Mount Rinjani in Lombok, Indonesia has been on Jordan’s bucket list for nearly 10 years. It was one of the top destinations on his mind when he was planning his post-graduate trip, however Peru and the Inca Trail won out in the end. Since then he’s been wanting to tackle the 3,726m active volcano, and when Bali came up as a potential ‘central’ location for a family vacation it was a perfect opportunity to hope an island over to finally take on the challenge.
Mount Rinjani is the second highest volcano in Indonesia and dominates the landscape in the small island of Lombok. The mountain and its satellites form the Mount Rinjani National Park and while it may be possible to gain permission to hike to the summit without a guide, it is suggested that you hire a local guiding company. Jordan and I have always enjoyed hiking independently so hiring a guide this time was going to be a first for us.
Despite Mount Rinjani being known for it’s beautiful landscapes and challenging terrain, it also has a poor reputation for being littered with garbage and human waste. Far from the pristine environment we have been used to in New Zealand I began researching to find a guiding company that respected the environment and had positive reviews online.
Trip Advisor lead me to find Rudy Trekker, a local company based in Senaru Village who offer a range of trekking packages from the 2 day, 1 night trek (that we chose) to a 4 day hike if you’ve got the time to spend. Our journey began when Jordan and I arrived in Bali and made a quick flight over to Lombok. Rudy’s driver picked us up to the airport and drove us 3 hours to their brand new head quarters where we met up with Jordan parents, Jeanette and Russell, his sister Hillary and her friend Kate. It had been over a year since I’d seen Jordan’s family so it was a nice welcome to be reunited with them when we arrived at midnight after a long day of travel.
Morning came quickly and we were downstairs for a quick breakfast before packing our bags for the trek. Included in the service was a local porter (per person) who would carry the tenting equipment, food and supplies for our trip. It felt a bit weird having someone else carry our gear, but understanding it was a huge source of employment for the area I knew the importance those wages were to the locals.
The drive to the start of the track was about 45mins from base camp and wound through the narrow, busy streets filled with scooters and young children playing. In the distance the mountain peered through the shroud of clouds, providing some foreshadowing for the weather to come. With the forecast not looking great for the next 24hrs, we packed our rain gear and hoped for the best.
The first few hours of the trek were a gentle climb through farm fields, before entering a small patch of rainforest just before our first break. It was at the rest stops you really saw the garbage issue, with piles of old trash covering the ground near the shelters. It was difficult to understand how someone could just toss their garbage without considering the long term consequences on the environment.
After about 3.5 hours we reached our lunch stop just as the rain began to pour. This was the first moment we were VERY happy to have chosen Rudy Trekker – the porters had walked ahead and secured a premium spot under the shelter, setting up chairs and a tarp for us to put our bags on. Not everyone was as lucky though and many spent their lunch getting soaked in the rain.
One thing I had read in many reviews of other trekking companies was the lack of food. Anyone who knows me understands how much I love food and how I can get pretty ‘hangry’ if I don’t have enough to eat. Well, that was no problem here! Our guide Sup and the porters cooked up an incredible meal of roasted chicken, rice, veggies, fried egg, prawn crackers and lentil bites. My fears of starving on this trip quickly vanished as I devoured the meal that was far better than what Jordan and I usually enjoy on our treks. While we sipped a cup of hot lemon tea, we finished off our meal with a platter of fresh cut pineapple, oranges and apples! Yum!
Thinking we had luck on our side, the rain had stopped just before we got back on the track. That luck quickly faded when the skies opened up and the down pour began. Since the temperatures were still quite hot, the best option was to thrown on the poncho they provided to keep our clothes and packs as dry as possible. However the heat that our bodies generated as the climb intensified meant it created a ton of condensation underneath the poncho – either way we were getting wet!
The next few hours were pretty tough on the spirits as the rain continued, making the muddy track quite slippery. On more than a few occasion I nearly went head over feet, but managed to keep my balance enough to stay upwards. As our pace slowed with the terrain intensifying, the strong porters began to pass us carrying the 60kg+ baskets and wearing sandals! I have no idea how they managed to maneuver their way up the track in that footwear but it was impressive to say the least.
As we neared the crater rim, we got a small glimpse of the summit in the distance. The ridgeline looked quite narrow and steep, yet deceiving not that far away. I hoped the rain would subside to allow our early morning summit. The group that morning were unable to go due to the wind and rain, so we feared our fate would be the same.
Pushing through the last few challenging sections to the top, we finally got a glimpse of the inside crater before the clouds moved in again. Only a few hundred meters now to our base camp we were never so happy to see our tents already setup and completely dry – I could have kissed the porters!
A sea of tents lined the narrow ridgeline that overlooked the crater lake below. I was surprised by the number of people that were on the trek, and with the additional porters supporting, it made for a busy area. Apparently it’s even busier in the middle of summer!
As the rain returned, we took shelter and were confined to our tents for the next few hours while we removed our wet clothes and began to warm up for the night. The spacious ~3 person tents were setup with a comfortable thick mattress, sleeping bag and little pillow. It was a welcomed oasis after a long day of hiking. Yet again the porters cooked up an amazing meal of chicken and vegetable curry with rice accompanied by a hot cup of lemon tea – my new favorite hot drink! Just before the sun set we had a break in the rain and were able to emerge from our tents to take in the view and use the strong winds to dry out our ponchos!
Again the garbage situation at camp was pretty bad in some areas. Rudy Trekker pride themselves on being an environmentally responsible business and that was evident by the crew ensuring all garbage was bagged for removal and even went around the campsite picking up garbage other companies had left behind. Despite their efforts, that still barely made a dent in the years of accumulated food packaging.
With sun down at 6:30pm we climbed back into our tents for an early night. After a long 7 hour day of climbing and an early start ahead of us I crashed as soon as I hit the pillow praying for good weather the next day.
I’m not sure whether it was the nerves, or excitement, but we all seemed to wake up just after 1am without the help of an alarm clock. We ate a quick breakfast of fried bananas with chocolate and were ready to go with our head lamps on as we went single file passing the sea of tents in the dark. Not every group was intending to summit that morning, so we quietly tip toes passed the tents as we made our way towards the ridge.
The first section proved to be the most difficult, as we navigated our way up the steep black volcanic section with the help of our guide Sup. Up ahead we could see a few headlamps making their way and a sea of more coming up behind us. Once we were through the really steep section we traversed along the ridgeline and began the steady climb through the scree. It was so dark I couldn’t see anything beyond the small patch my headlamp lit up but I could tell we were on a narrow ridge no more than a few meters wide.
Thankful the rain had stayed away, it was the wind that proved to be a challenge. Using one pole to brace myself from being blown off the ridge, I used the other to propel myself up the mountain as I concentrated on Sup’s feet ahead of me. After nearly 3 hours we stopped to take shelter and grab a TimTam for some added energy. I can see why many people don’t make it to the summit as this was a pretty full on experience running on little sleep and tired legs. Poor Hillary struggled to stay warm as the wind cut through her layers of clothes. With her spirits low, she nearly called it quits, but with the help of a family group hug to warm her up and the inspiring words from our guide Sup – ‘Never try, never know’ – she soldiered on. With just over an hour left to the summit we were determined to get to the top.
Just before sunrise we reached the summit and were one of the first groups to arrive. We quickly snagged a great vantage point at the top as we waited for sunrise. Unfortunately the clouds never parted on the one side but we were able to get a small clearing of the crater lake below.
Inside the massive crater lake, Segara Anak, called the Child of the Sea, sits a newly formed cone, Gunung Baru, or New Mountain, that has been formed by recent eruptions within the caldera. A natural hot pool inside the crater is a popular destination for folks on multi-night treks – something I wish we had the time for!
In the distance we could see the Gili Islands where Jordan’s family had just spent the last few days, and the volcano Mount Agung on Bali peeked out above the clouds. The colours inside the crater were also incredible – vibrant and rich with minerals. As the crowds moved in, the summit began to get busy, and with the wind still beating down on us we decided to start our decent after enjoying about an hour of peaceful summit views. Little did we know the walk back down to base camp would be the most spectacular of our journey as we finally were rewarded with the views that had been shrouded in darkness on our ascent.
Similar to our adventures down Mount Tarawera, the loose terrain provided an expedited route to scree ski our way down the ridgeline. With steep drops of either side though we were now aware of the exposure we had been oblivious to in the dark. Looking back up at the summit we had just tackled the colours were incredibly vibrant as the mix of red, black, green and yellow painted a stunning canvas on the mountain.
As we got closer to the crater edge, you could see smoke emitting from the volcano inside the caldera. It reminded me a of a mini Mount Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom) along the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand that we tackled the year before when Jordan’s parents were visiting. Jordan always talks with pride telling people that his parents, now in their 60s come volcano hiking with us. I hope we maintain an active lifestyle into retirement as well!
The fact that it was smoking showed the volcano is still quite active. Our guide Sup was up on the mountain the last time it erupted in 2010. Ash spewed from the mountain, rising up to 2 km into the atmosphere, while lava flowed into the caldera lake raising it’s temperature to 35 degrees. Although it didn’t threaten any of the nearby villages, access to the mountain was closed for a period of time. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be on that mountain that day!
On the other side we could see the sea of tents lining the ridgeline just above the clouds. It was an amazing vantage point to see how many people were on the mountain with us.
The walk down towards base camp was easy compared to the way up but still took about 2 hours as we stopped for many photos along the way. We arrived back at camp just after 9am and were greeted by a small pack of monkeys that were feeding on the trash around the campsites. It was sad to see they clearly understood that humans = food as they had no issues getting up close while they rummaged for some scraps.
After a long morning, we devoured the Rinjani burgers and fries the porters had cooked up upon our return. With a few allergies in our group, the crew were very accommodating in providing gluten free and dairy free options. With the skies clearing up we had a pretty great view while we enjoyed our hard earned breakfast.
If you notice in the photo below, that’s Jeanette being a bit of a ham and giving us a wave from our luxurious toilet tent. Another item I had read a lot about during my research was the lack of proper facilities for such a busy mountain trek. Our guys did their best and dug a deep hole and provided a private tent for us to use as our toilet. Not exactly the most glamorous part of our trip, but it was much better than nothing! It wasn’t surprising how quickly that can get out of control without the proper management and Jordan found this out the hard way when he went exploring to snap some photos from a better vantage point on a hill and ended up discovering ‘poo mountain.’
After breakfast we packed up our belongings while the porters disassembled camp and we made our way back down the steep embankment. Thankful the rain had at least temporarily held off, I can imagine I would have been on my butt most of the way if it had been wet!
The next few hours the weather just couldn’t make up it’s mind. Initially some clouds rolled in providing a mysterious mist but was broken up by breaks of sun that gave us the views we had missed on the way up in the rain. Just before we returned to our lunch spot, the skies let loose and rain again poured down on us. Hoping we would make it back without getting wet, our luck ran out again as we quickened our pace towards shelter. Unfortunately this time we were a bit later than other groups, but our guys quickly did their best to make us a shelter and we enjoyed another delicious meal – Rinjani spaghetti!
The last 3 hours were an easy walk back through the fields as the weather gave us a break again. The entire way back down the mountain, I was amazed to watch our guides picking up litter along the track, filling a few bags of garbage by the end. This is why if you plan on coming to Lombok to tackle Mount Rinjani I highly recommend choosing Rudy Trekker. Yes they are slightly more expensive (not by much) than the cheaper guides, but believe me it is worth for so many reasons. They provide the best quality of service, have a strong environmental conscious and will leave you feeling happy you paid that extra to ensure the guides and porters are paid fairly (in addition to a good tip). And after hiking nearly 20 of the last 30 hours, the celebratory beers at base camp he provides are the icing on the cake! Perfect ending to an awesome family adventure – we’re so lucky that Jordan’s family is always up for tackling these adventures with us 🙂