Spending the last eight months in the sun has cooked my brain to the extent that a couple of weeks ago I thought it would be fun to go climb a 3726 meter (12.224 foot) volcano.
Actually – turns out – it was a lot of fun, and I didn’t even murder my travel companion (Adam), despite warning him ahead of time that I am pretty terrible hiking company.
After arriving in Senggigi on the island of Lombok we booked a three day, two night hike up the volcano – Mt Rinjani – through our guesthouse for 1.150.000 rupiah (about $80) each. This is a little more than the going price in Sinaru (the town you normally end the hike in), where the usual rate is about 900.000 rupiah (about $65).
However, against internetly advice we decided it was easier to just pay a little more, as it included transfers from Senggigi to Sinaru and back – about a two hour ride. This came back to bite us, but more on that later.
For the price we got the usual “all inclusive” deal: a guide, porters, tents, sleeping bags, all meals, water (ran out) and a bathroom tent (we didn’t have one, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway). We also got the woman to throw in rental boots and a set of torches (flashlights) that would be needed on the middle-of-the-night hike to the summit.
Ready, set, wait!
We departed Senggigi at 7 am on the first day. The shuttle took us, along with three other backpackers, to a random roadside warung (local restaurant) where we were fed banana pancakes and our receipts were checked. Some other travellers appeared and disappeared while we ate, and eventually we were on our way up to the starting point, arriving around 10 or so.
Turns out our guesthouse failed to pass on the message about the ‘rented hiking boots’ and instead of getting a pair of torn up hiking boots as I was expecting I was handed a pair of pink and grey trainers with both soles half ripped off, flapping from the front to the arch. I immediately regretted not packing my $6 used knock-off trainers from Thailand. I discovered later that they didn’t have extra lights for us either.
We waited another few hours till all the faces we had seen cycle through the banana pancake factory reappeared and finally – mid-afternoon – set off! A healthy group of ten hailing from Germany, France, Belgium, Morocco, New Zealand and the US along with our local guide, Oli.
Several people laughed at me when I took a photo of this poster while we waited, but it ended up being valuable reference material in the end.
Volcano attack from all angles
Our trip started in a hut on the outskirts of a village called Sembalun. Day one was supposed to involve about eight hours of hiking, depositing us on the crater rim at 2600 meters hopefully before sunset. Here would would spend a (short) night, ready for the final 1000 meter push to the summit, departing at 2 am the next morning.
“Morning” being used in the loosest sense of the word, clearly.
The hike started our flat enough and pleasant enough – a meander, really. The rolling hills gave way to tree ferns, so I was happy as a tree fern clam.
A couple of hours in we got our first meal and our only (!!) bottle of water for the trip. Already the landscape had given way to a shockingly dusty and littered path.
We ate our food and realised that none of the garbage, or would-be garbage, was coming out with us. Noodle packages, plastic bottles, cigarette butts, plastic bags, disposable cutlery and all manner of other debris were tossed to the side… or just dropped underfoot.
There were a few more pleasant vistas after lunch however. The low clouds kept the worst of the sun at bay, keeping us cool and un-scorched as we trod along.
We powered on and the group spread out. It became quickly apparent that there was a pretty significant fitness difference among us. Shockingly Adam and I were always at the head of the pack with three or four others. I had just assumed that months of diving had made me weak and dumb.
After lunch, the two Belgian girls (who actually looked pretty healthy) came up to me red-faced, sweating and with pleading eyes asking if I hike a lot. I don’t think it encouraged them when I said I hadn’t done a proper hike in over a year.
Almost at the rim the hike turned near vertical. So this is where the day’s 1500 meter elevation gain comes in! Somehow I was still feeling awesome – I blame the shirt – but I think some of the others were questioning why they were paying money to be here. This would include the Moroccan guy who renounced his shoes after an hour and did the whole hike in socks, as well as the Belgian duo that looked to be near tears at this point.
Night one: the crater rim
We made it over the edge and watched the clouds roll in and out of the giant bowl of left by a centuries old volcanic eruption. As the sun lowered on the horizon it got cooler, and the wind cut through our cotton clothing.
Luckily one of my Lembongan friends had done this hike a month ago and warned me that it gets really chilly, so I was prepared with my marino wool undershirt, buff and an extra head-wrap scarf, in addition to my North Face soft-shell.
Eventually our group was reunited in its entirety, and we made our way along the tent-lined ridge to our camp. It looked a bit like rows of colourful lego barracks, especially since the sense of scale seemed to be thrown off by the huge crater and looming peak we straddled.
Oh yeah… did I mention there was garbage everywhere? We were kinda folded into a line of it.
To the top!
At stupid-o-clock we were awake again. It is weird to hear so many cell phone alarms ringing out at 2 am on the top of a volcano, in the middle of nowhere, Indonesia. We ate a piece of Kraft cheese wrapped in Wonderbread and started to the summit.
We had 1000 more meters to climb, and the goal was to do it before sunrise. At 2600 meters the air gets thin, and it only gets thinner as you go. My legs and feet were aching, I was tired, hungry and thirsty. I hadn’t had a chance to refill my water bottle before we left, and the ash was chapping my lips. Also we only had one flashlight between us, so even though I wanted to push Adam over the rim at moments I needed his diving light so I had to exercise restraint.
Also I think foreigners who murder people in Indonesia aren’t treated super-great (possibly second only to drug trafficking?), so really it was mostly in self-interest not to off him.
A silent row of lamps trudged up the mountain, which just got steeper and steeper as we went.
Towards the top the trail turned from almost useless to totally useless. The rubble didn’t offer a foothold and every other step resulted in a backwards slide that may or may not negate the energy just expended.
We resorted to a “mad-dash up ten meters, followed by a five minute rest” technique. Somewhere in the distance I heard a girl scream “F$%^ING SCHEISSE!”
The last hundred meters were the worst. You could see the top. You could see the people smiling. And worst of all the sun was rising. It wasn’t sunrise yet, but it was getting light. There was no way we would ever make it to the top before the sun came up!
Then, just when I thought we had missed it, somehow we found five more minutes of dawn-light. And we made it to the top, seconds after the first sliver of that stupid ball of fire I had been racing climbed over the horizon.
And all of the people, huddled for warmth in the rocks looking much to my amusement like a penguin rookery waiting for summer, were suddenly standing, basking in the first moments of the day.
Basically it was glorious.
And then we had to walk down. But not before sharing a really disappointing chocolate bar (you don’t realize all Indonesian chocolate is made from wax until you’re eating it not in an oven).
It took four hours to get up the volcano and two to make it back to our camp – including a 30 minute stop to chat with our guide, who apparently had decided that he didn’t feel like summiting that day and would rather sleep by a rock a third of the way up.
The downward hike was more like rubble-skiing. We took leaps and bounds, sliding several meters with each step. When we got back to the camp we could see a giant cloud of red-orange dust over the trail where everyone was making their way down with the same technique.
On the way I took this shadow-selfie that I’m rather pleased with, featuring a giant me, the crater lake and the active, smoking bit of the volcano:
Back at the crater rim I enjoyed the simple things, like getting oxygen into my bloodstream when I inhaled. I ate my cold and internally raw banana pancake with gusto, then passed out in the tent with my feet hanging out the front flap while waiting for the remainder of our group to return from the top.
This post is divided into two parts. Check out photos and stories from the second half of the hike here.
Where in the world is Allison? High in the sky on Mt Rinjani: the highest point on the island of Lombok and the second highest volcano in Indonesia.