Rinjani didn’t exactly start well…
The evening we were due to fly to Lombok from Jakarta, we were informed by the person checking us in that the flight had been cancelled because ‘Baby Rinjani’ (as it’s known) had erupted. We were supposed to be relaxing and seeing waterfalls the following day but insted we had to fly to Bali, stay in Kuta overnight and then the next day get a taxi to the harbour at Padang Bai, a fast boat to Gili T, and then a public ferry to Bangsal in Lombok before we were collected by our company, Green Rinjani, and driven the 1.5 hours to our base for the night before we started our 3 day, 2 night trek up the second-largest mountain in Indonesia at 3726m.
Once we finally arrived in Senaru, we met our fellow trekker, Donna from California, and had dinner before we were given a welcome talk by our guide, Andy. Andy appeared to be really young and over the course of the next three days we found out that he was one the youngest people to become a guide at only 23 and had been a guide for 5 years, after being a porter for 1 year. Andy explained the route we would be taking and that people had previously described the trek as ‘so fucking hard’. We all laughed along. Little did we realise how right those people had been.
On our first day we were up early for breakfast and saw a beautiful sunrise as we sat eating our pancakes. We then left Senaru at 7am and drove 45 minutes to our starting point (and what turned out to be our end point too) at Sembalun. The trek didn’t start out too badly (minus Simon being slightly unwell) even though it was challenging, and we had lots of breaks along the way. We walked across beautiful open land and then into a covered area where we ran into at least a hundred cows just hanging out. We had decent weather on the first morning but it quickly become very hot and we were all sweating buckets!
We stopped for lunch on a bridge, which was the first time we met our porters. Each person has one porter assigned to them and they carry all the food, drinks, tent and toilet equipment necessary for the three days. The porters are absolutely incredible, carrying at least 30kg on the way up, which is balanced on a bamboo stick that they have over their shoulder. They also walk in flips flops or bare feet and still beat us to the top… I struggled with my walking boots and trekking poles. It was over lunch that I decided our trek up Mount Rinjani was like what I imagine being in prison is like: you could only think of putting one foot in front of the other, not the fact that we had X number of miles or hours ahead of us, similarly in prison I would think to make it through relatively sanely you can’t think about how many months or years you have left on your sentence, but only focus on your next activity e.g. brush your teeth.
During our 1 hour break for lunch, Andy informed us that it was about to get much harder for the second part of the day up to where we were camping for the night (just need to put one foot in front of the other…). I had no idea what was in store. It was so fucking hard. It felt like the side of the mountain was vertical and even though the website had stated you had to be very fit for the trek (I didn’t think I was too bad before we went!) I quickly found out that I’m what I now call ‘gym fit’, not ‘real life’ fit. I kept losing my breathe and had to keep having breaks. Donna was super fit and went ahead of Simon and I but Andy stayed with us to help and encourage us.
After a very difficult few hours, we finally reached the top at 4pm (Donna had reached it at 3:30pm – what a trekking hero!). I thought this was awful and that we were super slow but Andy later told us a story of a group who hadn’t reached the campsite until midnight, so I didn’t feel so bad after that! Unfortunately a thick fog had descended over the campsite so we couldn’t see any of the views. However, it was quite cool feeling like you were actually in the clouds. After trekking in very hot weather all day, it was a surprise at how cold we suddenly became.
1) go to the summit to see the sunrise, return to the campsite and then spend the afternoon trekking to and from the hot springs (although not to go in them as it would be dangerous because of the eruption) and then return back down to Sembulan
2) go to the second platform to see the sunrise (as we wouldn’t make it to the summit in time) and then trek down to the hot springs and up to the second campsite and then down through the jungle back to Senaru.
Andy said that the second option was extremely challenging, particularly in the weather conditions we had. After discussing it, we decided that we would take the first option as the weather was so against us. It felt like giving in but the first day had been harder than any of us had imagined.
The next day we woke up at 2:30am to have a snack before leaving at 3am to trek to the summit. Andy split it into sections for us: first section, second section, summit. The first section was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life. Not only was it pitch black with only a headtorch to see where we were going, I could only do about one step forward for every four steps. Simon said afterwards that as he watched me he was thinking it was at least a 40 degree incline. Coupled with the very loose stones and rocks, as well as feeling like you were sinking into the ground, I was very tempted to join the number of people that we saw turning around and heading back to camp. However, after we finally made it to the first section (Andy had told Donna to go ahead again!), Andy said that the next section to the second station was easier but was open so was very windy.
He was right that it was easier and I enjoyed the trek to the second section much more. However, we had awful conditions and it was bitterly cold with very strong wind. Andy said that we wouldn’t see the sunrise as normally the fog lifts but it was too thick for it to lift in time. Simon and I made it to the second platform and if the weather hadn’t been so bad we would have just made it for sunrise. It wasn’t to be. We decided not to go to the summit as the weather was so bad and we wouldn’t have seen anything anyway. After about 45 minutes, Simon and I made our way back down, this time in the light. I’m so glad I couldn’t see the edges on the way up! Some parts were so narrow. However, it was much easier going down and once we got to the first section again, I could see why we’d found it so hard on the way up. We arrived back at the campsite at about 8:30 (so only 5.5 hours trekking!).
Donna made it up to the summit (go girl!) and the day before had been keen to go to the hot springs but once she arrived back at camp, even she was too exhausted to go! We found out that some of the other groups around us were heading back down that day and no-one was going to the hot springs apart from one group. So we spent the rest of the day eating, napping, and playing cards and then in the evening we had dinner followed by a campfire.
On the final day we woke up to the most stunning sunrise ever. The cloud finally lifted and we had the most beautiful views over the Lake of Segara Anak and of Rinjani. We could also see the smoke still coming from Baby Rinjani. Despite all the hard work and the disappointing trek up Rinjani itself, that morning made the whole thing worthwhile for me. My brain couldn’t quite process what I was seeing and it felt like I was looking at a HD image on a TV screen.
We spent the day making our way back down to Sembulan. Even though it was very steep and we were tired from 14 hours of trekking up hill over the previous two days, I didn’t find this day as challenging. We’d formed really good relationships with Andy and Donna so we just chatted most of the way down. We arrived back in Senaru at around 3pm.
This trek was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I was really naive, even having read all the blogs, that it would be challenging but that I would be fine. It was more challenging that I could ever have imagined. The trek is difficult both physically, we were in lots of pain for at least two days afterwards, and mentally. It was also colder than I could have imagined so I was grateful for all the layers we took. However, I think it was worth it. Mostly for proving to myself that I could do it. I may not have made it to the summit but I’m really proud of what I did do. But would I do it again? I always say never say never but… No way!
I read so many blogs about Rinjani once we’d booked it to make sure we had all the things we needed. It was all great advice! So here are the things to make sure you include on your packing list if you ever decide to scale Rinjani: plasters/ blister pads, warm jumper /fleece, waterproof/ windbreaker jacket, hat/ gloves, head torch lamp, broken in hiking boots, hand sanitiser and baby wipes, trekking poles (these really saved my life, can be rented locally), sun lotion, Ibuprofen, Camelbak, plastic bag, portable iPhone charger, flip flops, snacks (even though there’s plenty of food we were glad we took cereal bars, raisins, sweets, energy tablets, and nuts), insect repellent, Deep Heat. Will also need travel towel and swimwear if you make it to the hot springs.