From Sea to Summit: Climbing Mt. Rinjani, Indonesia
Adventure at a glance
Location: Lombok Island, Indonesia
Closest cities: Senaru (600m) and Sembulan (1,100m)
Elevation: 12,408ft at the highest peak. The crater rim is at 8,658ft
Time Commitment: Usually 3-5 days
Best time of year: April – November is the dry season. The majority of wet season the mountain is off limits. We went in mid-April and still had fairly heavy rain showers two of the 4 days.
I’ve been told this trek is not an easy one even for seasoned hikers. Mount Rinjani or Gunung Rinjani is the second highest mountain in Indonesia at 12,408 feet, a journey which will take our group four days. With our late start at 10 a.m., even the jungle canopy above us cannot mask the heat and humidity at these lower elevations. Day one is a test of will – 6.2 miles of relentless uphill and intermittent rain showers to reach 8,665 ft above sea level. Our group of six, quietly dwindles to four with two deciding to turn back.
Although my legs start to ache around hour four, the incredibly diverse landscape and the promise of a warm dinner keep me going. I never would have expected these types of views in Indonesia. It alternately looks like Ireland, with green rolling hills and layers of fog, then turn a corner and I swear I’m in Iceland with its jagged volcanic structures. There are waterfalls, hot springs, numerous caves to be explored …. Turning towards the setting sun I notice we are high enough that I can see the Gili Islands off the coast and even glimpse Mount Agung on Bali one island over.
We wake at sunrise to clear skies. Soft wispy clouds stretched like pink cotton candy above our campsite as I make my way to the crater rim just a few hundred feet around the corner. I find Kylor already perched on a rocky outcropping gazing at the crater lake 2,000 ft below us. Hazy beams of predawn sunlight illuminate tomorrow’s path as well as the steam venting from the new volcano rising out of the waters. It is cold and windless; 360 degrees of green, sunlight, clouds and cliffs. We stand at the edge for two hours, in awe and unable to pull ourselves away to the banana pancake breakfast we know is growing cold. We bribe our guide with one of our warm jackets for just a few more minutes. There is no sense of time, no gradual lightening of the world. There is only a shifting and drifting – change, certainly, but never in a linear fashion. My eyes tear, from the cold and the splendor of it all.
The descent down into the crater is a welcome respite from the previous day. Two to three hours brings us to our next camping spot beside the lake. Earthen stairs have been ground out by time and many footsteps. Precarious metal handrails cling to the mountainside at unpredictable intervals. In two days we have only passed a handful of people headed in the same direction as us on the trail. Many people seem to have opted for the somewhat easier Sembulan to Senaru route. We pass groups of porters who always smile and wish us good luck.
The trail passes quickly and rather pleasantly with constant views of the lake and steaming Mt. Baru in the distance. Another easy hour and we are hiking along the edge of the lake. It is cerulean blue with so many small fish that our group is jealously eyeing some of the men lazily casting fishing poles.
Yet as quickly as we arrive so does a thick layer of fog. Thunder echos in the distance as the first raindrops dimple the glassy surface of the lake. It is called Segara Anak and in these misty, ethereal conditions it is easy to see why many from the region see this as a deeply spiritual place.
Meals are simple, but deliciously filling local staples. We cycle through noodles, rice, and curry throughout the trip. Without words, our guides even learn our preferences – Kylor being vegan, my dislike of eggs and Travis’s for tea. We play cards with them while waiting for the rain to pass one afternoon and laugh as they show us that the loser has to hang a water container from his ear.
We wake at 2 a.m. the last morning of our trip to make the final push to the summit. I can’t see the stars, but the soft glow of dozens of headlamps soften the inky night. A sheen of sweat mixes with the dewy air and my breath moistens my face with each exhale. We talk about anything we can think of to keep our minds busy. Even so our trudge up the volcanic mountain dunes seems to continue indeterminately. We arrive while it’s still dark and group together under a blanket to try to stay warm in the 40 degree chill. I close my eyes.
Then in a span of minutes the bleak night sky seems to lurch to life. I throw my blanket back into my backpack and run the last 20 feet to the top. 12,408 feet means I am above the clouds, above well… everything. Jagged peaks spire into the sky below us, with honey colored clouds spilling over their sharp edges. The sun flares in our faces. I am delighted. Elated. Exhausted. This is why I climb mountains. Not because it is easy, but because it does something to me. I am simultaneously strengthened and humbled. In awe and on top of the world I look at my friends – these boys who I would follow to the ends of the earth. My eyes crinkle with joy. We take a photo at the top with high fives all around. “We made it.” And I hope you do too.