Gunung Rinjani

Will power. Mind over matter. No guts, no glory. Even the fable of the tortoise and the hare. These are the sayings we use to convince ourselves that we can do anything. They are lies. The spirit may be willing but the flesh is a weak, weak son of a bitch. The tortoise might finish the race, but he definitely doesn’t win and he never, ever gets to rest along the way.

Why so pessimistic you ask? It all started five days ago when we arrived in Senggigi and found it to be less than desirable (see previous post). And what better way to cure the Senggigi blues than to sign up to climb a mountain, or to be more precise, a volcano. Now you might think that we’ve signed up and are busily preparing for this feat of human endurance. You’d be wrong, we finished yesterday. Perhaps our motto of ‘spontaneity knows best’ needs a little revision.

Gunung (Mt) Rinjani is an active volcano in northern Lombok. It stands 3,726m (12,224ft) at its peak and boasts a 6km by 8.5km lake in it’s crater. At the back of the lake and below the summit is Gunung Baru (literally New Mountain) which is the active part of the volcano. To keep it short, long time ago, big eruption, lake forms, new eruptions create new mountain in lake (perhaps the pictures will make more sense).

Just about every Indonesian on Lombok can sell you a trekking tour of Rinjani, and they all make it sound easy and tell you that what you have on (shorts, T-shirt and thongs) is OK. They are lying. However, after you’ve paid your money, then actually researched for two seconds and realised you need something to keep you warm in the near zero temperatures at night, a slightly emotional discussion will get you track pants and a windbreaker thrown in.

Three days ago we set off as prepared as we could be on the very little notice and information we had. Our packs consisted of some fresh socks and ¬†grundies, a spare shirt or two and a hastily purchased poncho. Oh, and borrowed ‘warm weather’ gear. Our group included us, a Belgian couple and our guide, Pathan, and with no more than ‘Excuse me, OK if we go now?’ the formalities were over and we were off on our three day, two night mission.

Day one consisted of eight hours and 7 km from the village of Senaru to the first night camp site at 2,500m (8,202ft). Unfortunately in our group, I was that guy. You know, the shit one. The one the arrives last after everyone is already set up and ready for dinner. The one that thinks they are awesome but is a little unfit and a little overweight and the one that everyone waits for. That was me. I may be that guy, but at least I wasn’t the guy that passed out…just.

Day two was another eight hours of trekking but possibly only 3 or 4km. The first part involved almost an hour of some stair like goat trails to the rim of the crater only to then go just as vertically down the inside of the rim to the lake at 2,000m (6,561ft). From the lake to the summit base camp is the fun part. At a guess I would say it was 1.5-2km max but the term ‘trekking’ is a very liberal use. It was a lot of almost vertical scaling of rock and cliff face with no harnesses or security of any type except for the ever constant advice from our guide ‘slowly, slowly, careful, careful’ and the occasional pause to tell a story of someone falling from here to where we were half an hour ago, or a very somber warning to be ‘extra careful in this part’. It was not fun. Half way through, just after the retelling of someone’s fall, Genevieve discovered that she has a paralysing, but completely rational, fear of heights while hanging off the side of a cliff, and I continued to realise that my definition of fitness is severely wanting. It’s hard to adequately describe due to both repression and hindsight, but the reality was that death was a very real option for most of day two. In the end we arrived at 2,900m (9,514ft) for night two.

Day three according to the schedule was a 2:30am wake up for a 3am start to the 3,726m (12,224ft) summit in time to see the sun rise. What actually happened was that Gen and I slept and let the Belgians enjoy the summit in peace, with the 150 or so other people from different groups. Luckily for our prides sake, we were not the only people that opted out.

And then there was down. Lots and lots of lovely reasonably not too steep down.

Some highlights that deserve special mention. The views are stunning, the sunsets above the clouds are spectacular and the volcano is something else.

Part of the package included porters who carry all food, water, tents and bedding for the entire three day trek. They set up and pack down the tents as well as prepare all the meals. These guys are amazing and referred to by all as supermen. As I mentioned, the track for the most part is a goat trail, often slippery with water or loose rocks, with lots of steep ups and downs and very few flat bits. The porters do this track carrying 30kgs on one shoulder and are either in thongs or sandals, and on top of that they do it faster than any of the trekkers. Words can’t describe the sheer scale of how impressive these guys are and photos don’t come much closer.

While we didn’t make it to the summit, it was still an amazing trip and while I’d advise a little more preparation and research than we did, I would recommended it. If, however, it does sound a little too adventurous for you, here are some at home things you can do to recreate the experience.

  • Go to your local park and find a some knee length grass or a small semi-leafless shrub and take a shit as nature intended.
  • Get a stair master and use it 6 hours a day for three days. In those three days you cannot shower and can only change your socks and grundies. Oh, and put rocks in your shoes and the heater on.
  • Throw away your pillow. While you’re at it, ditch the bed entirely and lay a yoga mat on top of some gravel. The trick, though, is to make sure that the gravel is slightly higher on one side so you are constantly keeping yourself from rolling over. You should also cut your sheet in half so it doesn’t quite cover all of you and turn the air con on cold and the fan on high.

Like I said, it was hard, it was terrifying and I’m not sure what possessed us to do it, but if you ever have the opportunity, I say give it a go.

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