If you haven’t read it yet, please check out Part I of Ted versus the Volcano so that you know (A) who on earth Ted is and (B) why we’re climbing up a mountain with some outfit called John’s Adventures. Done? Ok, cool, let’s move on to the main event – the Trek…
Day 1 of the Trek: SuperTed
We woke about 6am, pulled back the curtains and were greeted by this…
Excitement and a little trepidation grew as we talked over a breakfast of banana pancakes and coffee about the looming assault on Mount Rinjani. Our guide from John’s Adventures introduced himself as Awan. I thought he looked remarkably young, and indeed he was – 17! He spoke OK English and seemed to have a sensible head on his shoulders though, so all was fine. Well, except for poor Emily’s stomach, which still wasn’t right from the Bali-Belly we both had the day before. But she put on a brave face and off we went in a truck with Awan, three porters and lots of supplies to Sembalun Lawang, where we would start the trek.
We signed a Mount Rinjani log book at some random office (although no fees were payable, as those were included in the price with John’s Adventures), nodded to a few other Western trekkers and off we set. The porters had taken a head start to get cooking for lunch further up the mountain and so it was just me and these three for company on the long road ahead…
The sun was strong and zapped the energy straight from our bones as we took our first steps. It stayed with us for the first couple of hours, taunting us in our heavy trekking gear. There was little shade and so we were exhausted and soaked through with sweat not long into the trek. Layers were soon shed, much water consumed and boy were we thankful for a bit of shelter when it came along…
When we got closer to the mass of the mountain, we found that it had its own micro-climate – which consisted of cloud, everywhere! So we lost the view, but at that point it was a fair price to pay for a cooler climb. The land around us had recently been scorched in controlled fires, so we weren’t missing much on the scenery front anyway. It was still awesome to look at though, like we were in The Walking Dead – traipsing through a smoke strewn post-apocalyptic world…
The cold air breathed a second wind into our lungs and soon we were storming our way up the mountain. Ted was now firmly in football training mode, seeing the mountain as an obstacle to overcome. He was pushing Awan at the front and both of them were going faster and faster. It wasn’t very steep at this stage though, and so Emily and I, although languishing behind, were able to keep up (sort of). We overtook a few groups and their porters and that’s when it donned on us what exactly the porters put themselves through on each trip…
Each porter carries about 30kg of food, water and camping equipment in two baskets held at opposite ends of a piece of wood, which they hold on their neck and shoulders! Mental. They do this trek at least twice a week and they seem to make easy work of it – very few of them appeared to be out of breath or struggling. We did see one older guy though who had a huge lump of tissue on the back of his neck. It made me think, what happens when they can no longer hack it? I hope they have something to fall back on.
Our porters had everything set up when we reached lunch camp a few hours after setting off. They put on a great spread – noodles with chicken and vegetables, huge prawn crackers, coffee, tea, soft drinks, loads of fresh fruit and plenty of biscuits – way more than we could eat. What a shame poor Emily was struggling to keep anything down!
While we ate we took a look around the campsite, and it wasn’t pretty. There were heaps of litter everywhere, some of it blowing in the wind. It was definitely first hand evidence why it is extremely important to use a reputable operator, like John’s Adventures, which takes rubbish back off the mountain.
We wasted no time after lunch and set off at pace to tackle the last and most gruelling climb that day. The incline got a lot steeper quite quickly and the trek much more demanding. And the harder it got, the more Ted pressed on. He was even outpacing Awan (Awan did have about 10 litres of water in his bag though!) at some points, so Emily and yours truly were getting further behind.
We overtook a lot of people. Awan was telling us on a break that we should go more slowly and that “Ted is very strong”. Haha, Ted would have loved to have heard that! Eventually, when we were on the last steep hill, we told those two to head on and we would meet them at the top. I assume they raced up…Ted, who won???
After 7 hours of trekking, giving it that final push and reaching the crater rim (approximately 3000m above sea level) was bitter-sweet. A glowing sense of achievement was slightly marred by the fact that the crater lake, Segara Anak, was hidden by dense cloud and not sparkling in the crater below as I had imagined! Ah well, we were too tired to care at that point, well, except SuperTed who was busy testing his muscles with a porter’s basket…Sensing my (very obvious) disappointment at the clouds over the lake, Awan told me that it would clear soon and that we should make our way to the campsite. So we did, and we strolled for 10 minutes to camp in good spirits – even Em, who had fought nausea the whole trek!!
As the prophet Awan predicted, the clouds cleared while we were waiting for dinner and it was a sight to behold indeed. The lake beamed as in my deskbound daydreams and lots of macaques played around in the foreground at the bottom of the campsite. It beats watching TV while munching on your supper that’s for sure.
Awan’s gentle wakeup call – “lady, man, it’s 2am, breakfast is ready” wasn’t as hellish as expected. A combination of a 7pm bedtime and a full on adrenaline surge at the thought of the notorious 1000m climb to Rinjani’s summit, meant I was raring to go. Emily’s belly though had taken a bad turn and so she had to stay in bed to recover in time for the morning’s downhill trek to the lake.
Ted, Awan and me scoffed some toasted marmalade sandwiches outside our tents and then joined in behind some of the hardy few making their way to the top.
This first of three stages took us past the other campsites and a steep climb up a slope of loose gravel. The moonlight illuminated about 80 people in front of us, slogging up the slope in single file. That number diminished pretty quickly as Awan, at speed, took quite a few perilous routes along the edge of the path, including a full on sprint towards the end, and so we bypassed a good 50% of the people.
At the top, I was like a drunk at an Irish wedding, squirming around on the floor, out of breath and shouting expletives at Ted and Awan along the lines of “slow the fuck down!” I got a few bemused looks from other groups and ended up laughing at myself as well.
After a short rest, we did the next hour or so on relatively flat and gentle inclines, but we could see the frightening summit looming like Mordor in the near distance and the promise of the hardship it would bring. Once the path widened a bit and we were able to start overtaking again, Awan obviously went for it. He surged forward. People were knocked out of the way as we galloped ahead and being at the back of the offending party I bore the brunt of the comments. These ranged from the almost polite “how rude” to the more venomous “fucking dickheads!” I had to throw back a few out of breath apologies, struggling as the gradient got noticeably more severe.
The final leg of the summit climb was undoubtedly the most difficult physical experience I have ever had. Harder than the London marathon in 2012 even. The exertion caused some kind of time dilation and I felt that I struggled on the side of that mountain for a small eternity. In reality, I spent about an hour sliding two steps back for every burst of three that I managed up the slope, which crumbled beneath my weight.
Ted and Awan fared better and towards the end, as the purple stained clouds signalled the sun was on its way, I shouted in an embarrassing Hollywood fashion to Ted to “go on without me, I don’t want you to miss the sunrise!” He laughed, called me an ejit and told me to hurry up. In a moment Rocky would have been proud of, I gathered myself as the sun popped its first rays out over the horizon and stumbled to the top, conquering the mountain.
So why would we put ourselves through such an ordeal? Hmm, well, here’s why…
Back at camp, Em told me about the little mice climbing all over the tent during the night. I thanked the non-existent god above that I had been punishing myself on the mountain rather than be around for that torture. We had our second brekky, warmed up with some steaming hot coffee and began the descent towards the crater lake and its wreath of green fields and forests.
As we got near the lake, dense cloud seemed to seep out from the ground below us and the scenery disappeared into the mist (unfortunately Ted’s short shorts were still very visible)…
Because of the mist around the lake, Awan suggested taking a quick detour to the hot springs first so that it might clear when we went back for lunch. No worries we said, as the hot springs were just a quick trek through a picturesque valley and relaxing in the warm water was soothing indeed after two days of trekking.
The immediate vicinity around the springs was reasonably clear of rubbish, but there was a lot spread around the surrounding area and it did detract somewhat from the experience. This was an even more apparent problem at the lake and it was hard to enjoy lunch because of it.
All through the day, Em worried about the 3 hour ascent to the final campsite. She had been sick and not eaten anything for three days, so who wouldn’t be a bit anxious! But no bother to her, she powered on through. We made a strenuous climb through a dew soaked, autumnal looking forest and over huge boulders in good time, and Em even had the energy to scare away a menacing macaque that wanted to pick a fight with her!
When we made it to the top, we vowed never again would we climb another mountain. That was until we took a look around…
As usual, the efficient porters had the tents up and food on the go when we got to camp. Once the last bit of food hit the floor of my stomach, my body went into shutdown mode and I felt like I weighed a tonne. I was only able to grab a quick shot of the sweeping view around us and brush my teeth, before falling into a mini-coma safe in my sleeping bag.
Good job we were sealed up in decent tents too, as I woke about 11pm to the sound of scurrying mice headbutting the tent and wild dogs howling somewhere just a bit too close for comfort. I can safely say that night is the only time I have ever held in a piss and I woke almost on the hour every hour after that to the same unnerving sounds of the night.
Day 3 of the Trek: Relief & Em sets a new world record
Ted’s stomping around outside woke me from a light slumber about 6am. My bladder felt like there was a redhot poker running through it and I almost pissed my pants getting out of the tent to the toilet. And oh boy, what a relief it was.
We got packed up quickly, had some breakfast and bid farewell to the mountain and the other campers as we set off on our final descent.
The downhill bit at the end towards Senaru was mostly along a jungle path. While this started out exciting and a good change of scenery, after 4 hours of trekking it became one big monotonous splurge of green. This must have spurred on Em to get out of there, because she made a huge push towards the end and sped through the jungle like some big cat was on her heels. We got to the bottom ahead of time and collapsed with a smile and some lunch while waiting for our truck.
We made the short drive to John’s Adventures HQ to collect our bags and we all gave Awan a big hug and a great big tip (130 USD to share between him and the three porters), as he and the rest of the team had been amazing the whole weekend. We definitely would have fallen off the side of the mountain or got into a deadly scrap with a pack of macaques without them!
It was hard to reflect on the experience as we drove to the Gili pier because we were so exhausted, but I think the feeling that we had won something says it all.