Rinjani - 3 Days Of Hell

Trip Start Oct 20, 2009
Trip End Apr 01, 2011

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On a Volcano

Flag of Indonesia  , Nusa Tenggara Barat,
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

So some fool came up with the great idea to hike up a 3.7km high volcano for three days and managed to convince four other people to come along. Oh how we would look back at this fool and curse him for his "GREAT IDEAS". The hiking crew was Marie, along with Paul, Olivia and Ally who Marie met on the boat over to Gili T. Little did they all know what was in store for them in the three days ahead.

I don't think we helped our own causes by going out the night before and drinking until the early hours in the morning. It was Charlottes last night so we hit the bars and I ended up staying up till about 4am and Paul was up until 5am, giving us one or two hours sleep before we were up at 6am to get the boat over to Lombok. Even so, we were all in high spirits when we boarded the boat, which was surprising considering our lack of sleep, and we were all eager to begin this grand adventure. Blissfully oblivious to the nightmare we were about to embark upon.

An hour boat journey and a two hour minibus journey through the thriving streets of Lombok, a stark contrast to the idyllic traffic-free serenity of the Gili Islands, delivered us to the foot of the Volcano. I made the realisation that my bag was way too heavy within five minutes of leaving, having a bag at least double the size and weight of everyone else’s and I think the weight of the bag began to weigh on my mind, as well as my back, as I mulled over the concept of carrying this strangely heavy bag up a volcano and down for three days. My legs also really ached from the past couple of days too, so I really wasn’t starting off on the best foot.

The sun was out in full force, beating down upon us like a giant radiator in the sky, making us all drip with sweat within twenty minutes of setting off. The trail began to get steeper fairly quickly as we marched through a thick jungle. Being promised that this was the easy part, we were all at the end of our tether after three hours walking, each having lost about 3kg in sweat. Then we sat down for a rest and lunch at the foot of a set of steep stairs ascending up the mountain. This apparently was the start of the hard part, but we were already to give up and my name had been used in vain several times, cursing under their breath for me suggesting this to them.

The climbing was relentless as we ascended 2.2km from sea level in six hours. We were all broken shells of people during the last hour of the walk, honestly believing that we would be walking for eternity. This wasn’t helped by the guides telling us that each section was getting harder than the last section which was already too difficult for us. Added to the fact that they would assure us we only had ten minutes left every time we asked them, then an hour later when we were still walking they would happily say “Ten minutes. Nearly there”. Yeah right! This is the day I struggled the most and least enjoyed. I was definitely not a happy bunny, being taken by surprise by just how difficult this, the easiest of the three days was and dreading the following days. My legs were trembling with every step and were ready to give way at any moment. I was definitely not good for group morale today, as my mumblings and groanings rippled through the group like wildfire.

The feeling of relief when we eventually arrived at the camp site was as overwhelming as the aching feeling in every single muscle of our bodies. We quickly went from pouring sweat from every pore to shivering, freezing cold, within about five minutes of sitting down, as we were perched on a ridge, exposed to the strong mountain winds, high above the clouds. Eating dinner very quickly we all immediately retreated to our tents to rest our weary bodies. But the rest would not be quite as nourishing as we hoped, as we awoke pretty much every half an hour all night, shivering, being woken up by the gale force winds that were attempting to launch our tents down the mountainside with us inside them.

Waking up at 6am, feeling a lot more human, but fairly disorientated, we wolfed down breakfast and then immediately began a steep climb up to the ridge of the absolutely massive crater at the top of the gargantuan volcano. The view as I breached the crater rim was truly astounding. Far better than I had imagined. The Volcano was probably about 10km high originally, but the whole top half has been clearly blown off in a prehistoric insanely strong eruption, leaving a giant crater several miles wide, being overshadowed by the remaining main peak of Rinjani. This crater had filled with water, to a depth of 250 metres, creating a peaceful blue lake in the mouth of such a violent creation of nature. The last eruption of the main volcano was about 100 years ago, but in 2005, a smaller eruption forced its way up through the centre of the lake, creating a miniature volcano, in the middle of the lake within the larger volcano. This smaller volcano had erupted again since, about five months ago, so it was still very much active. The sight of this amazing arrangement of natural land formations, carved with the brutally violent volcanic force made me wonder how something so beautiful could be created from something so deadly.

This is when things got interesting as we began a nearly vertical decent into the crater, to reach the base camp by the lake. I quite enjoyed this climb, even though it was more immediately physically demanding, partly as I had slept properly and was more ready to face the challenge and partly due to it being less distance travelled, but in a more interesting and challenging way, so it always kept me thinking about the next step as I scaled down rock faces, rather than a relentlessly long slog over a huge distance. This thought wasn’t unanimous, however, as Olivia had her turn to struggle and found this the hardest day of all. This wasn’t helped by the guides promising us four hours by the lake, including an hour’s nap, but in the end we only got about two and were active the whole time so never really recovered properly for the gruelling climb back up the crater wall. After five minutes of sitting by the lake, we were told we should head to the hot springs now, while they cooked dinner, so we dragged our weary bodies up and began a fifteen minute mini hike down to the hot springs. These consisted of an underground spring, heated up by the warmth of the subterranean lava pools, flowing out of the mountainside and cascading over a small cliff in a very aesthetically pleasing waterfall. The water was about the same temperature as a hot shower, so standing under the waterfall was invigoratingly refreshing, and swimming in the pool at the bottom was like having a warm bath. It didn’t smell too much of sulphur either so all in all this was an awesome little mini experience, starkly contrasted to the brutal punishment we put ourselves through before and afterwards.

After hiking back up to the lake and quickly eating dinner we were told to get up straight away and start walking again, so that we would beat the rain which looked like it may be setting in. Having heard stories from someone on their way down the day before about three hour torrential rain storms, we reluctantly hauled our backpacks on and, groaning, headed off after next to no rest. This is when things began to get ridiculous.

The whole way up, my adjectives for describing the obstacles we were faced with were steadily escalating from fun, to difficult, to dangerous, to just plain stupid. Then we were faced with the most ridiculous challenge so far. Climbing up a 45 degree mountain face, we had to scrabble on all fours up nearly sheer rock faces with next to no grip, the whole time bathed in the eerie mist of a cloud sat on top of us. Looking down was like staring into a misty oblivion and looking up was spirit breaking torture seeing the crazy obstacles which lay ahead.

The amount of times Ally stopped and looked back at me with a look of a combination of sheer exhaustion mixed with pure bewilderment at what lay ahead, exclaiming “This is just stupid”, or “Why the hell are we actually doing this?” was quite entertaining. The look on her face will haunt my dreams for some time yet, as I think about the amount of pain and suffering I put us all through with my “great idea”. Added to this, I felt extremely bad for dragging Marie along on this madness, as she had clearly said while we were deciding that if there was any climbing of any kind, then she wouldn’t do it. Walking up steep inclines was fine, but no climbing. The words spoken by the tour salesman of “oh no its fine, it’s all walking, there is no climbing at all” were echoing through my battered mind as we were repeatedly faced with vertical rock faces, some about three metres high, which we had to scrabble up, helping each other up the more difficult sections. Marie became increasingly worried that she wouldn’t be able to carry on, as apparently the next day was even harder and I seriously doubted what we were doing when some sections looked impassable. If we climbed past one of these difficult sections and were faced with anything harder then we may not have been able to carry on, but then we had come so far that the thought of turning back was just not an option. The fact that one slip at some of the harder sections would have meant a 2km fall into the mist, to certain death would make the decent down this 45 degree hill even more perilous.

The feeling which gripped me was, I imagine, like the feeling a cave diver might get when, far into a deep dark and waterlogged cave, he is confronted with a section where he has to swim underwater, in the pitch black, to squeeze through a very small opening to the next section. He could turn back now and retreat the huge distance back to the start, defeated, but if he commits to the dive it may get too difficult later, meaning he is just making his defeated return more difficult. Or, he may not actually be able to squeeze back through the hole, upon his eventual return, leaving him trapped in the cave, in the dark, panicking as the steadily rising tide cuts off his remaining air, wondering what ridiculous thought possessed him to come down here in the first place.

It was now Ally’s time to break, as she began to suffer from what seemed like a combination of dehydration, exhaustion and a broken spirit, constantly fighting the urge to throw up and pass out. After seven hours of gruelling trekking and climbing up and down the crater rim, we eventually, thankfully, arrived at our camp for the night, on top of a ridge under the looming shadow of the volcano peak. We were a little bit more upbeat this evening despite the gruelling climbing during the day and spent a bit of time mingling and exchanging stories. For a moment, the cloud cover cleared and we got a brief glimpse down the volcano into the Crater Lake below. A stunning sight. To the other side of the ridge we could see all the way down to ground zero, seeing the town which we would be walking to tomorrow, miles away in the distance. Falling asleep at around 8pm, we gathered all the rest we could before our ascent to the summit, beginning at 2am.

Waking up was tough and the cold and strong wind didn’t help matters. Before leaving the tent I suited up, wearing pretty much every item of clothing I had. Two pairs of trousers, each tucked into two pairs of socks. Two T-Shirts, each tucked into one of the pairs of trousers, a hoodie, a jumper, a cap and a pair of socks for gloves, with my hoodie and jumper tucked into them. I was still absolutely freezing. As we suspected the girls backed out of the summit climb, deciding to stay in the comfort of the tent, catching up on sleep. We were disappointed that they backed out, but quickly discovered that they had made the right choice. Especially as Ally ended up being sick about 11 times over the night and both her an Olivia had been reduced to tears.

This is where things really got interesting. Ahead of us we had a three hour hike up to the summit, to reach it by sunrise. This would turn out to be the hardest part of the climb so far. Straight away we were scrabbling up 45 degree slopes, covered in about a foot deep layer of loose volcanic scree, meaning each step forward we would slip back two steps. It was immediately tiring, pitch black and we were overheating with the effort within minutes.

Finally reaching the ridge leading up to the summit, I entered a surreal world I have never seen before in my life. I found myself in an insane landscape, walking along a metre wide path where, to the left, the volcano slope dropped off into the black distance, steeper than 45 degrees. One foot placed too far to the left would have sent me cascading down the 3km slope to a guaranteed and very painful death. At some points the right hand side of the path would drop away down a vertical drop into the pitch black of the crater to an even more certain but much quicker death. Without exaggerating this is exactly what we were faced with. I felt like i was walking in the sky, along the top of the world, on a knife edge.

The rest of the group had pulled ahead and weren’t waiting for us, having 5 torches between 7 of them. We had one tiny torch between three of us and it was in my hands, so I had to lead the way, carving a very wary path through the unknown darkness. The path was covered with loose volcanic gravel making slipping a very real danger and my torch beam didn’t quite cover the width of the path, so I had to keep scanning it left and right to check where the path edges were, to make sure I didn’t step off into oblivion.

We were so high up we were above the clouds and with a sheer drop immediately to either side in such a treacherous landscape, death was a very real and immediate possibility. A group of Italians had recently died whilst climbing Rinjani, where they had grabbed onto a railing which gave way, letting them fall to their death below. There were no railings up here on this knife edge of land we were cautiously traversing, instead there was an ever increasing very strong crosswind, which was attempting, very eagerly, to blow us over the edge. The fear that was coursing through me was not that kind of potential imagined fear you might get when alone in the house at night and you hear a strange noise. There could be something there, what could it be? This was a very real and very definite pure fear. More like the constant realisation and understanding that something simple like one foot placed 6 inches too far to either side would actually end my life then and there. It was a bizarre feeling that gradually wore down my spirit as I forced myself to push onwards.

The two guys behind were relying on me to safely guide them up this ridiculous ridge, so I didn’t have the option of backing out, I just had to push onwards and take extreme care with every step to lead us to safety through this treacherous landscape. This whole thing was extremely hard on my mind and the added concern that we would have to come back down this crazy slope again, fighting gravity to not go shooting off the slope at one of the corners. What if I couldn’t make it back down again? I can’t stay up here on the ridge as the wind was picking up to near gale force strength and was cutting through my body chilling my bones. Every step I made was just making the situation worse, making the decent that bit harder. A few kind words of encouragement from a French girl Marie helped me along more than she will ever know and we eventually pushed onwards up to a giant rock shelter. The last shelter from the wind on the way up to the summit 200 metres above us.

As difficult as this had been, mentally more than physically, I had still been adamant that I was going up to the summit. Paul had decided long ago that he would stop at the next resting stop. He had been defeated and had been walking with tears in his eyes. When we arrived at this shelter, I had been pushed to my limits and slightly beyond. I was extremely near breaking point and immediately decided to stay there, to forgo the summit. The relief I felt from making this decision was almost overwhelming. Paul walked around the rock to take a picture of the sunrise which was illuminating the sky behind the volcano, but he didn’t return for quite some time. Fearing that he had fallen off the edge, which was an all too real possibility, we called out his name. He did eventually emerge from the rock and later admitted that he had been overwhelmed by the whole thing and had broken down somewhat behind the rocks. This demonstrates the level of what we were dealing with here. Bringing a grown man to tears.

The wind was so strong and so cold that we had to huddle together like penguins for warmth to avoid freezing. Standing up to peer over this rock, being exposed to the wind for just a few seconds to catch a picture of the sunset made my face and hands completely numb. The wind was so strong it blew my hat off my head and into the crater mouth, so one victim was claimed this day by the monstrous volcano. Only 4 out of about 10 people actually went up to the summit and the rest of us stayed back just short of the top, in fear of our lives.

The walk back down to the camp was actually easier and more enjoyable than I had expected and this did make me wonder whether I should have pushed myself onwards to get to the summit. In some ways it would have been nice to have had the experience, but if I put myself back where I was mentally, whilst climbing up the ridge, there was no way I could have done it. It was far too cold, dangerously windy and far too dangerous in the dark. As much as I love sunsets I really couldn’t care less for the sunset at that point and besides, is it really worth dying just to get a photo? So all in all I am happy with how far I made it up this beast of a landmark

Reaching the camp on the ridge after a treacherous climb back down from the summit, we ate our standard meal of noodles and chicken, which we were slowly coming to despise, whilst being stalked by a pack of about 20 Grey Monkeys, who were a little bit more than bold in their attempts to acquire some breakfast from us. We had been told that we would be given a few hours after the summit climb, to rest and sleep before the final treck the whole way down the 3.7Km high volcano, to sacred flat land. As was becoming standard now, however, the guides had lied to us and as soon as we had finished our meal we were told to get up and start walking. I was incredibly glad I hadn’t gone up to the summit at this point, as I would have barely had enough time to finish food before we were off again. This was one of the most crushing things about this whole experience, that there was never any rest. We were relentlessly walking the whole time. There truly was no rest for the wicked.

So after our brush with death at the summit and after having woken up at 2am to walk constantly all night, we now had the most gruelling part of the journey ahead of us. The guides promised us 11 hours of solid walking, the longest walk yet, but as it turned out, including the summit climb, we were walking for 14 hours pretty much non-stop, having only two real breaks for 10 minutes and it was downhill, so all the pressure points had changed, with new muscles being used. With our feet being jammed into the ends of our shoes with every step, we descended down the never ending slope of this god-forsaken Volcano. All we prayed for this whole time was to just simply walk on flat even ground. The roots and rocks were destroying our ankles and knees.

We had all completely given up, I was beyond fed up, Paul threw a tantrum after falling over for the millionth time on the frustratingly uneven floor, screaming that he just wanted to get home to Ireland and screw this stupid hill. Ally was being struck by sickness again and doing her best not to collapse in a pool of vomit and after probably about 6 hours of non-stop hiking now was Marie’s time to break down at the sheer pain of her feet being shredded and blistering with every single step. I had nothing but pure sympathy for her pain, but there was nothing we could do but drag our sorry carcasses up and endlessly keep on walking.... forever.

Me and Marie got separated from the group at one point as the guide had abandoned us and we actually started going the wrong way, before calling out and realising our error. That would have been a soul destroying mistake. Lost on the endless slopes of this volcano after an experience like that. Towards the end of the slopes my knees were killing me and every step I took which was down-hill or down a step made my knees nearly give way. I felt that I had shredded the Cartilage in my kneecaps and was grinding bone with every step.

Finally we arrived at the town where we all indulged in various comfort foods like chocolate and coke before being piled in the back of a pickup truck and driven back to safety. The truck got a puncture on the way and we all had to get out for them to fix it. At this point I literally couldn’t walk and worried whether I had done serious damage to my knees.

I felt it far too early to reflect upon the whole situation at this time and this was a unanimous consensus. We laughed at the thought that once you get to the summit it all becomes worth it. Admittedly we hadn’t reached the summit, just, but the views we had from there were still phenomenal. But worth the three day torture?... I’m really not sure. It would take me a good few days before the aching stopped and I started to think about the whole thing in a positive way. Looking back from a week or two after the event I can smile at the whole thing and can say it was enjoyable. The group we had trekked with had really made the whole experience. I am glad that I did it, but even more glad that the whole thing is now in the past. Would I ever do it again...? Haha, you must be joking. I will never climb another volcano in my life! Give me flat land and beaches all the way.
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