The volcano Rinjani is the second-highest mountain in Indonesia (3,726 m.) and is one of the most challenging adventures in the country. Conquering the summit requires 3 days, 2 nights, lots of sweat, sometimes even blood and tears.
For me, Rinjani was a goal. Trekking the top was an integral to my time in Indonesia because this volcano is the single highest point in the country, accessible to me. It’s a place where you have to overcome yourself and look the might of nature straight in eye.
How We Got There
We sailed from the island of Gili Meno to Lombok, where Rinjani towers above all else. After around 2 hours by car, we reached the village of Senaru (600 m.), which is the most popular starting point for the trek to Rinjani.
The homestay included in our prepaid package was the first, but certainly not the last place in Indonesia, where the room was lacking a sink. After the initial shock and confusion, we scrubbed hands and teeth in the shower.
The miniscule room was dark, and we found the underwear of its last occupant in the bathroom, but at least the people were friendly.
What to See around Senaru
Eddie, who was the Jack of all trades at the homestay, took us to the Tiu Kelep waterfalls, about a 40-minute walk from the homestay.
The path is not at all difficult, yet you need appropriate shoes, not the flip-flops that Eddie had urged us to wear. Still, if you have room for them in your backpack, they would come in handy, since you’d have to cross the river several times.
On the way, we saw cotton trees and a few families of wild macaques. The latter posed in front of our cameras and luckily didn’t attempt to steal them.
As Eddie joked, you can take a shower in the first waterfall and a bath in the second. The water of the first waterfall is too furious and clashes in a small pool, where you can’t swim. You can just stand on the side and get sprayed.
The second waterfall, which is higher up in the mountains but only a short walk away from the first, is revealed after traversing the river for a few meters. The river opens up into a swimming hole, right under the waterfall. If you can brave the cold and the powerful rush of the water, it’s a fun place to take a dip.
This walk was a nice and easy way to warm up for the hike the following day, and we didn’t even manage to get sick in the freezing “bath”.
On our way back, in the village, we found а huge pavilion, shaken by the booming sounds of music. We were told that this is where a traditional stick fight, called Peresean, would be held in the evening. I had heard of this ancient sport and now that chance offered us a viewing, we couldn’t miss the opportunity.
Read more about it here.
After the exhilarating spectacle, that is Peresean, we went back to the homestay and met Anga, our 26-year old guide, who gave us instructions for the trek ahead. Up until this point, I had thought that Rinjani would be a piece of pie, especially since he was porters, who would carry the tents, food, and other necessities. But now, the map that hung at the homestay diner, along with Anga’s information, made me both excited and apprehensive. The volcano is big, steep, and harsh, not some idle walk.
We woke up at 6:00 AM to be loaded up in the open cargo bed of some pickup truck, together with two more couples and all of our luggage. It took us 2 hours to get to the starting point, by the end of which everyone’s breakfast threatened upheaval.
The first portion of the trek is in the form of a scorching, dry savannah. Everyone’s skin starts to glisten with sweat, but the slope is still reasonable enough and you have enough breath to strike up a conversation with one of your fellow-trekkers.
At lunchtime we stopped for a bite. Other than carrying two baskets of goods, hanging from a thick bamboo pool, the porters also cooked our food.
Keeping in mind where we were, the porters cooked tasty and diverse Indonesian classics, such fried noodles (mie goreng), fried rice (nasi goreng), curry, and banana pancakes. If you are vegetarian, let them know in advance.
The second part of the trek that day required more effort and so we thought that the long break (over an hours) and the big lunch weren’t such a good idea. At first, when we were trying to warm up again, we found it hard to even draw a breath.
The ascent was steep and dusty, so my pink sneakers soon became grey. There were some stretches where stones and roots pocked out of the ground, and we could use them for steps. Other times, however, we walked up a 45-degree hill, covered in dry, unstable loose dirt. It often seemed like we were nearing the ridge, only to find the path relentlessly snaking up the extreme slope.
We spent the first night in tents, right on the narrow path of the ridge, just a few steps away from the sharp face of the mountain. We watched, as the clouds below us closed in on the sunset, and it was one of those perfectly serene moments, when you feel proud that you can witness one of nature’s miracles, thanks to your own physical struggle.
We woke up a bit before 2:00 AM, because we had to get to the summit at sunrise. The morning chill made me put on all the clothes I had brought, along with 3 pairs of socks, and I endured freeze, shaking. We poured a cup of tea through chattering teeth and were off to conquer this beast.
The photos from this day have been taken after sunrise, to illustrate the path.
Along the single path that leads to the top, we could see a long line of lights, belonging to those who had woken up before us.
Because there we so many people who dragged their feet in the volcanic ash, directly behind one another, the amount of the dust we inhaled at first could probably compare to some city clogged my smog, where you never see the sun.
Soon enough though, our steady pace helped us get ahead of most groups, who were either climbing up with painful moans, or taking long breaks. The slope was still at about 45 degrees, but at least now the only dust we were breathing in was our own.
A few meters of nearly flat ground helped us take a break and prepare for the real hike. The last 300-400 meters require a 1-2 hours struggle, because they are nothing but volcanic ash and stone, rising almost vertically to the summit. Every step up means sliding a few down and, at times, we walked on all fours.
When we finally reached the summit and the highest place I have ever hiked to, with its 3,726 meters, we were some of the first ones to arrive.
That morning we had gone a 1000 meters higher than camp, in the span of 2:40 hours. Before us was only one group of 3 people, who had now found sheltered from the harsh wind, behind a rock, as were huddled together, wrapped in sleeping bags, to keep warm.
The moment we arrived at Rinjani’s highest point, there was nobody around and the horizon was just starting to burn bright red, foretelling the sunrise. We were rewarded with a dramatic view and an unbelievable freeze.
Still, it’s worth it to try and beat the crowds to the summit, so that you can spend a few private moments and take in the beauty. With the sunrise, dozens of people flood the summit. Trying to pass each other, on the narrow edge, offers the chance to send you flying back to basecamp.
As we were waiting for the sun and shivering, our guide, Anga, showed up with a big smile and a bundle of sticks to light a fire and defrost us. I was so called that my fingers had gone numb and I didn’t even take many pictures.
When we started the descent, many latecomers were still scrambling to get to the top. There is also an upside to that – they weren’t as cold.
This day the trekking was most trying. When we went down to the camp, we had a quick breakfast and peeled a few layers of cloths. We then had to descent further – to the lake at the foot of the summit, and then go back up again – to the second camp.
The lake offers a spectacular view of a smaller, but immensely volatile crater, which is completely off limits. In a country where few are concerned with nonsense like safety measures, this says a lot.
Walk for a few more minutes and you’ll reach hot springs, where you can take a dip or a dive off of a cliff, and wash the fatigue away.
After lunch we made our last ascent, for about 3 hours, and reached the second camp at sunset. Everyone, even our guide, were proud of the achievement, yet exhausted from the past 10 hours of steep descending and ascending, as well as the scarce sleep of the night before.
As usual, we were woken up by the question-statement-invitation of one porter, outside the “door” of our tent, “Hello, breakfast?!”, he said.
After some delicious banana pancakes and awful coffee, we began are descent back to Senaru. Some groups choose to being the trek in Senaru, rather than end it but that’s the less favorable option.
The first section of the path was steep, dusty and difficult to walk, without plunging to the ground. So, we copied the porters and ran down, with small, careful steps. This way it’s easier to keep your balance. Many of the people who walked slowly and overcautiously kept slipping and falling down.
Later, we traversed the rainforest, whose thick shade made the noon trek bearable.
We arrived in Senaru about 2:30 hours later. Dusty, dirty, sweaty and tired, but beaming proudly.
Before starting the trek, everyone needs to get registered in the national park’s office, which is about 10 minutes away from the starting point, by car. There you write down your name, passport number and pay 150,000 rupiahs per day (about €10), which is a standard fee for all national parks in Indonesia.
I suppose that the fee was included in the amount we payed to the travel agent, because nobody asked us for it.
Do You Need a Guide?
Tourist agents will try to convince you that it is impossible to trek Rinjani without a guide. I also heard from someone that if you go up in the mountain unaccompanied by a local, you might get fined.
Nonetheless, our guide was always far behind us, helping members of the group who felt a bit less confident in the trekking abilities. And yet no one ever asked us if we were alone or with a guide.
Getting lost seems nearly impossible, since hundreds of people trek to the summit daily, and they all use one single path. Anga, our guide, was friendly and funny, he lit a fire a couple of times and answered all of our questions, but I wouldn’t say that having him around made much of a difference.
Everyone in our group agreed that while you don’t really need a guide, porters are essential. Of course trekking in the company of a local, who knows the terrain, might make the experience safer.
Where and How to Book
If you decide to use porters and a guide, it’s best to skip the travel agencies and book straight in Senaru.
When we were booking with an agency on Gili Meno, we were assured that our lack of adequate shoes, jackets, and backpacks was nothing to be worried about, because they’d provide everything necessary. Once we were at the homestay in Senaru, however, it turned out that they only had 3 pairs of shoes – they were not hiking boots, none were in my size, and all were torn apart.
The jackets that we were offered looked as if someone had fetched them out of a deep pile of rotting trash.
We were 6 people in our group and there was 1 backpack they could offer. All of its zippers were broken.
As we later found out, it’s not a good idea to book your trek through an agency. Along the way, we heard lots of different people complain about the contrast between what they were promised and how it actually turned out to be. The agencies make unrealistic promises and take huge commissions, while little money reaches the porters and guide, who do all the heavy lifting.
Here’s an example of how tough the porters have to be:
The Garbage on Rinjani
Sadly, we often talked about how amazing the views would be, if there weren’t so much garbage. On Rinjani, as well as other places on Lombok (but not just there), garbage is a big issue. Surprisingly, it stems not so much from the tourists, as it does from the local community. People are happy to dump their wrappers and plastic bottles in the sea, out of the car window, in the neighbor’s yard, and of course – in the mountain.
The spots where we lunched and camped had especially large piles of trash. The designated toilet areas are also clearly visible – a wipe has bloomed on every blade of grass.
The worst place was at the ridge, where we camped the first night. A family of macaques licked wrappers clean and the babies were even chewing on plastic trash.
The lake beneath the summit is a magical sight. From far away. Up close, the amount of garbage that floats around the water and is washed ashore, is staggering. Many locals were fishing and camping right by the water, so it seemed like the garbage didn’t bother them much.
According to Anga, our guide, the park administration uses the fee it gets from tourists, to carry out clean-up campaigns every month. Still, even Anga admitted that most of the money is spent on corruption, and not for the mountain. Besides, the piles of decomposing garbage were a tell-tale sign that nobody had cleaned recently.
At the End
Trekking Rinjani is a special experience, worth the effort. If you decide to do it, however, keep in mind that it is no easy task. Many of the people we met along the way were unprepared, which led to tears, and some even gave up. But if you are willing to test your physical and psychological stamina, you’d be rewarded with the kind of scenery and sense of accomplishment, which you can carry like a medal.
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