was too magnificent to ignore. We could see the whole of Lombok, the Gili Islands, Komodo Island and closest of all, cloud-free, the crater lake with it’s smoking volcano.
“Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” Ed Viesturs
We reached our camp at the crater rim in less than half the time it took us to scale the summit. Here, the guys presented us with a cheeseburger for breakfast – epic – which we enjoyed in front of the stunning view we had missed out on the evening before. For the view alone, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to beat that cheeseburger.
After breakfast we quickly packed our things and set off on the 8 hour descent back to base camp. Coming down was somehow just as brutal as going up. My knees were in agony. We were both exhausted and opted out of lunch to try and get back in better time, which we did, thanks to Sanir. We owed everything to him and our porters, they couldn’t do enough for us. And thanks to them, I’ve crossed something very big off my bucket list.