Climbing Mt. Rinjani was an exquisite and metaphorical experience that said a lot about how life can be likened to climbing a mountain. You keep the peak in sight and step by step you move towards it. You are after the sweet success of overcoming all obstacles along the way, of beating that voice that tells you, “Give up. It’s too hard.”
The need for height
One day, in the month of October, 2008, I decided that I needed to climb a mountain. Not just any old mountain but a manageable sub-4 yet a tougher gig than Mt. Kinabalu. So I picked Mt. Rinjani which is on Lombok Island, Indonesia, an island next to Bali. Quiet. Away from the tourist trail. The more I read about the mountain the more it said I should go. Never mind if it’s still an active volcano.
Now, Mt. Rinjani hasn’t spewed in years and I was quite confident it wouldn’t while I was on it. With it was just a short hop away, okay, worse case scenario meant I could be flown home quick enough if there was enough of me to fly home. Touch wood! Plus, I wasn’t keen on doing a long haul flight to somewhere lugging a lot of cold wear or equipment. So, Mt. Rinjani was a great choice in that aspect.
Flora and fauna
Now that I have climbed the mountain and seen for myself, yes, the flora on the mountain was largely tropical with a bit of alpine and temperate as you go further towards the top. It’s mostly lots of trees, shrubs and bushes with a sprinkling of tiny flowers here and there but I did stop a lot just to have a good look at the ferns and mosses.
I didn’t really see any wildlife except for a couple of wild pigs as we neared one village, and yes, of course the fish in the lake at the top. Does that count? I’m not sure but it seems the government thought it a good idea to stock that lake with local fish (can’t remember its name) and create a hobby for the locals. It’s amazing but there are folks who would make the climb just to go there to fish! But then who says it’s a climb?
I picked the 5D-4N option and flew into Mattaram. I was alone as I couldn’t find anyone keen enough to climb an active volcano. It was a small plane and I arrived late in the evening. A jeep had been sent to pick me up and from there I was driven to a beach resort for a one-night stay. The guys would be back the next morning to fetch me to ‘base camp’ where I would sort out the mandatory hire of a certified guide and a porter. I was given a room with a garden view instead of the beach front that was promised and so for post-climb, I made sure I reserved a beach front chalet for 3D-2N and left my non-climb stuff with luggage. Boy, did I need that chalet and the bath tub in there!
Two peaks like the letter M
It’s hard to explain why I had to go climb a mountain no more than I can explain choosing one with two peaks. My guide took me up and down one peak before attacking the second, the famous one with all the shingles that made every step forward three steps back.
Again, now that I have been up there, I can say that Mt. Rinjani is shaped like the letter M. It really does have two peaks and the route can take you up the first ascent then down to the crater lake, then circle the lake, and finally climb up again in order to get down to civilisation. There are other routes too which don’t involve either peak but then I wasn’t looking for a walk in the park with just waterfalls. Therefore, nobody could say I didn’t ask for it because by the time I made it down, I really had no more legs left.
By the time we hit the home stretch, I was trailing far, far behind. Goodness gracious me, you have no idea what pain was till Day 5. So it was good thing I wasn’t flying home straight after but had that chalet to retreat to. Golly gee! the crazy things I do sometimes.
Cold and eerie at times
The entire experience of the climb always make it worth the pain. Did I tell know that the wind on Mt. Rinjani literally moans when you are up there amongst the alpine trees? It is the strangest sound on earth. A sound that I never thought wind could make. Maybe it’s because of the nature of the trees. The way the wind passes through the needles and not leaves? Then there are the squalls that come on suddenly and drenches you before you can pull on the poncho. These always come and go without any warning. In the end I learned to just leave the poncho on. Well, it was October after all so rain was to be expected.
It certainly rained. But it didn’t pour continuously to make things unsafe. All it did was made us all very cold. In between, there would be pockets of warm sunshine but the rain was never far away. And every time it rained, it became so, so freezing. Up on the mountain, it is just the same, the wind and rain can be such a wicked combination. As bad as when one is caught in a lashing storm stranded on a beach and the only shelter is a boat on its side because you mistakenly thought you could huddle out of the wind.
When it really pours on the mountain, even the poncho doesn’t keep out the cold anymore. I remember one time when the rain was so bad and we were all shivering so uncontrollably that we couldn’t go any further. My guide and porter decided to do their magic again. They set up a makeshift tent in record time and all of us huddled inside till the rain lightened up enough for us to up camp properly.
Treated like royalty
My climb was made all the more memorable thanks to my trusty guide and porter who were really sweet and good people. They looked out for me throughout the climb and made sure I was safe at all times. To me that was the most important factor. But then I am not prone to taking crazy risks on the trail. Never. And I like to carry my own load although my guide made several offers to take over my backpack while on the way down and my knees were beginning to hurt really bad.
To say I was treated like royalty is an understatement. There were other climbers along the way but I was the only one with my own private loo tent and the best meals ever. All I had to do was just to climb at my own pace, catch up with my boys and voila, some food or drink would always be waiting for me by then. It was awfully sinful but hey! seriously, even I wasn’t prepared for the royal treatment. I didn’t know it would be like that when I signed them on.
End of the climb
The climb ends when we reach the guard’s hut. There, they will issue you with a certificate saying you have officially conquered the mountain. I tipped my fellas generously and would have given them more if I had more in my pocket. They were really priceless. Soon after a jeep came to take me back to my beach chalet at Senggigi. It’s a quiet spot to recuperate with genuine Indonesian food at its in-house restaurant or if you want to, can book a day trip to the surrounding small islands for snorkelling.
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