[by Mike] [Be prepared, this is a long one!]
A three day trek up the second largest volcano in Indonesia, pff, no problem. At least that’s how I felt reading the one paragraph blurb on Mt.Rinjani in our Lonely Planet guidebook, mango shake in hand, while baking on the white sand beach’s of Gili Trawangan, a laid back island off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia.
After taking the public boat from Gili T to Lombok we began negotiations with a local trekking company to secure our guide up the mount. I was originally picturing Ashley and I going guide-less, packing our gear and food (we were desperately ill equipped) up 3,723 meters of volcanic rock to the summit. Thank God the government put a law in place that bans vigilante trekkers. You must climb with a guide.
Two hours after landing in Lombok the negotiations came to a favourable close only after I agreed to throw in one of my personal t-shirts and a pair of Ashley’s pants to Wayan, the face of Rinjani Trekking Center. Wayan was twenty-eight, squat, with a streetwise face, baseball cap, and curiously sporting a tattoo of a Canadian flag on his left bicep, which I took as a good omen. After we paid the equivalent of three hundred dollars, which included a guide and porters to carry all equipment (food, tents, sleeping bags, mats etc.), a car whisked us away to the base of Rinjani for the night. The lack of research and the heavy clouds which masked the massive mountain was the perfect preparation, ignorance.
In ignorance we woke the next morning at 7:00am to a breakfast of banana pancakes and coffee that was to be the mornings fuel. We were introduced to our fellow sojourners: Michael, Kami, and Sophie, all young twenties and from Quebec. Team Canada was going to conquer Rinjani!
Finishing breakfast, our young, chain smoking, slight but sinewy guide Joe led us to the Mt.Rinjani registration office. In the office, a balding sweaty man sat officially at a tipsy desk, and smiled strangely as he recorded our willing consent to climb Rinjani. Our adventure had begun.
Rinjani starts you off gentle, the path winding hypnotically, gradient slowly increasing. Exotic bird calls and twisting jungle trees diffusing soft light gave us the right dose of trekking nostalgia and comfort to break us in slow.
By noon we were already starving, our un-trained muscles tired and ready for lunch. We took our break and were introduced to our three porters, Katchi, Suma and Meru. I am secretly in love with all three and here’s why: our porters climb Rinjani bi-weekly, carrying approximately 80 pounds of gear that is packed expertly into wicker baskets and securely fastened to a bamboo pole that cuts into the shoulder. I saw the bruises and scars this burden left. Climbing much faster than us, they set up camp and, squatting in dirt, cook breakfast lunch and dinner. We ate curries, noodle soups, fried rice with chicken, all delicious and nourishing. Every veggie was cut with a unique pattern and design. They do all this in flip-flops or bare feet. They made us feel like royalty but we all knew who the real kings of Rinjani were.
That first day we climbed a total of eight hours, the last five up steep stone steps. Our camp was set up on the crater rim, high enough to seat us above the clouds. It seemed the rest of the earth ceased to exist and that the large, cumulous clouds became our new terra firma. We watched mouths open as the sun dove behind the sea of white, yellow and orange rays spraying upward and running outward like spilled ink. We held our breath, beauty squeezing our lungs.
No matter how penetrating the views, or how tired our bodies, sleep seemed to escape us all night. We woke up to strong, sludgy Lombok coffee at seven am with blurry heads. It felt like our legs were disembodied in our sleep, used all night as punching bags, then stealthily reconnected. Pain was our only proof of this evil plot.
The first four hours of day two saw us down the crater rim. We arrived at the crater lake in a hazy shock. The lake is over two-hundred meters deep, ocean blue, and sitting low in the caldera which itself is over eight kilometres wide. The lake alone would be an incredible sight, but to completely blow the mind is a stereotypically cone shaped, deep purple and red volcano perfectly placed in the centre of the lake surrounded with frozen lava. One look and my pain was justified.
Locals line the banks patiently fishing, fires burning ready for the catch. A thought flashes through my mind, and I act on it. Approaching the friendliest looking local I ask, “Hello, how are you? Would it be ok if I tried your fishing rod?” (the question sinks in after some superb hand gesturing).
“Ok, Ok no problem.”
My new friend slides on a fresh a worm and hands me the rod. I flip the bail, pinch the line, and throw the tip towards the lake and let the line fly. The hook hit’s fifteen meters from shore. I began slowing reeling in and feel a slight tug, I instinctively tug back, the tip of my rod dips and the line pulls, fish on! I reel in the fish without struggle and hand my one pound beauty, all smiles and high fives, to my crater lake fishing brother.
“You good luck!” is shouted at me from tents as I float back to team Canada, my smile splitting my face. One cast, one fish, could it get any better? The answer is yes.
Before lunch our guide led us over a creek and down a trail into a deep green valley with a heavy morning fog still wedged in. Below, tent’s dotted an open space with locals easily lingering around. A waterfall fell powerfully to our left. As we descended our eyes focused in on small steamy pools filled with bodies lazily floating around. Hot springs!! The pools were a foot deep each, tiering upwards towards the waterfall and rising in temperature the higher the pool. Just like the food, only the locals lingered in the highest and hottest pool. You could see the boiling water bubbling up through the red and yellow sulphur stained rocks. We stood under the cold waterfall, laughing at the madness of it’s power, and allowing gravity and water to massage our tired backs. We hopped from pool to pool over slimy rocks, all children again, finding the perfect temperature to soak our rubber legs. Some small fish were being dried on a rock near-by. I tried the hottest pool and the locals laughed at my pain. It was paradise.
Muscles melted, spirits lifted, and lunch eaten we returned to trekking reality and hit the trail for five more hours before reaching summit base camp.
On the final day we were to be woken up at 2am, have coffee and cookies (two of the five basic food groups on our trek) and begin the three to four hour climb to the summit for sunrise. We ate slowly that night, cracking jokes about our swollen muscles, encouraging each other that we could “do this” and all under the bright, wan light of a full moon. Kami said she saw a shooting star.
Two am came fast, and it was cold. The adrenaline seemed to be building through the night, no one had slept soundly. We threw sleeping bags into backpacks, drank our coffee, donned our headlamps and commanded heavy legs to move. It was a crisp, still morning, and we collectively thought this was the craziest thing we had ever done. We had no idea.
We had been warned in the hot springs by a group of Canadian doctors who had climbed the summit that morning, “It’s insane, I never want to hike again!” One of the physicians who was an experienced trekker sombrely claimed, “This is the hardest climb I have ever done.”
The first hour saw us scrambling up loose rock, with finger like sandstone formations on each side. It was steep, and the loose rock caused us to slide backward with every step taken. Legs with twenty hours of hiking on them screamed in protest. Thankfully the punishment eased and we soon started to walk on a gently sloping ridge about a meter wide. Ashley and I assured ourselves that the worse must be over, and that the doctors were wimps.
We fell headlong into the ethereal romance of the moment. Full moon light bathed the mountain ridge, you could see city lights glowing ember to one side, and the moon in full reflection off the crater lake to the other. The moon light gave the shrubbery a muted glow, we felt we were walking on another, foreign world. We held hands tightly, and swore this wouldn’t be our last trek.
The pitch suddenly increased, there were no foot holds, just deep volcanic rock and dust. Your foot easily sank in to the ankles. We put our heads down and started to climb. It seemed harder to breathe. Was it the altitude? We slid backward with every step and had to take breaks often to shake rocks out of our shoes. It was steep enough that If you leaned slightly forward your cheek would touch the trail. Some were doubled over, hands on knees, backs heaving with breath. Others had quit and picked their place on the mountain ridge to view the sunrise. Where did the romance go? The shadowy, hooked peak of Rinjani seemed to mock our frailty. The peak was bowing over us, and we, humbled and breathless, felt small. We wished the doctors would have told us the truth!
After two hours of fighting for every inch of trail, the soft glow of sunrise extinguished stars and morphed the skies blackness to brightening blues. The changing sky gave us a stubborn energy, we had to make summit before sunrise!
Finally, the summit is in sight! Ash and I stumbled up at ten minutes after six, just in time, and took our seat with tired trekkers from every continent at over twelve thousand feet. Every soul here to witness the same miracle. I hugged Ash and told her how proud I was of her, her eyes looked tired and wet.
Thankfully the fog was slow to rise that morning; we had unobstructed views from the top of the world. Relaxed we felt the cold for the first time so we tucked our sleeping bag tightly around us and faced toward the sea. The sun rose strong, and clear, without the flashy colours of sunsets previous that faded softly into night. This sun was eager, tremulous with new energy it poured over the ocean horizon in full strength, shouting at the top of it’s lungs. We squinted in silence as pure gold rolled off dimpled sea, spreading life and colour as it went, and we felt alive.
We sat there tired but happy, equally conquerers and conquered. We had climbed the second largest but most difficult volcano in Indonesia.
Sitting in silence the tiny philosopher in me began contemplating obvious mountain analogies as the new sun broke unashamed over the sea.
If we never would have climbed Rinjani all we would have is the experience of a paragraph blurb about great views and volcanoes on a mango shake stained page in a lonely planet guide book. We can live comfortably through second hand information, entertaining TV shows, and someone else’s stories; or we can step outside, breathe clean air, and experience life’s adventures and wonders for ourselves.
I also thought about Ashley, and the mountain of marriage that is filled with crater lakes, grace filled views, and challenging climbs. I thought about how she is the best climbing partner and how you never get the wonder of the view without the climb.
I thought about our dream that was being fleshed out and the mountain we had climbed in frozen Canada to get here. You never get the view without the climb.
I thought about the dreams and challenges of the future, about our future kiddo’s, and how the view would be worth it.
The climb is hard, but the air is fresh, and the view can’t be bought.