I can’t really say how climbing Mount Rinjani, an active volcano, ended up being my one and only item while on Lombok. Honestly, doing something like this is completely unlike anything I would have done before.
In fact, when I told people about this plan beforehand, they looked at me in one of two ways. Either, “Right, sure you are. Must be quite the ‘volcano’ then.” Or they would give a large smile with a look that said, “Good for you! It’ll be a real bummer when you fail to make it to the top, but at least you tried your hardest!”
So yeah, I was absolutely determined to make it to the top of Mount Rinjani. I wasn’t deterred by the fact this would mean ascending 3,500+ meters up steep dusty mountains or through shin deep gravely sand. I just told myself I was going to do this thing no matter what.
The only other decision that needed to be made was HOW exactly I’d get to the top or, more specifically, what trekking group to go with. Because climbing Mount Rinjani is big business for Lombok, there are a ton of options.
Just about all groups include the basics, like tents, sleeping bags, food, and water. The difference you’ll pay though really comes down to a few questions. Prefer being in a smaller group? Want variety in your meals? How does a poop tent sound, so that you have some privacy while doing your business at 8,000 feet?
In the end I decided to go with Rudy Trekker and pay more for the above perks. For me, it just came down to one item: the poop tent. Midway through climbing Mount Rinjani, the thought of having a bit of privacy as I drop the kids off at the pool just seemed totally worth it. Oh, and there’s also the fact that Rudy is very big on improving the environmental impact of these treks and the area (more on that with Monday’s post). But honestly, poop tent.
So I booked a 3 day/2 night trip with Rudy Trekker and never looked back. Yikes.
In retrospect, I probably should have at least quickly glanced back. In the weeks leading up to my arrival, I had promised myself that I’d start aggressively training. Hiking around Northern California, staying active, building up some level of stamina… those kinds of things.
But no. Here I was at the base, supposedly ready to begin climbing Mount Rinjani, having only done 7 out of 8 weeks of the Insanity DVD workout program.
After registering at Lombok’s National Park office, my hiking family for the next few days got to know each other. Overall we were a perfectly small group of 7 total – 3 hikers (including me), 3 porters, and 1 guide. The 2 other hikers were a young couple from Australia, both around my age and with equally twisted senses of humor.
The 3 of us got along instantly.
Everything started out well enough, as most adventures do. The path was relatively flat, the vegetation vibrant, and the spirit of the group couldn’t have been higher. Above everything though, with its dull craggy peak poking through the clouds, loomed Mount Rinjani.
We did our best not to look up and meet its ever-present gaze, but it was just about impossible to avoid. It didn’t matter how much ground we covered. It just sat there taunting us as if to say, “I’ll be seeing you soon enough.”
Before too long we made it to our lunch stop – a large clearing under the clouds that was absolutely filled with people from other trekking groups. While we definitely saw others along the trail, this was the first time that we had seen everyone all clustered together.
It really gave a good sense of exactly how many people are climbing Mount Rinjani on any given day.
Even though we had been hiking for only a few hours, my muscles were already starting to ache. Knowing this would be the case, our porters put together an amazing lunch to get us back in the zone. Mie goreng (Stir fried veggie noodles) were accompanied by a piece of chicken, a fried egg, shrimp crackers, and plenty of fresh fruit.
Looking up ahead, the mellow path that we had been enjoying began to steepen, completely disappearing into the clouds. It was no longer a straight shot ahead, instead becoming a twisted and winding path of exhaustion. As if that wasn’t enough, all of the bright and beautiful terrain we had enjoyed slowly started to lose all color. Glancing up towards Mount Rinjani’s direction, we could feel its grip starting to tighten.
Just when the group was beginning to fall into a good groove, the terrain once again transitioned. Still engulfed in clouds, the path got wider, dirtier, and uncomfortably steeper. The rocky and compacted ground we had been walking on became a thick layer of loose dirt that would kick up heavy dust anytime someone took a step. Clusters of tall scraggly trees were now almost completely bare and the grass had turned a sickly yellow.
The consistently thinning air could now be felt in full force. Every 20 steps or so I could feel my lungs gasping for oxygen only to get little relief from what they were pulling in. It was as if I was attempting to breath through a red and white striped bendy straw that had a small slit somewhere towards the middle. Again, Mount Rinjani looked down and continued to tighten its grip.
During a rest period right before the last leg of the day 1 trek, we sat there completely exhausted and drenched in dusty sweat. For the last few hours the group had just about fallen silent, prioritizing regulated breathing over all else. Being my subtle self, I just had to say something that had been burning in the back of my head for a good portion of the trek.
“Shit. And this is only the fist day…”
Everyone that was in earshot let out a faint chuckle and nodded. Yep, we still have 2 more action packed and blood draining days of this.
Not too much later, and after 8 total hours of hardcore hiking, we crested the final hill and saw our base camp for that night.
Tossing my backpack to the ground and collapsing right beside it, I sat there and just took in my surroundings. Yes, I knew we had only made it to the rim of Mount Rinjani so far. Yes, I knew we had to wake up at 2am the next morning to make our trip up to the summit before the sun arose to fry the group. And yes, this all scared the absolute shit out of me.
So I just sat there in complete silence, reflecting on the day and absorbing everything about that exact moment. It was all pretty amazing.
As the sun set and everyone began to head to their nice warm sleeping bags, I finally got up from my little cone of silence. Dusting myself off and stretching out my sore limbs, I said my goodnights to the crew and then began to head towards my tent.
As I unzipped the front flap, I couldn’t help but notice the large shadowy figure quietly looming overhead. It was Mount Rinjani. I stared at it for a good long while – analyzing, anticipating, trying to get some sort of read on it. But I got nothing in return. I crawled into my 0 degree rated sleeping bag and, before passing out from extreme exhaustion, I said something out loud that only the two of us could hear.
“Suck it Rinjani.”