Socked In But Carrying On:

Hiking Mount Rinjani

By Haley Littleton

I am rustled out of my flattened sleeping bag from a fitful few hours of sleep at 2am with a headlight into the neon yellow tent that reflects blindingly: time to go, Ms. Haley. Whether it was nerves or sickness, I barely consumed the chicken curry placed in front of me from the night before and am feeling nauseous.

We are slogging our way up the final 2km of Mt. Rinjani and bobbing headlamps flow along the trail: I can see the incline mapped out by lights, and I don’t want it. This final push for the ascent would be manageable if it were scree and boulder fields, but seeing as we are climbing a volcano, the ash sucks my Salomon trail runners under the surface, and they get heavy with gravel. One step forward, two steps back, this is how we will reach the summit.

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I had accounted for the mileage and the incline, but not for the blinding dust that seeped into my lungs. It is 2:30 in the morning, but I have my Buff pulled up over my nose and sunglasses protect my eyes. We are socked into a cloud that hovers over the peak and seeps its way through my Marmot rain jacket and into my skin. My guide, Edi, and I huddle behind a sandstone formation at the top as we wait for a particularly vicious gust to pass. I am cold and tired. We will not see the view when we reach the top, Edi bluntly informs me. Do you want to continue on?

***

Gunning Rinjani is the second largest volcano in Indonesia, and a popular but remote climb. It requires either a flight into the Lombok International Airport followed by a two and a half hour drive through the forest to Sembalun or Senaru, or a boat from Bali and the Gili Islands, and an hour and a half ride up to the villages. Rinjani National Park requires that all tourists climb the route in groups along with a guide and porters to carry food and supplies. The first mile and a half of rolling grasslands, with the summit looming ahead, are deceptively easy until the lunch spot. Dozens of groups huddle around cooking stoves and trekkers suck down noodles in spicy broth. Porters and trekkers hang around the edges exchanging cigarettes and sharing lighters.

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Though I’m alone on my trek because of a travel mishap, I ended up in a group with an Aussie, Brit, another American, and a Singaporean, all of us young and surprisingly fit. Our guide Edi stops along the way to point out plants that are medicinal in Indonesian culture; he has done the climb over 100 times. It is the first trip after the Ramadan break, and we all slog from our heavy lunches to the challenging afternoon climb.

Successions of seven hills wait for us. The last few of which, we are told, are called “the hills of suffering and regret.” While these hills were certainly challenging, lacking switchbacks and a straight up ascent of 65% angles, it was hard to be angered by the hovering fog, lush and velvet greenery, the stories from each of the travelers, and the fact that one of our companions was attempting the climb in Crocks. The camaraderie of the climb made the “hill of regret” one of laughter, gagging over Durian cookies, discussing the recent Brexit and sharing travel tips.

We finally reach the crater rim, our campsite for the evening, and are greeted by a sherbet colored sunset over the opposite ridge and wispy puffs of clouds as we pull damp socks from feet and sip ginger lemon tea.

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As my tent companion and I bury ourselves inside our sleeping bags for the night, we discuss our complicated relationships and the pitfalls and beauties of traveling solo as a female. I am tired but satisfied. Our climb required little technical skills, but heaps of fortitude. I drift to sleep, waiting to be awakened for the summit push.

***

On that foggy morning on top of Rinjani, shrouded in mystery, my climb was not rewarded with the expected reward: a view that I had spent several months dreaming about, salivating over the pictures that would come from it. Do you want to continue on? This question rang through my head as we skirted/skied our way down the ashen chutes, using our trekking poles to balance, back to base camp at the crater rim.

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Continue on? Of course I want to. I hope my hikes are never dependent upon the beauty of the view but the accomplishment of the climb.  Do I wish I could have seen the crater lake from 12,000 feet? Did I slightly curse the peak as I hiked out of the hot, yellowed and rolling grasslands as clouds still hid the summit? Yes and yes.

I hope my hikes are never dependent
upon the beauty of the view,
but the accomplishment of the climb.

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But the conversations and connections created over heavy breathing up those seven, unending hills, made me thankful that I had chosen this remote climb over luxurious beaches. Mt. Rinjani is not for the faint of heart but for those looking for the fullness of the climb.

As I quickly skid down the steep descent, barely avoiding tumbling by the catch of my carbon poles, my porter began to refer to me as “strong girl.” It began to grow on me, and, as we exited off the trail and onto the flatbed of a truck, I was blistered, bruised, sunburned, and satisfied.

Photos by Haley Littleton

Find Haley Littleton on Instagram and read more of her writing on her website.

Do you carry on even when conditions aren’t right?