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Holy. Shit. What have I gotten myself into?

Apologies to my grandmother for the profanity, but that’s what ran through my head as I stood on the shores of Gili Trawangan and watched the sun rising over Lombok, revealing the volcano we were about spent three days scaling. Gunung Rinjani is not only the second highest peak in Indonesia, but a deeply sacred volcano to the Hindus and the Sasaks who often make pilgrimages there.

I had looked out towards Gunung Rinjani almost daily for two months — missing it only when the sky was too hazy to reveal its jagged peaks. I also heard passing tales from those who had returned from the climb about the brutality of the ascent and the shock of the altitude. I had been interested in hiking it as well, from a detached and “someday” kind of standpoint. So when Anders called me and said he had a three-day window off from work, and would I be ready to depart in thirty-six hours, “someday” came on a little suddenly.

Mount Rinjani from Gili TrawanganRinjani from Gili Trawangan

Boat from Gili Trawangan to Lombokthe boat to Lombok

Horse Cart on Lomboklocal Lombok transport

I had two concerns about the three-day package sold all over Gili Trawangan. The first was the time frame. The almighty Lonely Planet Bali & Lombok informed me that the “most popular” route covered the exact same ground that we hypothetically would, but in five days instead of three. Our plan had us racking up one seven hour days and more than eleven on another. My next concern was price. We had payed one million rupiah each, or about $100, for everything — guide and porters, transport to and from Gili Trawangan, meals, tents and sleeping bags, etc. What kind of food and amenities could we really expect for just over thirty dollars a day?

In preparation for the cold nights we had packed as much warm clothing as we had (not much considering we were on a tropical island), and in anticipation of nine straight servings of plain white rice we brought as many treats as we could afford, like high-protein honey roasted cashew nuts and freshly baked banana bread as self-motivator. Other than that, our comfort and fueling was in the hands of our guide and porters.

Trekking Mount Rinjani

Trekking Mount Rinjani

We were trekking with two of our friends from Big Bubble, Kelly and Adam. I find that as a writer I struggle enormously to describe other people, and so I am sad that I can’t find a better way to convey their personalities to you beyond “immensely intelligent” and “dryly hysterical.” Suffice it to say I was so glad that they were coming along, as watching Anders try to hug human-affection phobic Kelly had provided me with a lot of comic relief around the dive shop.

Rinjani
Rinjani

Trekking Mount Rinjani

Trekking Mount Rinjani

Trekking Mount Rinjani

Despite leaving Gili Trawangan at 7am on our first day, we didn’t start hiking until 11am due to an inexplicable number of transfers and a lot of sitting around and having no idea what was going on (luckily we’ve all been in Indonesia long enough that we didn’t even question this.) We joined a group with a couple from Italy and a couple from Spain, making us eight altogether.

The initial ascent was challenging but not torturous, as we moved into denser and denser rainforest jungle. Eventually, we were walking through the clouds and I would often watch Anders disappear entirely before my eyes, despite there being only a small distance between us.

Rinjani
Rinjani

Trekking Mount Rinjani

We stopped for lunch and I marveled for the first of what would be many, many times, at how fast the porters managed to move — and in flip-flops, no less! By the time I reached the clearing where we stopped for lunch, they were already halfway done cooking.

I was also shocked by how crowded the trail was. August is peak tourism season, and yet I was still surprised by how many people made time for three days of torture — excuse me, nature, on their holidays. And for one final round of “I did not expect that,” I found myself shivering as soon as we stopped moving — we could feel the affects of altitude already.

Rinjani Porters

Trekking Mount Rinjani

What is that you say, readers? You come here for travel advice and not for unflattering mushy couple photos? Well too bad, that’s what you get for reading the blog of a chronic oversharer. Why don’t you just get over it already and accept that you and I are basically best friends.

After our late lunch, we made a major push to get to the camp site before sunset. It was kind of hard to stay focused though when there were adorable monkeys hanging out and demanding our attention. But eventually, we made it above the clouds.

Trekking Mount Rinjani

Rinjani
Rinjani

Rinjani Porters

Trekking Mount Rinjani

After hours of vertical ascent, looking out at the ocean from over the top of the clouds was the exact motivational push I needed to get through the last hour. The entire day I had been lagging behind as I snapped photos frantically and then ran to catch up with the group, but with the end in sight I took my time — and also created some of my favorite images from the trip.

Trekking Mount Rinjani

Trekking Mount Rinjani

We reached the crater rim just in time to catch the final dip of the sun below the horizon. In just one day, we had ascended to 8,665 feet above sea level over 6.2 miles of uphill trekking. I was exhausted but exhilarated as we gazed down beyond the far edge of Lombok, onto the three Gili islands, and all the way to Gunung Agung on neighboring Bali. I couldn’t believe we had started the morning on that little speck in the distance.

Trekking Mount Rinjani

We were pleasantly surprised by our camping setup, where we had not just sleeping bags and decent tents but also sleeping mats to make our beds a bit softer. Still, as soon as the sun set we were freezing, and layered on everything we had brought plus the rental jackets we had talked our tour-package-seller into including. We had hesitated over packing so much clothing but were grateful for every stitch of it. I had had lovely mental images of all of us bonding over a campfire at night, but in reality we were so frozen we could manage little more than huddling in our tents in the fetal position and wishing for sleep.

We emerged groggily from our tents at sunrise, waiting for the sun to come and heat us back to life. We had camped quite literally at the edge of the crater, and I had not a few nightmares throughout the night of crawling out to go to the bathroom tent, and stumbling to my death in the dark.

Rinjani
Rinjani

Camping on Mount Rinjani

I was so shocked when this dog trotted over to us. “How did you get up here!” I asked the pup as I gave him a cuddle. “That dog has four legs,” Kelly quipped as she packed up for the day ahead. Fair point. But I was still impressed.

Camping on Mount Rinjani

Trekking Mount Rinjani

As we packed up camp and waited for breakfast, the sun rose higher in the sky and light drew slowly across the crater bowl — giving us our first glimpse of the postcard views advertised at travel agencies all over Bali and Lombok.

It really was stunning.

Trekking Mount Rinjani

Trekking Mount Rinjani

We were the last group to set off at around 9am. Based on that and our very late dinner the night before, we ascertained that we had some new porters in the group. They were sweet and friendly and I can’t even begin to imagine doing what they do, so we were all understanding. Breakfast brought about my first minor internal complaint, when we were served toast and a pancake each. We had had rice and noodles for lunch and dinner the day before, so I shouldn’t have been too shocked by the double carbs — but still, those meals also included fruit and some vegetables and egg. It’s hard to get the energy you need for days of trekking from two slabs of processed white bread. The pancakes were the only thing I refused to eat throughout the trip; they were just inedible.

Luckily I had peanuts and cashew nuts to snack on throughout our knee-pounding descent into the crater. I don’t mind downhill trekking so much, though the amount of technical precision it takes can be exhausting — you can’t really tune out, or you’ll end up with a twisted ankle. But Anders dreads it and so we were both happy when we reached the lake in just two hours.

Rinjani Crater Lake

Rinjani Crater Lake

Rinjani Crater Lake

We all relaxed and soaked our tired feet in the cool water until the fog rolled in. It was really unbelievable to watch — one minute, the sky was blue and clear and the next I felt like I was in the middle of a time lapse movie as a white cloud enveloped the lake.

So off to the hot springs we went.

Trekking Mount Rinjani

Rinjani
Rinjani

After a day and a half of sweaty hiking and no showers, we were all pretty psyched to get into those hot springs and soak off some of the built up grime. The fog had also brought in a cold front, so we all changed into our bathing suits and hopped into the water in record time. I couldn’t help but think over and over again how similar the landscape was to another place I’ve been. Indonesia and Iceland — who would have thought there would be a connection?

Rinjani Hot Springs

Rinjani
Rinjani

Trekking Mount Rinjani

The monkeys started circling thanks to the groups preparing lunch in the area, and I hopped out to make sure they didn’t make off with my camera. At this point our group realized that we had no idea where our guide was, and he hadn’t told us when he would be back. We all sat around confused and somewhat irritated for quite some time — if we had known what was going on, it would have been great to use that time to relax, but instead we were pretty on edge. While my time in Southeast Asia has taught me in many ways to function without the information that I usually want and think I need, it can still be a little unnerving sometimes (for example, when you are alone in the middle of a deep volcano crater jungle with no idea where your guide went or when to expect him or how to get out if he doesn’t reappear.)

Eventually of course, he did, and after lunch by the lake we started the trek back up to the opposite side of the crater rim. This is when things really started to get ugly. The first hour was okay, though I felt a knot forming in my stomach just looking up at the vertical distance we had to cover. Eventually a series of steep switchbacks began and for the next hour and a half I had to finally turn on my iPhone and use those battery reserves I had been saving up. With my music on, I tuned out and just focused step by step on blasting through the final ascent. Though this was our shortest day of actual hours spent on the trail, this portion really challenged me to my physical limits.

Rinjani Hot Springs

Rinjani
Rinjani

Trekking Mount Rinjani

I pretty much collapsed when we made it onto the rim and over to our camp at the base of the summit. There was a celebratory nature in the air among the dense crowd of camps, all mentally preparing for the impending 3am wake-up call. This was the moment I had been dreading — the fabled, brutal midnight slog to the summit. My mind was racing with dramatic scenarios and self-doubt, and as I finally lulled myself into a restless sleep, that same thought from two days before echoed through my head — What have I gotten myself into?

Stay tuned for the next installment!

.

Pssst! Find Part II and Part III here.

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107 Comments...
  • Audrey - That Backpacker
    August 23 2013

    You two look adorable!
    Audrey – That Backpacker recently posted..Tallinn, Estonia: An Enchanting Day Trip from Helsinki

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      Thanks Audrey 🙂

  • Sarah Somewhere
    August 23 2013

    Stunning photos!! I can remember how intimidated I was looking out to Rinjani from Gili too… And I was right to be!! I’m worried about your stomach upset, look forward to the next installment (kinda…) 🙂
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..Meeting Jorge

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      I was thinking about you on this trip, Sarah! Felt like we were hiking together 🙂

  • Skúli
    August 23 2013

    If it weren’t for the monkeys, these hot springs could easily be in Iceland.
    Absolutely beautiful photos and looks like awesome “torture” to me 🙂
    Skúli recently posted..The first 100 days

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      Yup! I couldn’t stop talking about Iceland while I was on this trek. I’m sure everyone wanted me to shut up about it already!

  • Ashley of Ashley Abroad
    August 23 2013

    These photos are incredible! What an amazing experience.
    Ashley of Ashley Abroad recently posted..Happy Birthday To My Blog! You’re 1!

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      Thanks Ashley! And congratulations on one year of blogging!

  • Steven
    August 23 2013

    Fabulous pics! I Love the one looking out over the Gilis with Bali in the background, and I can now see that “statue” for the porter that he is. What a way to carry gear up the hill!

    Love 🙂

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      Thanks Steven! Yeah, I loved that view. I am definitely hoping to frame that photo!

  • Sally
    August 23 2013

    Amazing travel story again, what I love about your blog is that you do things that go against the norm and things I’ve not heard anyone doing before. This is the only blog that I read where I like to live vicariously through your adventures 🙂
    Sally recently posted..Photos: Paihia, Bay of Islands, Part Two

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      Sally! Thank you so much for this sweet comment 🙂 You really gave me a boost this morning.

  • Jacquie @ MFW
    August 23 2013

    Amazing photos! Incredible hike it looks like 🙂 x
    Jacquie @ MFW recently posted..Before the Adventure!

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      Thanks Jacquie! It really was 🙂

  • Heather
    August 23 2013

    Woah, intense! I can’t wait to see what comes next (I mean, obviously you survived but…how?).
    Heather recently posted..Chinatown Street Festival

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      Ha! I ask myself the same question….

  • Maddy
    August 23 2013

    I love this post (mushy couple pics included!)

    Can’t wait to read about the rest of the trip!
    Maddy recently posted..High Five for Friday: 8/23

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      Thanks Maddy 🙂 I’ll keep them coming!

  • Hannah
    August 23 2013

    I’m am half jealous and half relieved that we ran out of time to hike Rinjani ourselves. Your photos are stunning – and I especially love the mushy ones 😉 You guys are just so adorable! Can’t wait to read part two.

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      Thanks Hannah 🙂 So sad we didn’t get to have one more dinner before you left, but so loved getting to see you when I did!

  • These are by far the most beautiful pics you’ve ever posted! What an incredibly journey, one I know you’ll never, ever forget. I’m so proud of you!!!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Capture The Colour Photo Contest (My Version)

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      Thanks Andi! I almost didn’t haul my big dSLR up the mountain — but I’m SO glad I did!

  • john bourke
    August 24 2013

    Alex, Exciting journey, unbelievable pictures .I really enjoyed this wanderland adventure …. Ever think of saving “the trek” and sky diving in, no doubt, skydiving has to be on agenda ? Be careful, the natives are NOT always friendly….I am a fan, but I often worry about you…VERY GRAND BLOG !!! OH, Beverly Products makes the best protein supplement in the world …light weight too. Ever consider MILITARY ” MRE’S” some are great, and all light weight. Dependable nourishing food is important. GREAT JOB ALEX, JB

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      Hey John, I’ve already been skydiving once, in Hawaii! It was fantastic — I blogged about it, too!

  • Lena
    August 24 2013

    I have to agree with Andi, those pictures are really your best! And you two do look adorable. Ok, read your blog and now I can go to sleep:)

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      Sweet dreams, Lena 🙂

  • Sky
    August 24 2013

    First off, please keep posting the mushy photos! You two are adorable and they always make me smile!

    Anyway, this seems like an incredible trek! I have issues with my knees so I’m not really able to do anything like this when I travel so I love living vicariously through you and other bloggers. Your photos are spectacular!

    Looking forward to part 2! 🙂
    Sky recently posted..6 Months and a Lifetime Ago

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      Thank Sky! That’s a shame about your knee… but the good thing is you can always go swimming or diving instead 🙂

  • Amy
    August 26 2013

    Amazing story – I can’t wait to read the second half. It looks like a beautiful trek but also sounds incredibly tough.
    Amy recently posted..Searching for Wild Orangutans in Borneo

    • Alex
      September 5 2013

      It was definitely a proper challenge! Sometimes it’s good to push yourself… or at least that’s what I kept saying over and over again in my head when I was suffering through 🙂

  • Sam
    August 26 2013

    Hahah – chronic oversharer. Bring on the couple photos, I say, you big cuties. PS I legitimately thought you just googled image searched some scenery shots – those pictures are incredible ! xx
    Sam recently posted..How to eat your way through Sheung Wan

    • Alex
      September 5 2013

      Chronic oversharing, a serious affliction facing our generation. Let’s see if they can find a cure….

  • TammyOnTheMove
    August 27 2013

    This looks like such an awesome hike. So pretty. I have just about recovered from my trek to Everest Base Camp and although it was a bit of a disaster with me getting AMS and light hypothermia, I am dying to go on my next trek. I think that’s what you call summit fever. Once you have hiked once, you can’t stop.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Flashback Friday: The day we found a mule at Quilotoa

    • Alex
      September 5 2013

      Wow! Dramatic tale, and amazing that it hasn’t tempered your “summit fever.” Love that phrase! Next up for me is the Inca Trail!

  • Sarah
    August 27 2013

    Incredible photos, as always! Thanks for the honest review about the start of your hike – I’m looking forward to the next post. Will you also be including a list of gear you took with you? Interested as I’m heading to Indonesia next week and am considering the trek myself.

    • Alex
      September 5 2013

      Hey Sarah! Check out Part III of this series where I listed some of the gear I’m SO glad I took and some that I wish I had had!

  • Tessa
    August 27 2013

    Happened to stumble upon your blog recently and I have to say, I’m hooked! I especially enjoy your photos and writing style 🙂 Definitely living vicariously through you while I’m not travelling haha!

    Can’t wait to hit up Indonesia again after looking at all your pictures! What a great experience!!!

    • Alex
      September 5 2013

      Thanks so much Tessa! I’m thrilled to have you here, and hooked 🙂

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    August 28 2013

    Rinjani looks so incredibly beautiful and it was a trek we considered doing. And then we realized that there was no way we were fit enough to accomplish such a thing and gave up that idea and decided to go diving in Komodo instead (which was not really a mistake given how amazing the diving is there). You are a warrior woman, Alex! 😀
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..What We Ate: Hualien

    • Alex
      September 5 2013

      Ahhhh, Komodo! Not a bad trade off at all! That’s top of my list when I’m back in Indonesia someday.

  • Helen
    August 29 2013

    Those photos are stunning and you guys look so happy! 🙂
    Helen recently posted..Photo of the Week: V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

    • Alex
      September 5 2013

      Thanks Helen! We were happy… we weren’t sore yet! 🙂

  • Escaping Abroad
    September 2 2013

    Ahh.. I want to do this so badly! The fog in the forest really makes those photos look incredible!
    Escaping Abroad recently posted..Photo of the Week – The Historic Izamal Monastery

    • Alex
      September 5 2013

      Thanks! Every difficult step is worth it, for the views!

  • Soffía
    September 20 2013

    I would love to hike that trek, looks awesome! But I have to say that I have a hard time seeing that Indonesia looks like Iceland, those are very different countries in my opinion.

    Greetings from Iceland x

    • Alex
      September 25 2013

      Definitely different countries, but you have to admit those hot springs look pretty similar 😉

  • Phoebe
    October 5 2013

    Hey there,

    Was wondering how did you get the trek package of $100? is it USD or?
    And how did you get to Lombok? Am interested to know as i will be planning a trip there. Is mountain climbing/ trekking shoes really necessary or running shoes would be adequate?

    Phoebe

    • Alex
      October 6 2013

      Hi Phoebe! Yes that is USD. A lot of packages start at $130, but they drop to $100 pretty quickly! The transfer to Lombok was included. I did in running shoes and with the exception of the last slog to the summit they were just fine! Best of luck!

      • Lim
        November 26 2013

        Hi Alex,

        Did you buy the package on the spot at Gili Trawangan before the hiking?

        • Alex
          November 27 2013

          I bought the trek in Gili Trawangan… check out Part III of this series for all kinds of logistical info like what I paid, where I booked, etc!

  • Maria
    March 8 2014

    Amazing post.. love the pictures as well! Feels like I’m hiking with you 🙂