Back in July 2019 I met Fikri in Mataram, the capital of Lombok, a small island of east Indonesia. Over time we became close friends. One day, while getting to know each other I found out that he was a former guide for a trekking company in Rinjani.
Gunung Rinjani (Mount Rinjani) is an active volcano on the island of Lombok, the second highest in Indonesia.
I expressed to Fikri my desire to climb it and he promised to take me there one day. Months began to accumulate and the adventure kept been postponed time after time due to personal issues on both sides. Until one day, a date was set. The second weekend of December 2019, Just 2 days after the last full moon of the year. This was my penultimate adventure of 2019.
December 13, 2019
The night before the ascent I met with 5 students; 2 young women and 3 young men, all of them in their mid 20’s. We all traveled to a village called Kalijaga Tengah, in Lombok Timur (East Lombok) where we were hosted by my friend Fikri and his wonderful family. They received us with a dinner typical of the island then we spent the night there.
Let's roll !!!
The next morning, after breakfast, we packed, mounted our bikes and around 7 AM we headed to Timba Nuh, the southern entrance of the newly included in the UNESCO Global Network of Geoparks, Mount Rinjani National Park.
We arrived at the Timba Nuh park entrance few minutes after 8 AM, we parked the bikes, checked in and paid for the tickets.
The price is different if you are local or foreign, in my case RP 330,000 (less than $24 USD) was the cost for 2 days.
A little background
I must remind you that exactly 12 months prior, on December 28, 2018, while riding in New Zealand I had my first serious accident where I injured my left knee for the second time on my tour (the first was In Kona, Hawaii, 2017).
This injury took 6 months to heal. By May 2019 I felt my knees were ready to start exercising and on my first day of running through the rice paddies of Bali I got injured again, in the exact same spot as before!!! Bummer! It took another 6 months to heal again.
Keep Calm and Carry On
I can't not deny it, I had my doubts about how my knees would perform because in the last year I could not do any exercise while healing and only was able to run 2 times a few weeks before this ascent.
Can you imagine? I was about to climb the second highest Indonesian volcano with only 2 runs in the last 12 months as preparation! Kind of crazy. I knew I was at risk of not being able to endure the rigors of this strenuous activity but I had total confidence in my health, my strength, my knees and my experience.
On top of that my backpack weighted between 15 and 20 kilos carrying all my photo and video equipment. I also carried a satchel with some clothes and a tarp for the rain.
The Ascent 9:00 AM
We put our backpacks on our shoulders, the park ranger took this picture for us and the rest is history. Left to right, Fikri, yours truly, Rio, Ocik, Idham and Yi.
There were moments when I felt some pangs in both knees but nothing to worry about.
At first it wasn't hard because it was relatively flat. Everything around us was green, moisture was in the air. We walked along a dirt path wrapped in the sounds of the open rain forest.
We crossed a stream where we caught several young men playing in the water naked, seeing that I was filming, they rushed to put on their underpants.
Soon the slope became steeper and we entered the jungle. I learned that this route was not as hot as the north one, since the treetops covered us most of the way from the sun. There were very few segments where we were exposed.
The group pulled evenly, sometimes I was behind, sometimes in the middle and sometimes I found myself leading the group, nothing planned or intentional, only because some stopped while the others continued and then we all caught up at some point.
Lunch break 11:30 AM
We stopped at a clearing to eat lunch and rest for a little while when the first drops of a light drizzle fell down as if the weather was putting us on notice of what was coming. Fortunately, my tarp was large enough to cover the entire group.
Before resuming the trek I had the opportunity to watch my friends practice the Sholat (Prayer Time), because they all are Muslims.
A solemn moment in the midst of the jungle.
I strolled I little bit while they were changing and collecting their stuff. In this country is easy to find plants, fruits and flowers you have never seen before, a lot of them.
At this place is where we first saw garbage accumulation abandoned by irresponsible hikers. In Indonesia it is very common to see garbage everywhere but it should be noted that this route is practically clean. I'm assuming because it is the least used to climb the volcano. Seems to me that the vast majority go up to the northern entrance.
Each group taking the trek receives a large orange bag for trash collection at the entrance of the park, everyone is supposed to bring down the rubbish and not left behind.
By 1 PM, after eating, resting, photo taking and praying we resumed the ascent.
The views became more spectacular as we climbed but at the same time it turned steeper and a more difficult terrain to hike which slowed our advance.
Rainy Season... in a rainforest
We hadn't walked much when the rain hit us, but this time it was a downpour and we were all caught off guard. Those who had rain gear put them on, those who didn’t, managed as they could. My main concern whenever there is water involved is my photo and video equipment and its integrity. I used the tarp again as a shelter, hoping the rain would pass soon but it did not.
Everyone tried to cover themselves the best they could. My rain gear was in Bali with the rest of my stuff and bike. Fikri gave me his 2 piece rain suit and I put the cover on my backpack. Some rearrangements were made to balance loads amongst us.
We decided to continue, hoping to arrive on time to see the sunset and avoid ascending in the dark. The rain was persistent, after all, it was the beginning of the rainy season and we were in the middle of a rainforest, it was too late when I realized that. For the first time it was clear to me why they are called RAINFOREST, DUH!
The Arrival 5:00 PM
After several short stops to drink water, eat something and rest, we managed to reach a couple of roofed shelters 30 minutes before arriving at the main campground where we were supposed to camp that night. The general consensus was to stay where we were and not continue to the highlands.
All soaked and cold we began to prepare for the night and dinner.
We replenished our water supply in a nearby stream, I preferred to drink water passed through my water filter whenever possible.
The organizers of the expedition favored a diet based on biscuits, coffee, peanuts and instant noodle soups. I had to adapt. Fortunately, it was only 2 days.
The rain stopped and became intermittent and allowed us to see the foggy mist slowly licking the mountains on its ascent to the volcano. Despite being blocked by heavy clouds of rain the sun gave us a show of orange nuances at nightfall. Once in the dark the sky showed us its power with a lightning show on the horizon all night long. Later, the Night Lady came out, Mrs. Moon, covering everything of silver with her light.
I was very surprised to notice that the mosquitoes did not give me much trouble as in most parts of Indonesia.
The group began to start a fire with whatever they found around. It was not easy. It cost them a lot of work, time and frustrating tries but eventually they succeeded and they all insisted on drying their belongings by hanging them on sticks and passing them in front and over the fire.
Laughter, much talks, music, singing, camaraderie and good times, the classic experience that is lived around a campfire.
I hung my hammock under one of the Berugas (Kiosk or pavilion) and prepared for what I suspected would be a cold night without the proper equipment. The others already had their tents ready, one for the girls under the other Beruga and the other tent for the boys inside a metal structure covered with my tarp.
All separated by gender according to Muslim customs.
Because my gear for cold weather was in Bali I had to figure out how not to freeze to death that night. I extended and hung up my hammock. Next, I laid down my inflatable mat over. On top of the mat I placed my cotton sleeping bag liner. I topped it up with an emergency blanket, those made of a thin aluminum-like foil material similar to that used for helium-filled laminated balloons.
After a full day of adventure I was all sweaty and filthy, impossible for me to sleep without taking a bath. So, I grabbed my soap, my washcloth, a 1.5L bottle of water, a towel and went away in the dark to take a well deserved bath, yes, with cold water on an even colder night but I enjoyed it.
Once clean, I put on 2 layers of clothing. Long underwear --not thermals-- as first layer, and for the top layer my goose down jacket and pants. I got onto my hammock, inside my sleeping liner, tucked down everything else. I was the first to fall asleep.
Around 3 am I woke up just to go to the bathroom, the moon was in full swing, I didn't need to use my headlamp. I slept very well, not cold at all, my strategy worked.
The Next Day 5:00 AM
They woke me up, since the plan was to watch the sunrise at the edge of the crater.
But I am not an early riser!
We began to hike the last leg of the trek in the dark.
The moon, almost full was above us, the whole scenery was sublime.
Upon arriving at the esplanade where we were supposed to camp, I passed a camp with several tents where everyone was still asleep inside.
Although we hurried, we did not arrive on time. The sun was rising as we were climbing. We were not lucky to see the sunset the previous night nor the sunrise the next morning because the clouds were always in the horizon. Nonetheless they were events worth of appreciation in both cases.
The Crater Rim 7:18 AM 2,640 m
Almost upon reaching the crater rim we were joined by the group of boys who were asleep in the camp below. I would have been the first to arrive had I not stopped several times to take photos and video and I even flew Sputnik, my drone.
I arrived in second place. It's not that I want to always be the first but I like to capture the images of remote places without people around.
In a short time the rest of that group and my group arrived. We were the only ones there. It was wonderful. The place is impressive and the images do not honor it. Everyone dedicated themselves to taking photos and videos. Selfies been taken everywhere.
We took pictures of each other and enjoyed being there, I thanked God. I recognized we were privileged, knowing that very few people in the world could be where I was.
I got Sputnik out and completed another flight mission successfully. It took about an hour for the euphoria to wear down for both groups and then we all sat down to share comments and snacks.
I thanked God for allowing me to reach one more peak. For the joy of being able to live this kind of adventures and experiences. For returning my health and strength after 2 serious injuries in the last year. I felt wonderful!
The Return 9:00 AM
Once satisfied, emotionally and physically, both groups began the descent. Some running, others walking, others playing games as little children. All being happy, we went back to our respective camps.
We broke camp while we ate lunch. Shortly after, started to rain, the other group arrived at this time, and they stayed with us seeking coverage under our Berugas. They also began to fix their lunch, but they did cook their food.
The Descent 12:45 PM
It was time to leave and the rain continued non-stop. So we pressed forward.
The hardest part of the tour was about to start. Seemingly a very high price had to be paid for the privilege of entering the privacy of Rinjani. I don't know why but as we advanced, the punishment intensified, the progress became increasingly difficult, very tiresome and even painful. The rain played a big part, it made it worse.
We went back into the jungle and everything conspired to remind us who was in control there. Persistent rain, cold air, slippery mud, tree roots protruding from the ground determined to catch my feet at every step, fallen logs blocking the trail, slimy rocks covered with green algae, all of them waiting for me, conspiring to make me trip, slip, loose my balance and watch me fall.
And I fell, and I tripped, and I slipped. One, two, three and several more times. As fatigue accumulated, weakness and the chance for an accident increased. My internal alarms began to go off. All on red alert, sirens sounding all inside me trying to prevent me from misfortune. My feet, my legs, my knees, my arms, my back, my neck, my head, my sense of balance, they all sent reports to my brain that their abilities were being greatly diminished.
Some Personal History
Only 3 times in my whole life I've been in a similar situation.
Several decades ago, in my early twenties, while running my first marathon in Acapulco, Mexico. Under extreme hot weather. I reached a point about 3/4 into the race, where my entire body began to get chills, a very weird sensation, something I had never experienced before. How is it possible for the body to tremble with cold in an environment of more than 40 degrees Celsius while sweating as if being inside a sauna room? I wondered over and over again at every step. I felt I was about to faint and my entire body was in chaos. Every time my feet pounded the hot pavement my mind said “Stop! You can't do it anymore!
But my determination has always been tenacious, in such a way that it has led me to unique conquests and daring achievements for many unattainable.
That day, I reached the finish line running still, without falling, but about to faint of exhaustion and heatstroke. Fortunately there were no consequences to regret.
The second occasion happened more recently. It was the day I injured my knee in New Zealand described earlier while riding The Motu Trails on my bike. A series of mistakes and bad planning took me to the brink of tiredness without food or water after 10 hours of continuous pedaling up and down mountains. I began riding at noon and by 10 PM at night my body was very hungry and thirsty, completely exhausted. By then my strength and reflexes were diminished greatly. I lost my balance and fell into the dry side of the river that runs parallel to the trail from 6 meters high on a bed of big rocks. Leaving as a result an injury that would take 6 months to achieve a complete recovery.
And there I was one more time, experiencing what was already recognizable to me and even familiar. My mind once again began telling me “You gotta stop! You can't do it anymore! It's not safe!” But my determination to complete the mission was too strong. I knew I had to monitor closely every step, every movement, every thought. Applying all the experience gathered through a lifetime of extreme activities and adventures while wisely managing the few resources of energy I had left.
I have rarely kept myself in constant prayer like that day. Making use of all the faith I possess imploring God for divine strength, endurance and protection. I am sure I was heard because in what other way could I have continued without having another accident or fainting until I reached safely the point of origin of our adventure?
I believe the rest of the group felt the same, to some degree. They too dragged their feet and looked miserable when they caught up with me at the entrance of the park 40 minutes later.
Only one consequence remained from this adventure. During one of those slips I should have sprained something or pinched a nerve in the ball of my right foot causing Metatarsalgia, pain in the ball of my foot — the part of the sole just behind your toes. The pain has been diminishing little by little but I still feel discomfort. I'm confident I will recover completely one more time.
And that was my experience in Gunung Rinjani, Lombok, Indonesia.
God willing, I will be back in few months when the park reopen. But for a longer stay of at least 4 days. Next time, I'll reach the summit.
I'll be back...