Mount Rinjani rises above the rest of Lombok, and can be seen on a clear day from many of the surrounding islands. The peak of Rinjani rises from the rim of a large crater that circles an active volcano at the centre. Green ridges run up towards the rim, with rows of trees in all directions. We arrived at Senaru the night before the climb started, and enjoyed a hearty meal to nourish our bodies before starting the next morning.
The first day’s walk involved trekking through the rolling foothills, before breaching the crater by a stairway of tree roots and rock. The scenery was extremely pleasant to walk in, with tall grass swaying in the light breeze. After lunch, the trail evolved into the steeper climb, moving directly towards the base camp. The final hour became a fairly breathless scramble towards the top. But, by 5pm, we completed our last steps and reached the camp.
Similar to much of the tropics, clouds around Rinjani arise around midday and cause a fog across the landscape. So on our arrival at the base camp, views down the mountainside were simply a blanket of white. Still, it was a great sight to see the queue of yellow tents sprinkled over the top of the rim, full of eager hikers ready for the summit the following day.
Water was gathered from a nearby spring (or at least a suspicious set of plastic tubes leading from some natural source), and food was prepared by our porters. The sky cleared after the sun set, revealing an amazing starry sky. Even the Milky Way was on display, and we gazed upwards for hours until our tired bodies retired to the tents.
We rose at 2am the following morning with a quick snack before the summit climb. Still, the stars provided shimmering company. The three hour climb was over dust and loose rocks, making it incredibly difficult to continue at a steady pace. “Two steps up, one step back” was the recurring phrase, which only became more true closer to the peak as the climb became increasingly steep. As breaths of the thin air became gulps, we trudged upwards. The sun, still hiding behind the horizon, started to illuminate the sky with red and gold. Finally, the loose rock turned a solid slab. We were at the summit.
The sun rose over some other mountains on Indonesia islands further east. I ate my Snickers bar victoriously (a personal summit tradition), and we perched on the edge with other climbers to absorb the warming light of the sun. Photos were taken, and Simon and Mischa even took a short nap. At 3726m (12,300ft), the clear view stretched to the sea, islands and other mountains in the distance. When the sun’s beams were directed over the crater rim, we could finally the volcano in the centre of the crater. It puffed a chimney of white smoke so that remained fully aware of its presence. It wasn’t long before we had to move onwards; we still had a long day ahead.
The walk down was more of a jog, as the loose rocks now aided the journey as a half walking, half skiing approach could be taken. We glided down the mountainside with breakfast in our sights. The ground changed beneath our feet from black volcanic rock back to the more familiar brown dust. But once our banana pancakes had been consumed, we laced our boots back on to continue.
The next stage of our journey was to descend 2000ft into the crater, cross it, and then climb 2000ft back up to our second camp. The path down was steep and rocky, but several clouds decided to engulf us, so that the sun was kept off our backs and the air was cool. We reached the bottom, and keenly walked towards some natural hot springs. It was an amazing reward halfway through the day. The yellow-green pools simmered with volcanic water where everyone rested their legs. There was even a waterfall pouring in cooler water from above so that we didn’t overheat in the water.
When we arrived near to the volcano, the chimney we saw from above was actually a collection of wisps from various gassy pockets. Floods of cotton wool cloud seem to appear from nowhere, and then continue to wander around the bowl of the crater. The volcano stood boldly in a lake of emerald water, which we parked next to for lunch. We assumed that the lake would be poisoned by the gases offered by the volcano, although fishermen perched peacefully on the edges waiting for their catch. The final section of the day was our 2000ft uphill ascent of the crater. Knowing it was to be a challenge for some, we stuck together as a group and powered through to the top. When we reached the second camp, it was 4pm. It had been 14 hours since we had risen for the summit climb, and we all slumped around our camp in high, yet fatigued, spirits. Whereas the first night’s sleep had been broken up by the effects of altitude causing us all to wake, the second night’s sleep was long and continuous. 11 hours by my count.
The final morning was a mixture of sadness to be leaving this surreal world, mixed with the elation of completing the trek. We would quickly descend almost 7000ft during the morning. Our guide, who had suffered from stomach cramps over the past two days, had now recovered and clearly decided to compensate for his previous slowness with an extremely brisk pace that morning. To keep up, I, along with Mischa and Fabio, literally ran down the hill after him. It was one of the most fun parts of the adventure, as we skipped over roots and jumped over boulders, leaving other wide-eyed trekkers in our wake.
The enjoyment of the final section was only matched by our first big meal back in Senaru upon arrival. For some reason, even the simplest of dishes taste excellent when they are well earned.