Conquering Mount Rinjani

When visiting the lovely island of Lombok in Indonesia, something you will most definitely hear about is Gunung Rinjani.

Rinjani is a large volcano in Northern Lombok that draws thousands of adventurers each year to take on the colossal challenge of climbing it. This undertaking is incredibly difficult with only 40% of those attempting the climb making it to the summit.

In my naivety I thought this would quite literally be a walk in the national park but the mountain is a cold hard beast.

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If, like me, the only real experience you had with this type of walking is a small stomp through the Peak District, two small volcanoes (Bromo and Ijen) earlier in the month and beyond that camping trips with my dad when I was 12-16, you may like me draw from those experiences and think this might be something similar. Some parts were similar such as the walking, but climbing Mount Rinjani was so much more.

The day before

On the eve of our walk we stayed at Emy's Cafe and Hostel. This was a pretty basic homestay but the cost of the accommodation was included in the price of the hike so you are not given much choice on the place you get to stay at. Saying that, we really enjoyed our stay here. The room was on stilts, had weaved bamboo walls and two plug sockets - one of which was hanging out of the wall - but two sockets in a room is a rarity in these parts. 

We were sternly warned by Carlos (the attendant at the homestay) to shut our windows if we go out and during the night as monkeys will get in and trash the room and steal our stuff. The lock on the door was broken but using the cable lock for our luggage we managed to secure the room somewhat in order to keep the monkeys out and help us feel a bit more secure about our gear.

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Emy's itself is located very close to two large waterfalls in Senaru village so we had a quick lunch, closed our windows, cable locked the door and plodded off to see the waterfalls. 

I have to say I've seen waterfalls before but these two happen to be quite spectacular. The waterfalls were called Sendang Gile and Tiu Kelep and they form many different separate cascades of water, they're very beautiful. If you have some time beforehand I highly recommend adding a short trip to these. You wont be disappointed.

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After the waterfalls we got an early night as the next morning we needed to be up at 6am to have breakfast, be collected and to go and collect everyone else in our group from the surrounding hotels who would be joining us on the hike. 

Day one

Our first port of call was a good breakfast of pancakes, fruit and coffee and a quick briefing of our journey through the mountain. It was at this briefing that we were told a few times that it's ok to give up of you feel you can't make it up the mountain - "Dont worry a lot of tourists can't complete the hike" said the manager of the hotel. This was the first time the alarm bells went.  

After breakfast a truck arrived to pick us up and  we loaded our bags that we packed for the hike into the truck. The hotel put our main bags upstairs for safekeeping over the next three days.

We packed as lightly as we could for the trek:

  • Water
  • Change of underwear and socks for 3 days
  • 3 tops and change of trousers
  • Jumper
  • Towel
  • Wet wipes
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Swimsuits (for the hot springs)
  • Rain coat
  • Travel pillow
  • Warm woolly hat
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Biscuits
  • Camera
  • Head torches (don't forget these!!) & batteries
  • Sandals (we didn't pack these but we should have!)

We also bought some cheap gloves at the place that we started - best thing we did!

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"Dont worry a lot of tourists can't complete the hike"

On our fist stop we picked up a Colombian blogger called Juanito Viajero and then moved on to the next hotel to pick up Alex, Bec and Pauline. Another quick stop to collect our porters and guide and we were ready to tackle the mountain.

6 strangers, 3 porters and our guide Awan squeezed into the back of a pick up truck and slowly made our way towards the registration office in Sembalun. Registering allows you to climb the mountain safely as they will know if you go missing on the way. You sign out again once you've finished the trek.

At this point we were all quite happy and excited at the prospect of what we were about to attempt and we all posed for a pre walk photo.

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For the first day I decided to walk in my swimming shoes as I had fallen in the river the day before and my hiking boots were still wet. For the first day this was fine as the terrain is not too intense. 

The walk was at a steady pace and is interspersed with 3 main stops and a final campsite with the walk getting progressively more difficult as you ascend. Now, I felt like we'd set a good pace, but compared to us the porters move like lightning and they do this carrying 40-50kg of gear each... In flip flops or barefoot! 

It really is something to see and made me feel bad when my body was aching with just a small backpack on. The work the porters do on these tours is incredibly hard and we were in awe of them the whole trip. Not only do they race ahead, by the time we had reached our stop for lunch they had already arrived and set up a kitchen to make nasi goreng (fried rice and vegetables). They managed to do this throughout the hike and it's very impressive.

There are two things that you notice on day one of the trip and that is that the mountain itself is beautiful, a truly stunning landscape that is absolutely covered in rubbish. There is apparently no clean up plan in place so the mountain is fairly dirty especially at the campsites. 

The worst was that in certain places people had just popped a squat and shat on the mountain, there is this photo of Hannah and I looking across the valley and not two metres from us was a fairly fresh human payload. Luckily you can't see it in the shot but if you plan to take on this challenge don't enter it under the misconception of a pristine landscape, incredible and beautiful yes but a little grimy.

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After 8-9 hours trekking up the hill we made it to the crater base camp where the group shared a celebratory hugely overpriced bottle of Bintang at 100,000Rp (usually anything from 25,000 to 50,000) but it helped to nicely mark making it to base camp. 

The camp had maybe 100 to 150 hikers dotted around it I imagine in peak season it would be much more so we were very pleased that we came at this time.

Our group sat, chatted and watched the local monkey tribe migrate along the hills a couple of these cheeky chaps entered the camp to try and steal food or terrorise various members of the group. The porters then served dinner and Awan explained that we would be getting up at 2 yes 2 in the morning so that we could make it to the peak before sunrise after a light breakfast.  Beyond that we did the best we could to get a good night's sleep while an American and a German decided to talk at full volume for an extra couple of hours (we didn't see them at the summit) and a thunderstorm lit up the sky in the distance.

Day two 

I woke at around 1.30am and tried somewhat to shake the cobwebs of a lack of sleep from my head. I got up and went out to what was a beautiful night lit by the new moon the landscape was painted in blues and silver's and was clear at that point. I brushed my teeth and awaited the others ready for the hike.

On all the research we did we were told the last 300 metres were the hardest as it is all very loose dirt and it feels like you take 3 steps forward and 2 back this is very true and the last 300 metres are a total soul sapping bitch. However the first 300-500 metres are also really loose soil interspersed with rock and roots both of which are treacherous and difficult to navigate in the dark of night even if you have a head torch or the light of a new moon.

The hike itself took the group between 3 hours and fifteen for the fastest (Alex) and 5 hours for some of the slower in the group everyone else finished somewhere in the middle.  I feel like the mountain is split into three sections. The first is the loose soil with roots and rocks at a fairly steep incline for about an hour and a half. At this point the mountain levels off and you think I've done it now it can't be that much further and funnily this is a point that is where a lot of people gave up. The first part is very tiring and at that time in the morning im not surprised some people decided against it.

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The second part is where the mountain tricks you it levels off it becomes easier and for about 45 minutes you think to yourself oh this is easy the blogs must have got the loose gravel bit all the wrong way round (oh look theres the summit it's so close). 

They didn't, as the incline started to return the once clear night started to spit and then rain and the winds picked up from nowhere creating a biting cold and then your feet start slipping a little and then a lot.  The final stretch is anything between 1 and a half hours to 2 and a half hours of testing gravel at three points I wanted to give up my lowest point was when I had left Hannah and the water behind me with some of the other group and made off for the summit to catch the sunrise.

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After an hour or two I had stomach ache from hunger so I had two Oreos from my bag but these although satisfying my hunger a small amount just made me more thirsty. I sat in the nook of a rock trying to keep warm with one gloved hand (I had lost the other earlier on the hike) thinking how easy it would be to turn back. It's not that far and camp will be warm.

Then out of the dark appeared Pauline who had run out of batteries in her head torch but had water, exactly what I needed at that point of the hike and she helped to give me the lift I really needed at that point to carry on.

We walked together for a while always moving closer to the peak till Pauline found slightly more energy than me and pressed on. For the last half hour before the summit I was down to a break of three big breaths and then taking ten steps.

After what seemed like an eternity I had made it, Alex and pauline greeted me at the top and we waited for the rest of the group to arrive huddled behind a rock hiding from the wind watching a stunning sunrise followed by an amazing vista that unfurled before us as the light moved across the landscape.  All that was left then was to take a gratuitous amount of photos and make our descent down to camp eat a breakfast and head on to the lake and the HOT SPRINGS!! 

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The lake was just as pretty at level as it was from the summit but the HOT SPRINGS were what I was after we sat in them for a good 40 minutes soaking our aching muscles. And went for lunch.

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WHEN YOU THINK THE MOUNTAIN IS DONE WITH YOU IT ISN'T!!  As we were wrapping up lunch a cloud started to roll in on the horizon then a few raindrops fell And the camp became a hive of activity. Seconds later we were on a torrent of rain and with barely an hours rest we were told we needed to get a move on to the next camp.  The next hike was a miserable, silent, non stop trudge upwards around the lake and up through the mountains, over slippy rocks and around narrow mountain passes All the while rain was hammering down creating streams and mini rivers through which we had to walk. After 15 minutes of this our boots and waterproofs were 100 percent piss wet through. But we persevered and made it to camp where everyone tried to find some dry clothes and get a bit warmer.

The group itself were still in good spirits though and this was a running theme through the whole experience it's what made the trek so good, we all had a smile on our face regardless of how hard it got and we all were there when each person needed a hand.

At the next camp we all huddled into mine and Hannah's tent in separate sleeping bags to eat dinner and chat till we all needed sleep (it wasn't long).

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Day three

We all woke around 8 to a breakfast of banana pancakes and thankfully no rain. But there was something new on the campsite. A small and friendly dog who appeared to have been caught in a snare had a nasty graze/cut around it's neck. Hannah being the animal lover that she is gave the dog some food and soon named him Rinjani but very quickly changed it to pancake after he turned his nose up at toast and jam in favour of pancakes. Hannah then led an effort to try and coax the dog down the mountain so we could get him looked at by a vet.  

She collected a package of bits of pancake and toast so she could feed it o him at various stages of the walk. She also had to go and retrieve him twice while we were breaking down camp. So with dog in tow we headed down the mountain towards Senaru village. 

Pancake followed obediently for the first hour then he wandered off to a rocky outcrop to have a look at the scenery. The whole group were calling pancake back as well as some of the other groups walking down at the same time. It was nice how we were all United in our desire to get the dog some help. A moment or two layer he rejoined us and it felt like we were getting somewhere even our guide Awan was calling him along.

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We then got to a more jungly part of the trek and poor pancake shot off into the long grass and was not seen again. Regardless of how much we called he didn't return. 

After the hike Hannah contacted two local vets and two dog rescue centres to inquire if she could get help for him. We even looked into going back up the mountain with the specific aim of bringing him back down with a porter, but time constraints stopped us from being able to make it up there before our visa ran out. 

He was a lovely dog and if anyone is camping on the mountain and sees him please give him some pancakes from us and send us a picture or let us know in the comments.  

As we descended the mountain my knees began to ache and I found if I jogged/ran down it relieved the pain a lot so for the last two thirds I ran between each point and then waited for the group to rejoin me. 

It was exhilarating running down the mountain you really had to watch your step as there were roots and rocks to snag your feet on all the way down but that made it more exciting. 

Just after position 1 we stopped for a lunch of fried noodles and vegetables Hannah still longing for pancake befriended two more dogs Noodle and waffle and proceeded to give them most of her lunch before we set off for the finish line. 

The sign for the end of the mountain was a relief to see and signing out of the mountain felt so final but there was still another 45 minutes of walking before we got into a truck to get back down.  

So that was it we got in the truck exchanged emails and filtered off to our different destinations. I can't help but feel that the reason we all made it up to the peak is because our group was so well suited the company was great and we all made it through the hike by helping lift each other when we were down. The mountain is hard but the sense of achievement after outweighs the difficulty by a long way and making a bunch of new friends from all over there world along the way isn't bad either.

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Have you been up Rinjani? Let us know about your experience, did you enjoy it as well? Did you hate it? We would love to hear what you think so let us know in the comments section below.

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