Outside the tent I can hear muttered Bahasa Indonesian. Lights, headlamps presumably, criss cross scan the walls of our tent for a 2am light show. The summiters are gathering to make the attempt to the 13,000 foot peak of Rinjani. I pull my sleeping bag in close and resume my dreaming sleep.
I wake up pretty easily at 4am. We went to bed at 9, and seven hours is about all I ever need. It’s warmed up a little bit and I can brave the cold to use the bathroom without putting on all the winter clothes we had to bring to sub-tropical Indonesia: fleece, shell, gloves, hat, wool full body underwear. It’s even colder at the summit had we gone.
Looking up into the darkness I can see a line of headlamps Along the ridge of the summit . It’s only a mile away but hours by foot. Some are getting near the top, many straggle behind. Fully rested, I have a few regrets about not attempting the summit. Could I have made it?
The sky is covered in a mist of stars, like one only sees in places with no light pollution. Dawn is still an hour away, and I climb back into the tent to read a little bit before everyone gets up. Lily is the first up. She sleeps like me. Amanda and Emma are the slowest to wake.
Sunrise above the cloud line is a glorious event anywhere. The caldera is still dark to our backs but to the front over the island are orange and blues and yellows. The summiters are not back yet. Having spent three to four hours to get there, they need 1.5 to two to get back. Over breakfast of a not-very-tasty cold fried egg sandwich with lettuce and tomato and a lot of mayonnaise, we compare body conditions. We’re all doing okay, some soreness but not too bad overall.
Mohammad asks me why I didn’t summit, and I don’t have a very good answer. The truth is, I just wanted to play it safe. And the real draw of Rinjani is the crater lake and volcanic activity of the caldera, which is slowly becoming illuminated with morning light. The summit is a trophy, as one Dutch backpacker told us. He’s getting tattoos of every peak he scales on his thigh, low ones closer to the knee and higher ones up the leg.
We see our Irish friends and asked if they made it. He says only half of them got to the peak, the rest turned back. The summiters that morning included a young Japanese girl, maybe 8, which is impressive but she looks pretty beaten. Mohammad gets us packed up and we leave camp early and energetically.
Yeterday’s Rinjani trek took us up the steep side to the east rim of the crater. Today we go down into the crater for the lake and hot springs, and back up the West side of the rim. The third day we will descend the less steep side of the volcano.
The crater walls are pretty steep and we have a bunch of tricky vertical descents. There are some guard rails and cement steps, but most of them were poorly engineered, and they provide little support. It’s hot again, and even with 45 spf sunscreen, I get a little burn on the back of my neck.
We eat some Costco nuts that we brought and a packet of Powergel with caffeine. Lily starts talking a mile a minute: “Anna almost got a dog once but she got a hamster instead and her brother won the soccer tournament so she couldn’t come with us to Six Flags but she can’t eat any dairy products and soy yogurt is gross and once I ate a strawberry granola bar and it made my cheek itchy…” She goes on and on. It’s entertaining.
We have to cross some small ravines as we get to the bed of the caldera heading in the direction of the crater lake. Rinjani exploded first in the Pleistocene era, the last major ice age. It was a sizable eruption, and created most of the existing mountain, but not the crater (called a caldera.) The crater was exposed in the 13th century in what volcanologists believe was the most forceful explosion in the written history of mankind.
The crater was is thousands of feet deep but slowly filled with water. Now it’s the gorgeous lake we approach, by which we’ll eat our lunch. The lake is, unbelievably, almost 600 feet deep and for nearly a millennia it lay undisturbed. Local Hindu and Buddhist tribes would make the trip up the mountain on special holidays to honor the spiritual site. They would bring up cattle to sacrifice and throw gold coins into the deep cold cobalt blue lake.
And then the unthinkable happened. In a moment that would almost have this atheist believe in a god, a new baby volcano erupted nearly exactly in the center of the lake in the late 1800’s. From 600 feet down the lava solidified and grew over a fortnight until it broke the surface. A fucking baby volcano emerged from the womb of the mother mountain! Since then there have been a dozen small eruptions of Gunung Barujari, the last were in 2010 and they shut down trekking for almost an entire season.
The way we came up the mountain, we couldn’t see the baby until now. It’s unreal. Just a mile away is a incredibly young cone, puffing steam. On the island it created in the middle are a some trees near the back side, but most of it is just volcanic rock. We marvel at the beauty of the space – mountain lakes, trees and this little break in the earths crust.
What isn’t beautiful is the trash. It’s really, really bad here by the lakeside. It’s strewn everywhere and in mounds. Mohammad even comes up to us and apologizes. His words are a little rehearsed. This isn’t the first time he has talked about this, and he ends with a positive note I’m not sure he believes “Maybe it’s getting better little by little”. Rudy Trekker does try to carry out their own trash, but they aren’t the only tour operator. Supposedly the local government is collecting money to clean it up, but nothing seems to happen.
If it gets much worse, they will have to create new camps and the trash will just spread. I hope something happens here, because this is too precious to waste. It’s not that hard to carry out trash.
Our cook (also a porter) cleans the wok with a napkin and fires it up for our lunch. We eat noodles with tempeh. Emma eats some plain rice and a bananna. Asia is always hard for her. Pizza and Rice and beans are pretty easy to find elsewhere in the world, but not here.
Adding the the spiritual atmosphere of the caldera lake, is a archipelago of hot spring pools off to the north. The lava is close to the surface here (it erupted only a few years ago) and it heats up water from the lake as it passes through crevices in the ground. We walk three quarters of a mile from the lake through a small marsh covered in a smokey mist. I chase a monkey around trying to get a good photo and look like a fool.
The lower springs are full of trekkers, most of them young twenty somethings from Europe and the U.S. There are a few Japanese and a Chinese family. It’s exquisite. Two high waterfalls dump into a small pond of green, warm water, a comfortable 160 degrees or so. After 36 hours of hard dry, dusty hiking, we are covered in dirt. Our hair is wiry and our fingernails are gross. It’s heaven to be wet.
We swim out to the waterfall and back a few times. The rocks at the edge are covered in slippery moss but the bottom is sandy. Lily sees a guide jump off a high rock on the edge and looks at Emma ‘Wanna jump?” Emma says “you first”, which Lily does. She’s so bold when she wants to be.
Our little 12 year old takes a flying leap off a 10 foot rock into the middle of the steaming pool. Emma sighs, knowing she committed to follow, and jumps herself, slightly more tentatively. The guide boys find an even higher spot and jump off from about 20 feet.
The hike back up the rim is about three hours and is very steep, some of our most vertical hiking of the trek. The final thousand feet require climbing. Again it’s amazing that the porters do it in flip flops.
And then we get the view for which we hiked so hard. Once we are about a thousand feet above the lake, from this side we can see The Gunung Barujari in all it’s glory. The sun is still just high enough in the sky to illuminate the dome and then it lowers below the rim and begins to cover the entire caldera in shade. It’s still sublime even in darkness.
When we get to base camp we arrive just as the sun is setting far to the west. We can see the Gili Islands from here, our next destination. Bali and it’s highest peak is viewable in outline about 100 miles to the West. The camp here is on very hilly terrain.
Tonight’s rest will not be flat, but it’s our last night on the mountain and we don’t care. Our legs are rubber and our smiles are goofy from lack of oxygen and sleep. After noodle soup and tea, we crawl into bed and sleep easily again despite the hard ground and cold air.
We made it. It’s all downhill from here.