“Good luck,” was the unanimous greeting of each deflated passerby, as I set off along the track to the summit of Mount Rinjani.
Despite being the second highest volcano in Indonesia – overwhelmingly described as a difficult trek – hundreds of tourists decide to take on the climb each day. Many of whom, myself included, are unprepared for it.
With a fresh group of friends to keep me entertained and the promise of incredible views within a few hours, I began in high spirits. The walk begins easily enough, but gradually the solid flat ground is replaced with dust-covered volcanic soil. It dances beneath your feet, begging you to fall each time you tentatively make a move. Rocks jolt out at each angle, awaiting a slip. But a challenge is what I wanted, so I put my head down and gladly endured the eight-hour hike.
Before I settled down for an early night I lorded over the clouds while sitting on the edge of the crater, slowly watching the sun sink through the veil they created. I looked in awe at the night sky, full of more stars than I’d ever seen before, glimmering delicately in the overwhelming darkness of the universe.
At 2am I was awoken by a porter, the unsung heroes of Rinjani, who sounded alert and happy despite the lack of sleep, after carrying our group’s food, water and shelter the whole way. Their graciousness and physical ability never failed to astound me, as I bemoaned taking on the gruelling assault of the mountain once, while they do it twice a week.
With a flashlight long passed its best, after a few minutes of mental preparation, I exited the tent. I wasn’t quite aware it could even get as cold as it was in Lombok. The chill hit a stark contrast to the sweaty heat of the day before, where I’d trudged shirtless for the first ascent.
“You’ll go one step forward and two back,” said our guides, though it felt worse than that. Constantly on a 45-degree incline, the slope felt endless. The higher the altitude, the lower the temperature. It wasn’t long until my feet and hands were in constant pain, from the chill and from falling over.
Dejected, exhausted, thoroughly humbled, I was ready to quit when I was told we had an hour left. Blowing against my palms and rubbing them with all my might did nothing for the stinging in my fingers. Jogging on the spot and bending my toes did nothing to get some heat into my shoes.
I stood with my head in my hands, seemingly with no option but to wait for the sun to warm me up. It was then I had the one solitary thought which pushed me to the summit, “I’m colder if I stop.” In a clumsy canter I began to shuffle to the peak, fighting against the gravel by ceaselessly moving.
I can hardly say I felt jubilant when I reached the top. I can hardly say I felt anything but the steady ache of my body. That is, until the sun emerged. Though it was the same one as always, that morning it felt brand new. I hadn’t before appreciated the warmth it emanates the instant it peaks over the horizon. Sitting there with the others who made it, pride began to set in, as I realised how easy to give in to nature it would have been.
There at 3726m above the sea, I appreciated the onset of the morning in a way I never had before. The soothing rays of heat, the spectrum of colours across the sky, the magnitude of a wonder I so often take for granted. A welcome reward and an overwhelming spectacle, much appreciated after a hard fought battle.
Words by Jacob Jarvis