Climbing Mount Rinjani: a volcanic adventure in Indonesia
by Emma Smith.
At a towering 3,726 metres above sea level, Mount Rinjani is Indonesia's second highest volcano and deep within its 50-square-kilometre caldera lies Segara Anak, a crater containing a hot spring. With eruptions as recently as 2010 causing a new conduit, a trip to Rinjani is not for the faint-hearted. In fact, this climb was one of the hardest things I have ever done – yet reaching the summit is also one of my proudest achievements to date. This challenging climb on volcanic gravel terrain requires both physical strength and mental determination to succeed. Here's how our climb went:
Day one saw us meeting at our guide's office, where we were then transported by bus to the starting point of our climb. With a quick stop at a small shop to stock up on any last-minute necessities such as batteries, torches, toilet paper and sunscreen, we were ready for the off. The next eight hours were spent steadily climbing upwards through local farmland, with just a quick break for lunch after two hours on the trail. Fortunately for our party, some of our guides had hiked ahead to cook for us, so we were all happy to enjoy a hot meal when we arrived at our first stop.
Bellies full, it was soon time to get going again, and we quickly left behind the morning's easy flat hike, arriving at the Seven Hills. These challenging slopes were not so much "up and down", but "up and up"! Each mountain consisted of a steep incline, followed by a brief plateau before rising sharply once again… seven times! We took multiple pit stops along the way, filling up on energy bars, water and electrolytes to avoid dehydration from our exertions.
The end of the Seven Hills signalled the end of the day's hiking, and we were happy to discover that we had already reached the top of the crater's rim, approximately 2,700m above sea level. Peering over the top of the day's last hill, we were all overjoyed to see our tents being set up and the friendly faces of our guides applauding our efforts as they prepared our much-needed dinner of chicken curry. There was just enough time to freshen up and kick off our shoes before we ate, with some of our group enjoying a well-earned beer. This was a heavenly relief after a gruelling, yet exhilarating, day of hiking. As we lounged in our camp chairs watching the sunset, a beautiful mist swept up the mountain, covering our camp and dipping into the crater. This stunning phenomenon happened very fast, turning the campsite instantly cold! Exhausted by our strenuous day, we all hit the sack by around 8pm.
Our second morning started way before dawn at around 2am. This extremely early start was necessary in order to complete our hike to Rinjani's summit. But as we were already at an altitude of 2,700m with just 1,000m to go, surely this would be pretty easy, right? Wrong! Our climb took place in the pitch black and the ascent was extremely steep. For the most part we climbed along the sharp edge of the crater rim, meaning that we had to keep our wits about us and our steps steady to avoid a nasty fall. The altitude and terrain made for a very slow, but very rewarding climb, with the slippery volcanic gravel surface meaning that every step forward meant slipping two steps back unless we really stamped our feet down into the ground.
That last 100m stretch to the summit took over an hour to climb due a combination of the treacherous terrain, my extreme tiredness and having to mentally reassure myself that I could complete this epic climb. But with plenty of encouragement from other hikers heading back down, along with the support of our guides who stuck with me all the way, I eventually made it to the summit to share a teary-but-elated embrace with my husband… along with plenty of selfies!
I got there just in the nick of time, reaching the summit just as the truly magical sunrise began. This stunning vista was unlike any other I'd ever seen, and at that moment, I totally forget just how tough my climb had been and how exhausted I felt. Reaching the summit was such a thrill and I was proud of myself for persevering, even when I felt I had nothing left to give. As if this moment wasn't already tear-jerking enough, two of my best friends who were also climbing in our party got engaged right then and there in front of the entire group! It was quite literally the most unforgettable experience.
I had assumed that the descent back down to camp would be relatively quick and easy compared to the uphill struggle we had faced… Turns out that I was wrong again! It took almost as long to get back down the mountain, but this time, the sun was high in the sky, which meant that with all of the warm clothing we'd layered up in the early hours of the morning, we were extremely hot on the way down. Getting back to camp took around three hours, with everyone back and looking forward to a hearty recovery breakfast by around 10.30am.
Refuelled and rested, we continued our hike downwards towards the rim until we reached Segara Anak's crater lake where we took a quick stop for lunch. Later, we enjoyed a much-needed refreshing dip in the hot spring and waterfall before hiking back up the other side of the crater rim to the next campsite. When reflecting on the day's exertions, we realised that we had hiked for over 11 hours that day, and so were more than ready for a good night's rest!
We ate breakfast watching the sunrise from our campsite, before setting off to the third base camp where we stopped for lunch before the final stretch of our journey. The going was tough, and the sun was high in the sky, making the next three hours of hiking scorching hot as we finally reached the end of the trail. Along the route we walked through a wonderfully cool and shady tropical rainforest, which provided us with a welcome respite from the sun. Reaching the end of trail – and the end of our adventure – we found ourselves at the road in Senaru, where our driver was waiting to take us back to our hotel in Sengiggi.
Although Mount Rinjani may not be one of the world's highest peaks, it is certainly regarded as one of the most difficult due to its steep incline and uneven terrain. Completing this challenge was a huge personal achievement for me, and one that gave me memories that I will cherish forever.
Getting to Mount Rinjani
I would highly recommend flying from Hong Kong to Bali for a couple of nights of relaxation; from there, it's a short half-hour hop to Lombok to begin the Mount Rinjani hike. I'd also recommend a night in Lombok prior to your climb, as this will ensure that you are well rested for the early start and long arduous journey ahead of you.
Top tips for climbers:
- It may sound strange, but sleeping with any wet clothes tucked into your sleeping bag at night will ensure that your body heat helps to dry these off before the morning.
- Always stick with at least one hiking buddy who walks at your pace. A few words of mutual encouragement go a long way when the going gets tough.
- Get a good night's sleep on the first night of your adventure. It's easy to stay awake with excitement in anticipation of the summit hike, but you will definitely need all the rest you can get for tackling the summit.
- Most of all, enjoy yourself and take lots of photos of your amazing achievement!