The Gunung Rinjani Summit Slog

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November 19th 2010
Published: November 21st 2010
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The public boat chugged slowly away from the calm of Gili Air, bouncing over the waves towards the hustle of Bangsal Harbour on mainland Lombok. Fighting my way through the tussle of touts I found the man who I had organised to take me to Senaru – gateway for trekking to Gunung Rinjani – Indonesia’s second highest Volcano.

He motioned me towards his scooter, on which we would be making the one hour journey the whole way. I was therefore, yet again, subjected to the blazing morning sunshine as I straddled the hot scooter seat wearing shorts and a vest. The sunburn returned with a vengeance.

Despite the heat, the ride was very scenic. We buzzed, helmet-less, beside glorious green rice paddies that stretched for miles, local markets with large sacks of fresh produce on display and the western coast of the island which heralded views of the deep blue. Lombok already felt very different to the more touristed areas of Indonesia. My white and red body bouncing on the pot-holed roads of Lombok already drawing curious stares.

We eventually climbed the 600 metres from the coast to the starting point of the trek – the small village
Paddy ViewPaddy ViewPaddy View

From hotel in Senaru
of Senaru. The mighty peak of Gunung Rinjani casts its dominant shadow over each island in the vicinity. Sitting at lofty 3,726 metres (or 14 Canary Wharfs) it is Indonesia’s second highest volcano and is an important religious symbol for the local populace.

I spent the night in Senaru in a hotel that afforded beautiful views of a valley filled with rice paddies as well as other assorted crops. I chatted with the guide who was to take my group the following day. He gave me an insight into the challenges that lay ahead, which all sounded quite gruelling.

There are two types of trek available – summit and rim. The rim trek climbs to 2,500 metres with stupendous views across the cobalt crater lake and smaller active volcano in the crater itself called Mt Barujari. The summit trek takes the same route but then plunges down into the crater and back up the other side before climbing further to the summit.

A breakfast of banana pancakes awaited our eager group of trekkers at 7am the following morning. There were 9 of us in total from all four corners of Europe. The group was a mixture of rim and summit trekkers. We climbed into a minivan and continued driving to the top of Senaru where the track further up Rinjani begins.

The scenery that marked the first day was mainly dense, humid forest. We followed a narrow mud path beneath the shade of an enormous array of plant life including palm and banana trees. Their large leaves thankfully providing my sunburnt skin with a little respite.

We stopped every hour or so after a climb of 500 metres. The path was steep and involved scrambling many times over ladder-like tree routes to the next rest area. In a jungle clearing a small shelter marked that we had ascended to 1,500 metres which is where we had lunch.

The scenery changed as we ascended higher with the typical jungle foliage giving way to cloud forest. For most of the day, apart from the early morning and evening, clouds generally engulfed Rinjani’s crater shielding it from coastal eyes. Everything in this area is wet from the constant dew and moisture deposited by these clouds which make it wonderfully cool.

This didn’t make much difference to us as, after such a climb everyone was aching and sweating profusely. My restful few days on Gili Air were beginning to feel very distant indeed as my thighs throbbed and my calves ached. At this point however I was definitely enjoying the challenge but feeling no real signs of fatigue. Orienteering in the Scottish Highlands during the summer had clearly proved to be the perfect training ground for such an activity.

We continued on from here at a steady pace to our campsite for the evening which sat just below the crater rim at around 2,300 metres. I was tired and hungry by the time we reached this spot and gladly slipped out of the heavy straps of my backpack and accepted a hot cuppa tea from the porters.

My bed for the night would be in a small two-man tent that I shared with a German guy called Torsten. We sat in our campsite beside the smoking fire and steaming kettles that the porters were stoking whilst watching the awesome sunset on the horizon. The sun threw a multitude of colours across the sky combining dark blue, fiery red, orange and yellow that illuminated the surrounding smattering of clouds. The Gili isles were dark splodges in the sea and Bali’s Gunung Agung was silhouetted wonderfully on the horizon.

Soon everything went very quiet and black with just the mumble of conversation filling the black void of night. We swapped travel stories and advice over cups of tea before a most welcome plate of nasi goreng (fried rice) with chicken, vegetables and krukup. The carbs were a welcome boost before bed and vital for the following mornings activity.

Some of us had decided to make the ascent to the crater rim for sunrise. However this did also entail making our way back to camp for breakfast and then back up to the rim yet again as we had to continue on from there. We decided that the experience would be worth it and so settled into our sleeping bags for what I hoped to be a restful night.

It wasn’t. The sleeping mats provided were made of thin rubber whilst the sleeping bag was like a thin cover that really was not up to the challenge of sub-zero temperatures that crater rim enjoys. I spent a turbulent night rolling around from one cold bum-cheek to the other and putting more clothing on each hour
Clouds ClearClouds ClearClouds Clear

Revealing the great view.
to keep my core temperature above danger levels.

I welcomed my alarm clock ringing at 4.45am as it released me from the clutches of a cold night and 3 of us began the first ascent to the crater rim at just after 5am beneath an awesome sky flecked with countless stars. The climb renewed the aching in my legs but the movement was welcome as it warmed me up.

We lost the path on the climb up, with our way being (obviously not very well) illuminated by head lights. We ended up climbing too far and our view being obstructed by trees. We made our way around the rim and down, eventually, to a clearing from where I took in my first views of Rinjani’s crater lake and Mt Barujari.

The sight was incredible – the crater lake is enormous and very still as Barujari sits in the north-western corner smouldering away beneath the summit. The sun rose from behind the summit and the first rays of day light threw their intense glare onto the lake, igniting the still black water into a bright cobalt blue. We devoured the scene before making our way back down to camp for breakfast.

Banana pancakes (of course), toast, egg and tea awaited us on arrival – the rest of our party just emerging from their tents. Unlike the previous day, this particular breakfast was much more suitable sustenance with which to sustain myself for the morning’s activities. This involved climbing again up to the crater rim with added weight of my backpack.

The sun was higher now, bathing the lake and Mt Barujari in sunshine and bringing the craters colours to life. Green foliage lined much of the outer and inner crater which was a craggy line of steep cliffs in a neat circle 500 metres in diameter. Mt Barujari sits in one corner of the lake with two craters – one blown out the top and one on the side which has a red tinge and is constantly smouldering. This little one erupts frequently and so the volcanic island grows all the time – the last eruption was 6 months ago. Barujari’s bare black slopes betray its constant activity.

After this we said goodbye to the crater rim trekkers, which left 5 of us to push on to the summit. We immediately began the descent into the crater, which was perilous. The path was steep and involved many vertical climbs down over rocks and boulders to progress. We inched our way downwards, which was just as hard as making our way upwards as different muscles are suddenly called into action.

Halfway down we all halted as one of our porters had injured himself. We all recoiled as we saw his toe (the one next to the big toe) was pouring with blood and his bone was protruding from the skin. He was actually smiling strangely but it was clear he could not continue. This outlines the danger of making this sort of trip in flip-flops which most of the porters do!!

There was no mountain rescue available and our guide carried with him no medical or first aid supplies. It was left to us, with what limited supplies we did have to bandage him up. We fashioned a splint with a couple of twigs and used a sock to wrap the wound up tight, dousing it in alcohol first. The porter then began the trip back the way we came, gingerly climbing out of the crater and towards some proper medical attention. I gave him a pack of ibuprofen which we would undoubtedly need later on.

We pushed on with one porter down, which meant we had to share the load between ourselves and the guide. We took on board sleeping mats, bags and firewood as we neared the crater lake. It had taken us nearly two hours to descend the 600 metres into the belly of Rinjani but the lakeside views were gorgeous.

It was difficult to imagine that I was actually inside the crater of a volcano and not a rich, green forested and meadow strewn national park – somewhere like Yosemite. The lake was clear and shimmering in the breeze, surrounded by tall, lush green trees and grass. The steep granite walls rise up out of the lakes edges which were now buffeted by clouds with blue sky above.

We walked around the edge of the lake to our lunch spot, which was a campsite on the lakeside. We tucked into a lunch of noodles, rice, krukup and pineapple as we enjoyed the views of Barujari still smoking away. After lunch we stripped off and swam in the cold lake, rinsing off the grime and sweat that had
Camp at day 1Camp at day 1Camp at day 1

Just below crater rim
accumulated in the nether regions over the last few days which was most welcome. It was a thrill to be paddling in the deep right next to the active volcano.

Next up we made our way down to some hot springs that are fed from the sizzling rock and water that oozes away from Barujari. The first couple of yellow pools of volcanic water were far too hot for any of our group to manage. The pools bubbled and boiled with scalding hot water that would require and trip to a hospital burns unit should one fully submerge. The water is fed by a series of pipes into a couple more pools that, despite being near-excruciatingly hot, are just about manageable.

Steam wafted from the hot spring pools as our aching muscles were soothed by the waters intense heat. Neither of us lasted long before having to stand up in the cold air that swept down the valley. The altitude, strong sun, and my lack of sun cream ensured that I got burnt. Again. A deep bronze tan surely awaited me in the coming days.

We were all quite relaxed after the hot springs and in no
Sunset, day 1Sunset, day 1Sunset, day 1

Those with a good eye will spot the volcanoes of Bali and the tiny Gili islands below - just about visible.
mood to undertake our next challenge, which was to climb out of the crater and further towards our camp at 2,700 metres – 700 metres from our present location.

Fortunately the clouds rolled around us as we made our way up the steep incline. The last day and a half of walking was beginning to take its toll on my legs as they began to stiffen with every step. Despite the cool breeze I was sweating from every available pore as we kept climbing higher and higher to the camp.

The route maintained its steep and treacherous climb upwards. A quiet had descended across our group of 5 as every man battled the limits of physical exertion. On reaching the camp my emotions were mixed between that of relief and elation and pure exhaustion. The summit loomed large in front of us now, and looked surprisingly close despite it still being 1,000 metres away vertically.

There was still an epic climb to commence the following morning but for now we enjoyed the spectacular views that lay before us. Our tents were perched on a ledge that was filled with green foliage and plummeted down steeply towards the valley floor and a river that was fed by the crater lake. The sun was setting behind the other side of the crater as the wind whisked clouds below us up the valley which then evaporated over the lake. A fabulous sight to behold.

A full, magical spectrum of colours from the sunset was our entertainment for the evening as we sat as a group, getting pretty cold now, and scoffed down every final morsel of food on our plates of nasi goreng and vegetables (again). Every single grain of rice would provide the fuel required for our summit push the following day. It was a fabulously clear night to contemplate what lie ahead as the final clouds evaporated over the lake. The sun fell away and the stars began to shine as I crawled into my sleeping bag for another cold and restless night.

Sleep eluded me again and I woke up at 2am to get ready for the final ascent. The weather was bitterly cold – with only my fleece and a t-shirt providing protection from the biting wind which sank its teeth into my skin immediately as I vacated my tent. I improvised with a pair of socks for gloves to keep my hands warm but was still constantly windmilling (Microsoft is telling me this isn’t a word, and they’re probably right) them to keep the blood in my fingertips.

Our porters finally crawled out of their tents and made us all a coffee and distributed biscuits. The coffee warmed me up as I gulped down the thick black stuff and munched on as many sweet little biscuits as I could. The vital extra calories and sugar would all be very much needed!

We began. Within minutes my legs were beginning to grumble. The climb was welcome in one respect as it gave me a chance to warm up. Our guide powered up the steep initial climb, the 107th time he has made this ascent. Our five head torches zigzagged up the incline that leads to the upper rim and final ascent and – some of the better ones throwing their intense glare into the black void we faced either side of us.

At the top of this slope we got a flavour of the hardship to come as the thick, gravely black sand underfoot made progress very difficult. Two steps forward were accompanied by one back as I slipped constantly, ending up with a face full of gravel. This was torturous on my legs as they throbbed with anger. The lack of progress was frustrating as my light cut through the inky blackness which finally faintly illuminated the upper rim.

The summit just did not seem to be getting any closer and loomed tantalisingly out of reach in front. The upper rim was an easy walk across hard rock and light gravel. The darkness of the night withholding from view the fatal drops that fell away steeply on either side. The path became steeper and much more arduous after this and the narrow ledges we navigated more perilous.

The final ascent was an incredible difficult slog to the summit. The terrain switched again to the thick gravely black volcanic sand that made progress painfully slow and kept the nearing summit agonisingly out of reach. This last part was an epic scramble that made every single fibre in my body, every tissue of muscle and joint protest in unison.

Fatigue had set in well and truly and to make matters worse the biting cold had increased bringing with it freezing clouds and strong winds. Each step was a battle as the cross wind threatened to further numb my sock-gloved hands and whip me off, down the express route, into Mt Barujari’s caldera. I willed my body on, becoming increasingly frustrated and then down right angry with my predicament. I hardly noticed the awesome colours of the sunrise giving life to the cold black night.

I made it within touching distance of the summit – my nose pouring with some kind of liquid and my hands and feet frozen. Our guide informed me that we were just 5 minutes away and so we waited here a few minutes for the rest of our group to catch up as we were quite spread out.

We made it. Our jellied legs wobbled as the summit winds threw us all constantly off balance. Through gaps in the cloud we stole quick glances of the breath-taking view that lay out before us. The islands of Bali, Sumbawa and the Gili’s were spread around the volcano as we could see for many many miles around. Fatigue had given way to elation as pure adrenaline coarsed through my veins.

We didn’t stay for long as the freezing cold wind and sub zero temperatures were beginning to take their toll so we began the descent back down to our camp. The sun was rising further now and treated us to some incredible views on the way down, which was markedly faster and more fun than the way up.

The thick gravely sand and steep slope of the final ascent made running down, bouncing off each step enormous fun. Each time my foot sank safely into the gravel I could launch myself off down the hill, covering a great distance in one leap which was continuously repeated. What had taken nearly two hours of hard graft earlier, took about 5 minutes on the way down.

The walk around the upper crater rim was glorious and I took some time taking in the views. Mt Barujari lay below me and the sun had just peeked over the crater rim to ignite the colours yet again. The view was other-worldly as a multitude of rocky colours from brick-red, sandy yellow and cold grey granite snaked down in sediments to the lake and forestry below. I took a moment to imagine the force of nature that it took to create such a site and the incredible explosive powers involved to melt and shape the rocks here over millennia. Something I was now witnessing with Barujari below.

We got back to our camp to be greeted by a group of monkey’s – keen to steal our breakfasts from beneath our noses. Our porter’s stone throwing kept them at bay whilst we devoured the banana pancakes, egg and toast that lay before us. The monkey’s (who far outnumbered us) created a perimeter around us and constantly probed our defences to grab a morsel of food. This was one battle they would never win with a group of hungry hikers and our stone throwing eventually won this little war.

The way back was all down hill now, which did not make it necessarily easy. We followed our porters over a ridge and down Rinjani’s lower slopes. The way was steep, muddy and a complete contrast to the first day’s ascent. Gone were the thick, wet forested slopes with plenty of protection from the sun. Instead the terrain was that of a savannah in that it was much drier, grassy and fully exposed.

My legs wobbled as my bad toe ached and blisters on my heel began to throb painfully with each step. I occasionally stole a glance up towards to summit which looked calm and serene which shrouded the truly violent weather and difficult cold conditions on top.

The scenery opened up and the heat haze zapped at my energy reserves whilst the ground eventually flattened into open grassland. Sembalun – our finish line was within sight now and we stopped for lunch with about 5 km to go. Here we said our thanks to our guide and porters who had been fantastic throughout.

The porters especially have to endure a torrid experience as they trek up and down the slopes daily with heavy loads across their shoulders. They burn through footwear so quickly that they can only afford to make the arduous trip in flip-flops which, as we found out, are dangerous on such terrain. They are badly paid and on our first night had to camp out in the freezing cold with no tent and just a sarong as a blanket. More needs to be done, in my opinion, regarding their safety, wages and overall well being. Even if this means the price of such a trek goes up slightly.

The only other blight on such an otherwise wonderful experience was the litter that was strewn in so many locations on the trek. I do not believe this to be completely the fault of foreign tourists so much as locals who make the trek and the porters themselves. Some of the campsites were positively awful with some sections resembling a landfill. Plastic bottles and wrappers are strewn around and blow in the wind – an epic clean up desperately needs to take place.

Other than that the experience was awesome and we finally arrived in Sembalun. I would definitely rank it as one of the most difficult treks I have undertaken. This is not necessarily down to the type of terrain, the weather or the altitude but more down to the ambitious schedule. The ascents and descents would make a comfortable 4 or 5 day trip – the 3 day trip was a very challenging, yet satisfying experience.

We finished the trek in Sembalun and were met with our transport – a pick up truck. We made the bone rattling journey for one hour in the baking afternoon sun whilst every local we passed, seemingly aware of our feat, waved at us. However, the exposed nature of our transport did mean one other thing. I didn’t think I was could get much redder. I was wrong yet again.

Additional photos below
Photos: 39, Displayed: 37


Hot SpringsHot Springs
Hot Springs

These were bear-able!

29th November 2010

What an amazing place!
Thank you! Enjoyed your blog.
5th July 2012

great thanks
Really enjoyed your blog and photos. Very keen to give it a go.

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