It was a night filled with dread. Wind ripped at our tent, whistled through the trees and howled like a freight train. Dirt and volcanic ash swirled around in the tent. I wiped a finger across my face and realized I had a layer of grime on my face. I couldn’t sleep, worrying about waking up at 1am and hiking through the dark, the wind and up the steep slopes to the to summit of Mt. Rinjani.
[Note: This is Part 2 of a 3 part series of our hike up Mt. Rinjani. To read part 1, click here]
When the 1am wake up call to hike to the summit arrived, I decided to stay in the tent. I’m a grown up; I do what I want. When I woke up that morning and saw Dave who had just returned from the hike, I was very glad that I didn’t go. I’d never seen anyone so completely exhausted.
“That was the single most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life,” whispered Dave. He was shattered, demoralized. “It was like walking in a sand box, uphill, into a hurricane,” he said. He was having difficulty breathing from inhaling so much volcanic ash and his camera wasn’t working correctly since it was clogged with sand. Ellen was in the tent, comatose.
Dave and Ellen didn’t quite make it to the top. They saw a hiker nearly get blown off the mountain on a narrow ridge. Not only would he have died, they said, but the body never would have been recovered. At seeing this, they retreated.
As we were eating breakfast, Sarah returned. “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life!” the cheeriness in her voice belied her words. She took off her shoe held it upside down and as if by magic a never ending stream of sand poured out. Then she cleaned herself off with 70 wet wipes, looking showered and clean afterwards.
As the hikers returned some were glad they went, others like Dave and Ellen wished they’d have stayed in their tents. But one thing they all agreed on: they wouldn’t have done it in the light. Hiking up the knife edges in the dark and the howling wind, they didn’t know how precarious it was. One misstep would have led to death in spots and they were glad they couldn’t see or they may have turned back sooner.
After hearing everyone’s accounts, I was very happy that I was sleeping in my tent while they were all suffering. I felt no regrets.
After breakfast, we hiked down switchbacks to the cerulean lake. This time, there was shade and we were going downhill, so I wasn’t sweating freely. It was a stunning section of trail, with changing views of a deep gorge and the crater lake. At one point we came to an overlook and Dave said, “So we get to the lake and then follow that trail down the valley, right?”
“No,” Kristi and I said in unison. “We hike up those cliffs on the other side and stay the night on the crater rim.” We pointed off in the distance to a seemingly sheer wall of rock rising majestically into the sky.
“Whhhhyyyyyyyy?” Dave said with a sad whimper and a pout on his face.
After a couple of hours we made it to the beautiful lake and took a soak in the hot springs. Initially, I was horrified when we saw an area covered with litter, garbage, make shift huts and a scattering of locals doing laundry. But we hiked down stream a bit and came to a beautiful hot spring pool fed by a waterfall and enjoyed it all to ourselves. I washed away a day and a half of sweat, dirt, grime, sun screen, suffering and tears. It was pure bliss.
At this time we noticed something a bit alarming: the trail we’d just descended and the entire side of the mountain where we camped the night before was suddenly smoking, engulfed in a forest fire. Our guide seemed completely unbothered by it, but as we watched the fire grow and spread up the mountain, we were concerned. It was the end of the dry season and Lombok was a tinderbox. We were somewhat concerned for ourselves, but more concerned for any hikers on the trail. We were worried for Jakarta who might still be hiking down the mountain. We also assumed Jakarta might have started the fire after discarding one of his many cigarettes.
We ate lunch at the lake and watched a few local fishermen casting lines as smoke filled the caldera. We started to encounter hikers who were turned back by the flames. “The entire trail is on fire,” said one guy. “The flames were three meters high!”
After a long rest at the lake, we hiked up the side of steep volcanic cone, up the cliffs that made Dave say whhhhyyyyyyyy? This turned out to be my favorite section. The trail was very steep and required some scrambling. I had to use my hands, feet and brain to get up many sections of trail. But, it was in the shade of tall pine trees and the afternoon clouds had rolled in. For the first time in Indonesia I wasn’t sweating profusely.
Atop the crater we enjoyed the best views of the hike although they were marred by the smoke. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to camp on the crater edge due to expected high winds. I was sad about this, and thought that maybe I’d hike back up to the spot for sunrise. A few hours later, I’d understand why camping on the rim would have been a terrible idea.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Trekking Rinjani Day 2: Turned Back By the Elements (You just read this one)