Hiking Mt. Rinjani: The Start of an Incredible Adventure

Sweat pooled around my lower back. I took my backpack off and chucked it onto the ground. Dirt clung to the wet fabric, sticking to it like a magnet.

I craned my neck towards the tip of the mountain. Porters and their hikers weaved through a line of trees, forming a single file line. Where the line ended, I wasn’t sure – the top of the hill hid behind clouds.

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“Damn, Indonesians don’t believe in switchbacks, do they?” I said to Reuben, a friend hiking Mt. Rinjani with me. “Whoever made this trail just plowed a line straight to the top.”mtrinjani21

I stopped for a moment to catch my breath, inhaling humid air.

Mt. Rinjani is a 3,800-meter-high active volcano on the island of Lombok, adjacent to Bali. Though it’s the third highest peak in all of Indonesia, it’s the hardest to climb. There is one main trail that weaves through the volcano and the crater lake, and it is technically illegal to trek without a local guide.

I shared this masochistic experience with my friend Minneth from Perth, his two friends, and a mother-daughter duo from Switzerland. Together, we’d embark on trekking to the summit of Mt. Rinjani and crossing its crater rim twice.

Earlier that day, we’d met our tour guide, Gus, who would be guiding the tour with another employee named Dana. We also had eight porters, who would be the angels in charge of transporting our goods, feeding us, and sheltering us for the next four days and three nights.
I chose to trek with Green Rinjani because of their strong environmental and safety policies. Unfortunately, tourism to this beautiful volcano has brought a slew of pollution and human waste problems. Many trekking companies simply leave their trash on the mountain – with no waste management system, this really damages the environment.

We started the first day early, fueled up on banana pancakes and cavity-inducing sweet tea. A driver brought us from the headquarters of Green Rinjani to the base of the mountain, where we’d register ourselves for the hike. I heard through the grapevine that the summit was freezing, so I ran to a local stall selling snacks and asked if they sold gloves. They tossed me a grey and tattered pair for 20,000 Rp, the equivalent of $2.

“Terima kasih!” I nodded, and ran back to the group.

The hike began in grasslands, where we passed fly-covered yaks and stepped over their fresh patties. The sun beat down on my scalp and skin, causing beads of sweat to form even though I didn’t feel exerted. Though most of us tried to make small talk in the first hour of the hike, it dwindled as we walked on – learning that most of our energy would have to be conserved for trekking, not socializing.

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trekkingmtrinjani5Many of the porters and guides do this trek up to two times per week, usually wearing only flip flops. Those wearing hiking boots usually acquired them from a trekker as a gift. Many porters have a large callus formed on their shoulders from carrying up to 50 kilograms on their back day in and day out. The staff who trek Rinjani for a living are as tough as hell.mtrinjani1

There were tens of other trekkers with various companies making the same journey that we would be. A few hours into the hike, we stopped for a generous lunch of fresh fruit and vegetable fried rice prepared by the porters. I felt a bit uncomfortable with the luxury – doesn’t trekking usually mean slamming down trail mix and boiling instant oats over a flame cooker? At least, that’s what it always has for me.
Three hours ticked by as our group plod up the long dirt trail. Long strides turned into baby steps as the path inclined, and my backpack started to feel like it was filled with lead.

To pass the time, I asked Gus a series of questions.

“Do people ever turn around or get hurt?”

“Yeah. All the time. Maybe one out of three make it to the summit. I had one group walk to the base of the mountain, look up, take a picture, and turn around. Other times, people have broken their ankles – we have to get someone to drive a motorbike up this road to get them. It’s very crazy.”

Despite knowing better, I’ve never been one to hike with proper boots. I throw on my trusty pair of jogging shoes for just about any land-based challenge and it usually works out fine. However, raised tree roots, loose rocks, and bumpy terrain threatened to twist my ankle with every step – made heavier by the weight of my backpack.

I’ve always had a knack for endurance sports, but after five hours of trekking, self-doubt invaded my skull. How much further to the crater? Could I really do this for four days?

Our group stratified, bookended by both tour guides who stayed dutifully ahead and behind the fastest and slowest trekkers, respectively. As we neared the crater rim, fog rolled through and people started taking breaks at a more frequent rate. I was eager to finish the hike, trudging along repeating, a body in motion, stays in motion.

A few hundred meters from the crater rim, a woman nearby started sobbing. I’d spoken to her earlier – her boyfriend proposed a few days before, and they were doing the trek to celebrate their engagement.

“I can’t do it,” she cried.

I felt awkward and left the consoling to her guide and fiancé.

We broke through the cloud barrier hovering just below the edge of the rim and could see the top.

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Finally, my heart pounding through my ears, I made it to the crater rim and immediately was rewarded with a panoramic view of a turquoise lake. The back of my backpack was soaked in sweat. A bodysuit of dust cloaked my skin. My legs shook. I didn’t care. I started laughing and high-fived Reuben, who’d gotten there just moments before.

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The porters made it there long before we did and had already set up camp.

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Neon colored tents punctuated the skyline. We feasted on a meal of vegetable curry and hot ginger tea. I asked my porters to pour an extra serving of the tea in my metal water bottle, so that I could throw it into my sleeping bag for warmth.

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I saw the woman from earlier on the crater rim. This time, she was smiling with pride.

Trekkers from other companies trickled in as the sun teetered above the crater’s edge – rewarding us with color combinations we’d never seen before.

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“Tonight, we wake up at 1:30 a.m., have a snack, and then do the summit to see the sunrise,” Gus prepped us.

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“There will be a really steep, steep on both sides area,” he continued. “If you fall there, the lights go out.”

A few in the group voiced concerns about making it to the summit – pesky health issues crept up early on the first day for some. They contemplated not even attempting.

“You have to try!” I argued, “You can’t come all this way and not try.”

I pulled Gus aside.

“I have to make it. You need to make sure I get there before sunrise.”

“Okay, okay. You can do it. I’ll make sure.”

I chugged water and mentally prepared myself to wake up and hike early. My stomach churned with nervousness – aside from personal reasons for wanting to summit before sunrise, I had a lot riding on it workwise. I dreaded penning some sentence like, “I couldn’t do it, but you can!” for a few companies who were interested in buying guides and stories about Mt. Rinjani.

I crawled into my tent that night and wondered what the next few hours would bring. Minneth, my tent mate, slept restlessly, zipping in and out the entire night to take pictures of the stars when he couldn’t sleep. I closed my eyes, hugged my hot water bottle close, and willed my mind to sleep.

Could I make it?trekkingmtrinjani11

 

Continue to Part II and Part III

Read all about hiking Mt. Rinjani on beautiful Lombok, Indonesia, one of the most beautiful volcanoes in all of Asia. This is a firsthand account on the best trek in Indonesia.

Disclosure: I was offered a media rate from Green Rinjani. Had they not accepted my media proposal, I would have gladly paid full price as this is truly the only company I felt comfortable trekking with after researching nearly all others. As always, all opinions are my own.

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19 Responses

  1. Suruchi says:

    Awesome pictures and the whole experience seems wow. Looking forward for the sec part.

  2. blair villanueva says:

    I wish I am strong and brave like you to be able to trek at this beautiful volcano. When was its last eruption?

  3. Indrani says:

    Wow a well completed trek. I am not sure if I can complete something like this. But the scenic sights are an inspiration to keep on climbing.
    Excellent captures.

  4. Sanket D. says:

    A few hundred meters from the crater rim, a woman nearby started sobbing. I’d spoken to her earlier – her boyfriend proposed a few days before, and they were doing the trek to celebrate their engagement.

    “I can’t do it,” she cried.

    I felt awkward and left the consoling to her guide and fiancé.

    ^^ this part had me quietly chuckling to myself, Chantae! This is exactly what my reaction would have been too! How do you even deal with situations like these? I loved reading about your ascent. I think it must have been a brilliant experience. Having said that, it looks super crowded. Is it always like this? I don’t know if I’d still do it with so many people around. Generally if I trek or hike, its to get away from as many humans as possible. LOL
    Sanket D. recently posted…10 Local Things to Do in PondicherryMy Profile

  5. SindhuMurthy says:

    Reading your blog, trekking Mt. Rinjani seems to be an amazing experience. When the train could such amazing views even before you have reached the summit, I can image how wonderful the view would be from the summit. Can’t wait to read your 2nd post on this

  6. George says:

    Hiking is always a blast, such a great way to collect memories and meet other travelers with similar interests. Your collection of photos are striking, my favorite is the one with all the tents and the fog. Keep up the good work, I’m looking forward to follow your adventures.

  7. Active Volcano! It looks so pleasant and beautiful though!!! I cant really picture why completing the trek was a task for many. Glad you made it though and gave us a virtual trek trip with this post 😀

  8. Wow, this sounds like one tough trek. Mt. Rinjani looks beautiful, but I am not sure I’d be able to make it all the way. I’d love to try though, it is indeed gorgeous judging by your photos. As for boots, I used to be like you, running shoes would be enough. Then, after a few days in the mountains at an airsoft event (it was the middle of summer and we had full military gear), I kind of got the point of proper hiking boots and never looked back.

  9. Wow! I can just imagine the exhilaration of reaching the top and finally settling down to catch your breath, seeing the overwhelming beauty all around. There seem to be so many people around. I wonder if anyone’s been there all alone.

  10. Veronica says:

    The views from the mt. Rinjani are breathtaking! How’s is that, to jump above the clouds? I remembered a cartoon where bears lived in the clouds lol.
    I love the way you write, I felt like I was hiking with you!

  11. Hannah says:

    As much as I loved travelling with you, I am so glad I did not join you on this. It sounds a bit like hell and I think I would have died, haha. I shall live vicariously through your (beautiful) photos instead. Looking forward to part 2!
    Hannah recently posted…Best Tips for Eating Street Food Without Getting SickMy Profile

  12. Wanderungen says:

    Although Rinjani is a tough mountain but it is one of the most rewarding. You have great pictures. Love them so much.
    Wanderungen recently posted…Rinjani Vulkan LombokMy Profile

  13. Therie says:

    I bet the view and the experience were definitely the most rewarding! Spectacular photos!
    Therie recently posted…Escape Winter: Budget-Friendly Ocean Fishing in Puerto PenascoMy Profile

  14. Bella says:

    I’m considering doing this trek but wondering whether I am fit enough. How can I tell?

    • Chantae says:

      Hey Bella, you should be able to walk 7-8 hours per day of steep incline or decline. Some good training is taking up jogging (slowly) – overexercise often leads to injury – and hiking around your home trails. 🙂

  1. January 23, 2017

    […] (This post continues from Part 1 – Trekking Mt. Rinjani: The Start of an Incredible Adventure.) […]

  2. February 1, 2017

    […] post continues from Part I and Part […]

  3. June 26, 2017

    […] it’s still in perfect condition. My backpack has gone with me everywhere from the top of Mt. Rinjani to the Eiffel Tower to Las […]

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