Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gunung Rinjani: Part 2

Continued... the first portion of the trek was not good, on a full stomach, with sleep still in our eyes and lingering numb bums from yesterday’s arduous journey over from Bali, we were none of us exactly at our peak of physical alacrity. The first 1km was rough to say the least. The terrain was not just steep, but the track was littered with large boulders, gigantic trees roots, slippery foliage and tacky mud. We huffed and puffed and made our way up to the starting point... with the yellow sign board overheard declaring that we could now commence our climb up Gunung Rinjani.

And so the days wears on, we climb ever up, up, up past rest stop one (only stopping for a short 15min biscuit break... gotta keep those sugar levels high!) and towards rest stop two, arriving about 1pm. Here we flop out on makeshift platforms for some well-earned R&R whilst our porters (eight of them. Who carry all our food, water, tents, sleeping bags, mats, etc) prepare lunch. We stay flaked her for around 2hrs, enjoying the shade and immense beauty of the Indonesia forest. After a truly delicious lunch of noodle soup with vegetables and a boiled egg we re-load and head off again. At this point our guide Andy gives us the cheerful news (his a seven-time veteran of this trek) that whilst it may seem like we’ve done 50% of the work, that is only in terms of “distance”, in regards to “effort”, we’ve still got about 70% to go!!! Oh dear, that’s not good...

The last two sections of the hike, to stop three and then the rim itself, are extremely arduous, I won’t lie. By now just about every muscle in our bodies is aching and there are quite a few knee complaints going around our group of 16. The third section was not so bad, similar terrain to the morning and still in the damp/cool forest canopy, but the last section was horrendous. We not only encountered are toughest incline yet, but also loose volcano rock underfoot to boot. This is also the point at which we leave the nice shade of the forest for the open hills, bereft of tree cover. This section was the one Machu had particularly warned us about, it’s basically a case of one step forward, two steps back and clinging on for dear life! That said, we were actually quite lucky that there was a sprinkling of rain in the wee early hours of the morning that reinforced the soil with a bit of stick, otherwise we would have been slipin’ and slidin’ on our arses no doubt.  

My mother is vertically challenged (actually she’s the same exact height as me, 5 foot 4 give or take) so was having trouble with some of the more challenging sections of the climb where we had to manoeuvre up and over large embankments. My brother therefore took it upon himself (he, incidentally is not challenged at all in the height department, standing at a towering 6 foot two or so) to walk intermittently behind and in front of her, alternating between pushing her forward and hoisting her up. This actually did the trick, and metre by metre, hour by hour we made steady progress. We finally reached the summit at something like 4:30pm, give or take [No energy to check my watch at this point.]. In fact, we apparently made quite good time, so fast in fact that the porters were hard pressed to keep up with us – that and the fact that they are each carrying some 20kg on their shoulder poles!

Upon reaching the top and seeing the view only one word comes to mind – wow!!! Honestly, all eloquence goes out the window when encountering such a stellar view. The crater rim is absolutely humungous and it’s hard to comprehend just how big Mt. Rinjani would have been had the top not been blown off in an eruption. Segara Anak Lake is also impressive with its colour ranging from dark indigo blue on the far right-hand side, furthest from Mt. Baru in the middle, to deep sky blue in the middle and a vibrant aqua marine on the far left. Not to mention some brown spots up top where lava has seeped in. Mt. Baru is just about the loveliest thing ever, a min-volcano sitting smugly in the middle of its father volcano, letting out the odd puff of smoke just to say hello. Everybody is so in awe of the sight that a hushed silence envelopes the group and all aches and pains are quickly forgotten.

We spend the next hours until sunset slowly adding layer after layer (I got to about five!) as our body temperatures cool down and the high altitude chill begins to seep into our bones; a start contrast to the humid 30+ heat down below. The clouds eventually move in and at 6pm-ish we are forced to move hastily towards camp (set up by the porters who came in about half an hour behind us) as the rain ones again slaps our faces. We all basically hunker down for the night now, only creeping out around 8pm for quick dinner of rice, prawn cracker and fried egg huddled in a makeshift tarpaulin canteen, before heading back to our individual two-man tents to try and garner some sleep. Not any easy task when your tent leak (not ours thanks God!), your freezing cold, your sleeping bag is about as thick is a envelope and your too lazy to get back up and go to the loo! Despite all that, or at least thanks to a sleeping pill or two, my family and I managed to get a few hours of much-needed shut eye.

The next morning we all sleep in and forgo sunrise as it’s raining quite heavily and there is no sun to see anyway thanks to a thick pea-soup fog enveloping our camp. Instead, we rise at 7am-ish, woof down plates of banana pancake and nutella toast and cups of steaming tea and quickly head off to get a jump start on the days walking. The first hour is not too bad, in terms of weather, but ridiculously hard on the knees and mind as its one big slip-n-slide on the rocky slope. We basically all adopt a “go with the flow” strategy, whereby you don’t fight gravity but simply run down the steep bits and hope there is tuft of grass of slight incline at the bottom to halt further forward momentum. By the time we all reach the first rest stop we’re a little shattered, both mentally and physically. This is also when the rain starts to get a tad too heavy. However, we soldier on and head into the thick foliage of the forest again.

After we get going again and hit some of our beloved “flat” spots that we fondly recall from the way up yesterday, my crazy mother decides she’s now chuck full of energy and begins to merrily jog along with my brother leaving my father and I shaking our heads in wonderment as we eat her dust. We naturally stop for a few water and biscuit breaks along the way – the now speedy porters, who despite heading off a good hour after us, considerately stopping to give us provisions before powering on ahead [these men are pure muscle who masterfully ascend the mountain like mountain goats in their thong-covered hoofs]. They make it to the semi-bottom (before final 1km) a little bit ahead of us and put the kettle on, meaning when we arrive a nice hot cup of tea is waiting and our noodle soup is not far off, ahhhh. All up, not a bad way to end what was a fabulous experience and the most memorable birthday trip ever.

Getting there: Mt. Rinjani is not the easiest place to reach. The quickest way would be to fly from your home country (e.g. about THB 8,000 return, economy class, on AirAsia from Bangkok) to Denpasar Airport (Bali), and from there take a domestic flight to Mataram Airport (Lombok). Then it’s a short and lovely (amazing rural scenery along the way) 1.5hr bus ride to Senaru at the foot of the mountain. Otherwise you can do same-same us and take a ferry from Padandbai (Bali) to Lembar Harbour (Lombok), and then hop a private bus to Senaru. You can take either a large slow boat like us across the straight, approx. 5hrs, or choose a quicker small boat at around 2.5-3hrs.

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