Day 9: Mt Rinjani
It was a cold, restless, uncomfortable night. I think I managed an hour's sleep before hearing the 2:15 a.m. wake up call. Why did I put myself through this? A quick breakfast (can you call it breakfast at this time?) of tea and dry biscuits then it was time to start trekking to the summit of Rinjani.
This part of the tour wasn't obligatory so not everyone got up at stupid o'clock like we did. From our group of four, three of us decide to make the effort. We weren't alone; there was at least 100 people all making their way to the top, forming a winding string of headlamps in front and behind us.
From the first step it was slow going. It was freezing cold, windy, slippery and difficult to see. We stopped often to take a break, slowing the heart rate down a little before pushing on again. About two thirds of the way up Danny stopped, too exhausted and cold to go on. Our guide stayed with him, draping a sleeping bag over the two of them. The other girl and I continued on.
We pushed hard, determined to make it to the top before sunrise. The last hour almost broke us as the mountain became steeper and the terrain looser. For every two steps up we slid back one. We didn't want to pause because as soon as we did, the cold would overcome us. Better to keep moving and keep generating heat.
The steep, loose, precarious terrain we climbed - in the dark.
We reached the summit three hours after we began, climbing over 1100m in elevation. Our timing was perfect; the sun had almost started to rise. We found a semi-decent vantage point and we settled in closely to each other, trying our best to get out of the wind and stay warm. I had never been so cold in my entire life. My shaking hands would barely allow me to take any photos. The sunrise was spectacular, outlining distant mountains and islands, but it was hard to enjoy when all I could think about was how long it would be before I developed hypothermia.
I made it!
I held out as long as I could before deciding to make my way down to warmer temperatures (and a sleeping bag). My descent was completed as quickly as possible, which in this case was sliding. Often my feet would catch on something hidden in the loose rocks and I would tumble over. I didn't care. All I wanted was to make it back to camp so I could commence the thawing out process.
Upon reaching camp I tucked into my sleeping bag, huddled up in the tent with Danny and got stuck into my second breakfast. Fruit, banana fritters, jam sandwiches, sweet biscuits - everything was making me feel better. I was out of the wind, the goosebumps were dissipating and I could talk without my teeth chattering. I soon discovered that I was sunburnt on my face. It seemed ridiculous to be burnt when I'm sure the temperature was close to freezing.
Once I felt more human again we started packing up our bags and tents to prepare to leave. There were lots of monkeys hanging around the camp site, probably looking for leftover food. Unfortunately there was rubbish everywhere, so I was sure the monkeys would have no trouble getting a feed.
The first two hours of the trek went straight down steep rocks, on which we all took our time. Eventually it flattened off and became a nice, easy stroll. Most of the morning we were surrounded by clouds, so there wasn't much to see.
Hiking through the clouds.
Our midday break was located at the shore of the crater lake, with a beautiful backdrop of Rinjani. The lake itself was not so beautiful. Rubbish was strewn about everywhere, and after seeing sewage floating by I knew there was no way I was putting even a toe into that water (despite the locals getting in). A five minute walk away was a hot spring, with green, misty water that appeared to be a thousand times cleaner than what the lake provided. The thought of washing away all the dirt and grime from the previous two days was too strong to say no to, so we changed our clothes and jumped into the pristine water.
We ate our lunch (vegetable curry soup, rice, fruit) by the dirty lake before continuing on. The following two hours had us walking steeply uphill, my legs already tired after this morning's hike. At least the ground was solid dirt, so we weren't constantly sliding backwards. Every now and then there would be a break in the trees, offering impressive views over the lake.
After another 600m gain in elevation, we reached our campsite. It was still warm and sunny outside, but I wasn't taking any chances today. As soon as the tent was erected I was inside, preserving all the heat I had built up. The sun disappeared, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. I wasn't leaving the tent for anything - I could wait until morning to pee. Dinner was delivered to our door, a wonderful plate of veggie noodles, rice and omelette. Once I had demolished the meal I tucked myself in tightly, hoping for much more sleep tonight.
Now that I was settled in relative warmth, I looked back over the epic day. The climb to the summit, while grueling, was one of the proudest achievements of my life so far. I had completed only a handful of multi-day hikes before (none this difficult), and the altitude (3726m) was easily my highest to date. It was strenuous and exhausting. I thought I might not make it and many people didn't. My mental strength (i.e. stubbornness) pushed me up that mountain, willing my legs and my heart and lungs on when they were dying inside. To see the sunrise from the top of a volcano was an incredible experience, one that I would never forget.