...conquer the Rinjani Volcano.
Trip Start Mar 05, 2012
58Trip End Ongoing
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Rinjani mountain sits at the Northern end of Lombok. Inside the crater, at 1000 meters lies a lake with the still active volcano in the middle. The peak rests at a chilly 3,723 meters.
Our first task was to arrange the guides and porters. We thought about doing it alone but you have to sneak around the jump off town which would have taken too much time. Many tour companies advertise themselves as being representatives of the Rinjani Trekking Center (sometimes the Rinjani Trakking Center - thus advertising their own false statement). Prices varied from $150-200. With some negotiations we managed to score a package for $90 each. The $200 trek includes fold out chairs and air mattresses...a luxury we didn't need. The schedule was as follows: trek 7 hours up to 2600 meters to the crater rim, camp on the rim. The next day head down to the lake for some relaxation then back up to the crater rim to the summit-ascent base camp. On the last day, up to the peak then all the way down to the village of Sembalun, the finish point.
Our group consisted of 2 people from Holland, 2 people from London (only did the 1 night package), and a guy from California.
We began in Senaru at 7:30am at an elevation of 600 meters. The guide promised a pretty easy climb save the last two hours. It was in fact a pretty easy hike. We were well shaded and the path was mostly clear of debris and overgrowth...probably because there are a lot of people walking it on a daily basis (except in the rainy season). In fact, you don't really need a guide. I know this because our guide did not come with us, he stayed back and waited for the English couple and the American. It was just us and the porters. Since the porters are carrying about 50 pounds of equipment (tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, food, cooking supplies, and extra water (using a bamboo pole as a yolk with a basket on one end and a rope to hold together the rest on the other) we were ahead of them too. Just as we hit the clouds, about 1500 meters up, we stopped for lunch...along with the 10 other groups. I was only a little jealous of the deluxe package groups that had their fold out chairs and can of coke, but the hot tea and vegetable noodle soup was more than sufficient. By now the English couple had caught up to us, though the American was nowhere to be found. The temperature had dropped to about 20 celsius, perfect for hiking.
The climb after lunch steadily became steeper. Everyone was feeling the burn and breaks became more frequent. At about 2000 meters the trees faded and we were left climbing the open expanse of the mountainside. The angle was steeper and the path had deteriorated into dirt and loose rocks. It became obvious at this point that one of the members of the group was having second thoughts. The air had thinned out a little and every step felt like you were lifting a giant lead weight with your feet. The pack of wild dogs that were following us up the mountain seemed to mock us as they swiftly glided through the thick grass up the steep slope. After a grueling two hours we finally made it to the rim. The views from our narrow perch quickly washed away any pain we were feeling. Below us rested the calm clear lake of Segara Anak. At the Western end of the lake sat the remainder of Rinjani after it's huge explosion in 1994. Sulfur fumes could still been seen escaping through some crevices in the side of the volcano. Above the volcano we could see the peak and the narrow path that led to it, an ominous scene for those planning on the peak ascent (about half of the groups).
We set up our tents in the crevice of a small valley in the rim. Others had their tents perched on the peaks of the rim, where they seemed to sit uneasily in the strong winds (the gusts gave the tents an appearance of a crescent moon rather than a solid dome). The ridge behind our campsite offered the perfect spot to sit and watch the sun sink into the clouds. In the distance Gunung Agung (the volcano on the island of Bali) could be seen poking through the flat ocean-like appearance of the clouds. Once the sun was gone the temperature dropped by about 10 degrees and people started to realize they were not properly equipped for the night. By now the American had made it to the top, but was pretty angry; The tour companies that arrange these trips have a leaning interest toward profits over providing accurate information. Cody and I knew what to expect at the top of the mountain and knew that we had the right clothing for the job. It never mattered to us that the operators never made sure we had the right clothing. We did make sure the tents and sleeping bag were in good condition - "Oh, yes. No problem.No problem." Cody and I both had a hat, gloves, jacket, thermal underwear etc. The Dutch couple were also well equipped. The English couple each had a thin long sleeve shirt. The American was in the same situation. The English couple, though cold, were not concerned as they were planning on heading back the next day. The American was cursing the tour operators and, after a cold night in the tent, decided he was heading back too, probably without a refund. In any case, your best bet is to do your own research and rely on your own impression to prepare for a trip like this, rather than the sales oriented 'professionals'. (On a side note, their sleeping bags sucked and I should have brought my own.) On a brighter note, the moon was nowhere to be seen at night and the stars were breathtaking. Planets, galaxies, constellations, satellites, and shooting stars never shone so brightly.
The morning was no warmer than the night before, but the crisp clean air was a refreshing start after mornings on the sweltering islands. We would head down the inside of the crater wall toward the lake, a task that seemed nearly impossible given the 80 degree slope of the crater wall. The path immediately started with rickety railings, far beyond their prime, which guided us down the rocky cliff. It seemed a safer option to reach for holds in the rocks and roots sticking out instead of relying on the wobbly pole. The other challenge was to focus on the trail ahead rather than staring at the beautiful lake below, cradling the volcano. Impressively, the porters sped down the hill, worn flip flops on feet, bamboo baskets on shoulders, we were left in their dust. For some reason one of our porters took up position of guide and was now leading the way. I was concerned for his well being as he seemed to be displaying some minor symptoms of hypothermia. He refused any of my clothing, which made me feel even worse as I continued the descent, shirtless.
A couple of hours later and we reached the edge of the lake. Our knees were feeling the descent, but yet again our pains were washed away with the distraction of such an incredible scene. The lake still smelled of sulfur but was safe for swimming, and was full of carp and other small fish. The scene actually reminded me of home and many of the camping or outdoor family trips I had been on so many times before. I experienced a brief, though welcomed feeling of the dearly missed Canadian summers.
The water was of course quite cold, though not the coldest I have swam in. A group of guys from Java were camping at the lake and had been doing some fishing. He offered to let me try. Without a pole, casting becomes much more difficult. I felt like all my fishing experience was thrown out the window as I attempted to throw this fishing line wrapped around a spool into the water and made it no further than 4 feet. I didn't catch anything.
Before lunch we followed the lake's drainage river down to a waterfall. Across the slippery rocks above the fall and down a a grassy slope, we would find the hot springs. I put the temperature at about 40 degrees celcius in some spots, maybe more in others. Whatever the temperature, our muscles were appreciative of every minute we soaked in it as we sat next the waterfall (a perfect spot to jump in and soak up the shock of the cold water before returning to the healing hot spring).
Following lunch was the next ascent back up to the crater rim, just below the start point for the peak ascent. The trail started out easily enough; a level walk along the side of a grassy field. This only lasted an hour before we hit the next challenging part of the day, a steep climb up open rock faces and loose rocky paths. Rickety bridges over deep ravines helped us along, but the railings that once lined the trail had rusted and fallen off (hopefully without people in tow, I thought to myself). After about 45 minutes progress had slowed considerably and short breaks were taken every 20 minutes or so. It's hard to say weather not being able to see through clouds to the top is a good or a bad thing. In some cases it seems like the mountain will continue forever and looking down the trail makes it seem as if you have made no progress at all. On the other hand, being able to see the top (as on the first day), it feels like it never gets closer (until you are suddenly at the top). I could feel that my legs were not happy with the work and I was a little concerned about whether I would be able to make it to the peak the following morning. By now Cody was also expressing some concern about his right knee which has caused him some problems in the past.
After a slow and very difficult 2.5 hours we broke through the clouds and had made it to a ridge leading to the crater rim. The sun barely offset the cold gusts of wind blowing from the west, carrying the clouds over the lake through break in the rim, before they evaporated. The ridge led us to an exposed, grey, sandy area that was to be our campsite. Years of wind and rain had eroded some shelves into the volcanic dirt which made for decent cover, assuming that the sun is not shining directly on them and the wind blowing directly against them (as they both were doing). I spent most of the remainder of the day resting in the tent in preparation for the 2:30am rise to head to the summit. The mountain monkeys raiding the campsite held little interest for me while I ate dinner inside the shelter of our tent.
2:30am. The wind seemed to have faded for the most part, the stars were shining bright, and the city lights of Sembalun could be seen off in the distance. After some stretching and walking about, Cody had decided it would be a bad idea to attempt the summit climb; not because he thought he would not make it to the top but because he was worried he might not make it down (The schedule for today was the hike to the summit and down, then immediately down the whole mountain to the city of Sembalun, in total about 3000m in elevation and about 12 hours of hiking). To be honest I was worries about the same thing but I had made it this far and decided I wasn't going to let the mountain win.
Dressed to the nines, headlight on, honey-bread and tea in stomach, the final three were ready for the final ascent. The path was immediately more challenging as the trail was made up of eroded volcanic rock, making for a slow and slippery walk up the first difficult part of the trek. We weaved through the fissures that had been carved out by years of rainfall and grasped at what little we could see by the light of our torches. Once again the stars were shining bright, but the moon was nowhere to be seen thus little natural light was offered. Furthermore, the stars were more of a distraction and we had to try to focus on the trail rather than on them and face walking off the path and plummeting to our death. Once we reached the ridge that led to the peak, the wind had picked back up and I was barely keeping warm while moving. The ridge was level and offered an easier walk for a short while. About an hour into the walk we dropped behind a huge rock to escape the wind, drink some water, and refuel. At this point our guide was having some breathing problems:
"You have any medicine?" he asked me.
"Medicine for what?"
"You mean for asthma?"
"Yes. I didn't bring my medicine."
"No. I don't have any asthma medication." (Nor did the Dutch couple)
By now we were all beginning to shiver from the cold and we needed to keep moving to stay warm.
"I might have to go back soon." said the guide, wearily.
"Do what you have to do. We need to keep moving."
We stood up and walked a few more feet down the path.
"I can't continue. I must go back. Are you guys OK?"
We said goodbye and were now on our own. About an hours walk ahead of us we could see some flashlights slowly ascending the final few hundred meters. We pressed on.
Warm clothing is only helpful if you don't cover it in sweat. I was sweating at the beginning. I probably should have walked without a shirt on to stay dry. Anyway, by the time we reached to most difficult part of the climb I was starting to rethink my decision to continue as the shivering increased. Thanks to the support of the Dutch couple, I was motivated to press on. As we began the climb up the steep sandy slope my body heat started to return and I began to feel better, even though most of my body still wanted me to turn around and go to bed. The trail had turned into a deep soup of soft volcanic sand and ash littered with rocks of all sizes. For every two steps forward, we took one step back. The Dutch guy's flashlight had run out of batteries so he walked between myself and his girlfriend to use our light. Behind us a huge trail of lights followed along the ridge, I felt sorry for what they would soon been walking through, though some of them would have the pleasure of the warm sunlight to do so.
As we completed the final 100m the light of the sun was just beginning to make itself known on the horizon, still not bright enough to offer any useful light. We finally made it to the top with about 20 minutes before the sun would rise. 2 people had made it there before us, they had started at about 2am. We cursed ourselves for being a faster group (for the whole trip we had been passing other groups and our guide said we were one of the faster groups he had taken up the mountain) because it would now mean that we would be sitting in the dark, in the strong winds, 3,723m in the air. I found and small pile of rocks on the small surface of the peak and hit behind them waiting for the warmth of the sun. By now I cared less about how nice the sunrise would look and more about how nice it would feel...I wished I had brought the sleeping bag.
At about 6:29am the sun finally poked its head out from behind the distant horizon. It was an amazing sight to behold, and made all the pain and suffering worth it. On a rocky outcrop facing west, one of the guides knelt on his sarong to pray. The few that made it to the top stared in awe as the sun began to shine before cameras were drawn and flung about in every direction in an attempt to catch as many scenes as they could, I was of course of them, Cody's camera in hand.
Standing next to a Swedish guy from another group, I heard him say "I am really proud of myself." I guess I don't normally think about that sort of thing when I accomplish a task of this nature, also I don't normally accomplish tasks of this nature. I may also have been distracted by the picture taking and the thoughts of getting down this big f********* mountain. Nevertheless his comment brought to my attention the challenge that we had all just overcome and I too felt proud to be standing where I was. My next thought though, was "I wonder what I can do next that will be even harder."
The descent from the peak was fun. The soft sand was perfect for softening the impact on the knees and were able to run most of the way down. I felt bad whirling past the people that were still climbing, but I felt I had earned to the fun part. Along the way we could see where the trail had been very narrow and steep cliffs dropped off to one side or the other; one wrong move and we would have been in big trouble. What was a 3 hour hike to the top had been turned into a 1 hour hike to the base camp.
A quick breakfast and we were headed to Sembalun. The hike was relatively easy, though the same could not have been said if it were raining; it would have been a slippery, muddy mess. Cody had tied a bandana around his knee for some additional support and both of my knees felt like they were ready to give out too.
Later that afternoon, with swollen knees, feet covered in blisters, and clothes covered in dirt we found ourselves walking through the vast rice fields of the village where children played, and men and women tended to their crops. Eventually we found our way to the back of a pick-up truck and had our ride back to our hotel. 2 beers and a shower were enough to make the bus ride to Senggigi tolerable.
Time for relaxation.
****Photos c/o Cody Rook****