Gunung Rinjani (3726m) is the tallest mountain in Lombok and the second highest volcano in Indonesia. It takes 3 long days to do the full traverse of Rinjani including the crater lake, and we enjoyed every moment of this wonderful trek and the spectacular scenery.
To Lombok and Senggigi
Rather than spending a whole day in van and ferry from Bali, we got a cheap flight to Lombok for only USD 20 (Lion Air, operated by Wings Air). We arrived the new airport in Lombok, which unfortunately is located far outside of Mataram and Senggigi. We had no desire to wait for the infrequent public transportation, so we joined up with another backpacker to share a taxi straight to Senggigi. This drive took around one hour and we paid 195,000 IDR (65,000 IDR per person) at the taxi desk in airport.
When we arrived in Senggigi we headed straight to Sendok Restaurant where we had lunch. While Emily waited in the restaurant, I visited some of the trekking agencies in Senggigi. The price for a 3 days all inclusive package to Rinjani varied between 1.1 mill to 1.9 million rupies per person. I settled a deal with a agency that I found trustworthy, affordable and that would start the trek in Sembalun. The price was 1.3 million IDR per person, including permit, transportation (van), guide, porters, food, tent, sleeping bag/mattress etc. That's a fairly low daily spending and good value for money. Notice that guide is mandatory on Rinjani, so you are not likely to save much (if anything at all) by handling the logistics yourself.
The guy of the agency also took me on a short ride in town on his motorbike. He found a cheap hotel (120,000 IDR) next to a mosque. I didn't worry that the noise from the mosque would wake us up early in the morning, because the van for Rinjani would pick us up at 5 AM anyway.
The loud speakers from the mosque surely woke us up. That was perfect timing for us to pack our stuff and jump into the tourist van, which arrived 5 AM as agreed. There was already a few more tourists inside the van, and we departed straight away for Senaru. The winding drive along the coastline took around two hours, during which we could see the amazing sunrise and Gunung Rinjani looming in the horizon. The van dropped us off at a guesthouse in Senaru, where everybody had breakfast. Then they started to sort the tourists into different groups, because everybody was not on the same itinerary and tour. It turned out that we would be in the same group as 3 backpacker girls from Australia, a young couple from Holland and a mid-age guy from France (8 clients including the two of us).
After breakfast we rearranged our packs. The guesthouse had a safe storage room, where we left behind stuff we didn't need on the trek. Then we jumped into another van which took us up to Sembalun and the National Park office. Our guide arranged the permit here before the van drove us to the trailhead.
I turned on my GPS and found out that the elevation was 990 m.a.s.l. at the trailhead. We started to walk shortly before 10:00 AM, first traversing the lower slopes of Rinjani in very gentle uphills. The landscape is open and grassy without any trees to hide behind, thus the intense sun became quit uncomfortable. Emily usually is a slow starter, so she had trouble keeping up the pace of the group. I already knew this so I carried all our stuff in my backpack, so Emily didn't need to carry anything. After a couple of hours we arrived at the lunch site. We spent two hours here, mainly waiting for the guide/porters to prepare food. We noticed that all the other groups where much more efficient preparing lunch. The guide then admitted that he had brought along an inexperienced team, because it was very difficult to assemble a team of porters during Ramadan. Some of our porters were young boys, maybe not older than 14.
From the lunch spot at elevation 1500 m.a.s.l. we started on the killer hills to campsite at 2700 meters. A bit surprisingly, Emily was faster than the rest of the group now. So we ended up staying ahead of them, because we didn't bother to wait. When we arrived the campsite after more than 3 hours, we found out that it was spread out on a long ridge. We had no idea if our porters were ahead of us and where/if they had pitched the tents. We sat down and waited a long time for our group and guide. Our guide was the last one to arrive. He had walked very slowly because of Ramadan, quite understandable since he cannot drink water or eat any food during daytime. That must indeed be a difficult job to combine with Ramadan.
We found our porters on the upper part of the ridge, at what seems to be the main campsite along this ridge. There was even a vendor here who sold coke and beer. A dozens of monkeys were hanging around the camp, picking up waste food. After a beautiful sunset we went inside the tent, got our dinner served and then went to sleep. We were told to not store anything outside of the tent because of the monkeys.
We started the summit assault at 3:45 AM, much later than many of the other groups. Emily decided to not join, because she wanted to have fresh legs for the second part of this long day. The first uphill after camp is steep and the sand makes you slide down after every step. The French guy struggled so much that he gave up and went back to camp. When we reached the top of the first uphill, the trail became much more gentle. I knew that we were too slow to reach the summit for sunrise, so I decided to go ahead on my own in a much faster pace. It was quite easy going in darkness, until a steep sand/scree slope near the summit slowed me down substantially. I reached the 3726 meters tall summit at 6:20 AM. The sunrise was very disappointing because of all the clouds in the horizon. I rested on the overcrowded summit for 20 minutes before I started to descend. Further down the slopes I met my group again, most of them were now severely exhausted because of the tough uphills combined with thin air. But sliding down this kind of sand slopes was very fun and it went very quickly. I took my time to snap some photos, because the landscape and lake turned into a lovely scenery as soon as the sun emerged from the clouds. I arrived back in camp 7:45 AM and Emily was waiting for me there.
We had breakfast, rested and waited a long time for the other guys to show up. The last of them (the Australian girls) didn't show up before 10:30 AM. They were totally shattered and wanted to go back to Sembalun instead of continuing the trek to the lake and second camp. The couple from Holland came to the same conclusion. So the group of 8 clients was now reduced to only 3, and our guide had to split up the food, equipment and porters to make this working.
We continued the trek 11:20 AM and said goodbye to the other guys. The trail down to the crater lake was very steep and rocky, but the views were absolutely outstanding. We arrived the lake after 2 hours and 15 minutes. The elevation of the crater lake is 2000 meter, so that means we had lost 700 meters from the campsite. While our guide and two remaining porters prepared lunch for us, we took a short side trip to the hot springs. It was an amazing feeling to soak in the 40 C water. After a while we went back to the lake where the lunch was ready.
We started to walk again at 15:20, first along the lake and then steeply up to the second camp (rim camp). Emily struggled in the uphills but Dominique, the French guy, complained even more. But between all the complaints I could see their jaw dropping expressions and hear the word "wow", every once in a while when they gazed down into the crater and lake and also across to Gunung Rinjani. We arrived the rim camp 17:40, shortly before sunset. The elevation of this camp is 2630 m.a.s.l, which means it's a substantial uphill from the lake. We sat down and enjoyed the sunset. Offshore of Lombok we could see Gili Islands, and further away, Bali with the characteristic shape of Gunung Agung. The porters didn't arrive before nightfall, so that meant we got cold. When they finally arrived, we pitched the tents and our fingers got a bit numb. It was really nice to crawl inside the tent and sleeping bag, then wait for the dinner to be served inside our tent. It had really been a long day, so we fell asleep instantly.
We woke up to yet another gorgeous day and started on the never ending downhills to Senaru around 8 AM. In the beginning it was steep and also slippery because of the sand. But when we came down into the forest the trail was superb. Both Emily and Dominique wanted to take it slowly, so the 2000 vertical meters down to Senaru took almost 7 hours, including a long lunch break of nearly 2 hours. We decided to abort Gili Islands when we understood that we would be too late for the last boat trip. Instead we went back to Senggigi, spent a night there and then went to Gili Islands the next morning.
A word of warning
Honestly speaking, the 3 days trek on Rinjani is one of my favourite treks in Asia. For average people it can be a a bit tough to do 37 km and more than 4000 meters gain of elevation in only 3 days. Out of 8 clients in our group, only one (me) were able to complete the entire trek. The seven others were not in bad shape at all, but this trek is very strenuous, so maybe a 4 days itinerary would suit them better.
Unfortunately, the trails on Rinjani are very littered. I find that very strange, especially since 99% of the hikers on this mountain arrive in organized groups with licensed guides. It should be quite easy to enforce a strict environmental policy and instruct/teach the guides. The rubbish on this mountain reduce the overall quality of this trek.
10,000 IDR = 1 USD (as of July-2013)
Link to my GPS-track at EveryTrail (also possible to download)