Friday, December 02, 2011

Lombok....Mount Rinjani

I'm off to Malawi for 18 days for the traditional South of Watford winter break. So in the meantime I leave you with a long overdue post from last year's September trip to Indonesia. Mount Rinjani, on the island of Lombok, is without doubt one of the most impressive treks I've done and one of the most special places that I have ever been to.

There seem to be plenty of people offering Rinjani treks these days, of varying difficulty and duration. We opted for what seems to be the 'full' trek that goes to the summit of the volcanic crater rim; three days trekking and two nights spent camping on the mountain. We arranged it in advance and were picked up on arrival in Lombok, having travelled by fast boat across from Bali the morning after arrival leaving our jet lag behind us. The first night in the village of Senaru was also included in the package that we had contracted. Rinjani was hidden by clouds when we arrived in Senaru, but the surroundings were not. Later on that day the weather would get significantly worse.
It rained hard for most of the afternoon and evening, even though this was supposed to be still the dry season. Now where have I heard that before? We didn't feel too optimistic about the weather conditions on the big mountain above us, given what was falling down below, and we had to make some tough decisions on what to take with us on the trek, to avoid being overloaded on the climb. Our guide splashed his way to the hotel to come and give us a basic briefing for the next day.

The first day of the trek dawned quite bright and sunny. Even so, the mountain above still seemed to be covered in thick clouds. Knowing how cold it could be up at 3000 metres if it continued to rain we ended up taking a bit too much stuff with us. The trek begins at the national park office a bit above the village and we immediately started climbing through the forest, hot work even with the shade provided by the trees. Above us we would get occasional glimpses of groups of monkeys. The path is occasionally steep and it's best to have boots with a reasonable grip. The route is easy enough to follow, there are few alternatives and the surrounding forest is thick enough to make wandering off in the wrong direction difficult.

There are stopping points at intervals on the way up and by mid-morning we had reached the point where everyone seems to stop for lunch. We had already climbed some 900 metres up the forest path and I was grateful for a lengthy break. Our guide was also the cook, and the two porters who came with us were carrying the food, water and the tents that we would sleep in. Lunch took a while as the rain the day before meant that the available firewood didn't burn easily. After lunch the path continued to rise quite steeply through the forest for another hour or so, after which it levels off slightly and the forest gradually disappears. It was raining occasionally, but never heavily enough to make wearing a jacket seem like a good idea, I was already hot enough from the climb.
The next rest point is a good place to stop, because the last part of the climb to the crater rim - our objective for this first day - is steeper. I took this part very slowly, in total the day's climb was around 2000 metres and the last 2-300 were very hard work. There was a reward though. I hadn't expected to be able to see very much when we got to the rim, given the rain that had fallen further down and the clouds that were still swirling around. We were in luck though, and arrived at the crater at a perfect time to appreciate our surroundings. Several hundred metres below, inside the crater, we could see the lake and the young (in geological terms) and active volcano Gunung Barujari rising out from the waters. It's a beautiful place to be and the weather was on our side, although it soon feels cold after dark. Normally I hate camping, but there are places like this where there is simply no alternative if you want to be there.
The next morning the mountain was again very clear. Breakfast has to be watched closely, unless you want the scavenging monkeys to eat it for you. Day 2 of the trek involved a descent into the crater down to the lakeside, to be followed by the climb back up to the rim on the other side in preparation for the summit walk. Rinjani's crater is steep, wherever you look, and going down is not really easier than going up. We set off early, and I think we were the first people to make it down to the lake. From this position you get a close up of the volcano in the middle. But the main attraction down here is a short walk away from the lake itself. Hot springs gush out of the mountain and we spent the time before lunch enjoying the murky, but just hot enough to bear, water. 
Maybe it was the heat of the water, but in many ways I felt more tired after the springs than before, it produced a feeling of lethargy which lunch only seemed to make worse. This was a shame, because the afternoon activity was all upwards, ascending the crater path to our campsite for that night. I was happy for the clouds to move in and protect me from the sun as I made my slow way up the mountain. We'd been worried about the possibility of rain but in the end the weather was more or less perfect as the clouds just seemed to move in when we needed them. Our camp for the night was still around 1000 metres below the Rinjani summit point. It's not quite such a beautiful position as the first night, as the volcano in the lake is hidden from view. In any case, we were not intending to stay up late - there's not a lot to do after dinner and you get up in the middle of the night to go to the summit as the best time to be there is for sunrise.
Warm clothes on, head torch in position, and we were ready to start the climb in darkness but with some light from the moon. I was never very optimistic about my chances of making it to the top, I was really feeling the effects of the previous two days in my legs and we had already agreed with the guide that he would stay with me if I couldn't make it to the top. To be honest I don't think he relished the prospect of the climb either. I knew after about 5 minutes of walking that I wasn't going to go all the way. The path consisted mostly of volcanic grit and sand and we had already been warned about the effort this would involve as you try to go up without sliding backwards. My legs weren't strong enough, and I was going painfully slowly. After a while Silvia left us behind and sped off up the mountainside with some other trekkers. I continued slowly but steadily, but with no real intention of attempting the summit - in the end I think I got a little over half way.The path had got a little easier than the first part but would soon get steeper again We had to shelter from the wind for a while as we waited for daylight and the first faint rays from the sun.

It didn't matter too much about not reaching the top, the views from where I gave up were still fantastic. At first light the lake was still partially lit by moonlight. Then, as it became lighter, the shadow on the horizon would become recognisable as Bali's Mount Ugung; that was to be climbed later in our trip. The sunrise was spectacular and we could see all the way down the mountain to the coast and some of the smaller islands close to Lombok. With the sun high enough to make us feel a bit warmer we made our way back down to the campsite for breakfast. Silvia told me that the final part of the ascent is tremendously difficult as the volcanic sand and a steep path makes going up so hard and slow.
Back at the camp a war was in progress. When we arrived the previous afternoon there was no sign of monkeys hunting for food. But now they were out in force and were incredibly bold in their attempts to snatch anything edible. The porters and guides were being very vigilant in keeping them at bay but you couldn't put a plate on the ground. As if getting up in the middle of the night to climb wasn't enough, we now had the descent to deal with. We didn't go back the way we had come, that would have meant going back into the crater to climb out the other side. Instead we had a descent down to the village of Sembalun. The first couple of hours was difficult, a steep walk down a gritty path where it was very easy to slip. After that things get easier, but hotter, as we crossed grasslands with little shelter. The final section as we neared the village seemed to take forever and I was looking forward to a good rest. It's a fantastic trek to do, but it would take a couple of days for my legs to recover from the experience. We were picked up by the people from the agency who took us all the way around half of Lombok to our next destination on the coast, Senggigi.