We had spent the last two weeks on Bali, sampling the beaches, bars, and everything else the island has to offer. It was time for us to embark on a proper adventure.
The boat from Bali to Lombok takes a couple of hours on a speedboat. We arrived quite late on the first night, but our guide kindly waited up for us. He drove us three hours to the small town of Senaru. Sitting on the north side of Lombok, this it the gateway to the mighty Mount Rinjani - the active, 3,726m volcano we were here to climb on a three-day expedition, including a sunrise summit attempt.
Arriving at our lodge, we dumped our bags and put a map out on the table to trace the lines of the hike. It’s slightly harder to judge the incline of the mountain on the map, contour lines or not - but we already had an idea of the challenge ahead regardless, having seen the steep curves of Rinjani from Bali.
It was a heavy sleep that night, with the excitement of the undertaking ahead.
Climbing Mount Rinjani
Before we headed to the trailhead in the morning, we first drove to Sembalun, another scenic village near Rinjani, to sign in at the park ranger's station. We were excited, optimistic and joking in a light-hearteded manner about the day ahead.
In hindsight, perhaps we were underestimating the difficulty of the trek.
Mount Rinjani is not a day climb. We would be spending three days on the mountain - climbing to base camp camp, then heading to summit, before returning to a sublime ridgline camp and descending out on day three.
We woke, we were excited. This felt like true adventure - and we had a sensational view of the stars.
The first day was gorgeous. We started walking on a steady incline, but with fresh legs and low altitude, it felt like a relative breeze. We hiked through chilli farms and sections of rainforest. The wet season meant the colours were sensational.
The patches of grassland and rainforest were a blend of golden and green, and the gentle wind was a welcome buffer against the humid Indonesian heat.
When we stopped, we were stunned by the quality (and quantity) of the lunches. We couldn’t believe how much the porters could cook with what they were carrying on their backs. We were treated to a massive fruit platter, alongside traditional Indonesian dishes - mixed vegetables, gratefully received.
The porters were also really considerate about litter. They ensured we cleared all of our rubbish off the mountain, which is certainly more than I can say for a few of the other guides going up the mountain.
You’re rewarded by this landscape suddenly opening up in front of you. It’s really quite staggering.
You climb to quite a high level of elevation in a pretty short time on Mount Rinjani. You don’t really feel it though. Once you finally over the top of the crater and get to the campsite at 2,600m, you get the most incredible view of the lake.
The porters were incredible. They had arrived ahead of time, set up the campsite, sleeping bags rolled out, and dinner was already underway. While we had climbed well, but felt the fatigue, they had completed the whole trek in only flip-flops and with huge carry packs, containing our trip essentials.
After dinner, it was an early bed time. We were exhausted - and to say it would be an start the next day feels like something of an understatement.
To the Summit
We woke up at 2am for our second day of climbing. Some members of our party didn’t sleep well due to the altitude, or the wind on the tents - combined with the awareness that we’d be up so early. But when we woke, we were excited. This felt like true adventure - and we had a sensational view of the stars. We were also really lucky with the weather. We had clear skies for the length of the climb.
It’s worth every bit of pain you feel on the way up.
I won't lie. This day - the summit hike - was really tough. The volcanic soil was hard to get steady on. It was often literally a case of two steps forward, one step back - though since you only have your head torch to light the way, it's tough to keep track of your exact progress (which was a blessing in disguise, perhaps).
Added to that was the drama of the deadline involved. If we were going to be able to watch the sunrise from the top of the mountain, we had to get up there in time.
We hiked on, and as we got really close to the top, we started to flag and really feel the climb in our legs. It was then that a sharp line of orange began to appear on the cliff top; a beautiful, colourful sign that the sunrise was coming soon.
We made it, and we felt a strange mixture of appreciation and fatigue at the top.
Simply put, you feel really good about yourself for making it up Rinjani in time to watch the sun come up, and it’s amazing to see the colours slowly illuminate Bali and Lombok. You see the shadow of the mountain across the lake below, too.
The descent followed. We made it back down to the next campsite for around 11 am. A hearty breakfast (or was it lunch?) was exactly what was needed. We had a bit of time to relax - much appreciated - before we hiked on down the valley.
It was wooded, and it was great to get a new perspective of the national park.
A lake soon beckoned us, and a swim was certainly in order. The algae didn’t turn us off. Having a swim in a volcanic lake is not something you can do every day, after all. The hot springs were just around the corner and were incredible for our sore muscles. To add to this, we hadn’t had an opportunity to shower at all so far, so this plunge this was massively appreciated.
The hike up to the next campsite was my favourite section of the trek.
A cloud immersion made this camp spot particularly scenic, and the walking got easier the further from the volcanic soil of the summit you got. It's amazing to reflect on the variety of landscapes you see on the trail - from the moonscapes of the high craters to the hot springs, then grasslands and forests as you descend.
That night, we had incredible stars. The clouds climb up the side of the mountain and moved so quickly that view was changing all the time. We were also treated to a sunset of a lifetime. After that, I think we passed out at 7.30 pm.
The final day was the easiest of the three. We hiked back down into the forest, passing monkeys everywhere we looked. Descending into the cooler, breezier temperatures was a joy, and we were glad for the gentle exit to the trail. In truth, I'm not sure that we could have handled anything more intense.
It really was the adventure of a lifetime, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.