Chapter 2: The Climb

Sept 19
In the morning we meet a driver from the Lombok Network Tours who takes us to the starting point of the trek, about 1,000 meters above sea level. The peak lumbers dauntingly above us at 3,726 meters, or 12,224 ft. We start up with little fanfare, walking through fields and forests. Above the forest we reach a seemingly never-ending savannah of swaying chest high red, yellow and green grass rolling in and out of ravines and canyons snaking their way up the mountain. Stationary lone trees give stark contrast to the constantly swaying sea of grass.

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Incessantly increasing elevation, we continue to climb. Around every rise and across every canyon and ravine spanned by just as many bridges, the scenery gets impossibly more spectacular. After lunch at the second shelter and a quick rest at the third, at last we embark on the most challenging section of the day. Where most trails scaling steep sections of mountain tend to use switchbacks, the authors of this story decided it better to trudge straight up the steepest points of the ridges leading up the slope. Kara and the guide forge ahead – Kara is extremely fit. She runs four times a week and teaches Pilates. I take a bit longer, taking four or five steps and stopping for air and to let my muscles restore their oxygen levels. I find if I point my feet downhill when I stop it allows my calves to relax. The trail is steep and mostly loose dirt that slides out from under your firmly pressed foot. I feel relieved when I reach sections with tree roots to spring off.

After we passed shelter one we started to lose the sun and entered the clouds. The blowing winds accompanying the clouds I gladly welcome as reprieve from the torturing sun, though the visibility drops to almost nil. I keep shedding layers as I hike, reaching shelter three wearing no shirt under my pack. Despite the cooling mist I am still overheating. Every time we stop, the guide asks me, “Aren’t you cold?” No, not at all. I am carrying Kim’s daypack that is weighed down with too much photography equipment (most of which I do not use) and each vertical step is a work out, especially as oxygen levels decline.

I pass the guide after a series of intense steeps each followed by a slight leveling. He waits for Kim who is somewhere in the distance, I can no longer see her despite stopping to wait for her several times. There is Kara, a speck on the trail far ahead motoring past porters weighed down with other climbers camping gear and food, strung together with a four foot long, four inch thick bamboo rod impressively balanced on their small shoulders. Where their clients don several hundred dollar name brand hiking boots and trekking poles, these porters climb in simple shower flipflops threatening to break with every step.

I lose sight of Kara as more clouds move in, and I adjust my attention to what lies directly before me. With each step I grow wearier. I feel my legs straining to lift my weight and that of my pack as I force them to continue. Now its fully raining on me, and my bare chest gladly receives the cooling waters as a relief from my constant body heat. I can no longer see above or below me, only the loose dirt path before me. There, I can see it! The rim of the volcano! My destination. I power through till I reach the thin ridgeline, greeted only by a cold wind from the opposite side that forces me to re-cloth. I can see no sign of humanity on any side, nothing but clouds and black rock.

I start off along the ridge in the direction I think the summit to be since I have no idea where the camp is besides “on the rim,” which is where I am currently. Still finding no humans, porters or climbers, but seeing signs that they exist – a fire pit, energy bar remains, etc – I continue on despite wanting to wait for personal reassurance. Through the fog I begin to hear chopping of wood and pounding of steaks. I am getting close.

I walk past tents and fires with food simmering in pots and guides and porters I do not recognize. Someone calls my name from inside the last tarped shelter. Kara had taken refuge with someone else’s porters. “Where is your guide? Where are your porters?” they ask. They are coming as far as I know. Almost an hour later Kim comes limping in, seeking shelter from the rain under the tarp of someone else’s porters. Finally, with yelling it’s announced our porters have come. We get the last pick of the ground for camping: right next to the toilet.

It’s getting dark and its announced our tents are ready. I quickly fall asleep while waiting for supper. The guide wakes me and hands me a plate of mie goreng, fried ramen noodles, with a spicy sauce and vegetables and a single chicken bone with a few slivers of meat hanging on. With my hunger only slightly diminished I venture out in search of more food. “Plain rice?” the guide asks. He hands me a dish with sliced tomatoes in what looks like water. I pour some on the rice. “It’s spicy,” he warns. I can take it, I live in India. With a mouthful of rice I begin to agree with him. Yes, it is spicy. As I swallow the burn sets in full force. My eyes water and snot runs uncontrollably down my face. I go back to my tent to sleep. It’s only 7:30, but we have to wake up at 3am to summit.

Around ten my bladder wins the fight with my will to stay warm in my sleeping bag. I exit my tent only to be knocked off my feet by the view above me: the most amazing display of heavenly glory I have ever seen. Never before have I seen that many millions of brilliantly shining stars. I quickly pick out Orion and the Little Dipper but recognize almost nothing else, the southern hemisphere’s stars being very different from the north’s. I wake up Kara and Kim, insistent that they view this spectacle with me.

Sept 20
The guide wakes us at Oh Dark Thirty and informs us the mountain is enshrouded in a blanket of clouds and rain, and the view would be limited to the path in front and behind. We decide to wait till 5 am to see if there has been any change, and to climb about one third of the way to the summit to a point where you can see the active new volcano spitting lava.

Kara, the guide, and myself start off full of energy and tea but soon hit a substance worse than sand or powder snow. The fine black volcanic pebbles move so freely under your foot your upward movement leaves you no further ahead than before you put forth such great effort. With this frustratingly slow progress and immense struggle in pitch blackness, my body decides it did not like the dinner from the night before, and I need to expel it from my body. My stomach churns and I can go no further till this thundering in my depths is satisfied. There amongst the volcanic rock, the sharp mountain grass, and the glow of the morning light I make my mark on Mt. Rinjani, forever leaving a piece of myself. The clouds part and the sun sheepishly reveals himself over the westward ridges of the mountain; a spectacular sight to see indeed, and I am caught with my pants around my ankles fifty meters from my camera. So I sit back and enjoy this moment for what it is. Stunning.

I still cannot decide if my body can continue but tell myself, I came this far, I cannot quit now. I find scrambling up the exposed rocks much easier than sliding in the volcanic pebbles and reach the top with renewed energy. We pass several defeated groups making their way down saying there is nothing to see, only more clouds. When only we three remain God blesses us with spectacular views of the entire rim and dramatic clouds filtering through the ridges, though we never get a clear view of anything inside the rim, a thick cloud remains, but you can hear the power of the volcano roaring far below. A monkey comes to see what we have to offer for tax on trespassing his property. The guide temps him with biscuits as Kara and I snap photos.

Our trusty guide named Hadzi or Haddi or Hamdi… we never could figure out what his actual name was

Kara looking pretty happy calm for having just climbed a moutain

I love the way the clouds interact with the top of the mountain

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Kara acting posing as an adventure sports model

Going down is significantly easier and more fun than going up. I feel like I am cross-country skiing through black snow, quickly sliding down what took me well over an hour to climb.

The porters made delicious banana pancakes in preparation for our return. Kim stayed back, not feeling well, and helped them prepare the delectable delicacies.

We depart, heading quickly down the mountain that took such great effort to climb. I am thankful for the sections of the path now with no tree roots obstructing my way, as I find it easier on my knees to not fight gravity and simply run downhill. Anytime I try to go at a walking pace my knees cry out for mercy but enjoy the thrill of running down the steeps. I run for a while stopping to wait for the others to catch up. We stop for a rest and refuge from the rain at shelter two and a quick lunch at shelter one, and Kara and I speed through the flatter bottoms enjoying philosophical conversations.
This scene kept making me think of Dr. Suess for some reason

Sept 21
We planned to go snorkeling today around the Gilli Islands, but the weather did not cooperate. We stay in Sengiggi instead and try to just relax, recovering from the tenacious climb. We try out the water at the beach by our guesthouse then get massages by the pool in the rain. It helps my sore muscles, but I wish the lady had concentrated more on my thighs. While getting a massage by the pool in the light rain I arrange with a local to take us to Kuta, Lombok in a couple of days. He tells us to book into the hotel next to our guesthouse, since it is over half as expensive. We venture into town and book a boat to take us snorkeling the following day after checking the internet to see if the weather would be nice.