Rinjani & Gili: Non essentials



As we hadn’t done any real physical exertion for a while and after the deep disappointment of not being able to climb mount Kinabalu we set our sights on climbing the volcanic summit of Mount Rinjani rising up 3700m from the turquoise waters on the island of Lombok. To set ourselves a challenge we decided to do the trip un assisted, carrying our own food, water and tent whilst trying to avoid getting lost on the side of a volcano. It also meant doing the trip in just two days and one night as carrying enough water for any longer was out of the question.
We arrived into the picturesque mountainside town of Senaru, starting point of the trail, and set about collecting food and camping gear. Almost everyone we spoke to warned us against going up on our own not only because people do die on the trek but also as were we informed, starting from Senaru to the summit and down is a 3 day job and only carrying supplies for two was risky. In fact the man who’s gear we were renting told me that the trek from Senaru to summit in two days is “a dream.” It wasn’t just us being stubborn the cost of going in a tour group or with guide would double the cost of the trip for us, along with losing the unique sense of achievement we were both looking for since Nepal of climbing the summit unassisted. Eggs bought and boiled, fried rice packed and to the bemusement of the shopkeeper 8 x 1.5 litre water bottles hoisted on we were ready to go after enjoying a final meal enjoying the view over the nearby waterfalls.
With 2000m to climb and a long descent into a volcanic lake, we knew the first day would be make or break so we set of just after 5AM arriving into the jungle just as it would be getting light. Even leaving all non essentials back in the village, carrying both sleeping bags, our tent and 10 litres of water made by bag a little heavier than normal but we made good speed on the first morning besides a slight hold up with some local dogs who eventually had a change of heart and became our guides after initially scaring Sarah to death in the dark. When we did have a quick break for a boiled egg we were privileged to be joined by a group of elusive black leaf monkeys with their distinctive orange tailed young swinging along. The next climb was a real tester up to the crater rim, the weight of the bag was proving difficult and the terrain was slippy with dust. Halfway up we passed the only other people we would meet who were climbing unassisted although they had not made it to the top as conditions were too windy for the final ascent. Finally we arrived at the top of the crater rim and had one of those moments where you drop to your knees exhausted but laughing deliriously over the incredible site laid out in front of us. The ground fell away steeply to reveal a large volcanic lake, in the middle smouldered a live volcano painted in hues of black grey and red. Towering over the scene was the summit of mount rinjani, and for the first time we saw just how tough the final ascent was going to be, up an extremely steep ridge with long drops either side completely made up of fine loose gravel. Still having to descend all the way down to the shore of the lake below us and climb back up to base camp we decided to push on and lunch by the lake side.

As time passed on our final ascent for the day the higher we climbed the denser the fog rolled in, shielding our destination from us, but giving us glimpses every now and then of the trail zig-zagging almost directly above us towards a peak that seemed as far away as it had looked from the bottom. Anxious of losing the light we plodded on slow and steady for another three hours before eventually seeing the neon Orange glow of tents at base camp signalling the end of our mammoth 12 hour day where we had climbed over 2000m. Overjoyed as we knew, barring any injuries, we were on track to reach the summit and back in two days. Being the only people at the site without guides afforded us some respect from the guides and porters and looks of bewilderment from other trekkers but we quickly assembled our tent, popped on some warm clothes and set about eating our fried rice with only a trace of envy at the fresh cooked, hot food the tour groups were being served by their guides.  

The temperature dropped severely when the sun went down so getting out of our warm (not so comfy on-the-rocks) sleeping bags and tent at 2am was almost as big a challenge as the previous day. But it was all worth it when Sarah shouted for me to pop my head out of the door and see the most dazzling array of stars I had ever seen. Unfortunately I was too bleary to think about photos at that time in the morning with the bluster of trying to pack the tent etc. hopefully we will see another similar night sky somewhere along the way. We were told not to leave anything at the campsite while we climbed to the summit as sadly it’s not unknown for tents/bags/belongings to go missing. Setting off, a long line of brights lights snaking up and up above our heads gradually diminishing into the darkness as the early birds were almost halfway up already.

The climb was tough, really tough, the loose gravel and steep gradient meant for every step up we slid down half a step making progress painfully slow and completely exhausting, the extra weight of the tent and water was not doing me any favours at this point. Two hours in and we had passed the volcanic ravines and were approaching the final ridge we had been all to aware of since we had seen it from the crater rim the previous day. Sarah was too worried about sliding to her death either side of the narrow track to worry about how hard the going was but I really struggled for the final hour before eventually reaching the summit just as the sun made an appearance after a gruelling four hours. With socks on my hands, a pink buff on my head and looking like a right plum I took a quick nap at the top after basking in the glory of arriving to 360 degrees of volcanoes, lakes, craters, and lunar slopes.




The difficult conditions going up made for a lot of fun on the way down as we slipped and slided all the way back down to base camp trying to avoid the steep drops either side off us. After a quick stop for breakfast we started our descent, by which point Sarah’s knees started to pack up but we were chuffed to be on the way back towards relative comfort again. The steep descent eventually levelled out and despite our hugely aching feet we enjoyed the final part of the trek through lush green meadows. After 48 hours, 26 of which were spent on the move we made it the small village of Sembalun where we collapsed into a heap and eventually convinced a pick up to take us back to Senaru where a bed and shower awaited. Sarah maintains that Nepal was harder going over the week we spent there but this was by far the bigger test for me and I’m thrilled that we managed to achieve what people continually told us was out of our capabilities. As a reward we headed to the Gili islands for a couple of days for some rest and relaxation, out of the three islands we incorrectly chose the biggest and were a little disappointed by how busy the place was, not quite what we were looking for after Rinjani. So far, with the exception of a select few places, our conclusions are if you have heard of established tourist destinations from home (Borneo, Gili, Koh Phi Phi etc) then they are probably already past they’re best – especially with regards to beaches and wildlife spots.

In the search for something a little different we now head to the island of Sulawesi in search of elaborate burial ceremonies and festivities in Tana Toraja.


Until then.



4 thoughts on “Rinjani & Gili: Non essentials

  1. I read the bit that said “people do die on the trek” twice just to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake. Please be careful but well done, amazing achievement


  2. The first hour hiking along rolling hills leads through vegetable fields and farming areas near to the bankrupt strawberry and watermelon project, and is the easiest portion of the whole trip. Once the farming area is left behind and a small stream has been crossed, the path follows a 30-year-old project, when during President Suharto’s reign a street was under construction from Sembulan Lawang to the crater lake of Rinjani.


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