To the unacquainted, volcano climbing in the Indonesian archipelago might seem a little dumb, but in reality there’s only so much tanning and partying you can handle before you get the itch to do something a little more challenging. Having done my homework, I’d come to the conclusion that Mount Bromo on Java was a glorified tourist trap, and the two hour climb offered by Mount Batur on Bali wouldn’t really scratch my hiking itch. So I decided on Mount Rinjani on Lombok, a treacherous three day hike, to be completed before passing out on the neighbouring Gili islands.

Lombok is just a couple of hours east of Bali by speedboat, and a lot more chilled. Truth be told, I think this is the Indonesia a lot of people are seeking when they head to Bali, but miss as they remain too glued to the buzzwords and trodden paths. Many make it as far as the Gilis, three small islands just off Lombok’s northwest coast, but venturing further out is certainly worth the trip; there’s excellent surf and beaches, untouched villages and countryside, and – of course – a massive looming volcano to be climbed. Some would argue that Balinese hospitality is unrivalled, and appears to dissipate quite quickly as you move away from the island, but I didn’t find this to be the case at all. After sparking up a conversation with a couple of Polish medics on the boat over

“if you’re heading to the archipelago be sure to make conquering Rinjani a top priority.”

from Bali we headed to book the tour and retired early ahead of a 4am start.

The first day was a somewhat forgiving seven hour stroll, partly down to the stretch being non-technical, but mostly down to us being well rested, having exerted no energy over the days leading up to the trip. It’s mostly gentle incline through meadows and forest until the last couple of hours up to the crater rim, which is slightly steeper incline but still perfectly doable. Here we set up camp for the night, indulging in tasty food by a roaring campfire, soaking in the views of the gorgeous crater lake below over a tasty sunset. I’ll admit that from here the summit looked pretty close, and as the day had been almost too easy, I heavily underestimated what was yet to come.

After a solid eight hours sleep it was 2am, and so we began to work towards the summit in time for sunrise. To describe this final stretch will still do it no justice: despite being only 3800 metres, I’d say it rivalled the 6200 metre Huayna Potosi climb I completed in Bolivia last year. The stretch to the summit from the crater rim is essentially a massive volcanic sand dune; for every three steps you take up, you side back down two, a disheartening state of affairs lasting three to four hours. In any case, the eventual views are worth it, as you’re rewarded with epic panoramas on both sides – Bali

“Adding an extra night to the trip was certainly as much of a highlight…”

and the Gilis behind the crater lake to the west, and a scorching sun rising over Sumbawa to the east.

Following the summit is the gleeful skip back down to the crater rim camp. From here it’s possible to bail, but we opted to venture inside the crater rim, adding an extra night to the trip that was certainly as much of a highlight as the summit itself. After three tough hours downhill, we eventually reached the ethereal lake that had caught our attention since we first made it to the rim on the previous day. This was the perfect place to camp, as behind the lake were some picturesque hot springs, ideal for chilling after nine hours of hard graft.

The final day involves climbing back out of the crater and heading down the other side, continuing along a different path to avoid any route repeating. It’s a tolerable eight hours that pass by fairly quickly, assuming you’re still running on the high from having managed to summit. Finishing up puts you in the perfect spot to carry on to Lombok’s famed Senaru waterfalls, where you can kick back and relax. Alternatively, you could head hop on a boat to another island to sink a few beers and revel in the fact that you survived, which is what I did. It certainly scratched my hiking itch and also helped to keep the Bintang-induced beer belly at bay; if you’re heading to the archipelago be sure to make conquering Mount Rinjani a top priority.

Rinjani Trekking Club – Lombok’s hiking specialists

When I first docked in Lombok I went to have a chat with Mr Ronie and the gang at Rinjani Trekking Club (RTC), whom several sources had told me were highly reputable. I’d stress that this is the most important step that you want to get right; you need a reputable agency with knowledgeable guides, reliable equipment, and decent food to keep your energy levels high. RTC has all three. Furthermore, they are – to my knowledge – the only organisation on Lombok dedicated to conservation work, organising sustainable hikes and also cleaning up after less environmentally-conscious groups along the way.

They’ll also give you options when it comes to crafting your route. If you’re opting to go to the summit, which I’d strongly suggest, then you’ll want to take the route outlined above: commencing in Sembalun and finishing in Senaru. The great thing about this route is that it’s so well structured; you get the summit out of the way while your energy levels are high, get to camp at the crater lake (not possible otherwise), and finish at some serene waterfalls rather than arid savannah. Hiking with RTC certainly made this experience; their professionalism coupled with their ethical approach to hiking makes them the obvious choice for your hike up Mount Rinjani.

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