Before we had even left Jersey, Andy had told me how much he wanted to climb an active volcano during our year away. He had done his research and come across Gunung Rinjani in Lombok, Indonesia.
Rinjani is the second highest volcano in Indonesia and the last eruption to happen in the Rinjani caldera was in 2016. There are lots of tour operators who provide guided hikes to both the crater rim and the summit of the volcano.
Given that neither of us has hiked up anything before, we decided on climbing to the crater rim which is a 2 day, 1 night excursion. We were assured that all the best views are seen from the crater rim and whilst climbing to the summit is an achievement, if it wasn’t an achievement you really had your heart set on, then the crater rim trip would suffice.
We decided on using John’s Adventures to guide us up the volcano. They had great reviews and were also recommended by the Lonely Planet book. We opted for a package where it would just be the two of us, with one guide and two porters.
Following breakfast at 6:30am we started hiking at 7am. Our guide, Josi, set off in front of us in his flip flops with about 20kg of equipment in his backpack. We were only expected to carry our own day bags, which we had packed the night before and contained anything we might need (clothes/ cameras/ medication/ toothbrush etc) and also a 1.5 litre bottle of water. This might not sound like much but fast forward 3 hours and that little day bag starts to feel like a dead weight.
With the package we booked, we were provided with 3 litres of water each a day. You carry one 1.5 litre bottle whilst your guide carries the rest for you until you need it. Your guide also carries snacks like biscuits in case you need a little energy whilst hiking.
We hiked for about 1.5 hours up steep inclines of uneven narrow paths crisscrossed with tree roots through the forest. The trees provide welcome shade but the humidity was on another level. Andy and I were drenched with sweat! The first stop is called Pos 1 and we stopped for about 15 minutes.
At this point I was looking at Andy thinking
What have I got myself into?
I don’t know if I can do it…
I can’t turn around now, we’ve barely even started…
Oh God, why didn’t I start getting fit before this?!?!?
But each time I was asked ‘are you ok?’ I cheerfully responded ‘yes I’m good thanks’.
I. Was . Lying.
We set off for the next section of the hike which was another 1.5 hours. The terrain was pretty much the same. Every once in a while the path would flatten out and those moments were heavenly. Our guide Josi was particularly attentive, helping us (me!) to make it up any particularly steep or difficult areas. We checked out other groups hiking and I can’t say it looked that all guides were equally as attentive.
By about 10:15 we had reached Pos 2 which is 1,500 metres up. Our porters had set up a blanket on the floor, two camp chairs and had started cooking some lunch. The timings for breakfast, lunch and dinner were all much earlier than I’m used to but you are in bed pretty early too for an early rise the following day. Lunch is made on a portable gas cooker (yes, the porters carry it all the way) and consisted of vegetable stir fry, rice, chicken, prawns crackers, tempeh fritters, fresh fruit, orange juice, tea and coffee. The local monkeys also like to join you for lunch so keep an eye on out for them. The lunch break lasted about an hour.
Let’s take a moment here to chat about the porters. These two guys, maybe in their mid twenties, probably weighing in at 50kg each at the most, both carried 30kg of equipment up and down the volcano whilst moving at lightening speed. Don’t think the equipment was neatly tucked into a backpack either. The equipment was in two large baskets which were then tied onto a bamboo stick. The bamboo stick is then flung over their shoulders, with no padding, and off they go. In flip flops!
Shortly after eating, we started hiking again. For me, moving so soon after eating breakfast and lunch made me feel quite queasy. Team that with my low fitness level and the humidity, and you get one pretty ‘green around the edges’ hiker. I found it hard to drink water too as I struggled to catch my breath whilst on the move. By this point, there was no way I wasn’t going to make it to camp so I kept my head down and pushed on.
The terrain began to change. Whilst the ground was still uneven and the paths narrow, or in places, non-existant, the trees began to fade into the background and we could see the sky uninterrupted. Around us were shrubs up to about shoulder height and rocky ground. We stopped at Pos 3 after another 1.5 hours of hiking for about 10 minutes. The last section of the hike, which is the final 1.5 hours after Pos 3, is well known for being the most difficult part of the climb. Bloody great. There I was, cream crackered, trying not to throw up in a bush, and facing the hardest 1.5 hours of 6 hours of hiking.
The last section of the climb is up a particularly steep and rocky surface. On a few occasions I used my hands as if rock climbing. This isn’t necessary for many people but I am really clumsy and didn’t fancy slipping and breaking a leg (might sound dramatic, but a hiker slipped and broke his leg in 2016 and had to be carried down by porters).
About 20 minutes from the end (although I didn’t know this at the time) I suddenly had to stop. I totally threw up the entire contents of my stomach. This had been on the cards all day but luckily Andy didn’t have his camera at the ready! Josi made us have a rest here and spent 10 minutes telling us funny stories. Perhaps in a bid to make me feel a little better and distract us for a bit. He then told us that we would reach camp in 20 minutes which was great motivation to get us up and moving.
The ground flattened out a little about 10 minutes later and it was a clamber over the rocks to reach camp and take in the view. We arrived to camp at about 2:15pm 2,641 metres above sea level.
The sun goes down at around 6pm so during this time we rested, took photos and ate dinner which was a chicken and vegetable curry with rice, freshly made by our masterchef porter on his little gas cooker.
The rest of our evening was spent chilling out, watching the stars and playing cards. Our guide and porters were tucked up asleep by 8pm so we thought we best follow their example. In our tent, they had set up sleeping mats, pillows and sleeping bags. Cosy and much needed as it gets pretty chilly at night.
We were woken up at 5am by the sounds of breakfast being made. Pancakes, banana fritters and cheese sandwiches were served to us by 6am and we set off at 7am. Surprisingly, at this point, our legs felt pretty good. I was so sure that I’d at least be really stiff but somehow, felt ok. Ha, this was to be short lived.
We went down the volcano pretty much the same way we came up. At first, it didn’t seem like too difficult a descent. Even though it turns out both Andy and I were thinking the same thing, neither of us wanted to tempt fate by saying ‘this is easy’! Fast forward about an hour and I had changed my mind. I have dodgy knees which makes going downhill uncomfortable and depending on the depth of the step, I need a helping hand but luckily I had both Andy and Josi there to steady me. Burning thighs I expected but neither of us had really thought about how uncomfortable our toes would be. The constant pressure of your toes against your shoes made them feel bruised.
On the descent, we had 2 or 3 short pit stops and a longer stop for lunch at around 11:15. Whilst the humidity levels were still high, I was pleased my heart didn’t feel like it was pounding out of my neck as it had the day before. We stopped a few times to offer words of encouragement to those climbing up the volcano, empathising with their heavy breathing and red faces.
We arrived back at the entrance gate to the Rinjani National Park at about 1pm. The descent took us approximately 1 hour less than the ascent and we were told that we had made pretty good time in both directions.
We spent the next few days walking like Robocop struggling with stairs and chairs but we both agreed this climb was an amazing adventure. So happy to have ticked this off the bucket list but don’t think we will be doing anything like this again anytime soon!