Climbing volcano at night – Part 2

Volcano climb

It was the second day of our adventure to the top of the mount Rinjani volcano in Indonesia. Read the first part of the journey here.

Day 2 (Summit day): 3.5km climb, 7.5km descent

My alarm rang at 2am that night. At 2:05, while I was still trying to figure out where am I with the help of the backlight on my watch, my guide was already waiting for me with toasts and hot tea for breakfast. That is what I call customer service.

Surprisingly, my legs almost weren’t sore from 8 hours of hiking and climbing the day before.

I looked outside and saw something that I imagined is only possible in books or movies. Clear dark skies full of stars (there is no pollution on small islands, so you can see literally everything). Full moon is reflected in the lake several kilometers below me and the silhouette of the crater rim in front of me.

No camera could capture the divine beauty of the moment, so I took my small tea party outside for a quick breakfast with the best view.

Our plan was to set off for the summit at 2:45am equipped with headlamps and minimum in our backpacks. I did not take any pictures during the ascent, as it was almost complete darkness (except for the moonlight and the light from our headlamps), so all pictures are taken on the way down.

From how the mountain appeared the evening before, I expected there would be a steep climb in the beginning to get to the ridge that leads to the summit. The ridge looked somewhat horizontal to me (with an exception at the end when it looked very steep), so I figured that part should be easy.

I’m not the one to tell you how expectations work… But still, reality is usually completely different to what you expect and this story is not about exceptions to this rule. To my surprise the first leg turned out to be relatively easy and took only an hour to climb (not as bad as I had imagined it).

As it often is, all the fun lies ahead. Motivated by this success I carried out the journey only to realize several hundred steps later that the “horizontal” ridge is not as horizontal as I’ve imagined.

As you can see, it’s not that flat after all…

volcano ridge
volcano ridge

Couple of hours later, in the best place possible my body tells me it’s time for a nature break. Not the best place to have the urge (with no bushes around, of course), but what can you do…
With steep edges around (like in the first picture) there were not many options to choose from. So there I was, at the edge of the path, enjoying the best life can offer – peeing into the darkness.

I remembered the place quite vividly (you don’t get many experience like this) and took a photo of it on the way back.

Kristine stands on the edge of the volcano ridge
Kristine stands on the edge of the volcano ridge

It took us around 3 hours on this “highway” to get to the last and the steepest part of the ascent – the volcanic dust treadmill.

I call it a treadmill because that’s what it was – you make 2 steps forward and slide 1 step back due to the steepness and the softness of the surface. It was quite tough both mentally and physically. You can already see the summit and people there, yet at the same time the dust under your legs does not cooperate and only slides you back.

Volcanic treadmill
Volcanic treadmill

Finally, shortly after sunrise we’ve made it to the top and could finally enjoy the view everybody was speaking about. It was definitely worth all the effort spent (little that I knew what will it cost me to descent back).

I could see everything – the crater, the ridge, the village I came from, the ocean, our camp. Even the volcano on the neighboring island of Bali nearby.

The view from the summit at 3726 meters
The view from the summit at 3726 meters

20 minutes and tons of pictures & video later it was the time to get moving – hot lunch was awaiting us back in the camp.

Before leaving the camp at night, I asked the guide if I should take some water from him, so that he isn’t carrying it all by himself. In the end, I was much bigger than him and it would be easier for me. The response was “No, it’s ok”. So at the top of the mountain, when I ask the guide for additional bottle, he gives me a bottle and says “that’s the last one”. Not good news.

It took us around 5 hours to get to the summit from the camp and I estimated that it would be around 3 to come back. But without water and under the tropical sun your energy levels drain quicker than you can imagine. In the end, it took the same 5 hours to come back and I was glad I didn’t collapse on the way back.

In a normal situation, after 5 hours of any activity you will already feel thirsty. I cannot even put in words what kind of thirst you feel during a hike, in the heat, at 3000 meters above sea level. I will not go into details of what I was thinking about during all 5 hours of the descent, I’ll just say that most of them were about the beauty of civilization and how lucky are people who have access to water at any time.

What kept me going were thoughts of a good lunch, M&Ms that I had in my backpack and awesome views that we passed.

Vegetation along the way
We were not in the mood to appreciate flora and fauna along the way

It was hard, but all ended well. We were back in the camp with water and food. I decided it was time for siesta and passed out after lunch in the tent for a couple of hours.

Life regained its balance and has taught me an important lesson in economics & planning.

Regaining energy back at the camp
Regaining energy back at the camp

With water in hand the descent further went much smoother and at the end of the day we’ve descended to approximately 1500m above sea level where we stopped for the second night. You see the long ridge going to the right side from the summit on the picture below? From where I was looking at it the day before it was at least twice more horizontal.

That evening I kept snapping pictures of where I’ve descended from and reliving last couple of days in my mind.

a view of the mount Rinjani volcano from the bottom
a view of the mount Rinjani volcano from the bottom

Day 3: 6km descent

We still had to hike 2 hours to get to the village where the pickup truck was waiting for us. Most of the road the air was covered in clouds and mist, making it easier to walk and breathe. That was an easy hike, as there was no sun and no more pressure.

The same tree we passed on the way up, but covered in clouds
The same tree we passed on the way up, but covered in clouds

Once we were back, I thanked and tipped my guide and porters for great support and service (a good practice in such journeys) and enjoyed the 3 hour ride to the airport.

Now it was time to take some rest and unwind. Bali, surfing and lots of massage were only things on my mind at that point and it was the perfect next step to take.

To sum up, tour guides say it’s an easy climb. However, I would like to emphasize that it is almost 30km to be covered in 3 days (with first 15km covered in basically 24 hours). Before going it’s very worth to consider such things as tropical heat, humidity, long distance and, of course, lots of climbing. I consider myself quite fit, but in the end my legs felt like spaghetti.

Having said all of that, if you have the sense of adventure to keep you going, what else do you need?

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