Rinjani at a Glance
Mount Rinjani is the second highest volcano in Indonesia (after Sumatra’s Mount Kerinci) and easily one of the finest and most popular treks in Asia. The volcano complex, previously known as Samalas, is now thought to have been the location of an enormous eruption in 1257 which caused climatic change across the globe (the ‘little ice age’) and left the huge caldera which we see today.
There are several routes through Mount Rinjani National Park (entrance fee 150,000 Rp for foreigners). Most hikers choose to start in the north at Senaru (a village with plenty of accommodation and information on routes) and camp at the crater rim with the most spectacular views over Segara Anak (Child of the Sea Lake) and the active new volcano Gunung Barujari which is about 200 years old. However, Sembalun to the east is the better starting point for hikers wishing to reach the rocky summit.
Rinjani Trekking Activities
The best trek is a 3 days/2 nights hike from Sembalun to Senaru – from the garlic-covered village of Sembalun through the savanna-esque plains and up to the campsite beneath the puncak, visiting the summit at dawn, then the second night either down at the lake or beyond up at the Senaru campsite, before descending to Senaru on the third day. It is possible, however, to head up to the summit from Sembalun and back down the same way. This would only require spending one night camping. Those wishing to visit the smoking cone of Gunung Barujari in addition to the regular Sembalun to Senaru hike are advised to spend an extra night camping at the lake (i.e 4 days / 3 nights).
Should you wish to book a completely guided trekking trip to the summit of Rinjani, then you will easily locate several shops offering fully organized tours in Lombok, including overland transfer, guides, national park entrance fees, tents as well as food. A three-day, two-night trip will cost in a massive variation per person, not including a well-deserved tip for the porters and guides, although prices can be higher for single hikers or couples. Many websites offer advance booking for ‘deluxe’ (slightly more sophisticated food) and ‘standard’ (fried eggs, noodles, potatoes, fruit etc.) packages, but the quality of the service can vary enormously and the prices quoted online are generally rather more expensive than the prices you will find in person in Lombok itself. It is also important to consider what percentage of the payment will actually be set aside for the guides and porters themselves who are often from very poor villages. The fact that you are already paying quite a lot makes one wonder why a tip (or just fair pay) for guides and porters is not already included.
From the new international airport near Praya, hire a car or driver (if required) to take you to the village of Sembalun Lawang (1,000m). It should take between 4 and 5 hours. Once in the village, you need to register at the National Park office (annoyingly located several kilometers further up the road at 1,130m) and obtain permits at a cost of about US$15 per person (usually included in the packages mentioned above). This is $15 well spent, because if you do not return at a given time, then a search and rescue mission will be set up. At the same office guides, porters, camping gear and even food can be arranged. Note that, although you can carry your own bags rather than take porters, you are not allowed to hike alone and must take a guide with you.
The first hour hiking along rolling hills leads through vegetable fields and farming areas near to the bankrupt strawberry and watermelon project, and is the easiest portion of the whole trip. Once the farming area is left behind and a small stream has been crossed, the path follows a 30-year-old project, when during President Suharto’s reign a street was under construction from Sembulan Lawang to the crater lake of Rinjani. Fortunately due to a change in politics, and a lack of funding this project come to an end and was aborted. What was left was handed back to nature, which is gradually taking back its old possessions. However the lucky trekker benefits from many bridges across old lava flows, which makes the path most enjoyable.
There is a short stretch of forest trail at around 1,220m but after that there is very little shade to be found. The second hour continues along rolling hills through grassland. Pos 1 (Pemantuan) has a shelter and is at an elevation 1,425m, but most hikers stop at Pos 2 (Tengengean, 1,510m) for lunch on one of the bridges. Pos 3, Pada Balong, is at 1,770m after which the serious challenge starts. The track gets steeper and steeper and the hike becomes hard and exhausting work.
For the next three hours you will need to work hard to gain altitude and for almost the entire time uphill, you will continuously see a summit which to the disappointment of most hikers turns out to be just another ridge. But then when finally the last ridge is conquered one is rewarded with an absolutely magnificent panorama. The summit of Rinjani lies high above to the left, and directly ahead, 600 metres below, is Segara Anak (Child of the Sea Lake) which offers one of Indonesia’s most spectacular views. The track then leads for 20 minutes along the rim of the crater to the final destination of the day – Sembalun Rim or Plawangan Dua (2,650m) – where camp will be set up for the night. The rim offers plenty of comfortable space for many clusters of tents. When following another path at the far end you will reach a rock face from which crystal clear spring water drizzles. Perfect for a ice cold wash in a sparkling clear mountain spring, and perfect to fill up your empty water bottles.
As with any volcanic climb it is wise to choose your dates with keeping the journey of the moon in mind. As during the dry season most nights are perfectly clear it is best to climb volcanoes when there is a half moon. After 3am the moon is normally at its highest point, and will illuminate the tracks in a way making torchlight almost non-essential.
The first 350 metres after leaving the campsite is rather steep and follows a mostly compact track passing high altitude vegetation, which then gives way to purely volcanic gravel from an altitude of around 3000 meters onwards. The first portion of the track ends on the ridge of the crater (2,970m), offering amazing views in the moonlight of Rinjani high ahead, and the crater rim all around.
The next 400 metres altitude climb is most enjoyable, with a path that slowly gets steeper and steeper, but with a rather compact surface. Obviously being well over 3,000 metres will slow down your overall movements and pace. Once again the ridge offers unforgettable views, and as you get higher and closer to the sunrise, the horizon gradually shows signs of light.
With every step, the summit seemingly gets closer and closer and yet you still have at least one hour to go and three hundred metres of altitude to conquer. For anyone believing that Rinjani is a walk in the park, it could not be further from the truth as the last three hundred metres offer volcano climbing at its purest. The very steep final stage, challenges you with very soft deep sand that does not offer any grip. One step up, ½ step down, one up, two down, and this for a seemingly endless hour. Due to the high altitude you needs to recuperate your breath every 10 metres before getting nearer the top.
At this stage daylight has transformed the entire scene into a totally different mood, as you now can clearly absorb the massiveness of the mountain. The final metres become a race against the clock, and the fast approaching sunrise. Five meters ahead is another rock – suitable for finding some shelter from wind if required – and another corner, from where one can see the next edge, another rock and finally a last turn before passing a final small and narrow ridge to the very top of Indonesian’s second highest volcano.
Colors for the first hour after sunrise are simply stunning and keep changing from minute to minute offering an unlimited amount of picture opportunities. It is at this stage essential to have a change of clothes, a fresh t-shirt and a warm jacket which will protect you from the often very harsh, strong and cold trade winds. Avoid under all circumstances to be on the summit before sunrise, unless you have very good high alpine protecting clothing.
When it is time to descend, follow the same path back downhill to the campsite – this will take less then half the time it took to ascend. It is tempting to slide down the gravel and forget to continue absorbing the magnificent views. The next stage down to the lake itself is less physical but rather technical as the surface can be rather slippery. The first hour of the hike is very steep and slow going. Eventually the track flattens and leads though highland grassland across several ancient overgrown lava flows. After a further hour the lake gradually comes into sight. The dramatic, rugged rim of the volcano encasing and protecting the lake in the centre with Rinjani in the east dropping almost 1700 meters vertically from the summit into the waters of the crater lake.
The lake area (2,000m) is not necessarily the cleanest camp site as often large groups of both Muslim and Hindu pilgrims use this area as a resting point and leave behind large amounts of plastic and other waste. One of the main reasons for the importance of this camp site are the hot springs (Aiq Kalak) that are hidden just ten minutes walk away. To find the spring follow the opening of the lake where the waters overflow, cross the stream twice and then follow the path for a further 200 metres down a very steep hill. Some efforts were made to actually build natural bath tubs keeping the waters of the hot springs in natural ponds to make bathing possible. However they are often filled with algae. Note that the higher hot springs are too hot for most foreigners (and also too dirty). The large pool further down with two miniature waterfalls is a perfect temperature and far cleaner too.
It is actually possible to exit the mountain area by continuing in this direction via Goa Susu (‘milk cave’) to Torean which is over 10 kilometres away and then along the road to Loloan. However this trail is rarely used and very few guides or porters will be familiar with it. Other famous caves in the area include Goa Payung and Goa Manik.
Introduced into the lake during the Suharto era, fish such as carp are plentiful, and are caught by the guides and then offered grilled to the hungry hiker. A bit boney, but then again when in Lombok, eat as the locals do. If you wish to climb the smoky new Gunung Barujari (as known simply as Gunung Baru) in the centered of the lake, then simply follow the lake eastward, which eventually will lead you up the final crater. A round trip will take you at least 4 hours so you may need an extra night on the mountain. It may be closed if there is a lot of volcanic activity. On the foot of the new volcano you will reach hot springs heating a little bay. It is wonderful to swim there or stay overnight. From this point it will take you about one hour to reach the top of this new and still growing smoking center volcano (2,363m).
After leaving the campsite the track follows for a short, slow and bumpy 30 minutes along the lake, and eventually as the path leaves the lake towards the rim, the track starts to gets steeper and the going gets slower and slower. The highest peak up to the right on this side of the caldera is Gunung Sangkareang (2,919m) but fortunately this is not part of the regular trail. Despite the hard work and slow going you are rewarded with spectacular views of the lake and the surrounding mountain. The warm early morning sun continuously transforms the scenery, making it a dramatic natural theatre. After 2 to 2 ½ hours the rim of the volcano is reached making it absolutely essential to stop for a long time and absorb the dramatic views of this volcanic wonderland. This is Senaru Rim, also known as Plawangun Satu, (2,620m), the most popular campsite on Rinjani for all those hiking up from Senaru.
Rinjani and Surrounding Views
From this vantage point you can see in the distance, beyond the three Gili islands, across the ocean, covered in light blue mist Gunung Agung on Bali, and all the way below the coast of Lombok island. This is the very same view that was featured on a former Indonesian RP 10,000 bank note. For most hikers, once this point is reached, the hard work seems to be over, which is a severe misconception as it is still a very long walk downhill to Senaru (580m). For seasoned mountaineers it will take approximately 3 to 3 ½ hours to reach the village of Senaru, and for hikers that are suffering it can be 4 to 6 hours of painful descent.
The first hour drops very steeply though high elevation grassland via a shelter at Cemara Lima (2,480m), and at the same time glorious views of Gunung Agung in the far west, as well as the ocean surrounding Lombok. By mid morning as the sun rises higher and higher, the air gradually gets warmer and warmer, eventually making every step hard work. Once the first hour is behind you, the forest gradually takes over and larger trees offer welcome shade after Pos 3 (Mondokan Lokak, 2,124m).
The well-maintained track gradually loses its steepness and the going gets more comfortable and less strenuous. Despite the hard physical endurance of the last three or four hours there are several resting points along the way including Pos 2 (Montong Satas, 1,560m) near where lutung monkeys are occasionally spotted, Pos Extra (1,240m) and finally Pos 1 (930m). The track leads through virgin forest with various tree species identified by signs bearing their Latin names) ending eventually at the warungs at the forest entrance of the National Park in Senaru (Jebak Gawah, 800m). The journey continues for a final 1.5 km through farming areas, under further entrance gates (580m) into the village of Senaru itself.