There is a myth that Mount Rinjani in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia is the mighty abode of Goddess Anjani, a goddess so beautiful that her palace is said to reflect her beauty. And oh my, how true.
Hiking Mount Rinjani was one of my greatest ambitions after succeeding to reach the summit of Mount Semeru, the highest mountain and volcano in Java, in 2012. At 3,726 metres above sea level, Mount Rinjani is the second highest volcano in Indonesia, as well as the most beautiful. To me it seemed like a natural step, a bigger challenge.
In April, after realising that my birthday on the first week of May would fall on a long weekend, I was determined to make it happen. After a number of mishaps due to the very sudden nature of the trip, I finally managed to find a hiking partner: a senior at my old university I call bang Danar. Together we decided to join an open trip which offered a 5D4N package for IDR 1,550,000 (which includes porters for group logistics, meals, and entrance tickets). Not too bad a deal (or so we thought).
We flew from Jakarta on the night before the D-day and spent the night at my cousin’s house in Lombok. The group was supposed to meet on Wednesday at 9 am at Lombok International Airport. This left us ample time to visit Tanjung Aan Beach, Seger Beach and Mandalika Kuta Beach in the morning on our way to the airport. We had to leave really early in the morning but I’m glad we did because just look at these!
Day 1. Wednesday, 4th May 2016
After our quick trip to the beaches, we met our group, which consisted of 14 people in total. I was taken aback to discover that everyone else were men. Apparently the female members of the group decided to back out–leaving only me. Oh well.
We then left on a car to Sembalun, the entrance where we’d be starting our trekking. By the way, in Rinjani there are two routes: Sembalun and Senaru. Our route started from Sembalun and ended at Senaru.
The Sembalun route was strikingly beautiful as we passed through vast valleys and yellow greenish savannas as far as eyes could see. I had been told that the track from Post 1 to Post 3 (where we would be camping for the night) is pretty easy, and sure enough, it was not too challenging. I was, however, soaked with sweat by the time I reached Post 3 around 5 hours later. It wasn’t hard but it was quite a ‘warm-up’!
It was late and freezing due to the strong wind so we had to huddle quite a bit as our porters (who brought our tents) hadn’t arrived. We later found out that they’re newbies in the business (usually porters would have reached before us, especially since our group logistics aren’t that much compared to some other groups). They finally came and we settled inside our tents after eating a simple meal of rice, fried egg and anchovies.
Day 2. Thursday, 5th May 2016
That morning I woke up feeling pretty nervous. My friends had warned me that the post-Post 3 journey would be tough. Exactly how tough? Like trekking through 7 steep hills, ever-upwards tough. It’s so tough that this particular track is dubbed as “the Seven Hills of Regret” (7 Bukit Penyesalan). Many hikers end up giving up because it’s awfully tiring and challenging. I’m good with long, winding tracks but not so much with ascending ones, so I was quite worried.
But I guess there was a silver lining of me being the only girl in the group. Obviously the others didn’t expect too much from me. Yet it motivated me to prove that I’m not a spoilt kind of girl who would lag behind and hold the group down. So with that determination, we set off at around 11 am.
And oh my, wasn’t I glad I had mentally prepared myself! The track was super tough it’s inexplicable. We walked through forests, hiked up seemingly endless hills, and went through a sudden heavy rain. The trekking took 4-5 hours but I swear it seemed so much longer, especially with a 40-litre rucksack on my back. We met many foreign hikers along the way and many huge, muscular men who astonishingly carried nothing but small day packs like they were going for a picnic.. And I had thought they were strong. *wink*
Ah but the view that welcomed us at Plawangan Sembalun. It was just. so. stunning. Clouds enveloped us, smaller mountains surrounded us, and Segara Anak Lake was finally visible for us to witness. And at night it was amazingly beautiful–you could literally see the Milky Way spread before your eyes.
Day 3. Friday, 6th May 2016
We woke up at 2 am on the big day of our summit attack, which was (uncoincidentally) also my birthday, to start the big hike at 2.30 am. As I had dressed and packed the night before, I grabbed my jacket, trekking pole, warmers and small backpack. I decided against wearing my gaiters (which turned out to be a wrong decision).
We had to leave all our belongings in the tent as the summit journey would be too difficult for us to bring our rucksacks. So, hikers should just bring small backpacks or bags with sufficient water, sweet snacks like chocolate and cereal bars, a headlamp, gloves and valuables. Don’t forget to eat before you hike! Unfortunately we didn’t get food and it was rather upsetting to start summitting with an empty tummy and just survive on chocolate bars. It was quite unprofessional of the tour guide, but being the Indonesians that we are, we didn’t complain.
Anyway, we started to leave Plawangan Sembalun for the trek to the summit. Now this is the part were it gets challenging — on a whole new level. 90 percent of the trek consists of volcanic sand, stones, and rocks. This means that you wouldn’t be able to step steadily as with every step you’re more likely to slide down rather to go up. And yet it only goes up.
This type of track is very similar to the one on Mahameru (the summit of Mount Semeru), which was like a nightmare and had made me vow to never, ever, do it again. Well see me eat my words merely 4 years later!
Eat my words I did. It was arduous, and tough, and demanded every ounce of our willpower and determination. But even then, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was not as terrible as the memory I had about Mahameru’s summit, presumably because of two things.
First, a trekking pole. Yes, I just cannot stress enough how essential it is to bring a trekking pole during summitting. It immensely helps you distribute your pressure (to both your arms and feet, not just the latter) and pull yourself up during the climb. In Mahameru I was brought to my knees countless times and had to crawl up–but even that was too difficult. This time, I had a pole and it worked like a charm.
Second, my companions. During my Mahameru summitting, I spent the last leg of the climb alone and had to repeatedly encourage myself, despite feeling overwhelmingly frustrated. It was natural, though, for a group to split during such moments; it was such a struggle and everyone had their own pace. We still met at the top anyway. But the process of getting there was honestly difficult to go through alone.
So I’m super thankful that throughout the Rinjani summitting I had great companions. Having a companion during those moments really helps to take off your mind from the frustrating track and your tired legs. I found that talking, in addition to taking breaks and exchanging words of encouragement, makes it a whole lot easier. We had left at 2.30 am and aimed to reach the summit at 8 am, tops — but turned out we managed to get there at 7.30 am. Not too bad. Not bad at all.
As it was a Friday on a long weekend, we found the summit to be incredibly crowded — yet it didn’t take away our joy from witnessing the incredible beauty there. Seriously, every ache and every weary bone were worth it. It was just breathtaking.
After learning that that day was my birthday, my lovely group gave me a small ‘celebration’ by giving me lighter (in lieu of a candle) to blow and a paper written with a birthday wish. Just how sweet are they?? We spent several hours on the summit taking pictures and all, then eventually decided to go down. While climbing up was a pain in the arse, descending was awesome. We could literally ski our way down! It was super fun and literally just took half the time we needed to climb up. So while summitting took us 5 hours, going down just took 3! Crazy, right?
By the way, funny story. Whilst we were taking a short break during our summitting, I randomly took a picture of a random hiker passing by (the silhouette picture above). It was such a beautiful shot that I couldn’t help call out and tell him. He turned out to be a hiker from Malaysia, ugh (haha, kidding) and asked me to send him the pics via email once we manage to summit. We didn’t meet at the top and I forgot what he looked like, but when we were going down someone called me and it turned out to be the Malaysian guy! We chatted a bit (I get really chatty when travelling) and exchanged emails, and amusingly stay friends until today.
When we got back to our camp, we cleaned up and had lunch (finally, a proper meal), and because I was feeling tired and rather poorly, I napped for 2 hours! The day wasn’t over yet, though. Once we had enough rest, we packed our stuff to continue our journey.
The next destination was Segara Anak Lake, which took another additional 4 hours to get to. The trek was pretty challenging and tough, as we had to climb up and down rocks, and we had used up all our energy during the summitting. As if it’s not enough, I felt nauseous — made worse by menstrual cramps. Perfect! All I could think of was to get there as soon as possible.
We finally managed to get ‘there,’ but unfortunately it was already quite dark when we reached and our group couldn’t find our porters, who had gone off first to make our tents. So we just sat idly by the tracks, like a group of homeless people, waiting for our guide to come with the good news that he found our tents. The good news came almost two hours later.
At that point the euphoria of reaching the summit had already worn off and I was already regretting my decision of spending my birthday in such an unconventional, if not self-destructing, fashion. But bang Danar came and sat next to me, and we talked, in which he mentioned that everything is a trade-off — it all comes with a loss and a gain.
“If this is a trade-off, what could possibly be the gain in this kind of situation?” I challenged, referring to our very undesirable state of vagrant-ing. “Well, we could all get the chance to talk with each other,” he responded. “We might as well talk in our tents,” I grumbled.
But I had to admit that he was right. Slouching aimlessly on the ground and conversing, under the wide starry sky, with the glittering water of the lake right in front of our eyes and the faded voices of strangers chatting in the distance; it made a good memory.
Day 4. Saturday, 7th May 2016
The next morning I woke up feeling much better. The previous evening I had asked our tour guide whether it would be possible to return a day sooner, so on Saturday instead of Sunday as scheduled, because I was feeling unwell and wanted to get down as soon as possible so I could rest properly and not get sick on the mountain. Besides, we didn’t actually need the extra day as most hikers would usually only take 4 days in total for the whole journey. The group agreed to go down that evening. So I started the day feeling pretty good, especially with that kind of view from our tent.
Some of my companions wanted to go to the waterfall, which also had hot water springs. How could I say no? Off we went, and after around 30 minutes of walking, we saw the waterfall! To get to it, you had to go up some slippery rocks, though, so we decided against it and chose to stay at the hot water spring area below.
The guys immediately stripped down to their boxers and went in for a dip, while I… just sat down on the rocks and splashed my feet. I wish I could’ve got in too, it seemed so relaxing. But oh well. The water on my feet still felt amazing.
After a while, we went back to our tents, had breakfast, took loads of pictures and began to start packing. It’s a pity no one brought fishing rods as people were fishing and the smell of grilled fish was everywhere. 😦 But yeah we were stuck with our rice and tinned sardines, although I wasn’t complaining as it was still far better than our previous meals. I have to say it though, the meals during our trip –which was organised by the tour– sucked.
At 10 am we set off for our very last trekking. We went down via the Senaru route, which is relatively more challenging as it’s steeper, slippier and rockier. In addition, before going down, we had to go uphill for approximately 3.5 hours to Plawangan Senaru before finally going down!
Let me cut the long story short — it was extremely tiring, all our energies were drained, and our lives were sucked from our bodies. Every time I looked up, I would see dots of colour far up in the distance, and my heart sank knowing that they are fellow hikers and that we still had a looong and difficult way to go. So I just kept my head down while walking, looking at the feet of the person in front of me (this really helps!). After 4 days of trekking, I went from fit mode, with no difficulty of keeping up my pace with the group, to grandma mode, and had to take a break every 15 minutes. Luckily everyone else was worn out too. You got to give credit to the unbelievably fit porters though, who were bringing a load of stuff on their shoulders, using flip-flops or sometimes even barefoot. (!!!)
We finally reached Plawangan Senaru, which is also beautiful and had a pretty great view of Segara Anak Lake. One of my group mates, who didn’t make it to the summit, sneakily took a picture with a sign saying “Rinjani summit” there. LOL, cheeky thing!
From Plawangan Senaru, it was basically downhill –thank God– so it was a lot faster and easier. There were 3 posts, and we managed to reach the extra post before the last one in just an hour (we ran!). There, our porters were waiting for us with our late lunch/early dinner. You can bet we were glad to see their faces! We waited 2 hours for the rest to arrive before tucking in, and it was basically the best meal we had on the mountain! It was probably because I was starving as hell, but it was a proper feast as well.
Anyway, because we had to wait for the rest of the group, we set off quite late (after 6 pm), which meant that the earliest we would reach the basecamp would be midnight. At that point I was already really pissed off because I had thought I would safely be in my cousin’s house that night. But what could I do (but sulk)? :p
The remaining journey dragged on like hell, and because it was dark we were unable to go faster. Also I kept stumbling over tree roots. The funny thing is that because I was so focussed on getting to the basecamp, I didn’t feel anything — no ache, no pain. But the minute we reached the entrance/exit gate, I was overwhelmed with exhaustion and realised how every part of my body ached. Mind over matter indeed — our bodies are funny like that.
Because I didn’t care for an extra 40 minute walk to our basecamp, I just took an ojek (motorbike taxi), which cost IDR 50,000 or 5 times it would normally cost. The ojek driver drove me there, a warung (small restaurant) where my group would be spending the night. I had imagined we had to sleep on the benches of the warung, but it turned out that the lady owner was amazing, she offered me to take a shower and sleep in a proper room — for free!! Bless her; I just can’t possibly explain how relieving it was to take a shower after 4 days feeling absolutely filthy.
That night we slept soundly — and the next day we finally left! Hurray! (I was so sick of the mountains already at that point, hahaha.) The good thing is that because we left earlier than planned, we had some spare time to explore Gili!
So that was the perfect ending to the unforgettable 4-day Rinjani birthday hike. 🙂
PS. Refer to this post for more practical mountaineering tips and preparations for Rinjani.