Why Hike Mount Rinjani

Standing at the bold height of 3,726 meters (12,224 feet), containing a 200 meter (660 feet) deep partially-filled crater lake and erupting whenever it feels like it (last one was in 2016), Mount Rinjani is a force to be reckoned with. The volcano is the second highest in all of Indonesia, following Mount Kerinci at 3,805 (12,484 feet). It’s height is unforgiving, so much so that a handful of thrill-seekers and adventurers died while scaling it. The summit itself is known to reach temperatures of 5 – 8 degrees Celsius (41 – 46 degrees Fahrenheit). And the hike to the top is one of the furthest things from easy. So, why would anyone want to hike it?

Well, why does anyone do anything that’s both dangerous and difficult? For the adventure of it. To set a goal and achieve it. To push yourself, both mentally and physically, further than you ever have before. And, sometimes, just for the glory of saying, “I did it,” if nothing else. I decided to hike Mount Rinjani because I heard it was dangerous and difficult, two adjectives that often draw me to many places, if only because I’m looking to prove to myself that I can achieve anything I put my mind to. And while I read article after article about just how difficult reaching the summit of Rinjani was, the fact that others did it made me confident that I could, too.

I firmly believed that reaching the summit of Mount Rinjani would teach me a handful of valuable lessons that would be harder to learn if I didn’t; lessons that would help me achieve a handful of goals I’ve set for myself.

So, I went.

Looking out victoriously over lake Segara Anak on the way down
Looking out victoriously over lake Segara Anak on the way down

How to Pick a Trekking Company for Mount Rinjani

Before getting to the actual hike, I needed to find a trekking company to bring me there. But, when I typed in “Hiking Mount Rinjani,” I encountered an overwhelming amount of companies to choose from. I read one article about an organization that seemed legitimate, so I added them to my list. I then headed to Wikitravel and saw a list of other reputable companies to choose from. Based on Tripadvisor reviews, blog posts and Wikitravel, I narrowed my list down to three organizations: Adi Trekker, Hallo Trekker and Green Rinjani. I emailed all three, and Adi, from Adi Trekker, responded almost immediately with both enthusiasm and an overall disposition that made me trust him (apparently, with my life). Hallo Trekker responded an hour later, and Green Rinjani, to my disappointment, never responded.

After exchanging a few emails with Adi, I was confident that him and his team were competent, trustworthy and, above all else, would have my back throughout the entire trek. I chose the 3D/2N (three day, two night) trek, in order to not rush through it, and make sure I would have enough energy to reach the summit before heading back down. I was on Bali at the time, and it was as easy as telling Adi when I planned to arrive on Lombok. He would then send a car to get me, transport me to his office, discuss the hike, I’d pay him and then head to a hotel they booked for me. “This is too good to be true,” I thought as I read his email. But, I was wrong. It wasn’t too good to be true. The service was better than he said it was, and I can’t imagine hiking Rinjani with anyone else.

Adi is the 29-year-old owner of the company. He started out as a porter (more on them later), carrying travelers’ tents, food, chairs and other equipment, then graduated to a guide and, after securing a loan from a friend, started Adi Trekker. Today, Adi Trekker successfully brings over 300 travelers to Mount Rinjani per month. Being from New York, I immediately respected Adi’s ambition. Aside from starting and growing a successful organization, he’s a good human, which is more important than anything else. Whether it was sending one of his staff members to top up my SIM card, bring me tea or walk me through the hike, step-by-step, he did all he could to ensure I was comfortable and excited. When I asked him how he managed to grow his organization from nothing to what it is today, he said, “Service. I do everything in my power to ensure people who choose us have the absolute best time. Nothing less is acceptable.”

Adi himself in front of a trail map of Mount Rinjani
Adi himself in front of a trail map of Mount Rinjani

What to Bring for Trekking Mount Rinjani

“Do you have gloves?” I asked before leaving Adi’s office for my hotel. I knew I needed them, but didn’t have any of my own. I also had a light jacket, but was a bit concerned about how cold it would be at the summit, so I asked for one of those, as well.

“I don’t have any extras here, but I will find you some,” Adi said with a smile and a hand on my back. Thirty minutes later, he had different pairs of gloves for me to choose from, and a jacket that he said was his own. From the way it fit, it made sense.

“Do you have a headlamp?” he asked as if he already knew the answer. “Damn,” I said to myself. I didn’t have gloves, a proper jacket or a headlamp. I shook my head and he said, “No problem, brother,” and gave me one.

Before embarking on the trip, I took a quick inventory and ran it by Adi. Below is the ideal list of what to bring on your hike to Mount Rinjani:

  • Headlamp
  • Fleece / wind and water-resistant jacket
  • Light backpack
  • Water bottle (they’ll have water bottles for you, but doesn’t hurt)
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Hiking shoes (of course, even though I saw some people doing it in sneakers)
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • 2-3 t-shirts
  • 2-3 pairs of socks (in case they get wet)
  • Swimsuit (if you want to swim in the lake)
  • Hat (helpful to keep you shady, in the good way)
  • Long pants and/or leggings (you’ll want to sleep with them and then take them off when they’re hot)
  • A few snacks (they’ll have them for you, but doesn’t hurt)
  • Camera (for stunning photos and videos)
  • A book (always a book)
  • Cash (you won’t really need this, but may want to buy a drink or a beer if your guide / porter don’t have a specific kind you want)
  • Sense of adventure, sheer willpower and relentless determination
Adi (another one) the porter (left) and Aweng the guide / chef (right). Adi carried that up the entire mountain!
Adi (another one) the porter (left) and Aweng the guide / chef (right). Adi carried that up the entire mountain!

The Trek to Mount Rinjani

In terms of the trek itself, you have to pick a place to start. You can either begin your trek in Sembalun or Senaru. The gist is that Sembalun starts you off at a higher altitude, so it’s easier for you to become acclimated to the high altitudes you’ll enter as you trek up the mountain. You’re also in the sun for longer at the beginning of the trek, given that you’re walking through unshielded grasslands, which can become a bit hot. Side note: watch out for cow poop containing magic mushrooms; they’re everywhere on this route. Sembalun will bring you to the summit quicker than Senaru, which I highly, highly (highly) advise. As Adi instructed me, it’s better to summit Rinjani at the beginning of your hike, when you have a higher store of energy, than at the end.

Senaru starts you out at a lower altitude, and the plus is that you’re trekking through shaded jungle, so it’s not as hot. But, again, you’ll reach the summit towards the end of your hike versus the beginning. Not ideal.

To get to Sembalun from Senaru, we took a pickup truck (it was a bit of a bumpy ride). The trip took about 45 minutes. The “we” I’m referring to was my guide, Aweng, and porter, Adi (another Adi). Aweng was 25 years old and had about 200 hikes to the summit under his belt, while Adi was 19 years old and had been up around 100 times.

Aweng began hiking Rinjani at the age of 10, and his dad used to be a porter. Adi, while pretty skinny, was sprightly, energetic and a powerhorse of a porter in terms of how he hiked everything I did, scaled rock faces that were fully vertical, and crossed rivers with thirty pounds of tents, food, cooking equipment and more on his shoulders. All in sandals, mind you. They say it’s easier than hiking boots, at least for the porters.

What was a bit sad to see was some of the porters, especially older ones, with open blood-red wounds on their shoulders glistening in the sun from all of the weight they beared. The tops of their feet were also cut up from the rubber sandal straps grinding against them. Aweng told me porters make about $45 for a three-day trek. On previous hikes, I never had a porter, so it was all new to me. I was a bit conflicted because I’ve never had anyone carry my things for me (tents, chairs, food, etc.), and felt bad. But, then again, this was a job and allowed them to make money. I made sure I gave them both, but especially Adi the porter, a handsome tip afterwards.

It was a three-day hike, and the first day was to POS I, II (just points of reference where you can stop, rest, buy food or drinks and then continue), III and then to the crater rim. The journey typically takes about eight hours, but we did it in 6.5 (woohoo!). Not due to my extreme physicality, or anything like that, but probably because I was hiking by myself instead of in a group.

The crater rim looks out over Segara Anak, which is a jaw-dropping lake that is so blue, locals call it the “child of the sea.” With clouds descending into the crater right before your eyes, you can’t help but feel inspired and enamored with all of the nature around you. The silence it breathes into you, how massive its beauty is (almost to the point of not being able to process it), and just how both infinitesimal and powerful it can make you feel. Many hikers stop at the crater rim and choose not to head to the summit. And, I don’t blame them. The crater rim is a worthy destination in and of itself. We camped there for the night, and, due to the prowess and knowledge of my guide, secured the best spot in the camp, which overlooked the crater directly without any obstruction of tents.

Shot at the crater rim in front of lake Segara Anak on Mount Rinjani
Shot at the crater rim in front of lake Segara Anak on Mount Rinjani

What was most innovative was that they dug a hole in the ground, and then set up a four-sided black structure around it, which served as a bathroom.

With my tent pitched, a chair set up outside and the crater and lake for my front porch, Aweng, who doubled as a chef, served me up some delicious pisang goreng (fried bananas with cheese and chocolate) and then a meal of vegetable soup. I didn’t realize how hungry I was until the food touched my mouth, and it was heavenly. Instead of eating outside, or in my own tent, I entered the tarp that Aweng and Adi slept under, and we discussed the logic of Aweng’s cigarette habit. “I die if I smoke cigarettes, I die if I don’t smoke cigarettes,” he said as I added Lombok chili peppers to my food. Before dropping the peppers to my plate, Aweng grabbed my hand and shook his head. But, I added them anyway, and proceeded to gulp them down to the wide-eyed surprise of Aweng and Adi. I like spicy food more than most people.

We then turned our attention to the task at hand; the hike. “Just follow me and go slowly, yeah?” Aweng said. “It’s a bit dangerous up there,” he added, which made me a little concerned for just how dangerous it could be. But, I was resolved. Reaching the summit is what I went there to do, and I was going to do it.

Another photo from the crater rim on Mount Rinjani
Another photo from the crater rim on Mount Rinjani

I made a few trips to the bathroom (drank a lot of water!), and there was nothing quite like the beach of stars that covered us – I even saw a shooting one!

“This is why I’m here, to experience and feel this,” I said to myself as I cuddled up in my sleeping bag. It was cold, so I was in my socks, pants and a few extra layers. “We wake up at 2am, Mateo,” Aweng said as he bid me goodnight from under his tarp.

“Great.”

If you look closely, you’ll see tents pitched on the crater rim of Mount Rinjani
If you look closely, you’ll see tents pitched on the crater rim of Mount Rinjani

Reaching the Summit of Mount Rinjani

I awoke to my alarm going off, and the field of tents around me lighting up like fireflies in the cold night. It was 2am, and Aweng was preparing tea and toast for me. “For energy to the top,” he said. The stars were out in full force, and I stripped off the cocoon of my sleeping bag, emerging as a determined butterfly (or moth, really) who was going to reach the top of the mountain regardless of what it took. I know, butterflies and moths aren’t the embodiment of power (more so of transformation), but that’s what I was! Don’t question it.

2am soon turned into 2:40am, and we were off; following a steady stream of hikers with headlamps lit up like miners in a cave. There were a few dozen people, going slowly, so Aweng and I (Adi stayed behind at the camp, porters don’t summit the mountain) took a few shortcuts he knew, placing us in front of the group. At this point, I was sweating like a pig who saw his friends being murdered, so I peeled off a handful of layers. It was just the beginning.

There are three portions of the ascent to the summit. The first hour is pretty steep, and you’ll use up a lot of energy to get up, especially as you encounter large boulders and some of the volcanic rock that shows you just how slippery the mountain can be.

The second hour is flat, and will offer a brief respite from the intense hiking you just did, and will do again shortly. It was here that I began to feel a bit tired, especially when I had a full view of the summit, and began to feel just how far away it was. It was this that slowed me down. Focusing more on the summit than the journey in front of me. So, I stopped doing it. Instead, I put all of my energy into each step in front of me. And, with about an hour left to go, the mountain became extremely steep (a full 45-degree angle), and the volcanic rock became plentiful and slippery.

“Two steps up, one step down,” Aweng said to me as I took each step up the volcano. And, he was right. I would take two steps up, gain my footing, but before taking the next step, I would slide down a bit. This is what made the whole last leg so difficult. My body was in pain, and every limb from my arms to my legs were on fire. I took breaks every ten seconds, but made sure not to stop, because that was when I would become cold, my body would tighten up, and it would be harder to resume. A plan in motion with momentum is not to be taken for granted. So, I took little steps, focusing on each one.

Another view of tents at the crater rim of Mount Rinjani - we were on top of the world
Another view of tents at the crater rim of Mount Rinjani – we were on top of the world

“You can pass me,” a girl up ahead, turning around to face me, said. “Nah, it’s okay. I’m taking it easy.” “We’ll make it.” “The only way is up,” I affirmed with no doubt in my mind or voice. We chatted for a bit.  She was from Canada and one of her friends, who was farther behind us, was getting ready to move to New York. “You’ll have to tell her all about it.” “Sure,” I said, not wanting to waste my precious breath on a city that was the last thing on my mind. “I’m going to hang back and wait for her,” Canadian girl said. “See you at the top.”

It was at this point that tragedy struck. This is going to get a bit disgusting, but I hadn’t gone number two in about two days. “Aweng,” I called out. He was up ahead of me, and I noticed he had put headphones in when I wasn’t looking. “Aweng!” I screamed. Again, no answer. I forced myself up the mountain at a quicker pace and grabbed him. “Aweng!” I said with my hands on his shoulders. He faced me with an expression of surprise. “I need to shit, brother!” I whispered.

My stomach was churning and bubbling like a witch’s cauldron. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew it was going to erupt any second. “Okay, brother. We’ll find a spot,” he said. We continued up the mountain for another ten minutes, when he stopped and said, “here.” He pointed to the right side of the mountain, and I crouched behind a large rock, which was out of view from anyone else hiking up. With my pants below my ankles and a roll of toilet paper, I turned off my headlamp and felt the wind on my bare butt. There’s nothing quite like that feeling. I was free.

I grabbed a small bush in front of me and relieved myself. And it was only when I turned my headlamp on did I notice I was literally feet from plummeting to my death. If I had slipped, if the bush gave way or if I somehow thought about laying down after a good bathroom session, I would have no doubt fallen onto the sharp rocks hundreds of feet below me and died. What a shitty (see what I did there?) way to go.

With my case of bubble guts gone, we pressed on. I was feeling lighter, but the ascent wasn’t getting any easier. It was after I realized how close I was to falling off that I understood the danger of Rinjani. The path you take to the top isn’t narrow, but if, for some reason, you veered off to the right, you would surely die. I took a break and looked behind me to see the miners below making their way up; the backdrop of the city of Mataram let me know that a world beyond this volcano existed. That Rinjani wouldn’t define me.

I asked myself what I was doing in Indonesia. I asked myself if the choices I made, until that point, were the right ones. I asked myself if I was destined, due to my nomadic nature, to be alone until the day I die. I asked myself if, after surviving this volcano, I should return to New York. I asked myself probably a hundred more questions that occupied my mind until I reached the summit.

I also contemplated the focus I was putting into each of my steps throughout the hours of hiking. Each step was calculated. And, if I lost balance, I’d reflexively correct myself with a hand, foot or by grabbing a branch or rock. I wondered at how I could translate this granular level of focus into my writing; into my life. Making each action, each word and each page count and wasting no movements.

The summit was coming closer into view.

When I made it, there were about ten other people there. It was dark and cold, but reaching the top lit us all up from the inside out, providing all the warmth we needed. Strangers hugged one another, I embraced Aweng, we took photos and screamed all the way to the stars. We didn’t know each other, but, at that moment, we were joined by the bond of doing something that we may have never imagined we could. There was no tea or hot drinks available. And some, unfortunately, didn’t have gloves or pants on (they were in shorts).

With my butt on the ground, more people began to reach the summit. Friends huddled for warmth, and I stared out into the darkness as the sun emerged, lighting the sky in a fiery glow. Getting there wasn’t easy, but seeing the sun rise from such a height and cast its warmth on the world made it all worth it.

Sunrise from the summit of Mount Rinjani - a photo can never do it justice
Sunrise from the summit of Mount Rinjani – a photo can never do it justice

A Trek to Remember

People say going down is harder than going up. To an extent, I agree with that. Going back down the volcanic rock was easy for me, because I did it before on Volcán Acatenango in Guatemala. I was light on my feet and basically skied down. It was the rockier bits that began to make my quads burn like a Californian wildfire.

Two hours later, we made it to the crater rim. I ate a hearty breakfast of french fries, cheese and toast (nothing ever tasted so good), and laid down. I was just beginning to relax when Aweng said, “We go in 10 minutes Mateo, yeah?” “He’s joking. Hahaha! He’s funny! This guy is a guide, chef and comedian. Love it,” I said to myself. “You’re kidding, right?” I said to him. “No, it’s good to go soon,” he said. We negotiated resting for an extra thirty minutes. My legs had atrophied into gelatinous blobs, and I couldn’t conceive of the five hour hike ahead of us. But, we did it.

Beginning of our descent into the valley of Segara Anak on Mount Rinjani
Beginning of our descent into the valley of Segara Anak on Mount Rinjani

We slowly descended into the crater and rested at Segara Anak. I was feeling a bit cold, so I decided not to swim. After lunch, we pressed on. Before reaching our final destination, I saw a rock with signatures and dates all over it. The oldest was 1975, which made me feel as though I was a part of something bigger than my own hike. As if I were connected to the decades of hikers who undertook the challenge, just as I was.

Two hours later, we were at our final camp site for the night; the opposite side of the crater where we were before. I sat on the hill that we had to ourselves (again, they found the best spots), and sipped on a cup of tea.

The next day, I woke to one of the most spectacular sunrises I’ve ever seen. Rays of light cast themselves, like strings, through two mountains and across the crater in front of us. I never saw anything like it before, and stood for many minutes in awe. I then looked behind me and saw the three Gili Islands – Air, Meno and Trawangan – in full view. I had no intention of visiting them, but they were stunning nonetheless.

Rays of light stringing through the valley of the crater on Mount Rinjani
Rays of light stringing through the valley of the crater on Mount Rinjani

We packed our bags and made our way down the mountain. Despite my legs more so feeling like jelly donuts than body parts, I drank some water and obtained a renewed sense of energy. Aweng and I flew down the mountain at full speed, making other guides and travelers think we were racing towards a record.

Jumping over tree roots, sliding down piles of mud and using trees for leverage, as we swung from them to increase our speed, I felt like we were warriors hunting in the jungle; whether our prey was animal or human was up to the imagination. We made our way down like wind.

Hours later, we were in Senaru, where we started, and grabbed a scooter to Adi’s office. Seeing him was like a fresh breath of air. We hugged and discussed the hike. I noticed he had a shower, and he gave me his own towel to use. I hadn’t showered in two days, so it was a bit of a relief to be clean again.

My initial plan was to head farther east, to Labuan Bajo, but, being about 250 miles from Lombok, getting there seemed to be a trek in and of itself. Adi suggested I head to the Gili islands, which I didn’t plan to go to, but relaxing on a beach after the hike sounded perfect. I bid Adi farewell, and it truly felt like I was leaving Lombok with a new friend versus some guy whose company I used for a trek; I was immensely grateful.

He set me up with a driver, who purchased my ticket for the boat using money Adi gave him. With a weary body but firm spirit, I hopped on. As the distance between myself and Lombok increased, I saw the peak of Mount Rinjani come into view.

A smile made its way across my face and a thought emerged into my mind: “I did that.”

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