Nightfall was upon us. The Milky Way, Big Dipper and Southern Cross all twinkled brightly above, due to our special location in the universe. Hundreds of tiny yellow lights snaked up the pitch black ridge of Mt Rinjani. Some were attached to headlamps, others were hand-held flashlights and still others were cell phones of those backpackers who had forgotten this necessity.
It was 2:45 am and I tagged closely behind the hiker ahead of me, mostly so my sleepy eyes could remain only half alert but also so I could plant my filthy shoes in their footprints to make trekking in the loose gravel easier. “Elephants on parade, here they come, dun dun dun, pink elephants on parade.” I kept humming, picturing the cartoon elephants marching to the tune in Dumbo. My mind and body were exhausted making the moment seem as surreal and trippy as this part of the movie.
Mt. Rinjani is summitted on the 3rd and final day of the intense trek, but each day has its own challenge, rewarding sore participants with different scenes from nature’s perfectly painted canvas. Viewing the magnificent active volcano, which sometimes spews lava into the crater lake, is the treat after day one’s 6 hour hike through two varied terrains: tropical rainforest and grassy mountain trails.
Orange tents dot the crater rim, glowing in the same hue as the open fires, used to cook the evening meal of chicken, rice and veggies.
Day two offers the promise of hot springs after 2.5 hours of scaling down the crater’s edge, viewing the pristine lake below during the extent of the hike. Below a waterfall, hikers are able to choose their ideal temperature from multiple hot and cold pools, but this thermal oasis is not as pristine as it seems. Litter is strewn across the pools and imbedded into the hillside, baked by the sun like a moldy fruit cake. From above the ridge, the area seems like a refugee camp due to the makeshift tarp tents and discarded noodle packets, plastic bottles, and hard candy wrappers blowing in the breeze. Locals camp here, bringing tiny chickens, which they tie outside their tents. This scene alone could turn a carnivore into a vegetarian, watching the feathered friends peck at mucky garbage for their dinner, soon to be eaten themselves.
Pathetic and spoiled is this scene, and yet so culturally accepted here that it may take a decrease in tourism to wake these litterbugs up. Until then, sadly, c’est la vie.
Continuing day two’s trek is easier after a hot meal of nasi goreng, made from fresh vegetables, including foot-long green beans that are chopped into strips and spicy chili sauces. Extra-athletic guides and porters doubling as cooks are truly heroes of the trek. Scaling up rocky paths and through narrow trails, the porters balance a long bamboo pole with two baskets on each end as if it were a yolk over their shoulders.
With either plastic flip-flops or second-hand shoes they trudge up carrying all of the necessities for the journey including eggs, rice, vegetables, dishes, tents, sleeping bags, water and more. Chatting with our guide, it came to our attention that the remote community of Senaru, where this hike begins, lives almost completely off tourists hiking Rinjani. Most guides take only 1 or 2 days of rest between tours and wear whatever shoes are donated to them, hence the flip flops and treadless, too-large sneakers spotted along the way. With all of the old “gear” we have at home, we decided to put together a package for this community. We will send much-needed old shoes and other used athletic apparel to our guide to distribute to his porters as he sees fit.
If there is anything you would like to include in this package, please set aside and we will collect in Dec and Jan. All sizes and styles are welcome. If you would like to send your donations by Fedex or DHL, please address to:Sukriadi Ponpes Ponpes Gonist ABD. Razak
NW. Tumpang Sari
Senaru Lombok Utara NTB
Post code 83354
Without these incredible people, we would not have reached the rocky summit of Rinjani that third morning. The last 1.5 hours of darkness is more so a test of character than a show of strength. Every step up the volcanic pebble terrain results in a half-step backward– a true mental struggle, especially with cliffs dropping to the right and left. Three hours and much team encouragement later, our group consisting of Rene from Switzerland, Henry and Luc from The Netherlands and Jason and I cheered victoriously as the sun slid over the horizon. With Sukriadi as our guide, we were the first team to summit Rinjani that morning!
We were exhausted, mentally drained and some cried upon arrival, the hike proving the most intense athletic feat of our lives. The new light revealed glorious views of Lombok island, the volcano and lake below, and Bali and the Gili islands in the distance. A sharp chill whipped across the summit but we posed for photos and gobbled sugary strawberry wafers packed by Sukriadi.
Dust clouds puffed around us as we trekked, “skiing” down the loose gravel for 1.5 hours to our hot banana pancakes and sweet, black tea at the campsite. Groaning came from every tent as breakfast was devoured and realization of 5 more hours to civilization set in.
Fast forward these 5 hours to a farmer’s field, the last minutes of the trek. We ran to the end, already finding the “Dutchies” slurping their second refrigerated Coke, something they had craved the entire journey. “That was a once in a lifetime experience,” we all declared in our individual accents.
To hike Rinjani is a feat, but don’t take our word for it. Here are a few pieces to pack when you try it out for yourself:
- Hiking shoes
- Very warm jacket that can compress into a lightweight pack. (Puffy Northface Summit series jackets are perfect.)
- Gloves and hat
- Inflatable pillow
- Water bottle
- Toilet paper
* Take the bare minimum…you will carry it all with you up very steep terrain.
For more info see www.lombokrinjanitrek.org