[simage=1297,200,n,left,]Climbing one of Indonesia’s highest mountains is a good challenge. At 3726 m (12,224 ft) Gunung Rinjani dominates Lombok; it is active, with a huge crater lake where there is a new cone that last erupted in 2004.
We booked a trek from Rinjani Explorer (http://www.rinjaniexplorer.com/index.html) , which includes a guide and porters to carry all the equipment and do all the cooking for the team. Our two porters carried the equipment in two wicker baskets suspended from a bamboo pole and hiked the fairly rough and steep trail in sandals (flip flops!) – see the photos. They skipped up the mountain while carrying all our stuff, while we huff and puff behind carrying only our day packs. We took a 3 day 2 night trek starting in Sembalun and finishing at Senaru.
Day 1: we started at 1100m elevation and hiked 12 km with a climb of 1600 m. It was election day in the villages in the valley and each small place was buzzing with the excitement of choosing candidates. The trail is interesting because most of the north east slope of the volcano is covered by savanna grassland as it is too dry for forest to have establish. The grass is around 6 ft high and the views back to Sembalun and the sea beyond were really impressive. Rinjani loomed above us for most of the morning until the afternoon clouds gathered. The first day was great and we arrive at the crater rim at 4 pm and the porters set up our tent and the camp. Rinjani Explorer provide the luxury of a toilet tent, which is a tarp strung around four poles and hole in the ground; still, this is better than heading off to the forest to find a discrete place for one’s business. The crater rim campsite attracts quite a few grey macaque monkeys, and one tried to grab Gill’s bag before being chased off by porter with a catapult and a rock. We had an amazing sunset with a nice meal of nasi goreng (fried rice) complete with a tomato flower garnish. Across the crater lake the sky was orange as the sun set beside Gunung Agung on Bali.
Day 2: the killer day started at 2:30 am, when we got up for a coffee and banana in the amazing light of the full moon. We started the 1000 m climb from the crater rim to summit at 2:45 and didn’t really need a torch, since the moon was so bright. The crater lake contained a few misty clouds that were lit so brightly that they seemed to be glowing. The climb up the ridge to the summit is tough. The substrate is really loose and it is definitely two steps forward one step backwards. It is really hard on the legs, but with the moon on one side and the sky getting fire red in the east over Sumbawa and Flores islands there is no way you can not make it to the summit. There were about 12 people who also made it for sunrise with us, and it was fantastic – we were really lucky with the weather and as the sun rose the shadow that Rinjani casts west over Lombok and the ocean between Lombok and Bali is staggering. The small cone volcano in the crater lake eventually becomes visible, merrily steaming away. Of course, what you climb you have to descend and although this isn’t too bad because you can do some scree running, it is really hard on the legs that have suffered to get you up there!
By the time we got the the camp for an 8 am breakfast of banana pancakes and french toast (!) we were exhausted, but not even half way through the days hiking. We still had to decent into the crater lake and then climb back up to the top of the opposite rim – a descent of 700 m and a climb of 700 m. The descent to the crater lake was steep and a killer for our legs and we really needed our break for lunch. Still, the amount of lunch the porters were cooking was too much for us – they must think vegetarians really need to eat more to make up for the lack of meat. To ease our aching muscles, we were looking forward to the hot springs, which are locally fabled to cure all sorts of health problems if your soak in the water or drink it; the porters had filled bottles of it to take home. The springs were disappointing though, and it is better to swim in the lake. People have tried to create three pools and pipe the water into them, but the they are a state of disrepair and one of them is full of algae that must love the mineral rich water. Regardless, we did have a good wash in the rather hot water and hoped that this would give us the power for the final climb. This is quite steep and when we finally reached the campsite near the rim we had done 14 hours on the trail and simply wanted to collapse. Luckily the porters put the tent up and that is exactly what you can do before they serve dinner. We were not looking forward to the 1900 m descent through the forest the next day, because it was definitely the quads that were suffering most. As it went dark and the moon rose, we were disturbed by some feral dogs trying to get our food, so we soon went to bed.
Day 3: was not as much of a killer as feared. The last thing our legs wanted was more downhill, let alone 1900 m. But the trail has a comfortable gradient and goes though some lovely forest. We met quite a few people climbing up the trail doing the walk in the other direction. At last we came to the national park entrance (exit for us), which meant we then only had a short walk though some coffee, cocoa and other crops to get to the trek centre. It was a really fabulous trip and the guide and porters were excellent – we hopefully tipped them handsomely before they headed off back to the starting village by ojek (motocycle taxi).
We definitely think that starting the trip in Sembalun is better, since you do hike to the summit while you are still fresh(er). A night camping by the lake might make day 2 less of a killer, but we didnt think it was such as nice place to camp as there is quite a lot of trash. It would be really helpful if signs were posted in local languages to try to educate people about dropping trash. After the trip, we were very glad to spent a few luxurious nights at Quinci Villas near Senggigi, which are certainly the most well designed villas we have ever stayed in. The 3 hour “happy hours” cocktails were well earned. We also went to buy some of the local pottery and celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary with dinner on the beach at the villas.