Mount Rinjani: Flip-flops, litter, misery, and beauty

by Maaike, 1 September 2017

Hiking the crater rim on 27 & 28 August 2017

We got woken up by the mosque at 5 AM (they start that early…) and were very nervous for this day, the start of our 2-day hike to the volcano Rinjani crater rim on the island of Lombok. We cuddled until it was time to get up, had a very shitty banana pancake for breakfast and got picked up at 7:30. Our guide and porter are both named Anton and these guys would be our company for the next 2 days.

Little did we know what the next 2 days would bring. If we knew, we wouldn’t have started (a paradox, I know).

When we were still smiling

Our 2-day trekking journey to the crater rim (not the top of the volcano, that would be 3 days total) started at Senaru village. It was only a short car ride away from our guesthouse and off we went. We were carrying our light day-packs, while our porter was carrying 50 kg divided over 2 baskets, connected with a bamboo stick. We were supposed to be going with 2 porters, but the other guy called in sick. Our guide was carrying a big backpack with the tents and some water. Another interesting thing to note is that both Anton’s were hiking on flip-flops. Craziness. They call flip-flops ‘shoes’ so I have no clue what they call what we were wearing (Grade A hiking shoes). They just laughed at our hiking shoes.

The first couple of hours ascending the mountain were easy enough, although some parts of the path were tricky with tree roots coming out of the ground everywhere. I already made a mental note that going down would be riskier than going up. We were ascending in a very fast pace, taking a lot less time than most other people, but still, we were constantly getting overtaken by porters, the guys carrying 50 kg of stuff on their shoulder on flip-flops. Insane.

I noticed heaps of litter all along the path and at each resting point. Plastic, food leftovers, cigarette buds, but most of all: toilet paper. It is horrible to see. Most people don’t really care about leaving the litter and their bodily fluids next to the path. It is a big problem.

litter...

We stopped for lunch very early, because our porter needed 1,5 hours of rest (I think I would have been dead by that point, what a hero). His rest consisted of cooking a meal for all of us. We were seriously spoiled these 2 days with good meals each time. After lunch and 2 to 3 kretek cigarettes for the porter and guide we started walking again.

a resting point

The mountain started getting steeper. Even worse, the last 2,5 hours we were out of the jungle, doing the steepest part of the climb in blistering heat. This part was really tricky. There was a lot of loose sand that made you slip and lose your balance. The mental note of how risky going down would be tomorrow, changed into already being scared for tomorrow! I tried to put it aside for now because we were arriving at the crater rim, our destination. We were one of the early people there, so there was plenty of room for our 2 tents. The porter was already there, of course, and had already set up 1 tent. How this guy climbed the mountain that fast, God knows. He seemed pretty cheerful too.

tents at the crater rim

The view from the crater rim onto the lake (Segara Anak) is amazing. This is why we did it. Inside the crater is another volcano, which is nice on an inception level (a volcano inside a volcano, woot).

view from the crater rim

Camping

It was 16:30 at this point, so we had some time before sunset. Sadly, it was very windy, soon we were already shivering. Our tent almost blew away twice, because using normal pegs is not how one pitches a tent on the crater rim. Instead of normal pegs, we had to use wooden twigs. And instead of guy lines, we had to use plastic ‘ropes’ for extra support. This meant that the tent was not steady on the ground at all and the wind tore out the wooden pegs a couple of times. We had to find some rocks to really anchor the tent to the ground. The foam mattress we got to sleep on made the ground a little softer, but not more could be said of it. The tent was also just 1,75 meter long, so if I laid down on my back both my head and feet were touching the outer part of the tent. Add to that the heavy wind, and I constantly felt like I was going to fly away soon.

Dinner was served and I prepared myself for a sleepless night. The tent almost flew away one more time and we anchored it back in the ground. I think we went to sleep by around 19:30 and in a miraculous way, I think I actually slept for a couple of hours. I had to pee once during the night (normal for me) and that is tricky business on a steep crater rim. I used my headlight torch to stay safe, climbed to a comfortable bit of ground to relieve myself. I had a grand vista to reward me, though! It was pitch dark, so the stars and the milky way could be seen. I didn’t enjoy the view for long because the wind was so cold. After that, I couldn’t really sleep anymore. My hips were protesting from basically sleeping on the ground. I had to turn from side to my back, to my other side every 15 minutes to avoid my muscles from cramping too much. I couldn’t wait for it to be 6 AM so we could get up and get this over with (no adventure is 100% fun).

sunrise

The next day

6 AM finally dawned and we got up to see the sunrise over Mount Rinjani. Shivering from the cold, we watched it. Even prettier than the sunset were the views over Bali and the Gili islands. We got an excellent breakfast and left to start the descent at 7 AM. This is when the true misery started.

morning view over Bali, notice the shadow of Mount Rinjani

We were only about 30 minutes in, going down on the before-mentioned tricky part of the mountain (lots of loose sand and tiny rocks) when I heard Oliver say a certain curse word starting with an f and he was on his butt grasping his leg in pain. I remember thinking “oh come on, get up, this can’t be really bad please”, but it was bad. His ankle wasn’t broken, but he was feeling nauseous and couldn’t get up immediately. His ankle appeared to be sprained. This was bad…After a couple of minutes, with some help from the guide, he could get up and limp awkwardly. Remember, we had at least 4 hours of hiking to go at a normal pace. How on earth was this going to end? It’s not like you can call a helicopter up here to get you. He simply had to get down this bloody mountain. On his own.

The guide gave Oliver a very painful massage that made him gasp for air, that’s how painful it was. A ‘medicine’ concoction of heated garlic and salt and oil was put onto his sprained ankle and that was all they could do. The rest was up to Oliver to gather all his mental strength to get down. Props for the guide though. He helped him all the time, holding his hand. They also made a wooden stick for Oliver so he could have that in his other hand.

The rest of the day was…long…eternal, almost. I was worried sick and kept going in circles in my head. For some reason, alternative paths of this event crossed my mind: “He could have broken his leg, then what!?”, “we shouldn’t have come here”, “why did this happen!??”, “I should have told him to be careful, then this wouldn’t have happened”…that sort of thing. And honestly, I hated going down the mountain this slow. It’s not Oliver’s fault, it’s just my impatience. I also couldn’t really help Oliver, the guide was a better-suited person to do this since he knew the path like the back of his hand.

After 10 (!) hours of limping down the mountain with basically one leg, a marathon-like effort on Oliver’s part, we finally reached Senaru again. I have no idea how Oliver did it, he called it ‘survival mode’. I don’t know how I would have fared if I were the one with the sprained ankle.

We were dropped at our guesthouse and I finally felt relieved. Oliver took a shower with his last strength (we were very dirty and dusty) and then he could finally rest. The last 2 kilometers he had suffered really badly, it was awful to watch. Oliver didn’t want to get out of bed again so I went to a store and bought us some light snacks and that was it. We were going to sleep. In a bed. With a soft mattress.

General thoughts about this hike

Mount Rinjani, you are beautiful. For us, you were a little too terrifying. Hilariously, they advertise this 2-day hike to the crater rim as beginner friendly. Well, let me tell you, folks, it is not. It’s a tough hike that requires a pretty good level of fitness in general and you have to be sure-footed when going down. I have no idea how the porters manage to do it on their flip-flops and with the load they are carrying; it makes us Westerners seem like weaklings. And you know what they get for their heroic efforts? 300.000 rupiah. That’s 20 euros. Compared to working on the rice fields it’s a great salary, but still, they’re ruining their bodies with this job.

Oliver just before his accident

It also felt really odd to climb a mountain with 2 locals and having them cook for you while you wait. Very strange indeed, very spoiled. But this is how it is done, it’s big business up here. I just can’t imagine how it is to climb the same mountain 3 times a week, year in year out. How do you mentally entertain yourself? No wonder they smoke the kretek cigarettes all the time, it’s about the only pleasure they have up there. And even while ruining their lungs they seem to run up the mountain while barely getting out of breath. It’s a matter of practice I’m sure, but still, it was amazing to see.

Yeah…all in all these 2 days were a crazy adventure that I do not wish to repeat. We will have to see how quickly Oliver recovers.

The recovery time is spent in a pleasant place: the tropical island Gili Air.