Mountain climbing is often the holy grail of adventure sports – think of the tiny frame of Kilian Jornet sprinting up and down the jagged peak of Mt Everest. It’s that exhilarating and terrifying blend of extreme weather and extreme physical exhaustion that ironically draws so many visitors to the mountains.
Mt Rinjani, towering above its home island of Lombok, is probably one of the most challenging peaks to summit in our neighbourhood, and the closest you’ll get to a tough mountain climbing experience in the region.
At 3,726m, it’s second only to Mt Kerinci (3,805m) in Indonesia, but it’s still a manageable thrill compared to the rugged, raw, and deadly Hkabo Razi (5,881m) in Myanmar.
All you need to complete the Rinjani experience is three days, an affinity for adversity, and some warm clothes. Not everyone is in peak physical condition – some of us hardly even scrape the surface when it comes to exercise – but climbing Rinjani is an exercise in pa- tience and determination, and not your physical capabilities.
It’s a painful start before sunrise – a long three-hour drive to the sleepy village of Sembalun at the base of Rinjani. The summit dominates the view, a massive dome with gentle slopes and rocky rivets running down the sides. If all goes well, you should be looking down from the summit early the next morning.
At 1,000m above sea level, Sembalun is lush, full of colourful tropical flora – but as you progress uphill, it dramatically changes into a wispy savannah, a kind of bare grassland that looks painfully beautiful with low clouds rolling through. Occasionally deer will pass through, but it’s mostly a pleasant walk through grassland, followed by an exhausting climb up dusty slopes to the Sembalun crater rim.
Dozens of tents dot the crater rim – the staging point for a summit push early the next morning. The mountain has no facilities to speak of, but porters bring enough gear to cook full meals like nasi goreng and even club sandwiches for those preferring Western fare.
The rim overlooks Anak Segara, a caldera formed by a massive eruption in the 13th century. Enjoy the clouds rolling over the lake at sunset and rest your throbbing feet ahead of the 3 am ascent to the peak.
The sky should be completely dotted with stars when you rise early – and if you stare long enough the bright spots will start to coalesce into the Milky Way. You’ll need something beautiful to look at while making the summit push – the route is steep and, during the dry season, is full of loose gravel. Climbing will start to feel like a losing battle, but the guides somehow remain perky despite the biting cold and fierce winds, shouting encouragement to stragglers.
The determined climbers make it to the summit before sunrise – and the reward is a stunning view. To the west, Bali with the peak of Mount Agung catching the first rays of the sun, and to the east, Nusa Tenggara across the Lombok Straits.
There’s a hardy metal plaque to pose for photos with – Rinjani’s altitude printed in large triumphant letters. Head back down to the camp at the crater rim for a well-deserved breakfast, and then a relatively relaxed downhill trek to the Anak Segara lake. Rinjani blew its original conical top in the 13th century, and the remnants are a lovely caldera at 2,000m, with a hot spring about a half hour from the lake. Head to the warm waters (about 50oC) and take a dip – it’s probably your first chance to take a bath since leaving your hotel 48 hours ago.
For the occasional trekker, this could be a long day with a climb up to the Senaru crater rim – although it is amazing to look back at the peak of Rinjani from across the caldera, knowing that you summited that same morning.
Pancakes await for breakfast, somehow tasting pretty good despite being cooked in the wilderness. Ask if there’s any Lombok coffee – a particularly strong and pungent local brew. From the rim, Bali sits about 50km across the sea, and is visible all the way until you descend into the forest below.
The exhaustion of the climb is quickly replaced by a peaceful descent through lush rainforest. By noon, the end should be in sight – a little village with barking dogs and parked jeeps waiting to ferry you back to civilisation.
If you’re battered and bruised, you could take a short ferry trip from Bangsal harbour to one of the Gili Islands – an idyllic retreat with no motorised vehicles, a healthy range of resorts, and plenty of rejuvenating massages.
From the Gili islands, Rinjani looms large on the horizon. While you ponder your successful climb – remember that despite her placid appearance, Rinjani is still active. She last erupted in 2015, and has been spouting regularly since 2010 – so check for news alert if you’re planning a trip up her steep slopes.
Pack light, since you’ll be carrying your own bag up and down the mountain. Porters abound, but they’re burdened by your other essentials like tents and food for camping. There won’t be time to read books, so leave them in the library.
Rinjani gets wet during January to March, so bring a raincoat and waterproof shoes if you don’t want to be miserable. Otherwise, just cover your essentials like strong walking shoes, warm clothes, gloves and warm socks, a hat for the piercing sunshine at high altitude, a headlamp for night climbing, and maybe some swim wear if you want to take a dip in the natural hot springs by the lake. A walking stick isn’t just for the elderly – have at least one handy to reduce the strain on your knees during your descent.
SilkAir does direct flights to Lombok, otherwise, you can transfer through Jakarta on Garuda.
Spend a night in the Senggigi Beach area which has a good variety of accommodation from musty backpacker lodges to luxurious villas. You’ll need that time to head over to a climbing shop and get acquainted with your guides and the climbing itinerary for the next day.
Rinjani Trek Club runs a number of different Rinjani treks – ranging from 2D1N to 7D6N – although the 3D2N option (USD200) has the best mix of climbing with plenty of time to spend on the beach in Lombok or the neighbouring Gili islands afterwards.
Text and Images by Yusof Abdol Hamid