Climbing Mount Rinjani: A grueling 3 day hike!

Asia days 26,27,28

Something I had researched prior to the trip was climbing Mt. Rinjani- an active volcano and the second largest within the Indonesian ring of fire. We payed for the trip from one of the tour shacks on the Gili Islands, costing us 1.2m IDR ($90) for the 3 day hike- everything included! As we were beginning to discover about most things through Asia, tours are cheaper when bought in person than anything quoted on the internet! Its fair to say that this ranks as one of the most challenging things I’ve done…it was worth every ounce of sweat and a must do when visiting Indonesia!

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Day One

At sunrise we caught the boat, leaving behind the Gili Islands and arriving at Lombok. Here, a guide picked us up, driving us through the rice paddies and up into the hillside.

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We were introduced to our group of 6 climbers and to our guide- Han- kitted out in a typically ludicrous t-shirt that was not too uncommon throughout Indonesia!

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Leaving our main backpacks at the base guesthouse, we began our ascent through the jungle led by Han and his army of super-human porters.
Han explained that he and the rest of his men- some of whom were no older than 14 and donned flip flops as their chosen footwear to scale the 3,700m volcanic summit- would complete this 3 day route twice a week just to scrape a reasonable standard of living.

Considering the notoriously difficult reputation of the climb and the fact that we had spent the last week binging on the Gili Islands, the first few hours were pretty easy going as we slowly ascended past marker huts under the shade of the forest, eventually stopping for noodles and boiled eggs.

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If we were getting complacent in our climbing abilities, then it wasn’t long after lunch that we got our first taste of the punishment ahead as we were caught out cold in the midst of an electrical storm. The driving rain quickly turned the dirt trails into small rivers and cascading waterfalls and we struggled to retain our balance on nature’s best ‘slip and slide’.

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Soaked through to the core- which had a damaging effect on my camera- we reached the safety of a climbing hut, occupied to full capacity by 4 or 5 groups who had set out before us. In snuggled penguin formations, we shivered as the thunder erupted in deafening circumstances around us. I’d never heard or witnessed anything like this before! No sooner had the sky had time to flash did the thunder boom- no delay- we were at the very centre of the storm!

It took an hour for any kind of relief and surrender from the storm. The guides accepted that we were not going to reach our marker for the end of the day, but that we had to stride through the easing rain further up the mountainside to maintain any chance of reaching our overall goal- the summit.

We departed the canopy forest and stumbled up the hillside, where we were now totally exposed to the elements. Fortunately the rain passed and the sun did its best to emerge through the clouds.

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With the light fading, we set up a temporary camp for the night- half way up the first mountainside- and watched as the thunder storm now encroached over the 3 Gilis Islands- sending silent forks of electricity through the air.
Fires were lit and we huddled around in our sleeping bags for residues of warmth- but with all our clothing and backpacks soaked right through we experienced a numbingly cold and uncomfortable night.

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Day Two

It was impossible sleep a wink and instead I spent the night shivering just to maintain any warmth. As a result I had a distinct lack of energy by the time we were summoned from our tents to breakfast in the morning. There was a hitch in my mind telling me that it would be silly to continue- this was drowned out by my stubborn and over-competitive nature to carry on.

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To make matters harder, we had to push to compensate for the loss of time caused by the storm. We were about 2 hours behind our designated marks. But, these guides are troopers and knowing a lot of the groups were in trouble, a Ukulele suddenly appeared and local songs were sung to push us further up the mountain. The sun emerged and with it a warming energy- things were okay again!

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A couple of hours later and we had reached, what should have been our camp for the previous night- the top of the crater lake- and what a view! 

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We were now over 2500m above sea-level and could see the peak we had to summit. However this was on the other side of the crater and we now had to descend into the lake, back down to 1500m before we could make the climb for the tip. The scenery flickered between forests, meadows, savannas and shoulder-height crops. Mist and low lying cloud further added to the Jurassic-like environment. It was all pretty stunning!

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Reaching a set of geo-thermal waterfalls, we took a deserved massage in the natural Jacuzzi waters, before having lunch by the lake- using the time, to unravel the entire contents of our backpacks to allow them as much drying time as possible. It was here, that I realised my passport had also become a victim of the storm- smearing off half of my face- The next border crossing should be interesting! We also had to guard our possessions from a troop of Macaques, who managed to run off with one of the girls t-shirts.

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We left the lake knowing that we had to ascend a further 1500m before sunset. This is where the super-human powers of the porters really strutted into gear as they sang to each other and cracked jokes, constantly laughing as they balanced our entire camp up the near vertical rock faces, charging up the mountain and into the distance.

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Our stops became much more frequent, mostly due to the nature of the challenge and the thinning air, but also because with each ascending step the scenery became so much more overwhelming. Before long we had passed through the cloud cover, ascending into the celestial realms and peering down into a white haze below. It was surreal!

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The vertical elements began to flatten and after 9 hours of climbing we had reached our second camp spot- high above the clouds and overlooking our entire accomplishments from the day.

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The drifting cloud line passed through and we sat proudly as we ate the last supplies of chicken and noodles and watched the sun set over the Gili Islands.

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As we gathered by the fire, sipping on tea to keep us warm, Han announced that if we wanted to make it to the top for sunrise, then we would have to be ready to leave by 3am and we would be walking up an ash ridge in the pitch black. Of the 6 that started the trek, only 3 were comfortable in accepting this challenge- the two of us and the French dude.

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Day Three

No sooner than falling asleep we were awake again. As Han had explained, the final hurdle to reach the summit was arguably the toughest. Between the 4 of us, we had 3 headlights and were constantly battling a slippery layer of ash. It was quite literally 1 step forward and two steps back. Of course, doing all this in the pitch black, further heightened the extremity of the challenge. Slipping, sliding, rolling and grasping for any grounded sediment resulted in us virtually crawling up the ridge.

A few moans, groans and tantrums later and we had made it, a full 3726m to the summit of the volcano and not only were we in time for the sunrise, but we were also the first to the top!

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We sat back, completely wrecked but full of fulfillment that the challenge was completed. We watched as the flickers from other torchlights meandered their way up to meet us and shared the sunrise together, each person beaming and brimming with their personal reward.

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For the 15 or so that had made it to the very top, we were unanimous in regarding this as the most difficult challenge we had faced, but with such challenge comes perhaps the greatest reward!

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15After soaking up the sun it was time to descend back to camp. It was only now, with the sun illuminating our way, that we realised what we had just climbed. A knife-edge of black ash, dropping vertically to either side. It was scary to think how close we might have been to the edge in our pitch black ascent!

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Whereas the slippery ash was nearly impossible to climb, it had the reverse effect as we were able to quickly glide down the mountainside and back to camp in a fraction of the time it took to ascend.

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We were greeted to a small breakfast, but there was little time to rest, as the porters had already packed up and had began to descend back to sea-level. We quickly followed, disembarking down from 3000m through open fields and across dried lava streams.

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Just when everything seemed to be more or less complete, the heavens threw one last hurdle at us- another thunder storm. With just 3km further to reach, our path had become impassable as the dirt-paths that we were following had morphed into full flowing rivers.

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We sat under the trees in the cold for a half hour as the porters attempted to find an alternate way around the flash floods- alas there was none. Attempts of a bridge were thwarted and the river had now gained further momentum.

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With everyone shivering, one of the porters grew restless and decided to make a jump for a rock in the river. It was perhaps one of the most stupid things I’ve ever seen- had he not made the rock, who knows where he would have been churned up. Fortunately he did make it and managed to set up some sort of mediocre barrier that encouraged more porters to jump in and join him- nutters!

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They forged a human dam and passed us along an assembly line through the current and onto a rock at the centre of the river. From here we had to perform a leap of faith to the edge, reaching for the clutches of one of the porters who had made it to the other side and was expected to catch us.

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Somehow it worked and we all made it safely to the other side! We could laugh about it when we did, but it was a genuinely hair-raising experience.

We completed our walk through the rice fields to an awaiting truck, where we were farmed into the back of the trailer and driven in the rain to the guesthouse where we had started.

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Once warm and rested we could reflect on what was not only the hardest and most enduring of challenges, but what was also one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences possible. I didn’t think I’d ever have a climbing experience that would top my solo climb to Eagle Peak at Yosemite. But we faced almost every obstacle and challenge possible as we were thrown around like a cloth in a washing machine, yet still, somehow, unbelievably, we had completed what we had set out to do and reach the summit of Rinjani! Limbs battered, body drained and energy levels low- a few days recuperating by the beach are in order!

Mount Rinjani 3 day Climb: 1.2m IDR / $90: *****

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3 thoughts on “Climbing Mount Rinjani: A grueling 3 day hike!

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