At 3726m high, Rinjani is Indonesia’s second highest volcano – and Indonesia has a lot of volcanoes, running as it does along the tectonic plate boundary between the Eurasian and the Indo-Australian plate. It’s an active volcano – it last erupted in 2010 – and dominates the small island of Lombok where it stands. Several friends had recommended it to us as a highlight of their Indonesia trips, and I had really enjoyed visiting the Bromo and Ijen volcanoes in Java, so we knew we had to pay it a visit…
We arrived at Senaru, the small village at the foot of the volcano, slightly nervous about what the climb would be like – the last serious hiking either of us had done was the Inca Trail leading up to Macchu Picchu, which we had found pretty tough, and we had read a review saying Rinjani was “ten times” harder than the Inca Trail, and several tourists died every year on the mountain. Hmmmm. In addition, we met several climbers in Senaru who had just come back from Rinjani looking pale and worn out, and several of them had had to turn back early it was so difficult. One even seemed a bit hysterical as she described the climb. Nevertheless, we signed up with a agency called Lenk’s who turned out to be very competent but not too pricey. We regretted at first not going with “Restu”, the cheapest option available, as when we set off we realised that all the fun backpackers were in that group – but when we found out that the Restu accommodation had had bed bugs the night before the climb we were glad to have gone with Lenk despite our slightly irritating group-companions! And in any case we ended up bumping into the Restu group a lot on the climb.
The first day was steadily uphill to the crater rim, a climb of 1500m. It started out not too difficult among the foothills, but by the end of the day, it was steep enough to necessitate a hands-on approach! But the view into the crater and the crater lake when we finally got to the rim made it totally worth it, without even mentioning the absolutely phenomenal sunset we saw from our campsite later that evening. We then faced a decision – to attempt or not to attempt the summit climb the next day? It was a full day of hiking starting at 9am even without the summit, so to do the summit as well meant an early morning start before the rest of the walking. After a bit of discussion, we decided that we might as well give it a try. By this point, one lady in our group had already decided she had had enough, and so the porters took her back down again the following morning…
We were up at 1am for a 2am start in our group of now five hikers. It was a 1100m climb to the summit from the crater rim – one lady turned back after 5 minutes, another man after the first hour. It took Alex and I a full four hours to get to the top, mainly because the very last section was very steep and made out of this very sandy volcanic gravel where every step you took you seemed to slip back further than where you had started: progress was very, very slow, and when I look back on it I am surprised that we actually made it to the summit given the number of times we fell over and almost gave up. We didn’t get to the top quite in time for sunrise, but very shortly after, and, unsurprisingly, there were pretty amazing views all over Lombok from the top!
Then it was back down those 1100m, a quick breakfast at camp, then down another 600m into the crater to have lunch by the crater lake. This was pretty cool because inside the crater itself, another volcano was starting to grow out of the crater lake…and also there were some LOVELY hot springs we had a quick swim in. After lunch was another 600m climb up to our second campsite on the crater rim, and along the way Adi, one of our porters, carefully showed us the spot where a Thai tourist had fallen to her death the week before. We held on especially tightly to the rocks as we clambered after hearing that…the route would definitely not have passed a health and safety rest in the UK! We arrived at about 6pm, having set out at 2am, with maybe an hour off for breakfast and two hours for lunch, so it was a very full day of 13 hours walking.
This was supposed to be the easy day – straight downhill 2000m from the crater rim back to Senaru – but somehow suited neither of us. I seemed to be incapable of making my way down without falling over every 5 minutes, which is not so fun, and Alex’s boots were bruising his feet with every step, so we made slow progress. But we did finally reach the bottom!
Now we are recovering in the Gili Islands just off Lombok, and the gruelling climb has certainly taken its toll on us. Alex’s blackened toenails are starting to heal now, but I managed to contract some form of very painful tonsillitis in the aftermath of the climb so have spent most of the past week here admiring the Gilis from the safety of my bed with a high fever – no exploring or diving for me here. Looking back, we are both glad that we climbed Rinjani, and got to the summit (which most hikers don’t do), but I can certainly say it is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life!