A few days of amazing relaxation on Gili Air made us a bit restless and ready for some exercise. We had seen Rinjani, the second highest volcano (fifth highest peak overall) in Indonesia staring across at us from nearby Lombok while we were on Gili Air and were interested in hiking up. Lonely Planet quoted the price to climb the volcano at $300USD per person, however when we asked around we were quoted 1.6 million rupiah, or $120USD and were so excited by the low price that we forgot to haggle. Included in that price was our transport from Gili Air to Lombok, a taxi to the base of Rinjani, all of our food and water for three days and two nights, all fees, a guide, tents, sleeping bags, and a taxi after the hike to Kuta Lombok before we flew onward. We later learned (after completing the trek) that many companies will settle for as little as a million rupiah ($75) during low season not including transport, but we were happy enough paying well under half of the expected price.
At 7am a horse drawn carriage (there’s no motorized transportation on the Gilis) pulled up in front of our bungalows and took us to the harbor. A quick 10 minute boat ride followed by an hour and a half cab ride brought us to Senaru where we’d start our trek. There are some beautiful waterfalls in the Senaru area, but unfortunately we would head straight up the mountain without seeing them since we didn’t plan to stay in Senaru beforehand.
We met our guide, Dewa, who informed us he had been guiding on Rinjani for a decade and could do the trip up to the summit at 3,726 meters twice a week in high season. He lead us along a cow paddy filled path through tall grass toward the mountain on a slight incline. There were six of us in our group and most were relatively inexperienced trekkers, but we were all eager to hike up the active volcano. The day we went was in the start of the rain season, and Rinjani was shrouded in clouds above us.
As we passed strawberry plantations the path began to get steeper and steeper. A few black monkeys and macaques jumped around in the trees nearby while we all huffed and puffed upward. Rinjani’s peak slipped in and out of the clouds as we hiked higher, giving us our first glimpse of the spot we would hike to the following morning. About two hours into the hike we stopped for lunch and were fed enormous portions of mie goreng (fried noodles) that the porters had prepared and had fruit for dessert.
Things got steeper after lunch but we were all so energized by the huge amount of food and excitement to reach the crater that we didn’t mind our burning legs too much. The summit looked near enough, although we knew that from the crater rim to the top was still over 1,000 meters of ascent. Climbing at a very steep incline over the next three hours, we finally reached the crater rim around 4:30pm.
The crater was beautiful and the black rock that intruded into the lake from the left side reminded us that Rinjani is indeed still very active. Lava had flowed from the newest volcanic cone, which is called Baby Rinjani and rises from the crater lake, less than a year prior to our visit, and ash had been launched into the air only months before our hike. While we wouldn’t be seeing any lava on our trek, Dewa told us it is possible to see if anyone was crazy enough to walk up Baby Rinjani and look down inside.
Our campsite for the night was a few minutes walk along the crater rim and we encountered a troop of macaques along the way. Me being the fan of monkeys that I am, I ventured down the edge of the rim a bit to visit them. While I had been around macaques in Thailand and we had seen plenty on Komodo, these ones were a bit different than the ones I had encountered. As I approached the innocent looking monkeys, a couple ran toward me and bared their large fangs, changing from nice little animals to fierce creatures in an instant.
During our ascent we had seen quite a bit of garbage strewn about, and while that was bad, the crater rim was much much worse. The trekking companies didn’t seem to care much about the environment and left their trash all around, which was then picked through by the monkeys as they searched for food. We would soon learn that the monkeys weren’t content to just search through the leftovers, but would aggressively raid the camps to steal whatever food they could. We were lucky enough to get through our dinner in peace, and headed to bed very early since we were told our ascent to the summit would begin at 2am that night!
Our late night/early morning wake up was accompanied by the porters bringing us tea and coffee in our tents, a luxury we couldn’t have hoped or asked for. While the tents that we slept in were fine, the pads that were brought by the trekking company were hard plastic, millimeter thick “yoga mats” and barely softened the rocks that we slept on. We used some of the extra clothes we brought as a pad between the mats and our sleeping bags, which made our sleep slightly more enjoyable, but we were desperately missing our Thermarest mattresses that we had slept on through Africa. We’d done our share of wild camping before, so the hole dug in the ground near the tents that served as a bathroom didn’t bother us much, but it’s worth noting that you won’t find a real bathroom on the mountain.
Turning on our headlamps and following the thin stream of lights ahead of us, we started our three hour climb toward the summit of Rinjani around 2:30am. The climb is only 3km or so long, but over a thousand meters of ascent on very loose dirt, rocks, and scree. Over the first hour of hiking we started overheating quickly due to the steep incline and how hard we were working and started to take off the layers we had put on. While I found the ascent to be tough, I didn’t think it was nearly as hard as expected. Two hours in the path became steeper and looser, and began to force us to stop from time to time to catch our breath. After three hours we finally made it to the top of Rinjani, just before sunrise!
The views from the summit at 3,726 meters were amazing, with an old crater from the volcano on the west side, the current crater and Baby Rinjani on the east. Looking further out we could see the Gili Islands and a bit further was Bali with Mount Agung staring back at us. Getting to the summit of Rinjani was a tough hike, but most people with a decent fitness level could do it without worries. Altitude isn’t a problem on the mountain as you’re unlikely to get altitude sickness at this elevation. We were happy we brought so many layers of clothes since it was freezing on the summit, right around 0 degrees celsius.
After 45 minutes or so of admiring the views it was time for us to descend from the chilly summit. Heading down the mountain was pretty easy using a skill we had attempted on Kilimanjaro and just about mastered on Taranaki, scree skiing. I hopped down the loose volcanic sand into a short slide, and continued to jump and slide down the steep summit toward the crater rim. While Rinjani has quite a few rocky patches where sliding becomes tough, for the most part it was quick and easy work to get down to the rim.
Once we were back on the crater rim we eagerly ate our breakfast since we were starving from the early morning hike. As we ate our monkey friends visited the camp and sat a short distance from us, looking like they wanted our food as much as we did. Suddenly a large macaque ran and jumped straight at a girl in our group, aiming for her breakfast. The monkey, teeth baring at the girl, received a swift kick to the stomach as our fellow traveler defended herself and her food, but it was a futile effort. The monkey recovered from the kick in an instant and jumped again, getting her breakfast and running before anyone could stop it.
After breakfast and a quick nap we packed up and headed down a steep and slippery path toward the crater lake, 600 meters below us. Our trip had been pretty dry to that point, but things changed on our two and a half hour descent. At first it rained just a bit, enough to make the steep, rocky path slippery, and after an hour of hiking the skies opened up and it began to pour. When we reached the crater lake we headed to the hot springs that poured out of the volcano to warm up a bit.
Like the rest of Rinjani, the hot springs had a decent amount of garbage strewn about, but we were cold and wet from the rain and excited to warm up. Stepping into the hot river, we felt the 42 degree celsius water instantly warm our feet and felt a squishy yellow slime that looked like they were solid rocks ooze between our toes. Sitting on top of a hot waterfall relaxed our exhausted legs and even though we got out of the hot springs dirtier than we got in – the slime was everywhere – we felt much better and ready to climb back out of the crater.
Before we could ascend out of the crater to our final campsite our group piled in under a tarp to eat lunch out of the rain that was still falling. We enjoyed the great food next to the edge of the lake, but after a few minutes we looked up and noticed that the tarp we were under had holes just about everywhere and the thin mats we were sitting on were the same ones we slept on and would sleep on again that night. Needless to say the mats got soaked and so did we, so after another three hours of steep climbing on a couple of hours of sleep, we had wet mats in our tents on the very cold mountainside.
Our third and final day on the mountain was a five hour descent from the crater rim to Sembalun, a different town than where we started. The hike can be done in either direction, and if the sun had been more intense we would have preferred to have gone in the opposite direction since the forest covers the path from Sembalun to the crater rim. In our case since it was lightly raining on our final day, we were happy to have the forest covering us. The descent was easy enough and a bit slippery, leading to a few minor falls. Once we reached the bottom of the mountain we were picked up and shuttled to each of our next destinations, and for Sissy and I that was Kuta Lombok, a few hour drive south so we could relax for a few days before heading onto our next destination, Sumatra, to go trekking to find wild orangutans!