As we took the first of many steps on our three-day trek up Mount Rinjani, I looked up at the summit looming high above and thought to myself, “That doesn’t look too far. We will easily climb this.” About 10 minutes later, as I was sweating freely and out of breath, I realized it was going to be every bit as difficult as advertised.
Climbing Mt. Rinjani, the 2nd highest volcano in Indonesia, is a right of passage for many visitors to the island nation. For some reason, I felt compelled to climb it, lured by a sadistic siren call. I could have been enjoying the world-class beaches that surround the island of Lombok, but instead chose to hike up an active volcano that might erupt and incinerate me in a toxic fireball.
Day one would be a long, steep climb to the crater rim, day two would include a middle of the night ascent to the summit for sunrise, then a descent to the crater lake and a hike up the other side of the caldera, and day three would be a long descent to town. I had read many blog posts that described it as the “most difficult physical activity of my life,” so I can’t say that I wasn’t warned.
We were hiking with a Canadian/American couple named Dave and Ellen, plus our guide and four porters carrying our tents, food, cooking equipment, sleeping bags, and other supplies we’d need. If you ever want to feel out of shape, try struggling up a mountain while being outpaced by guys wearing flimsy sandals and carrying 75 pounds of gear.
After about an hour of walking, we came upon a clump of trees and took refuge in the shade. I was already sweating profusely and knew I’d be stinky and sticky for the next three days. At that time, another hiker arrived. Her name was Sarah, and she had the effortless beauty of a fitness model. Sporting Lulu Lemon shorts, a black tank top, and dark sunglasses, she managed to somehow look pretty while hiking. All of us were decked out in North Face, hiking boots and trekking gear. She was the kind of girl that other girls hate on sight, except that she turned out to be a real sweetheart.
Sarah gave us a friendly greeting and chatted with us for a bit.
“How is your guide?” she asked in her Kiwi accent.
“Great,” we replied
“Mine is a little dodgy,” she said. “He sells weed on Gili T six months a year and is a hiking guide the other half,” she said.
“How do you know that?”
“He offered to sell me some. I think he is looking for a customer.”
As we remained in the shade, still recovering, Sarah bound up the mountain – her dread-locked guide in tow, struggling to keep up.
Shortly after meeting Sarah, a Frenchman in shorts and a light jacket, but no porters, gear or guides with him, came galloping down the mountain with the grace of a gazelle. He ran past us, then turned around, and bound back up the trail. He asked our guide directions to the town. He informed us that he’d already been to the summit that morning. “I woke up at 3am and hiked to the summit for sunrise,” he said. He then looked us over and continued, “But you will need to start earlier.” At that, he took his 5% body fat and started running down the mountain again.
I stopped to tie my shoe and then rushed a bit to catch the group. I passed a hiker who saw me hurrying and said portentously, “Conserve your energy. You are going to need it.”
Although Sara, Ultra-Marathon French Dude, and other hikers were making me feel bad for myself, we encountered a man who made me feel like a mountaineer. Relaxing in the shade and smoking cigarettes like it was his job was a guy from Jakarta who we creatively nicknamed “Jakarta.”
“Are you on your way down,” we asked the avuncular man who was relaxing in the shade. “Oh no, I’m on my way up,” he informed us as he lit a cigarette off the butt of another.” He had the relaxed air of a man on the beach, not a person climbing a 12,000-foot volcano.
After another two hours walk across the tree-less lower slopes of the sun-blasted volcano, we arrived at a shady area and stopped for lunch. Our porters, who had raced ahead of us with our gear, were busy cooking lunch. Dave, Ellen, Kristi and I were placed on camp chairs in the shade, on a small hill. We looked like royalty looking down on our servants. Dave felt a certain discomfort. “I feel like I should be helping them cook,” he said. As they brought us cookies, fresh cut fruit, tea, and coffee, we all settled into our role of royalty.
We ate a Rinjani-sized mountain of pasta, chicken, and rice for lunch. It initially looked like way too much food, but as we made our way up the steep mountain, we realized we needed every one of those calories.
The real suffering began after lunch. The three hours before lunch were across gradually inclined hills, but the next phase was straight up with almost no switchbacks. Our Achilles and calves were stretched to the max as our feet hit the slopes at awkward angles. The intense tropical sun was high in the sky, assaulting us. Mercifully, clouds started to roll in, but would often give us only a few seconds of respite before blowing away.
I was really struggling. The pace of the group was too slow for me – I am a fast hiker. I couldn’t get in rhythm; I was whiney and unhappy. “Why am I on this peak and not on a pristine beach right now,” I thought once or maybe 50 times, give or take.
After about 6.5 hours of hiking, my spirit nearly crushed, we plopped down in a pine forest. At this time, a thick fog had settled in so I was no longer hot, but instead cold with my wet shirt and sweat-soaked hair giving me chills. It was Halloween and the fog and trees combined to make an eerie ambiance.
“I feel like a headless demon might walk through those trees with a machete and kill us,” Dave said.
“That would be awesome!” I declared.
“You would be okay with dying,” Dave said incredulously.
“Yes. If it meant this suffering was to be over, I’d happily have my head chopped off by a demon right now.”
Our guide then gave us cookies and told us it was only 30 minutes until camp. You’ve never seen four happier adults. Fueled by cookies and the hope of the crater half an hour away, we galloped up the mountain with newfound enthusiasm.
Upon reaching the crater, we could see nothing but dense fog. As we settled in at camp, drinking coffee and tea and lounging about, the clouds started to break up, and we were given a spectacular view of the caldera and crater lake. Clouds swirled around the bowl like vapor from a witch’s cauldron and sunrays pierced through, warming us up. It was a beautiful, magical experience. We ate a pile of food, all the while lamenting not having any Bintang. I thought about finding Sarah’s guide to see if I could make a purchase – for medicinal purposes only, to kill the pain from the hike – but as soon as the sun went below the horizon, it became bitter cold, and we all retreated to our tents. I laid awake for the next 4 hours, dreading the 1 am wake-up call to hike to the summit.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Trekking Mount Rinjani Day 2: Turned Back by the Elements
Trekking Rinjani Day 3: Beaches and Bintang
Trekking Rinjani Tips and Advice
You are a glutton for punishment! But I appreciate your pain in order to bring us another awesome post!
Thanks Laura, I am glad that something good came of my pain.
You always meet the funniest people on your travels, Jeff – I can just imagine seeing Sarah and the crazy Frenchman (oh and the chain-smoking guy too). As usual your sketch is totally hilarious!
I think Bama and I lucked out with the weather when we went. The first day was definitely the easiest of the three; it wasn’t super hot and by the time we hit the lunch area the clouds had rolled in. There was a cool American trekker (he was some sort of astrophysicist) we met in the misty pine forests, and his guide was teaching him some Indonesian. So he would recite the phrases for “poo” and “pee” in a loud voice as we walked up the mountain!
The people you meet on these types of adventures are often the unexpected highlights. I am glad that one of my countrymen was trying to learn the local language, even if it was a little misguided 🙂
Great story! I look forward to the next installment!
Totally know the feeling of being outpaced by guys half my size, in flip flops and carrying huge packs of gear. Quite disheartening, I must say. 😦 I can’t imagine doing a hike like this in the humidity of Indonesia. I barely survive the humidity, just sitting on a beach, coconut shake in hand. 😉
It was pretty brutal. I can’t say that day 1 was much fun, but it got much better.
I am out of breath just reading this! You would love the hike to El Peten’, Guatemala. Could check out a hiking article on it (by me) at the en zine “Go World Travel” if interested in central America. Looking forward to reading the rest of your trek!
Thanks Ron, I’ll check out your post on the Peten in Guatemala.
It’s actually a published travel article in Go Wold Travel.com, a magazine that you may consider submitting to.
So funny Jeff. Amazing photos and fingers crossed readers are clicking on your cartoon image. I love the rays of sun as if they are from some nuclear blast. Great post!
Sue, the sun did feel like some sort of nuclear blast that day. Nothing like a relentless tropical sun to walk under all day!
From the first image, I could see, what’s on offer 🙂
Beautiful images and such a nice read, as always…
Eagerly waiting for the upcoming posts ….
Have a beautiful day 🙂
Can’t wait to read the rest of your ‘torture’ in Rinjani, Jeff. 🙂 After lunch, those endless hills you climbed are called Bukit Penyesalan in Bahasa Indonesia, or Hills of Regret, aptly named for the constant ‘what am I doing here’ thought almost all of us came across with.
Hills of Regret – nice! That was the most brutal part of the hike and I’m glad they have a worthy name.
Once upon a time when I lived at 6,100 feet I would have smirked at your description of a 12,000 foot mountain being difficult, since I’ve summated more 12,000-14,000 foot mountains than I can remember.
But then I remembered – I live at sea level now. And Indonesian heat – yikes. That hike would probably kick my ass.
My old friend Cameron Burns (mountaineer and author of many guide books) wrote a great story called “The Shoes Of Kilimanjaro” which lampoons western climbers getting schooled by undernourished african porters wearing flip-flops. Which should sound pretty familiar to you!
The heat and humidity and starting near sea level did make it much tougher. When we lived at 9000 feet in Crested Butte I would have been okay but this was tough. I’ll have to check out this book!
Cameron is a genuinely funny person. He ALWAYS made me laugh. He has another book called Postcards From The Trailer Park.
Wow. You really need to stop being convinced by your wife to go on this survival walks:)
I just try to keep her happy.
I know the feeling of being outpaced too good. One time we took a trip to the Matterhorn and decided to go as far as we can starting in Zermatt (without ropes one can get a little past Hörnlihütte). About an hour later (we had only made 250 meters in elevation) a young good looking Swiss gal passed us on her run uphill. I seriously was about to break down when she passed me with a huge smile on her face. I admit I’m not in the best shape, mostly I force myself up any mountain in hope for a great photo op!
Kudos to you, to take the time and go on such a hike with all the beaches Indonesia has. Can’t wait for part 2! 🙂
Suze, the sad thing is that I often outpace many people on the mountain. That means that there is a whole planet of people worse off than I am! That must be a brutal climb at the Matterhorn though to go 250 meters up in 1 hour
I’m totally exhausted after reading this and must have a glass of wine. Did the porters carry any wine? If not, I’m not doing this trek.
Great question. Our porters did not carry any wine or beer, however one girl did have a porter that carried beer for her. We were totally jealous.
too funny! Brings back memories of climbing the La Luz Trail up the Sandia Mnt in New Mexico with my best friend. She had just moved out there and I came to visit – we thought a little mountain hike for two young twenty something’s would be so much fun. Didn’t realize it was over 7 miles to the summit and then we had to hike back down. And we didn’t bring any food with us. Or much water. Because we were truly dumb asses. Love the cartoon- especially the “So. Hungry” comment seeing as that is what I remember most at the end.
Sue, I hate to call anyone a dumb ass, but since you already said it… 🙂 I have gone unprepared on hikes many times. I think, oh, I have plenty of water and food. 1/4 of the way through the trip Ive eaten all my food, drank all my water and I’m wearing all the clothes I have…
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That’s a funny post, dude. And is that a pillow that porter is carrying, or a white cotton bag of stuff? The photo taking a break under a tree has a very…hmmm…calming feel to it.
It must be a bag of something. Our pillows were inflatable rubber things that were almost comfortable but not quite.
That’s my whole problem with camping these days…I got used to comfort. I like the part about porters carrying the gear.
What an amusing post, love you humour:) On the other hand, can’t believe the porters are carrying everything on one shoulder, wow. I just loved the cartoon sketch over the track:) How many meters of elevation gain was day 1?
I think the total climb on day one if going to the summit is about 3000 meters. I think you start around 800. I don’t know how far we went – far enough!
Here is a link with some useful information on the trek if you ever decide to do it.
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You are hysterical, Jeff! I’ve done some difficult hikes before, but I’ve never actually wished for a death by a headless demon wielding a machete! That must have been one brutal hike. If I am ever in Indonesia, I think I might have to take a pass on this one! Thanks for some good laughs!
Hike to the top of Rinjani in blazing heat, and death won’t seem so bad. As tough as it is, it is popular for a reason – the views on the top are spectacular!
Hike to the summit of Mount Rinjani may not easy thing to do, but I believe that you feel an amazing adventures with it. Mount Rinjani has its own charm that able to attract people around the world to keep coming.
On behalf of local trekking organizers in Mount Rinjani, I welcome you and everyone here to come again to feel the nature beauty and excitement of Mount Rinjani. 🙂
Yes, it is difficult, but awesome! Thanks for commenting.
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Wow lovely write up. I recently did 3 day trek to Rinjani. Read my experience here
You have a knack for story telling, I really enjoy reading your writing 🙂
Recently came back from Rinjani as well, although only to the crater, but even that was hard enough for me.
Thank you Anne. Rinjani is incredible. I saw some of your photos – they are really good!
Rinjani is the second highest active volcano in indonesia but I think it is the most difficult climb.
most of trekkers that I climb with, said that this Mountin is the hardest trek I have,
but the most beautiful one.
for you who don’t come yet, let’s climb to Mount Rinjani to know how difficult and how beautiful it is.
Thank you for the information. It is a stunningly beautiful trek for sure. I had a friend do a trek in the Banda islands and even though it was shorter, he said it was harder than Rinjani. Who knows? I guess they are all difficult.
it’s wonderful picture I saw our team picture , very helpful for new trekker to know one of the beauty of nature at lombok
I am glad you enjoyed. Thank you for the awesome trip up the summit.
I’m jou trekking I’m rinjani trekking orgnaizer too
we all from jou trekking company would like to say thank you for your shears your trekking experience. Cause it will help us to get more visitors
Thanks for your great information about mount rinjani
Thank you very much..
Was great blog and very nice story, thank you for visiting mount rinjani I am the one of trekking guide in mount rinjani. Wish you well. By http://www.lhuna-adventure.com
Very good informations but don’t forget to read what other travellers said on tripadvisor http://tripadvisor.com/11539100?m=19907
Someone said to me once, hiking is something to look forward to and something to reflect on with fond memories, but at the time it is bloody hard work!
I often think that now when my knees are screaming…!
That is a great quote. Especially on the way up, it can be punishing, but the rewards are priceless. Thanks for commenting!
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Thank you very much for posted your story about mount rinjani, as rinjani communities we really appreciate that Warm Regards Mount Rinjani communities
You are welcome. Thanks for reading.