Climbing and summiting Mount Rinjani was, above all else, a test of mental strength.
Years prior to this trip, I had summited Mount Kinabalu, which stands at 4095 metres above sea level. Little did I know that climbing and summiting Mount Rinjani – which stands shorter at 3726 metres above sea level – would turn out to be much more challenging by far.
My husband Haider and I opted for a ‘4 days 3 nights’ trekking package from Reza Trekker based on its positive reviews online. We booked the most relaxing and scenic package, which involved camping along the Senaru and Sembalun crater rims. We had heard from friends that the terrain would be rough, and I wanted to go as easy on my knees (aka weak spots) as possible. More able-bodied, gung-ho trekkers would have gone for a faster trek instead, for either 3 days 2 nights or even 2 days 1 night.
The hike through the forest undergrowth wasn’t overly challenging on the first day. Our guide slash DJ extraordinaire, Herman, found strawberi hutan (jungle strawberries) in the bushes for us to snack on along the trail.
Meanwhile, our two porters, Hanafi and Sutra, forged ahead with our food, water, and camping materials balanced on the ends of thick bamboo poles. They seemed unfazed by the sheer weight on their heavily muscled shoulders, which looked disproportionate on their lean frames. I marvelled at how sure-footed Herman and our two porters were in their dusty flip-flops, as they skipped over tree roots and jagged rocks, while we resembled clumsy penguins in our expensive hiking shoes. When we stopped for lunch at one of the trekking posts (POS 2), Hanafi and Sutra were already there, ready to start lunch.
As I breathed in the misty mountain air and the smell of our lunch cooking, I couldn’t help but notice empty plastic bottles and other unfortunate indications of human presence strewn about on the ground. As we settled down for lunch, wild monkeys and a stray dog fought over a bag of probable food waste that had been thrown into a makeshift garbage can.
“Long ago, Rinjani was cleaner because we used wood to cook… but now we use stoves. Irresponsible people discard their gas cans and rubbish all over the place,” Jamal Udin, owner of trekking company Reza Trekker, informed me, when I asked him about this state of affairs over the Internet, 9 months after the trek. “It doesn’t look good on us.”
Aside from my group, there were about 16 other trekkers, porters and guides who had stopped for lunch too. According to SaveRinjani.com, every day, over 200 people trek on Mount Rinjani. Furthermore, only a handful out of the 100+ trekking guides services available clean up after themselves. In 2016, a clean-up crew consisting of over 500 volunteers had managed to collect 1.4 tons of trash from the mountain. 1 ton of that was made up of plastic trash, while 400 kilograms was made up of organic litter.
“Taman Nasional Gunung Rinjani (TNGR) are the authorities in charge of the mountain, but they only send a clean-up crew up here once every three months. The mountain needs cleaning at least once a week,” Jamal says. “We pay our porters to bring all our garbage back, but there are only a few companies who care enough to do that.”
After lunch, we were ready to gear up and move on. I observed as Sutra collected all the trash from our meal in a plastic bag and loaded it into his basket. We continued trekking, and by sunset, we made it to our camping site along Senaru crater rim.
WHY SHOULD WE CARE?
Waking up to the view of a smoking volcano in the centre of a crater lake the next morning was truly something else. It was a good thing we took plenty of photos, because we couldn’t linger too long: Our day’s plans included making our way down the Senaru crater rim to the lake, and then up the Sembalun crater rim on the other side where we would make camp before summiting.
As the day wore on, my knees were starting to twinge despite the supports I was wearing. Haider too had to keep stopping to rest because of an old foot injury acting up. We came across a couple of fit, Singaporean men who were making their way down the mountain after failing to summit.
It was then that my blood ran cold… but then I was feeling cold anyway because it had rained on us a couple of times by this point. Truly though, I wondered, what the heck I was getting myself into. If they couldn’t summit Mount Rinjani, then could I really?
I banished the fear from my mind and pressed on. Summiting would be okay as long as I did not entertain the notion of giving up, and took things one small step at a time.
It was dark when we arrived at our campsite. Our head torches lit the way to our tents, which our fleet-footed porters had already set up. After a warm dinner, we went to sleep to rest ourselves before attempting the summit.
EVERY STEP COUNTS
After a light breakfast and putting on our gear, we began our journey at 2.15am. Herman wanted us to have a slightly earlier start than normal, just in case. I knew that it was time to get serious when he put on a pair of trainers. The terrain turned out to be extremely steep and sandy. Every step of our shoes sank in deep. Many times, I felt like my knees had had enough. I kept stopping to rest. Haider reminded me to go at my own pace, no matter how many people passed me by. Eventually, I passed them by too. I felt like the tortoise in the old fable of ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’.
After an arduous journey, we reached the summit. I could hardly believe that we had made it. We savoured the view for as long as we could, and took several photos as evidence of our achievement. The satisfaction in that moment was worth losing all my ten toenails for a few days later.
“My company helps by cleaning up Rinjani once a month. We send 10 porters to do it over about 4 days,” says Jamal. “If all companies did that, we wouldn’t need help from TNGR.”
As we made our way down the mountain, Herman continued to be a patient and excellent guide. The climb downward was excruciating, as anyone with knee injuries can attest to. It also rained heavily as we descended the steep terrain of rocks and roots, which certainly did not help. Hanafi and Sutra faithfully continued carrying all of our heavy equipment, and every bit of our rubbish, with them.
“At the end of the day, I can only say… Please love my mountain like you love yourself.”
-Jamal Udin, owner of Reza Trekker
We finally reached the end of our journey down Mount Rinjani without incident. We certainly could not have done it without the amazing support of Herman, Hanafi, Sutra and Jamal of Reza Trekker. They do what they do with enthusiasm, without complaint, and with such amazing respect for nature, which some others in their place have exploited and taken for granted.
The issue of pollution on Mount Rinjani is one that can be solved neither easily nor quickly. It is a partially systematic problem, which is interwoven in the politics surrounding the people involved with the mountain. But I believe that it can be eradicated with small, consistent steps, and by not giving up in the face of adversity – the same way that one can climb a mountain.