Oh, Mount Rinjani. I have so much to say. When I was traveling through Indonesia, a bunch of travelers recommended that I hike up Rinjani, although they warned me that the hike was hard. Hard doesn’t begin to describe it. Thanks for the warning, friends.
Many tour companies offer two-day, three-day, or four-day hiking packages. The three-day, two-night package is the most popular option. Travelers can start in Sembalun and end in Senaru or they can go the other direction. The Sembalun-to-Senaru route is more crowded. Travelers doing a three-day hike will reach the summit of Rinjani early on the second morning, when they still have relatively fresh legs. The Senaru-to-Sembalun route is less crowded, but travelers won’t summit Rinjani until the last day, when they’re exhausted. I decided on a three-day, two-night group tour starting from Sembalun with Syam Trekker.
Syam Trekker booked me a room in Senaru the night before our hike began. My throat felt scratchy when I arrived in Senaru, and I woke up with a runny nose on the first morning of our hike. Since my cold was minor, I figured I could continue with the trek.
I met my wonderful tour mates on the first day of the hike, which also happened to be Indonesian Independence Day (August 17). My tour mates were a fellow lawyer from Indonesia and a young couple from Basque. The Basque woman was also dealing with a cold. We were introduced to our tour guide Rob and four porters, who would carry all the camping equipment and food. We carried our own daypacks with our clothes, toiletries, and other personal items.
After an hourlong drive from Senaru to Sembalun, we started our hike at around 8:30 AM. I tend to be in the back of the group whenever I do a hike, and this was no different. The first day consisted of steady uphill climb, and my back was drenched with sweat after about 15 minutes. When we took a break, Rob gave our group Beng-Bengs, a chocolate bar similar to a Kit-Kat. I was an immediate fan and devoured it.
Our porters were outstanding. They carried 80- to 100-pound loads on their shoulders and leapt ahead of us on flip-flops. Out of curiosity, I tried lifting one of the porters’ bundles and could barely get it off the ground. My hiking mates and I never had to worry about food or drinks since our porters and Rob would have meals, coffee, tea, and cold drinks ready whenever we arrived at a rest point. The meals ranged from mie goreng (fried noodles), nasi goreng (fried rice), and pancakes. I was amazed that they made such delicious food with just a small gas flame. Rob also made sure we had plenty of water every day.
A group of porters nimbly navigating the trail on flip-flops
While at a rest point on the first day, a guide played Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” on his speakers. A couple of British guys and I burst out laughing when we heard the lyrics, “When your legs don’t work like they used to before.” Too real, man.
We reached our first campsite after about seven hours of hiking. We had a phenomenal view of the crater and lake as the clouds rolled in.
The hike was dusty, and tons of sand got into my sneakers. I took full advantage of the wet wipes that I had bought before the trek. It was entertaining – and gross – to see how much dirt I could collect from my face, arms, and feet. I took a photo of my dirty wet wipes, but I’ll spare you from those images. There are some things you can’t unsee.
The Basque guy in our group was having his birthday on the second day of our tour, so Rob and the porters surprised him with chocolate-covered banana fritters and candles on our first night. There were plenty to share, so I didn’t feel guilty helping myself to two.
Soon after the sun went down, we were able to get a clear view of the stars. I never see stars in New York, so this was a treat. We debated whether a couple of white moving objects were shooting stars or planes. We concluded they were shooting stars once we saw a couple of planes with blinking red lights zoom by.
I tried to sleep at around 8:00 PM but kept waking up due to coughing. At 2:00 AM the next morning, Rob brought toast and coffee to provide fuel for the hike to the summit. The Basque woman and I were still sick, but we didn’t want to miss the summit.
After wishing the Basque guy a happy birthday, we set out at 2:30 AM with the goal to reach the summit by sunrise. Rob supplied us with water and a Beng-Beng. The first third of the hike was sandy, so we had to pay attention to where we placed our feet to avoid slipping. The second third was (relatively) easy with stable footing and flatter parts. The first two thirds of the hike took about 1.5 hours.
The last third…what a beast. The wind was unrelenting, and the temperature was in the 40s. Remember how I said my nose was runny? Well, imagine what happened with the wind. All the guides told us the mantra for the last third was “two steps forward, one step back” due to the sand and steep incline. My mantra was more like “one tiny step forward every four seconds.”
The Basque couple must have been mountain goats in disguise because they bounded ahead. I lagged behind and followed a couple of other tour groups. Some hikers huddled on the sides of the path, resting and trying to shield themselves from the wind.
I alternated between reminding myself that I paid for this experience, cursing myself for paying for this in the first place, and debating whether to turn back. I tried to stay motivated by not allowing myself to eat my Beng-Beng until I reached the summit.
Thank goodness for two unnamed hikers; I have no idea what their names were or where they were from. After taking numerous breaks over an hour and a half, I resolved to make it to the summit without stopping. As I resumed the climb, two hikers wordlessly followed me. We didn’t need to say anything to each other: we knew we were making it to the summit together.
After about 20 minutes of climbing, we got our first glimpse of the sun. This provided the extra incentive we needed to push through the last ten minutes of the hike. Our small group finally made it to the summit at around 6:10 AM. The two hikers high-fived me, and we talked for the first time. I told them there was no way I would have been able to make it to the summit without them.
All the hikers who made it to the summit talked about how difficult the climb was. I gobbled down my long-awaited Beng-Beng and passed out. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to lie down.
“I wanna lie down!” Thank you, Ali Wong.
As for the view at the summit?
Eh, so maybe the climb to the summit wasn’t worth it if we just focus on the view. But, the camaraderie on the hike up was unforgettable. Everyone silently helped each other during the climb, and strangers congratulated each other at the top.
Even though there wasn’t much of a view, that didn’t stop me from taking a photo to document the fact that I survived.
In contrast to the ascent, the descent was pure fun. We could easily glide down the sand.
The clouds cleared as I went further down. The scenery made all the struggles to the summit worthwhile.
We made it back to the campsite and had a real breakfast. Our day had just begun: we still had another seven hours of hiking to go.
The rest of our hike on the second day was a mix of downhill and uphill portions. It was less physically demanding than the summit, but it was still challenging. The trail was rocky, so I had to think about where I was stepping. It was mentally draining, especially after the summit.
I had mad respect for my Indonesian tour mate, who was suffering from bloody toenails from rocks in her shoes. I would have sobbed and refused to move. She, on the other hand, soldiered on and swapped her sneakers for flip-flops. She totally could have been a porter.
We finally made it to our campsite at around 5:30 PM, after about 12 hours of hiking. Immediately after finishing dinner, I burrowed into my sleeping bag with all my clothes – including my rain jacket – still on.
I had a glorious night of sleep and passed out for about 11 hours. When I woke up at 6:00 AM (no alarm!), I was able to catch the sunrise.
We began our final day at around 7:00 AM. As we were going downhill, we were able to spot the Gilis and Mount Agung in Bali.
Mount Agung is the peak on the horizon in the middle of the photo. The Gilis are the three lines in front of Mount Agung.
The first hour of the downhill hike was slippery, and I fell a couple of times. If I’m allowed to give any advice to hikers, it would be to avoid telling someone to “be careful” after he or she has fallen. Oh, so I wasn’t being careful when I was inching along the trail? I appreciate when people point out potential dangers beforehand, but telling someone to be careful after they’ve fallen is unhelpful. Maybe I’m just bitter.
After the first hour, the remaining three hours of the hike were blissfully mindless. My thighs burned like crazy, so I hobbled and limped the whole way. We enjoyed one last lunch made by our porters, and then I made my way to the ferry to Gili T.
I was worried about not showering for three days, but the wet wipes I bought were a godsend. The sand and dust from the hike also had their advantages: my hair normally gets oily if I don’t wash it, but there was so much dust in it that greasiness wasn’t an issue. (TMI?) The dust and dirt are no joke. I took an hourlong shower when I returned to Gili T but was still dirty afterward.
I have never run a marathon (and never intend to), but friends who have talk about how they can’t sit down for a week afterward due to their aching thighs. I can totally relate to that now. My thighs were on fire for about five days after the Rinjani trek. I dreaded sitting at a table or going to the bathroom because I didn’t want to have to bend my legs.
One last note about Rinjani: the trash at campsites and rest points is unbelievable. Rob and our porters did a great job of collecting our trash, but it looked like other tour companies weren’t as diligent. I hope this can be fixed so that Rinjani can remain beautiful.
I’m no hiker, but I’m so glad that I trekked up Rinjani. I absolutely love mountain scenery, and Rinjani was among the most beautiful I’ve seen. It was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my trip.