Trekking Gunung Rinjani

Recently I had the chance to trek Gunung Rinjani (pictures), on the island of Lombok in Indonesia. At 3,726 meters (12,224 feet), Rinjani is the second highest volcano in Indonesia. It’s a spectacular example of a stratovolcano with a large caldera, containing a 200 meter deep crater lake, hot springs, and a small active cone in the center.

Typically, the way the trek works is that a person, or group will hire a local guide, who is pretty much there to look out for you and cook the dinners, and one or more porters who carry the food and camping gear. You are responsible for carrying your own clothing, cameras, etc. Since I was one person, I had a guide and one porter.

My base for this trek was in the small tobacco farming village of Sapit, where I stayed in one of only two guest houses in the village — Hati Suci Homestay. The rooms are simple, but clean, and the view from the rooms is fantastic. The staff at Hati Suci is extremely friendly and helpful, and arranged the trek for me, including transportation to and from the mountain. The only trouble I had, was that I was there during Ramadan, and all the villages in the area are very seriously religious. This means that there are probably 15 mosques in a one mile radius, and all of those mosques were in full swing, broadcasting prayers over loudspeakers from 7:30 pm to 12:30 am. There is a 3 hour break, then the loudspeakers light up again at 3:30 am, then 4:30 am, then they go full swing at 5:30 am. It’s very difficult to get any sleep, though ear plugs did help. However, I really enjoy the Muslim call to prayer, and I felt lucky to be able to experience Ramadan in a seriously religious setting like that, even though I don’t understand what’s going on.

Day 1:
After a large breakfast of veggie fried rice, I hopped onto the back of a motorbike and had a nerve-wracking half hour ride on a narrow mountain road to Sembalun Village where the trail starts. While the guy driving the bike likes to call himself a “professional” motorbike taxi driver, it’s clear from where I sat that motorbike driving is not one of his strong skills. My knuckes were white, and my legs a bit shaky after that ride.

I met my guide, Hamzan at the trailhead, and we were quickly on our way into the grasslands leading up to the base of the mountain. Even at seven in the morning, it was warm, and heating up by the minute. We caught up with our porter, Saba, on the trail, and the three of us continued the long hike up to the rim. The hike was very tough for me — the past 10 months or so of drinking beer on sandy beaches haven’t exactly been getting me in shape for this trek…. Of course Hamzan was chain smoking clove cigarettes the whole way up — unbelievable.

Hamzan with clove cigarette in hand

At about 3:30 pm, we made it to our camp site on the rim, and the incredible view made all the pain worth while. I was finally putting to use the heavy camera gear I’d been cursing all day, and was now happy to have it with me. Saba set up camp, Hamzan cooked dinner, and I went to town taking picture after picture of the amazing mountain. Shortly after dark, it was time to hit the sack and rest up for the early morning climb to the summit.

Afternoon view from our campsite on the rim

Day 2:
At 3 am, headlamps on, Hamzan and I started the climb to the summit. This was absolutely the most difficult climb I’ve ever done. It was a steep ridge trail consisting of a mix of pumice, fist sized rocks, and deep powdery dust. Take two steps up, and slide one back down. Sometimes it felt like I wasn’t moving at all, just sinking into the ground. Add to that, the thin air, and this made the hike agonizing. Of course watching all the young hikers stomp on up past me didn’t help — damn kids! At 6:30 I finally dragged my sorry butt up onto the peak, and it was spectacular, to say the least! Again, all the pain was absolutely worth it. Watching the sun light up the caldera, and the island of Bali in the distance was truly amazing. After about twenty minutes up on the summit, it was time to head down. A long day of hiking still lay ahead.

View from the summit

The hike down from the peak was remarkably easy in the soft silt / pumice mix, however, the hike down to the lake from the top of the rim was quite difficult. The “trail” was a steep path down boulders and slick rock. I took my time, and was being very careful because I knew a twisted ankle or blown knee here would be disastrous. The whole time I’m slowly and carefully picking my footing, porters are blasting by me down the hill wearing flip-flops! It was amazing to watch these guys.

We made it to the lake around noon. I immediately went to the hot springs for a soak, as every muscle in my body was in pain at this point. The hot water did wonders, though it certainly didn’t give me any energy back for the upcoming hike to the other rim. at around 2 pm, we were on our way up the other side of the caldera. This side was much like the one we came down — very steep and rocky. It was a brutal 3.5 hour hike up the rim to our campsite for the night. I was so tired when I got up there, I had to force myself to eat dinner before I passed out at around 7:30 pm.

Day 3
I woke in time for another spectacular sunrise on Rinjani. Actually, I woke at 3 am, so I could get a long exposure picture of hikers on the other rim going for the summit. Unfortunately, the picture turned out to be a flop…. Anyway, from where we camped on the rim, Bali and the Gili Islands were visible in the distance, and made for good sunrise pictures. After another breakfast of banana pancakes (oi, I never need to eat another banana pancake again in my life after Indonesia…), it was time to start the long march down to Senaru Village, the end point of the trek. The hike started off in slippery pumice & gravel, where I fell quite a few times. Then the trail wound down into a lush forest, making the hike quite cool – a nice way to finish the trek. On the way down, I passed quite a few people on their way up, and I kept thinking – “you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

All in all, the trek was amazing and I’m glad I did it. However, I can say that it was the most difficult trek I’ve ever done. This made the Annapurna look like a cake walk, the Penang Hill death march look like a stroll across the street. I would recommend that anyone considering undertaking this amazing trek, spend some time before hand getting physically prepared for the hike. It’s been five days since I finished, and my leg muscles have not yet fully recovered.

Check out pictures from the trek here