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Gunung Rinjani

Written on: Sunday July 6th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

This was the big one, Gunung Rinjani, the second biggest in the whole of Indonesia at 3,726 metres and one that had Ben's foot not been such a mess we would have climbed when we came over to the Gilies the previous month. As it turned out I was on my own again after departing from the three friends I'd met in Ubud, and because of this the cost of transport and guides is much more to bear. Luckily though on arriving in Lombok's capital, Mataram I managed to get a reasonably good deal on climbing the volcano with a guide and porter and then a boat from Lombok to Flores the day after I was due to get down from the volcano because there were other people wanting to do it at the same time. The price I paid also included my transport to Semaru at the base of Rinjani and so I headed out there anticipating meeting a nice bunch of English speaking, like-minded, similar aged travellers to spend the next three days bantering with as we scaled the peak. You might say then that early the next morning when I rose to climb the volcano I was a little disappointed and dejected at meeting my fellow climbers. They were two couples in their mid 50's from France, and only one of whom spoke some English, and my French sadly is limited at best, although I could tell them I lived in Bedfont and that I was thirteen years old. For such a mismatched combination it was a great feeling then to come down from the volcano after spending three days camping with them having a brilliant relationship and having shared a phenomenal experience. From the outset all the signs said that it was going to be a tough trip. We drove out from Semaru to Sembalun, where we would begin our climb from. On the way here our driver somehow managed to save the pick-up we were in, bizarrely named Wonder Woman, from hurtling off the road when the back tire blew out. Unscathed and beginning the hike the first few hours walk didn't prove too strenuous as we had stunning vistas looking out over the north coast of Lombok to marvel at, but after lunch the bad omen presented itself. When the volcano last erupted it splintered the earth leading down from its summit creating huge fissures in the ground where its pyroclastic flows spilled down. To cross these, the authorities in charge of the National Park have erected several bamboo bridges. At the first one we reached just as we were about to cross it an adult male macaque monkey leapt out from behind a bush and prepared to attack us yelling in monkey language, 'None Shall Pass' The monkey didn't even give us a chance to tell him our quest let alone our favourite colour splitting our group so that Marc and I crossed over the bridge and Gerrard, Danielle and Danielle were left the other side with our guide, Robbie who to be honest was a bit of a joke having only climbed the volcano twice himself, and our 5 porters trailing further down the slope. The enraged monkey rushed at me bearing its teeth, leaping up trying to sink them in while all I could think of was what hospital I'd have to go to if the monkey bit me and gave me rabies and desperately trying to remember the average wing speed of a European swallow. I lashed out my leg at him hoping to ward him off, and it did the trick but our skirmish had alerted several of his monkey friends who were in the vicinity. Marc and I broke off some sticks from a nearby tree and headed back over the bridge in the direction of the others and where the monkey had run off to waving them and smashing them on the ground in order to ward him and his fast approaching monkey army off. The stick treatment worked and within minutes all the monkeys were sprinting off on all four limbs in the other direction not wanting to feel a branch to the face. This was our warning that the climb was just about to start to get hard. Gerrard felt it the worse and had trouble keeping up any sort of rhythm, regularly needing to stop to catch his breath, and at his age I didn't blame him. I went on ahead anxious to get to the crater lake in time for sunset. I arrived at the rim of Segara Anak, the crater lake just after 5pm and was a little disappointed to find that far from being the only group climbing the mountain, there were many. I'd been given the impression from the tour company I'd booked it with that in no way could I climb it without a guide as it was too dangerous and that I was very fortunate in terms of cost that others had decided to climb it. I'd have felt a lot safer without our guide, and could have walked up to the summit with one of the multitude of other groups that were up here. On the plus side though I did have a porter who was carrying my tent and all my food, assembled my tent for me and cooked quite a tasty dinner it must be said. At 2,650 metres above seas level as soon as the sun goes down the temperature drops dramatically so I changed in to some warmer clothing and sat in awe at the views of the lake and Gunung Agung on Bali as the sun dipped behind the neighbouring island. It wasn't long before everybody headed to bed, but because of the rocky ground and the low temperatures nobody got too much sleep before we all awoke at 3am to attempt the steep final ascent to Rinjani's summit. From our base camp you could easily see the pinnacle. It looked extremely close, so close that it would take us nowhere near the expected three hours to assail this final 1000 metres. From the very beginning though there were problems. We were the last group to begin the ascent which was a mistake in itself as by average we were the oldest group and probably the slowest there. After only 20 minutes Gerrard was having problems with the initial steep climb and his pace was hampering the rest of the group. He made the right decision early on and decided to head back to the camp. After another 40 minutes Danielle, Marc's wife made up her mind that she could not go on so she was accompanied back to the camp by our guide who was finding it difficult himself, leaving just the three of us and one of the porters. We picked the pace up and overtook several groups who were having problems of their own, only then for Marc who at 54 was extremely fit and had maintained a swift pace the whole day to encounter altitude sickness. He began vomiting, but not wanting to be beaten, continued to climb until after the forth time of throwing up he realised it wasn't wise to go on any further. Our porter, a beast of a man, luckily had brought a sleeping bag with him so finding what little cover there was on the final ascent along the volcano's ridge Marc climbed in to the sleeping bag, lay down and tried to get some sleep in order to shake off the sickness. Our group was down to three and the hardest part was still to come. Danielle, the porter and I continued on very slowly, taking regular breaks to catch our breaths. Psychologically the final ascent was demoralising as every three steps you would take up the volcano you would fall back two because of all the loose granite and scree you were walking upon. Every five minutes that you looked up through the thick cloud to register how much further you had to climb it seemed like you hadn't got any closer at all. Physically my calves were on fire and the twisting, strong winds hit us as they raced around the mountain so that we were constantly having to worry about keeping our balance otherwise we were over the side of the volcano. We passed one guy who coming back the other way told us he wasn't going to go on anymore. He said the winds were making the conditions so difficult at the top he was not going to go on and that he had just come over from climbing Mount Kinabulu in Malaysia, and that was nothing compared to this. This sort of news doesn't really raise your spirits, but funnily enough spurred me on and made me even more intent on reaching the top. As the first rays of the day danced across the horizon we were all exhausted, constantly collapsing on to the scree beneath us to momentarily escape the fierce winds. Danielle couldn't go on. I thought she seemed fine, and she had kept me going, knowing that not only was she a good 25 years my senior but also a piddly female, there was no way she was going to get there and I wasn't. Jokes aside she'd been outstanding though, I honestly couldn't believe she had kept going as long as what she had, but she physically had no more strength to give. She communicated as best she could in English and me in French as she told me she would take shelter behind a big rock and wait for me until I came back down. Even though I hadn't made the top for the crack of dawn I was not being defeated and was even more intent now on getting to the summit. I could see the pinnacle when the cloud receded briefly, and so trying to anticipate the sturdier rocks to place my short foot-steps upon I gradually eased myself closer and closer to my goal. I got there, elated and exhausted engulfed in thick cloud with two others who had also made it to the summit. Out of the 30 that had camped at base camp, only four of us had made it to the top, plus my porter and another guide. It was such a shame after getting that far the views were almost non-existent because of the swirling cloud. Nonetheless, despite feeling like I'd been run over by a combine harvester I had to summon up all my remaining energy to get that handstand picture. Sod's law would have it that within five minutes of coming down from the summit the cloud was blown away and the views across the crater lake and down to the new volcano that has reared its head from out of the lake, Gunung Baru and then further out to Bali and Java were breath-taking, as if my breath needed to be taken any more. The descent down back to base-camp was a stroll compared to getting up. Because of the loose scree underfoot and the steepness of the decline you could run and allow your feet to slide in the gravel beneath you. We were down in less than half the time it took us to get up but not before a slightly wrong-turn on my part had me careening down the mountain slightly out of control to where I saw beneath me a drop off the side that at the speed I was moving at was completely unavoidable. I tried to stop myself from reaching the edge and so by digging my heels in I fell backwards so that I was now lying in the loose rocks and sliding towards the drop. I reactionarily reached out and somehow managed to grip a loose tree root with my right arm outstretched above my head, while my feet were left dangling over the edge of the precipice. While the drop below me wasn't huge it was on to steep ground covered in even more loose stones that would send me further down in the wrong direction and if I was to fall would bury me. After the climb I just did not have the strength to pull myself back up from the position I was in and decided that I had to chance going over the edge and landing on my feet. I did just that but a huge chunk of rock came with me and clipped the back of my legs threatening me with the fact that if I fell now I was going to be pounded. I surfed on the rock for as long I thought safe and then managed to escape off to the side where the ground underfoot was a little more stable and there was more undergrowth to grab a hold of. It was here that I became pretty sure that we hadn't come this way and somewhere on the way down I'd taken the wrong route. I roughly worked out where I was in relation to the camp and had to climb back up a side of the volcano to negotiate back on to the main path. By the time I made it back to the camp all I wanted to do was sleep. Unfortunately I wasn't going to be graced with any such comfort as after grabbing a quick breakfast and packing up the tents we had another three hour hike to the edge of the crater lake. I've noticed a strange affliction and relationship that I now have with summiting volcanoes in that most of the ones I've climbed I've suddenly, about half way down, been afflicted with a case of Bali belly or diarrhoea for those not familiar with the term. As if I wasn't in a bad enough state as it was! In retrospect I suppose I've had the pleasure of releasing the contents of my guts in some of the most panoramic and beautiful natural W.C.s in all the world. By the time we reached the edge of the lake I felt awful, I had excruciatingly painful stomach cramps, couldn't get any lunch in me and didn't feel able to walk a metre more. Thankfully help was close at hand in the shape of a rectangular rockpool that had the hot springs from the volcano filtered in to it. My transformation was miraculous, within minutes of being in the hot springs I felt so revived. Lying adjacent to the pool is a river, fed from the crater lake but also from the hot springs beneath the ground so that in parts of it it's cold, while in others the cold mixes with the hot to produce the perfect temperature to relax in. Apart from standing up too quickly in the hot springs where I very nearly blacked out, it was the perfect remedy after climbing for the best part of 30 hours. 

We camped on our second night at the side of the lake, and after a great fish dinner that we caught from the lake we settled down to a sound nights sleep, all be it I was woken up at some absurd hour by somebody in my tent, where I was sleeping alone, rubbing my leg. As I realised where I was I heard a 'Sorry' and whoever it was disappeared back out of the tent. In the morning we had a three hour climb back up to the crater rim before the walk back down to the village of Semaru. The walk down was a lot quicker but wrecked havoc with my cartilage depleted knees. Arriving back in the town there was relief, jubilation and utter exhaustion, but a great bond had been formed between myself and my French amis, some incredible memories, an overwhelming feeling of achievement and the happy feeling that that night I would get to sleep on a real bed.

By the way check out the Google Earth map of the area at the top of the page, shows a beautiful shot.

Bear vs. Gorilla update:

Grizzly Bear 39       Silver Back Gorilla 38

It's still so close!