Mount Rinjani had a clear trash situation and overcrowding problem. Google any picture of epic treks to Rinjani and you’re faced with pictures of people claiming they came and conquered Mt. Rinjani, the second-highest volcano in Indonesia.
At one time, 89,000 visitors crammed Mt. Rinjani in a year making it a swampy mess of a terrible trash situation. Think about it: trash accumulated on hiking paths and campsites, trees that are being cut down to make hiking sticks and campfires that run the risk of turning the mountain into ashes are leaving a heavy footprint from the hiking activities.
My curiosity beckoned me to visit Rinjani mainly because of the ascent up to 3,726m and how it was likened to be as tough as nails when put in comparison with other Himalayan ascents in Nepal or India.
The overcrowding situation peaked between 2016 and 2018 and the earthquake that followed it made the paths closed off to hikers but now trails have re-opened again and word has it that the trash situation has been considerably resolved but it goes without saying that minimising your impact is needed and that starts with booking a green trekking guide.
Companies like “Green Rinjani” and “Rudy Trekker” have been some of the known ones with ethical hiking practices. As a matter of fact, Green Rinjani groups plant a tree every time, while Rudy Trekker are leading cleaning expeditions collecting trash from the mountain.
What makes it alarmingly laughable is when the administration wants to cash in on these well-heeled tourists to construct a cable car facility around Mount Rinjani on Lombok Island. There’s a difference between destination development and destination management, and environmental groups are right about opposing the government’s plan to make this a full-fledged developed destination.
To be in the centre of Mount Rinjani’s universe, the price to access should not come from our fat wallets but rather by your own physical effort with your head bowed humbly before the mountains.
Nature has healing ways to free ourselves from capitalistic constructs and conformity. If freedom and trails are a commodity, how do we take in the lessons from a trek that is meant to inspire generations to come? Beyond that, the island is home to the Sasak tribe and 80 villages and the mountains are sacred to them.
Can these pay-and-see tourists really appreciate the contours of nature and the tribes who live around it? It is not just any mountain or a sight; Rinjani remains an important source of water in Lombok. This area supplies the fresh water for Lombok’s 2.4 million inhabitants. I am certain no one will pay attention to these little Rinjani factoids when you’re focused on riding the cable-car and nailing that panaromic view in comparison to a long reflective stride in the mountains.
Starting The Trek: Sembalun or Senaru - Where To Start?
It is clear that are two main trails to trek when starting with Mount Rinjani. If you’re certain that you’re going on a 3 day 2 night trek to Mount Rinjani, it is highly recommended to begin your starting point from Sembalun as it is the ideal route that takes you to the peak as close as possible. The route begins at an altitude of 1,100 metres which accelerates your mission of getting to the summit point.
Although the route is far more exposed and starts off with a walk in the open fields where you’ll come across villages, cattle grazing and tons of hikers; it is a great head start to get familiar with the brutalities and humidity (depending on which season you’re starting with) of the great voyage to Mount Rinjani.
The Road To Rinjani: Living Like A Local At A Homestay In Sembalun
There is more to Rinjani than the trek and the mountains. We wanted to stay in Sembalun with a local and experience life among these stunning mountains. It is located on the foothills of Mount Rinjani and surrounded by vibrant green rice terraces and a series of agricultural fields below.
Considered home to the practice of Wektu Telu – a religion combining Islamic beliefs and ancient animist practices, Sembalun is found near the island’s coast on the west. Staying overnight here was somewhat of a spiritual experience, complete with a view of the starry night skies and the cool morning mist that rolled down the rugged mountain.
We stayed at Rinjani Family Homestay and decided to go with their trekking guide to ascent Mount Rinjani since there was an existing group and we got a great deal for two people at USD160 including free transport from Senggigi, Bangsal or Kuta.
Armasih, our host, introduced us to the surroundings, the agriculture, their way of life, the significance behind the Sasak culture. It is known that the first seven families of the village begin their lives here at Sembalun where traditional houses were made of mud-brick and have been extremely well-preserved, known to be of historical importance to Sembalun.
Sembalun also has a booming agricultural industry which forms the economic backbone of the village. On either side of the village lie huge fields where they grow rice, chilli, carrots, cabbage and onions amongst a range of other foods, and almost all of the men in Sembalun are farmers.
Day 1: The Hike Begins To The Ridge
The hike gets off to a relatively exposed start in these grasslands as we passed workers who were bringing supplies to the mountains and hordes of hikers making their way to this slow, and gentle incline. It was hot and I had to strip away my layers as we were in for a sweaty fest for the next 7 to 8 hours.
The terrain became more sloped and we could see the intimidating peak of Rinjani dominating the horizon reminding us that it is never an easy feat. But in these mountains, I was meant to mostly trudge, and be completely in the mercy of nature and these wide open spaces where stress dissipates. The going is tough and that’s what I signed up for.
Not long after we reached Pos 1. The landscape continued to become hilly, but it wasn’t too bad as we were welcomed by the cool climate. The ground beneath crumbled into what felt like quicksand. I did not want to get swallowed by a sand monster and quickened my pace as much as possible. And eight hours later, we reached Plawangan Sembalung campsite after hours of trudging and falling up loose gravel.
The evening clouds rolled in and we were soon surrounded by tons of colourful tents. We went to the bottom of the mountain to dip our feet in this rolling mist. The area is perched on a ridge and it was fantastic to see the Mount Rinjani not too far away from us. “Just 3 hours!” that’s what our guide said. It surely will not feel like 3 hours when you’re tumbling down unconsolidated sand.
Our aching limbs were put to rest when we witnessed the stunning sunset. Was it worth it to suffer and be battered by Rinjani’s agenda? I heaved a silent yes.
Day 2: Summit Day To Mount Rinjani
Summit day was here and my nerves crept up! In order to reach the peak for sunrise, we had to get up at an ungodly hour at 2.00am to reach the sunrise in time. The next morning the sudden white clouds cleared up and we were hiking in pitch dark with our headlights switched on.
Sometimes I felt small and feeble: hunched with all these gear. Sometimes I felt mighty: traversing a ridge in a burst of slanting sunshine, with my shadow as tall as the mountain. But my strength soon dissipated when I was gathering all that I could to go up for this explosive beast!
I sat there climbing up and wondering why am I here, and why can’t this geological giant just erupt so I can forget about this hike and run the opposite direction from the erupting lava. As my imagination grew wilder, my energy tanked and my pace was notoriously slow-going with my footing deep in 3 to 4cm of sand.
I registered a few quizzical glances with some trekkers next to me and waited to hear from them that they’re giving up so I could admit defeat at the same time. But no matter how slow-going, they were adamant to make it. Other group members in the trek and my partner were probably 2 hours ahead of me, and may have reached the peak at this point. It was just the last few stretches which felt like eternity and a constant mental monologue.
The more I climbed, the more I stopped breathlessly in awe of the sun rising and by this time I had crossed the four hour mark and needed an hour more to finish the final stretch. It remains unclear and all seems like a haze now as I write this, but I figured I needed to make it no matter how slow I am and eventually, I did.
It was crowded and clearly beautiful to see the the turquoise Segara Anak crater lake, with the conical shape of Gunung Baru volcano protruding from its waters. On a clear day, you might even see the Gili islands across the stretch of ocean from Rinjani peak. But all I could think of was taking a nap - I was too tired to truly bask in my summit that I closed my eyes and tried to smile for the camera!
As I tried to stay awake, I was told I needed to descend as soon as possible because I have another 4 to 5 hours to hike to the lake. The thought of another few more hours paralyzed me with fear. Not again that sand, and not again a day’s worth of trekking!
While descending, instead of carefully coming down the mountain, I literally sledded my way down the ridge and couldn’t care less about getting bathed in sand. We reached the crater rim where we camped the night before and proceeded to empty our shoes from the dirt. With fatigued legs and muscles and a breakfast to nourish ourselves, we were half-ready to take on the next phase of our hike.
The journey continued towards the caldera, partly filled by the crater lake named Segara Anak or Anak Laut (Child of the Sea, because of its crystalline blue color likeness to the ocean). Both the lake and mountain are considered sacred by the local Sasak tribe and the Hindu tradition, and ceremonies are often performed here.
It took me about 4 hours to reach the hot springs where it was my chance to soothe my tired feet and have lunch! At this point, I may have lost my toenails and I was so knackered from the terrain. I saw tons of garbage laying around the hot springs and remembered not capturing any pictures because I was genuinely disturbed, exhausted and bone-weary that taking pictures were the last thing on my mind!
Day 3: A Descent Through Thick Rainforest
After a well-rested day at our campsite, it was time for the last descent. In these past 3 days, it felt like I was hiking for one week but I now knew the end was near and all I needed to do was to enjoy the final stretch, take that much-needed pause and ignore the deceptive messages in my head telling me to call it quits.
I am told that the descent will be full of surprises - not in terms of crazy climbs rather a rich tropical flora and fauna. There were some beautiful fig trees and unique bird species and even parrots! But I was so focused on reaching Senaru that my exploratory tendencies came to a halt. I had a mission to end my pain after days of continuous hiking. It may sound dramatic and a dismal ending to this epic hike but my emotions were running high and I was eager to untether from reality.
Our guide gave us coke cans as a celebratory win! It was my first reminder of civilization in some ways and all I could think of was cooling off in the cool Mawun beach of Lombok and enjoying the waves crashing in at the shore while we enjoy grilled corn on a cob - the true summer vibes!
When Is The Best Time To Trek Mount Rinjani?
The trekking season to Mount Rinjani will open in April 2020. Mount Rinjani National Park is closed from January to March due to heavy rain. The best season to climb Mount Rinjani is from April to December. As a matter of fact, it is almost perfectly OK to trek Rinjani all year round due to its tropical climate unless there are suspicion of any volcano alerts being raised.
I did the trek in the month of July and the weather was perfect. Just bring a good pair of trekking shoes and wear a good down jacket packed with layers as well as good quality socks. Here’s a list of all my trekking gear if you’re backpacking or hiking in the outdoors!
Where To Stay In Sembalun & Senaru Before and After Your Trek?
Here are the best places to stay in Sembalun to get a local homestay experience before tekking Mount Rinjani and to relax in a nice tranquil setting after your trek in Senaru and explore the surrounding waterfalls like the Tiu Teleja waterfall.
Sembalun (Before Trek)
Senaru (After Trek)
Also Read: The 15 Best Treks in Nepal For Every Level
If you plan to hike Mount Rinjani or have done so, share with me your tales in the comments below!
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