Standing at an elevation of over 11,000 feet, Mt. Rinjani is the second highest volcano in Indonesia. Hikers can chose from two options: Hike to the crater rim at 8,100 ft or hike to the summit at 11,178 ft. After reading numerous blogs about how difficult (physically and mentally) summiting is, I settled for the crater rim. Thank goodness I did.
From Yogyakarta, Java we flew 3 hours (layover in Bali) to Lombok. Hallo Trekker (our agency) was already waiting for us when we landed at the airport. Once again, Indonesian drivers will never cease to amaze me…for two hours we braced ourselves, gripping our seats and each other. At one point, the motorcycle in front of us smashed into the car in front of him. We slammed on our breaks early enough to avoid a double collision. However, what really shocked me was the aftermath…everyone drove off!
It took 2 hours to reach Senaru, one of two villages at the base of Mt. Rinjani where trekkers lodge (hikers chose from two climbing routes: Senaru or Sembalum). That afternoon we met Hans, the owner of Hallo Trekker, to discuss trek details. We were to hike for ~8 hours, camp at the rim, and descend the next day. Easy enough (so I thought).
The beginning of the hike wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t a walk in the park and we had to focus on breathing but it wasn’t impossible. Devon was doing really well and managed to keep up with Angi (our guide). For dad, however, the struggle was just beginning. Three hours into the hike he threw up. Dehydration and physical exhaustion were taking its toll and he was unable to stomach any food. I had taken altitude pills the night before as a precaution but he had decided against it. Only half of his right lung is functional from an infection years ago (hepatic bronchial fistula) so the hike was much more difficult.
Despite our exhaustion and aching legs, we still managed some corny jokes and hearty laughs on the way up. His “oh shit(s)” and “Erin, this isn’t good” comments were the highlight of my trek. If I received a dollar every time he asked other hikers/porters “how much farther”I’d be a millionaire. The best part about these pleas for help were the drastically different answers that ensued: “Ah man, you’re close – another 2 hours or so. You’re almost there” An hour later: “You’ve got awhile…about 4 hours.” Dad’s response? A frustrated lecture on how Indonesians don’t know how to tell time or distance interrupted up by the occasional “Shit.”
The last mile of the ascent was rough. Not only is the trail covered in dirt and rocks (no traction) but it is vertical! No switchbacks. Every 10 yards, Dad and I had to stop to catch our breath and rest our burning legs. Meanwhile, porters wearing flip flops or in many cases no shoes at all (carrying 40 pounds of supplies) were hiking past us…
During our final ascent I met a European couple who had summited earlier that morning and were beginning their descent down the mountain. I spoke with the husband first who was descending with the guide. It was very clear that he was frustrated with his wife who was unable to keep up.
I later came across the wife. She was covered in dirt and admitted to falling 3 times. Hiking to the summit was the hardest thing she’d ever done and had she known the difficulty she never would have done it. She admitted to crying three times on the way up.
We also met a very friendly group of Europeans- 2 Belgians, 1 Dane, and 1 German. We talked to them quite a bit during the ascent and at the crater rim. The German guy even gave my dad a pat of acknowledgement when he reached the crater rim. I think even he knew the difficulty, especially for an older guy.
The crater rim was stunning. From the rim you can see the summit, caldera, and crater lake. It is a one of a kind view that many argue is even better than the view from the summit.
That night we camped on the rim alongside other trekking agencies. For dinner our porters cooked chicken curry and for breakfast they made banana pancakes with chocolate. They had carried a gas grill up the mountain along with food (including a watermelon), water, sleeping tents, toilet tents, sleeping bags, pillows and even mattress pads. We camped in luxury!
Hiking down the mountain the following morning was a different kind of battle. We were extremely sore from the day before and controlling our descent and trying not fall was challenging. Porters use gravity when they descend-many run down the mountain. We, on the other hand, were resisting it.
About 2 hours from the base of the mountain, we passed a German group ascending. One of the girls was struggling and her boyfriend was pulling her up the rocks. My dad’s response? A very blunt, “She’s not going to make it.” I couldn’t not laugh-if only he had seen himself the day before!
Interestingly enough, I met Hans brother on the descent. He was guiding a French group. Hans employs a lot of family members including his brother-in-law (Angi) who was our guide. He started the company 2 years ago and it has grown immensely since from 30 treks the first year to 300 the second. For anyone interested in hiking Rinjani I highly recommend his company: Hallo Trekker. They were very professional.
I would, however, like to clarify some things about hiking Mt. Rinjani. It is not a beginners hike, regardless of what you read online. You must be in good shape even if you chose the “easier” crater rim hike. Hike the mountain, enjoy the views (they are worth it), but be prepared!