Day one: Crater Rim
"5:00AM. My driver will pick you up" he'd said. It was now 5:30AM and there was no driver. Island time, which means they will generally turn up ten minutes before you're ready or an hour after.
Sure enough, a van soon raced around a nearby corner narrowly missing three people on scooter and a sleeping dog, then pulled up next to me in a cloud of dust and exhaust. "Sorry Boss" said the driver with a smile as he threw me, pack and all, into the back seat. "I had to stop for petrol." With some preemptive revving, the van shot off toward the next pickup.
A hour later, most of which I spent staring out the windshield in sick fascination wondering if the next pair of headlights would be the last thing I ever see, eight of us were seated at the Rinjani Trekking headquarters having a breakfast of banana pancakes and Lombok coffee. Lombok coffee is basically instant coffee, using ground coffee beans so you not only get to drink the coffee, but you get a mouthful of coffee grind to chew on as well.
Before long we were sweating and puffing as we trudged slowly towards the mountain beneath a blazing sun; each whisper of a breeze bringing a moment of relief from the heat, each tree offering a small respite from the burning rays. The only thing stopping my complaints was watching the porters half my size, carrying three times as much as me, while wearing flip flops.
Once the afternoon clouds rolled in walking became almost pleasant, if one could ignore the slowly increasing incline, the slowly increasing pain in our legs and the boyish laughter of the guides telling us how much further we had to go until the first campsite.
"Three more hills" one would say.
"Including this one?"
"Haha. No boss. This still part of the first hill"
"Oh, haha yes of course it is. How silly of me."
This is a popular trek and a popular tourist attraction. There are a number of companies operating in the area, offering varying degrees of comfort. I picked Rinjani Trekking which offered the basics; shared tents with sleeping bags and local food. Others offered chairs to sit on and different food options. What none of them can do is walk up the mountain for you. It doesn't matter how much money you spend hiring boots, hiking sticks, or mountaineering clothes, if you can't place one foot in front of the other, you aren't getting to the summit.
As we moved further up the mountain, groups started to fragment. People started to struggle. Walking to the crater is not extremely hard, but nor is it easy. By the time we crested the final hill and saw tents being erected, I was happy to give a weak cheer, high five a couple of people then collapse onto a seat in a puddle of sweat to wait for the others. I hoped they would take their time.
As we waited for dinner the clouds cleared and we were treated to a view of the summit. It seemed much further than I was expecting, so my tired legs decided climbing was a stupid idea and told the rest of me to fuck right off. I promptly turned away, choosing instead to watch the sun setting, leaving a clear, moonless night broken by the scattered milky way in all its brilliance.
Day Two: the Rinjani Summit
We sat up staring at the stars and chatting until the fear of the early start forced us into our tents where that same fear caused sleep to elude me completely. Instead I spent four hours furiously listening to the blissful, quiet breathing of the cute German girl I was sharing a tent with. Thus, shortly after 2AM I found myself standing outside with grainy eyes and tired legs eating a breakfast of five crackers, washed down with water; a less than perfect start to a summit run on the second highest volcano in Indonesia.
I had inspected the ascent the night before. There was an initial steep climb up to a ridge and I was convinced once I hit the ridge it should be a relatively even walk towards the summit. I had read the last part was a hard climb up a gravel slope, so I felt prepared. I'm fairly fit; fitter than most of the assholes who do this climb, so I shouldn't have any issues. Leaving my pack in my tent, armed only with a bottle of water, I set out behind the line of headlights bobbing their way up the hill.
I was right, in part. By the light of my headlamp, I clambered over rocks, up steps, and around trees. By the time I made it to the ridge, I was breathing hard and my jacket was tied around my waist. My jumper soon followed. The ridge turned out to be somewhat steeper than I anticipated and covered in a fine dusty gravel. I figured I had hit the gravel slope sooner than I expected. I was wrong. Completely wrong.
After several weeks of relatively little exercise, the shitty start to the day and the possible effect of the altitude, my legs were protesting at the torturous abuse and threatening to go on strike without warning. I forced them on anyway. An hour of walking up the ridgeline, I discovered the actual summit slope I had been warned about.
Gravel and rock. One step forward, half a step back. More gravel. Scrambling sideways, searching desperately to find a line where the bloody scree would just hold so I wasn't sliding so much. More rock. Stopping every ten metres to breath heavily in the thin mountain air. Shoes filling with sand. Trying to decide between a slow steady climb or short bursts with more rests. Nothing worked.
Everyone suffered. Our group staggered up the slope, breathing complaints and encouragement to each other in ragged gasps. The ever present sound of footfalls sliding in gravel. It nearly broke me. I looked up this slope and felt my legs weaken at how much further I had to go. One member of our group fell, and I begged her to be hurt so I could carry her back down rather than move any further up this stupid mountain.
The rocks above. I told myself, that if I reached the rocks above and the top wasn't right bloody there, I was going to curl into a ball and see how far down the mountain I could roll.
Luckily enough, the rocks were it and I had arrived at the summit. Three hours of trudging up from the tents most of which was spent on the final slope and I was just in time for sunrise. I almost didn't give a shit. All I wanted was to slide back down giving the mountain the finger the entire way and never look at it again.
At least the sunrise was a nice one. High above the clouds, we looked out over Lombok to the other islands, and down at Rinjani's crater to the lake. It was no small feeling of accomplishment, sitting there watching people struggle their way up the hard part of the climb. I may have pointed. I may have laughed. I feel I earned it.
Eventually we started our descent. I am thankful we started climbing at 2AM. I can only imagine how soul crushing it must feel to have people sliding down the mountain at a great pace while you are trying to scramble up that gravel-lined hell. I smiled brightly at every person I saw and gave them the patronising words of encouragement they expected.
"Not far to go!" but you will be in pain for every second of it.
"This is the hardest part" apart from the bit just above you where it gets worse.
"Keep it up" or give up, lie down, and do nothing. I really don't care because I'm heading down towards breakfast.
Once we were back at the tents, I shared an apple I'd saved with the cute German girl while we waited for breakfast and the other people on our trek. The original plan was to walk three hours down to the crater lake, then another three hours up to the next camp. My legs decided six more hours of walking was a fucking stupid idea. Three others on the trek thought it so stupid they abandoned the trek altogether and went home. It wasn't hard to convince the guides of a better plan where we walked down to the crater lake, then lay down in the nearby hot springs and refuse to move for several hours, even if it meant walking ten hours the following day.
The walk down to the crater was a slow and easy one. While there was some scrambling and slipping down rock, the hard part was definitely over. Our guide told several of us to push on ahead so soon the cute German girl and I were lost in the fog, wandering through an eerie world into the crater of an active volcano. Some might argue sleeping in the crater of an active volcano is rather silly. I imagine the closest those people come to real excitement is watching the episode finale of whatever reality TV show they're currently hooked on. Of course I still spent a moment wondering if my travel insurance would cover me if this place suddenly decided to blow up.
We made camp, then spent some time soaking in the nearby hot springs, trying to coax some life back into our tired legs. Not surprisingly, sleep came easily to everyone. Once dinner was over, people started passing out.
Day Three: The Walk Out
Camping next to the crater bought us time to sit in the hot springs, but we needed to make it up somehow, so at 5AM we were ready to start walking again. We wandered along the edge of the crater lake and up towards the rim, stopping to take photos of the recently formed cone. The views on the way out were spectacular and, without the burning legs and screaming lungs from the day before, we were able to enjoy them a lot more.
After three hours, we reached the crater rim and started the seven hour walk to the end point. The path led us through a forest, with everything you expect from a tropic forest. Monkeys called to each other, insects buzzed around, the fog rolled in again and the trees dripped with condensation. The path grew slippery and we stumbled our way along. However, no matter how hot, sweaty, tired and muddy we got at the end of all of this, like a shining beacon of hope, was the thought of a shower.
While it was definitely seven hours long, the walk out was relatively uneventful. We stopped for lunch, made for us by our friendly porters, then carried on. We slipped and stumbled our way along to the early afternoon until we finally reached the end. We walked through, under the archway that led into the national park.
As we waited for the others to catch up, we dropped our packs and enjoyed some simple luxuries. Somewhere to sit, a cold drink, a toilet that wasn't a hole in ground. We chatted a little, mainly about how much we hated that walk and how glad we were it was over, but also agreeing that we were glad we'd done it.
Notes: What to expect
Trekking up Rinjani is definitely worth doing, but do not expect it to be an easy hike. While it is not a technically difficult walk, it is a bit more than a stroll up a hill. While it isn't the hardest walk I've ever done, it was surprisingly difficult.
There are no showers. The hot springs were the closest we had to a shower or bath. There are also no toilets. Most operators have a hole in the ground with a tent around it. There are also plenty of bushes around.
There are a number of operators and you will see them all over the trail. More expensive companies will provide additional luxuries, such as chairs when you're eating dinner and nicer sleeping bags. I didn't bother with any of these as they don't really help much. I went with Rinjani Trekking who had an office in Sengigi.
I would recommend booking once you get to Lombok assuming you have time. There isn't much point in booking online as you will just end up paying a lot more for it. I booked for the following day and had no issues getting on, however do not expect this all the time.
I paid 1.2 million rupiah. Some paid more, others paid less. It depends on who you buy it through. Definitely compare and haggle if you can. You will also be expected to tip the porters and the guide at the end. They do a lot of work and do not earn a lot of money, so don't be a cheap ass and tip them.
What to take:
Clothes: The summit gets cold. Take something warm to wear. I had a jumper and long trekking pants. Most of the time I was in shorts and a singlet though. Take a jacket for rain or as a windbreaker. Bathing suit/swimmers for the hot springs or the crater lake.
Shoes: I wore in my chuck taylors. Most people had running shoes. We survived. I wouldn't bother taking hiking boots along just for this walk, but they would definitely help, especially if it gets wet or you have ankle problems.
Headlamp: I would recommend a headlamp if you are planning on being on the summit for sunrise. Much easier than using a flashlight.
Power: This is obviously no power up the mountain, so take batteries or power banks.
What I would have done differently:
I wouldn't have underestimated it as much. That is probably the first thing. I also would have taken food for the climb to the summit. Anything. Snacks or something. It would have meant taking a pack, which would have annoyed me a little, but I was definitely struggling climbing the summit without breakfast.
I doubt I would have changed my shoes though. Even though I did ruin my new chucks, they now have that 'worn in' look that makes chucks look so great.
Enjoy! If you've been on the Rinjani trek, then drop me a comment and let me know how you found it. If you want to give it a go, then feel free to message with any questions!