Travel Story by Jason Godfrey
It’s been eight hours. We’ve covered twelve kilometres ascending over 1400 metres. We’ve crossed from Lombok’s grassy plains into the cemara forests of Rinjani’s slopes. Eight sweaty gruelling hours uphill. It’s only day one.
To say things haven’t been easy is an understatement.
From the start, the trail is barely visible – the sun sears our skin. Our guide, who we’ve paid well, prefers to travel way ahead of the group in a perplexing habit that grows irritating as the sun fades and the grade of the slope goes from a gentle incline to pyramid-like steep. He moves even further forward disappearing into the growing dark. I squint, trying to make out his silhouette through the trees. The only clue to his whereabouts is when he turns back to shine his torch into our eyes.
Did I mention that the temperature has also dropped 25 degrees?
My sweat-drenched shirt isn’t so much drying as it is freezing. Frostbite in Indonesia, though a novelty, isn’t really appealing. Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but it’s still pretty darn cold. I’m tired, and my watch reads 8pm which means I’ve only got 6 hours to sleep before we start moving again. And that’s if I drop right here on the trail.
Only a day earlier I sat drinking Bintang, watching the sunset from the beach on Gilli Meno. A nice little island, where I had a nice little hut. My own slice of white sand and clear blue water. My own piece of paradise.
Traded away for this.
Mt. Rinjani – the third highest peak in Indonesia; towering over all of Lombok at 3700 plus metres. It’s summit is actually part of the rim of it’s giant forested crater. At the bottom of the cavity Mt. Baru springs up out the middle of Segara Anak Lake. This classic volcano shaped cone is still active, magma churning somewhere deep below it. The locals consider it a sacred place, a place of immortals and gods.
Sounded pretty cool in my travel book. My book also informed me that if I was planning on climbing Rinjani I’d need the better part of a week and some proper gear. I crossed it off my list. I hadn’t planned on being away from the beach and the Bintang beer that long.
Then I met Allen. Allen was wearing his hiking boots and guide certification around his neck. He’d said that Rinjani wasn’t as hardcore as my travel book led me to believe and I flipped through his show album of smiling faces and dawn summit photos.
“You can climb it in 3 days, 2 nights.” he tells me. That’s much shorter than I thought.
“What about hiking boots and cold weather gear?” I asked.
“You could do it in those.” He said laughing motioning to my flip flops. “It gets down to 5 degrees on the summit, but that’s in August. This time of year it’s 10-15 degrees.”
“My girlfriend?” I asked as she appeared wearing a summer dress and combing her hair. An image I assumed conveyed the idea we weren’t up for anything too diehard.
“No problem, no problem.”
Allen was totally contradicting everything I’d read about Rinjani, but he seemed competent and had over a decade of experience. It wouldn’t be the first time a guidebook was wrong. I should have looked at it like it wouldn’t be the first time a tourist got taken; the first time a guide stretched the truth in the slow season.
We finally make camp at the crater rim, 1000 metres below the summit. There’s five of us with Allen – my girlfriend, a couple from Canada and an Austrian. We huddle around a little fire shivering while munching down a plate of fried rice. I can’t feel my fingers.
This isn’t what 10-15 degrees feels like. I look over at Allen wearing a heavy jacket with a wool hat and gloves. He’s smiling, and I can’t help feeling a little misinformed as I wrap my flimsy beach sarong tighter around my head.
After four hours of sleep we’re up and ready to go. It’s three hours to the summit and it’s all uphill. We’re climbing up the rim of the crater now and it’s like climbing a gigantic sand dune. Take one step up, slide half a step back– repeat. We’re climbing an enormous pile of gravel. There’s no vegetation to cling too. We use little clumps of grass, tiny seedlings, anything that won’t slip, as footholds.
I smack my flashlight, the flashlight Allen provided me, against my hand and the light flickers weakly and dies. The batteries are fresh – ergo, the torch is useless. As if cued Allen spikes me with his industrial strength torch killing my night vision.
On the ridge of the crater the grade becomes less difficult, the trail more solid. It’s a needed break. The quarter moon illuminates just enough to see. Everything is a shade of grey, except directly to the right of the trail where things go pitch black. It seems like the trail drops off into nothing. It’s disconcerting to think you’re so close to the edge.
We walk on and on in the dark over the loose gravel. Allen has moved well in front of us once again. He has the demeanour of a skilled adventurer who has been forced to guide tourists repeatedly through his former conquests.
“Watch out for the edge.” he yells back, his torch flashing momentarily in the dark then disappearing.
His concern for us is heart-warming.
Another hour and I see the sun starting to come up in the distance. The summit looms ahead of us, only 300 or so metres away, deceivingly close. It’s the final climb, the last great pile of sand to scramble and slip over. We were supposed to make the summit by dawn, but dawn is just a few minutes away. We won’t make it in time. With sarongs wrapped around our heads, shuddering in our sweaters, I’m not sure I want to go any further.
We stop and resign ourselves to enjoy sun up where we are. Only 300 metres to go but it’s a pile of gravel too far. Allen is almost up to the peak; I can see him waving his light around. I’d yell up to him and let him know we’re not going to make it but I doubt he’d hear me, doubt that he’d care.
It’s getting colder now that we’re not moving. I’ve got my hands stuffed in my armpits and as the sun gets brighter I can see my surroundings for the first time.
Lombok is spread out before us, a mass of rolling green. Beyond it’s shores there are two dark silhouettes in the water, the islands Gilli Aire and Gilli Meno. Far off in the distance, looking like a shadow, rises the dark triangle of Mt. Bromo in Bali.
Looking back at the where we’ve come from confirms the trail was uncomfortably close to the edge of the crater. The lake at the bottom shimmers up at us, an incandescent blue, surrounded by green slopes on all sides. More amazing is the view of Mt. Baru, almost a perfect maroon cone, little wisps of steam blowing out of the open vent at the top.
It’s a crater within a crater and this view at 6am, after all the discomforts seems suddenly worth it. My fingers are numb and this time I’m not exaggerating when I say it could be frostbite. We start to make our way back, the previously torturous path now considerably less painful thanks to the constant view of the inside of the crater. As we descend, and the sun gets stronger, I can start to feel my extremities again. I take the ridiculous sarong off my head.
Back at our camp we pack our things and start down to the lake. The trail doesn’t get any easier. We’re descending now but the path zigs and zags down the side of a grassy cliff. In the past 24 hours we’ve only stopped hiking for six. It makes for a painful day.
Thankfully the lake provides a refreshing dip. Bubbles stream up from its muddy bottom, a constant reminder that the cone hulking just across the water isn’t dormant. Swimming in a crater lake staring up at an active vent is enough to get your mind off the blisters on your feet.
A short jaunt from the lake are the hot springs. Clouds have rolled in, which means we’re enveloped in a cool mist, but that doesn’t stop us from stripping down to our shorts and enjoying the soothing waters on our aching muscles.
That night we camp on the inside of the crater. The forest is surprisingly pine like, the temperatures cooler. It’s a good thing Mt. Baru is still visible across the water otherwise I might forget I’m in the Ring of Fire.
The chickens the porters have been carrying in plastic grocery bags have finally been killed. Halal style, allowed to bleed out through their throats, now they lay sprawled at the bottom of a basket covered in flies looking scrawny without their feathers.
“Think I’m just having rice tonight.” one of the guys says, who happens to be a doctor. If the doctor isn’t eating it, then neither am I.
The next morning we climb out of the crater. Along the way we pass a group climbing to the summit. They’re all decked out in Teflon, treated brightly coloured jackets and brown hiking boots with deep lugs for traction. I look down at my battered basketball shoes, and dusty jeans. Everyone in our group had similar briefings from Allen and are similarly attired.
We probably look more like a group of refugees than hikers.
A few in the other group have hydration packs. We’re each carrying a plastic bottle of water that Allen says he refilled from a clean source. What are we going to do? We’re thirsty. I just hope I don’t get dysentery.
On the down slope of the crater the grasslands turn to rainforest. We’re all in pain so when the doctor suggests that we each take a handful of painkillers to make things easier, we all agree. Doctors always know best. Of course Allen has no say in it because as usual he’s a few hundred metres away.
In the rainforest things cool down and the trail gets more negotiable. Maybe it’s just the painkillers talking but things definitely seem more pleasant. On reflection, I’m happy I’ve made the trek. It’s well worth the hike to see the crater and the lake. I just wish Allen had been a little more forthcoming about the conditions.
Mt. Rinjani isn’t a casual hike. People have died there, and I don’t like the idea that we climbed it as ill prepared as we were. Still, we made it, and there’s an added sense of accomplishment knowing we did it without all the comfy gear and fancy trappings. Sure we suffered a few more pains, cursed a lot more but it toughened us up, made us harder – more durable. A fact that is forgotten when we emerge from the jungle and see the waiting van with it’s cushioned seats and air-conditioned interior.
Everyone is happy to have made the climb– but even happier to make Rinjani… a memory.
Illustration by Bob Veon
(Bob Veon’s Website)
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Source from : http://www.orientaltales.com/issues/008/page07.html