Our Rinjani Trekking mini series:Extra: How to choose a reliable trekking Company
Despite we went to sleep just a few hours earlier and the night was still not over, with our limbs not yet recovered from the effort of the previous day, at 1:30 am it was already time to wake up to climb to the summit of Rinjani Volcano. As soon as we exited our tent we were surprised to see that a river of flashlights was already guiding the climbers and filling up the path to the top!
Hiking at night towards the summit of Gunung Rinjani with hundreds of other climbers
We had a long day in front of us, or maybe better to still call it night! The first hours of the climb were tremendous, but not for the difficulty itself. There were many switchbacks one after the other, but the path was so busy with trekkers that we were literally stuck. A quite hilarious situation.
If you have an idea of what it means to be stuck in a traffic jam with no possibility to move back or forth, then convert it to the conditions of a trekking, and you got what was the situation like. The trail was so crowded that we had to stand still for long time in between each hairpin curve waiting for the line to move a little bit. It felt like being in the main shopping street before Christmas, something that we were definitely not expecting to experience here.
We accumulated a big delay and after some hours spent in this mess, eventually the situation improved: we had some space and air to breath when people started to thin out and the road became more accessible.
It was clear that most of those climbers wouldn't have made it in time to see the sunrise from the top of Rinjani. So left aside the frustration and the little sleep, I gathered my little energy left and decided to push on the accelerator, leaving Oti and our guide on the back while continuing on my own and doing my best to reach the “Puncak” in time.
It wasn't easy since the trail was quite steep and totally covered in ash and volcanic gravel, so slippery that when you were climbing for a few steps, it was taking you back half of the way. We were already accustomed to this conditions after having climbed Gunung Merapi in Java, but it wasn't an easy job.
The sun was still below the horizon, but the first lights were starting to light up the landscape, revealing dramatic contrast of amazing beauty, with exhausted hikers sleeping on the bare ground and melting with this surrealistic picture.
Not all the people that start the night trek, make it to the top, I don't have any statistics, but I would say that quite a lot of them give up before reaching the summit.
It's not at all a difficult or technical hike, it's just extenuating. The road was always well visible and large enough, but really slippery and totally covered in ashes and gravel from the volcano.
A strong, cold wind would blow from time to time, leaving as only shelter to the intrepid hikers some rocky ledges that were greedily taken when available.
The view was incredible, with the Lake Segara Anak and Mount Baru Jani on one side continuously changing perspective, and a thick crust cut by deep dry wounds on the other side. In between a long series of climbers aligned as a caravan in the desert.
But I had no time to properly stop and enjoy the show, otherwise I wouldn't have made it in time for the sunrise: just a few glimpses and some moments for hysteric camera clicks before throwing forward one more step.
Reaching the summit and enjoying a freezing sunrise
At 5:18am I made it finally to the summit, just in time before the sunrise would begin.
I had the time to find a place in between the crowded plateau at the top before the sun would appear at the horizon at 5:22 am!
It was a long tiring struggle but it was worth the effort, in particular for my ego and expectations. But if reaching the summit before sunrise is a priority for you, we would suggest to leave as early as possible!
Twenty minutes later also Oti made it to the top: she had her first ray of light along the way, but she was still part of the minority that made it to the top! What a great result! And it was the highest altitude she has ever reached.
The view from the top was amazing with the clouds covering everything like a thick carpet, pointy spikes emerging from the ground all around, Gunung Agung, the highest mountain in Bali, visible over the horizon, popular Gili Islands on one side and Segara Anak Lake and Mount Baru Jani at the bottom. Basically you could have a total view of Lombok Island from its highest point, Mount Rinjani with the sea all around.
The sun rising and reflecting over the clouds, was creating nice silhouettes of the trekkers against the pinkish atmosphere giving me good opportunities for some snaps. If it wasn't clear that the trail was really dusty, you can have the confirmation from the multitude of dust in my camera lens!
Was it worth the effort?
As impressive as it might sound we have to admit that the view from the ridge where we were camping was no less impressive than the one from the top. So if you think that you cannot make it, or you are short in time or money, we would say that a hike to the ridge of the crater and to the lake is still definitely worth it! For an even better sight from the rim hike a short while toward the top where you can have a similar panorama to the summit, with Lake Segara Anak and Mount Baru Jani smoking.
It's a slightly different point of view, but higher doesn't always mean better. And consider that after the sun is rising completely and casting its rays over the landscape, the contrast becomes quite high making it more difficult to enjoy the view and take photos because of the glare. So it might be better to enjoy an amazing view at the ridge than missing the best one at the summit!
Reaching the top is more about the challenge and your ego, and taking the not to be missed selfie with the 3726 meters over the sea level sign. While for me the height was a relative thing, since I reached over 5400 meter in the Himalaya, that was the highest point ever reached by Oti and probably by many of our fellow hikers, so definitely a memorable experience!
Our way back running down in Mount Rinjani
The temperature was quite cold at the summit and when the wind was blowing we were almost freezing. After enjoying every minute of our stay and shot every imaginable picture, we decided that we did store enough cold for the following days and we started to go back down around 7:15 a.m., after almost 2 hours spent on top.
The way down was much easier and faster, and we could literally run for big portions of it, stopping whenever we felt like to enjoy the several viewpoints along the way. Unlike the way up, now we had no time pressure and we could stare at the steep slopes of the volcano and its surroundings in total relax.
At the same time several inexorable hikers were still trying to reach the top. Signs of tiredness and extenuation made the landscape more and more dramatic. It looked like a fight for survival in an unwelcoming environment, with every stone becoming a temporary home for homeless trekkers searching for protection from the wind.
In some sections the passage of the multitude of people carved channels in the soft layer of ashes resembling canyons.
The road was so dusty that we would definitely advice to take a face mask or a scarf with you, and try to leave some distance from the trekkers in front. You better don't want to bring back home the ashes of Rinjani in your lungs as a souvenir!
As the altitude was decreasing, the vegetation was starting to reappear, and with it also the local fauna could find an appropriate environment to call home. We were surprised to spot several groups of monkeys in this dry lunar landscape!
At 9am we were back at the camping place over the ridge, with a total time from the top of less than two hours including stops and photos. We were tired but satisfied after having made it to the summit of Mount Rinjani, but already looking forward to hike further down to the lake and spend some time relaxing at the pools with natural warm water coming directly from the volcano. A deserved prize for our effort!