Top of the clouds in Lombok
Despite the steep slopes, biting cold and tricky paths, the rewards of climbing the (over 4000m high) Mount Gunung Rinjani volcano in Lombok is more than worth it.
Whenever I go trekking, I will ask myself repeatedly: “What on earth am I doing here?”
Why do I dress up like a guerrilla fighter, covered from head to toe to shy away from the blazing sun?
I guess life was pretty boring in the humdrum workaday world, leading me to escape to Gunung Rinjani, on a remote island called Lombok in Indonesia. The sight of edelweiss-like flowers dotting the grasslands reminded me of The Sound of Music as I climbed to Crater Rim I (2,641m) from the Senaru Trek Centre (601m) on Day 1.
Having walked for almost five hours through shady tropical forest, shrubby foliage and then to open grassland, the climb was vertiginous. Macho, our mountain guide, kept a wide smile and told me to go slow.
Fishing is popular at Lake Segara Anak, a body of water in Gunung Rinjani’s volcanic crater.
I gave way to a porter behind me, but Macho signaled me to proceed as this poor porter was having his first taste of climbing Rinjani with a load of over 30kg. Macho pointed at his eyes and there were tears. Mine were flowing down to my stomach during my labourious climb.
Counting my steps to the repeated tune of “Doe, a deer, a female deer…” I finally reached the top of Crater Rim I and was rewarded with a panoramic view of the shimmering turquoise Lake Segara Anak.
Rinjani is a volcanic peak that once stood above 5,000m, but it was reduced to its present altitude (3,726m) after a few volcanic eruptions. A new peak, Gunung Barujari (2,363m), emerged from the lake, creating a volcano within a volcano. The last eruption was in 2009, and today, one can still see smoke being emitted from Barujari.
Sea of clouds
Sleeping tents were set up, facing the lake. The temperature at 2,641m was biting cold, what with the howling wind. I put on my down jacket and walked to the western side of the rim to watch the sunset.
Rolling clouds enveloped the hill slopes beneath the campsite and one got the feeling of being elevated high above the clouds. As the sun set, more clouds rolled in, forming the awesome impression of a roaring “sea”. Dinner was served later by the campsite and soon, everyone retired to rest for next day’s climb.
Day Two’s trek started with a precarious descent of 600m down a rocky trail to Lake Segara Anak. The seasoned porters breezed through the steep steps in their flip-flops with loads up to 40 kg each.
MADE IT! The writer (right), with guide Macho (centre) and fellow trekker Bernard, at the peak of Gunung Rinjani.
But for me, it was a descent of baby-steps, holding on to every rock or branch that came within my reach.
Many people like to fish at the lake, and we stopped here for lunch. A ten-minute walk away is a hot spring and waterfall where one can refresh tired muscles. However, the sight of litter around the place really put me off. We continued our journey after lunch into open grassland and another torturous climb to Crater Rim II at Sembalun (2,639m).
Everyone retired early after dinner to rest for the summit climb.
We were supposed to begin our ascent to the summit at 2am but Macho had overslept. By the time we had our noodles, it was already 3am. It was still dark but fortunately, I had Dolah, the sweeper, behind to guide my trek with constant instructions: “Kiri, kanan; kanan, kiri…(left, right, right, left…)”
The ascent to the summit was a strenuous one over the crater rim which was composed mainly of loose sand and gravel. For every two steps I advanced, I would slide back one. It was indeed very frustrating and tiring. Macho had reminded us not to walk while taking photos, and conversely, not to take photos while walking. One needs to traverse the narrow path cautiously indeed, as a slip on either side of the rim would be fatal.
The pull of gravity coupled with the loose sand made the descent into the crater itself more palatable as each step would bring you down another two steps. We got down in less than half the time of ascent and after a couple of hours for rest and lunch, we continued to the next camp site at Pada Balong (1,800m) where we would spend another night.
Starry Starry Night
Despite a lower altitude, the temperature at Pada Balong was as cold as that at the crater rim. But that didn’t stop us from gathering outside our tents to gaze at the sky filled with bright stars. The last day of trekking was a gentle three hour trek through open grassland to Sembalun village, where we caught a boat to Gili Trawangan Island for some relaxation.
I had been to the East Coast of Malaysia but the crystal clear waters and fine white sands here in North Lombok and the Gili islands were some of the best I had ever seen. And the spectacular sunset, a flaming iridescent gold, was spread out for miles. A perfect show!
Trekking up Rinjani was relatively tough. But with a reasonable level of fitness, a pinch of determination, a sense of adventure plus a dollop of humour, the journey was a memorable retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life.
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