We stayed on Gili Air for 8 days. This was a few more days than intended but we could have stayed for weeks. However, the call of the mountains is always nagging us for attention so having looked at Gunung Rinjani for a week, we figured it was time we climbed it.
We arranged our Rinjani climb with the original trek leader for the mountain, Mister John. His outfit is not the cheapest but we were impressed that they were a little more environmentally aware than many of the competitors. Mister John picked us up at Bangsal, the mainland port opposite Gili, and took us up to his mountain lodge in Senaru. The lodge was a little more deluxe than we are used to but it was included in the package. The lodge was perched up on a ridge with great views of the rice fields and forests below.
In the afternoon before the trek, we went on a quick hike through the woods to two waterfalls. Waterfall one fell out of an incredibly lush wall of emerald green vegetation. The second waterfall was equally beguiling, pouring over a lush horseshoe shaped canyon wall in gossamer thin threads. There was a plunge pool at the bottom, which would have been a magnificent place for a swim if we had remembered our Speedos.
We decided to take a two-day/one night trip to the rim of the main crater. There is a 3-day/2-night trip that also gets you to the summit but we heard that you get 90% of the good views from the rim so it’s not worth the extra effort and expense to summit. Given that the climb to the rim is 6000 feet of ascent alone, the idea of an extra 3300 feet on poor volcanic soil did not appeal. We are pretty serious hikers and we really know what 6000 feet of elevation feels like. In fact, it is quite rare we ascend that much in one day since it is pretty tough going. We were joined on the trip by a lovely Parisian couple, Jules and Jennifer. This was Jennifer’s first ever hike. Looking around camp one after one hour’s walking, it was clear that for most of the people this was their first hike. Call me conservative if you will, but I wouldn’t trudge 6000’ up the side of a volcano on the equator for my first hike. Most people pretty much headed up in the gear they were wearing on the beach at Gili Air!
We set out from the base at 7am and we had lunch at POS (camp) 2 at 10.30. The food was good and filling for the whole trip. John’s has a reputation for good service. Some of the cheaper operators have poor guides, underfeed hikers, and don’t clean up their crap. Mister John’s crew was fantastic and conscientious on all accounts. We heard a few grumbles about guides and food from some hikers so I think it pays to splurge a little and pick a good outfit.
The walk heads up through forest for the first two-thirds of the hike, then you are in exposed terrain with very loose volcanic sand underfoot. Muscle memory kicked in for us fairly quick so we made pretty good progress but Jennifer was suffering (and no doubt so was Jules for persuading her to do it!). We had heard that the mountain was covered in crap along the whole trail. We expected some trash on the mountain but, in fact, it was like a garbage dump in places. Local guides (and clearly some tourists) tossed plastic bottles, foodstuffs, food packaging, and, even worse, toilet paper on the trail and at the camps. The only beasts happy for the garbage are the feral dogs who stalk each camp and the gnarly grey monkeys who compete with them for the scraps and craps tossed aside by hikers and their porters.
Travelers have been hauling ass up the mountain for decades, so it seems inconceivable that local operators or the park hasn’t seen fit to build some drop toilets at strategic spots. It’s frankly disgusting! We were amazed that some travelers even saw fit to crap and deposit toilet paper right on the trail itself. Most of the tour operators advertise that they carry toilet tents on their trips. I thought it was fairly gross but I quite pleased with the idea that the porters would be dragging a portable chemical WC up the mountain. Alas, no! The tents are merely to protect your modesty. The toilet was a 4” deep hole in the ground.
Thankfully, the view from the rim was truly astounding. We camped inches from the drop off and had phenomenal views of the caldera, the deep blue-green lake, the summit, and the new volcano slowly rising in the lake. The new volcano, Gunung Baru (literally “New Mountain” in Indonesian), had a few fumaroles on its slopes but overall the mountain was seismically quiet.
There is something quite magical about being above the clouds for sunset. One of our favorite memories from hiking at home is the incredible sunset we had over Mount Baker as we perched on a ledge on Church Mountain. The view from Rinjani Rim came pretty close to surpassing that. As the sun set, we were entertained by the ever changing colors and shapes of the clouds below. Jennifer was obviously crying in pain inside her tent but I had to make sure she didn’t miss out on the real reason she put herself through such torture. She was thankful she didn’t miss the light spectacular but I doubt we have a convert to trekking on our hands.
In the morning we were treated to an equally spectacular sunrise over the mountain summit. As an added treat, we could see all the way out to the Gili Islands, where we first contemplated hauling ass up the slopes! The sunrise created beautiful light and shade shapes on the new volcano rising from the lake.
We woke up early to hike down but it was clear that Jennifer was in pain. I don’t speak much French, but when you hear ‘I can’t, I can’t’ after 10 minutes of walking, you know the signs are bad! We were sympathetic but there is nothing worse than hiking at someone else’s pace. It was hard going but we kept up a steady pace down the mountain to the lunch spot. Our Parisian friends eventually caught up at the lunch spot, two hours later!! We felt privileged to be on Jennifer’s first, and last, trek! My legs were very sore for the next three days so in some respects I feel her pain!
The real beauty of the hike is to be found at the rim. The walk up is nothing special, particularly in the dry season when you are surrounded by dust splattered limp trees and dust clouds blowing up from the all around. It’s a lot of cash to throw down on a view, so if you have visited other volcanoes you might want to give this a miss. It is also extremely busy. This was the end of the high season but there were at least 100 people on the mountain the day we climbed up.
The view from the top, though is spectacular and worth the effort. Someone needs to clean up that mountain soon though since it is pretty gross!
On balance, we were just about glad we had done the trip despite the trash and crowds on the trail. We have volcanoes at home but there is nothing in Washington State to compare to the giant calderas and caldera lakes of Indonesia.
With no time to shower, we jumped in our shuttle to Lombok’s hectic capital, Mataram. No one really wants to spend time in this grubby town but we had to extend our visa so that we could embark on the next stage of our trip- a month-long North-South journey through the multi-limbed island of Sulawesi. We are really looking forward to getting off the heavily traveled route through Java, Bali, and Lombok and onto roads less traveled.