Mt Rinjani, a towering pyramid of rock that at sunrise casts a triangular shadow across the Segara Anak lake that fills the caldera and it’s little offspring, Gunung Barujari. Believed to have been created during the biggest eruption of the 13th century the caldera and its mountains are a masterpiece created well before the great European artists.
Andrés and I waited in Senggigi for Carlos to arrive from the southern beaches and we left around 12.30pm. It took about 2 hours to reach Senaru village by private car. The trip can be done for 300,000IDR and maybe less if you can go by bemo and then find a way from the coastal road up to Senaru.
We were dropped at Rinjani Base Camp where we tried to negotiate a package with just a guide. I had a tent that could fit the three of us and I feel a bit strange about paying porters to carry something I’m perfectly capable of carrying. Sure, maybe it gives them a job and money, but it feels a little too much like slave labour and typically they carry ridiculously heavy loads. I don’t understand why companies don’t keep gear on the mountain when there are tours leaving every day.
They wanted 1,000,000IDR just for a guide for two days which didn’t make any sense. We assumed the agency was taking a 50% cut and left to find other companies. The next company we spoke to was the same again. Like in Senggigi, we were told the rangers would not let us go without a guide. No fear-mongering this time about of arrest and deportation this time, but lies nonetheless.
Then we found an older guy who told us he was a guide. I had read to be wary that everyone in Senaru claims to be a guide and we were right to be wary. The guy didn’t seem to know what he was talking about. First the price was 500,000IDR, then it was 700,000IDR because we had to pay for his food and cigarettes. His cigarettes? Seriously? I don’t mind paying for his food, but there’s no way I’m paying to support that dirty habit. He was very non-commital and so we left to go do the waterfalls.
You’ll want to wear sandals or be prepared to take your shoes off for some river crossings. There isn’t a way around it if you want to see Tiu Kelep falls which are by far the most impressive. Don’t bother with a guide, you can’t get lost. Just pay the 10,000IDR entrance fee and follow the paths. It takes about 10 minutes to Sending Gile and maybe 25 minutes more to Tiu Kelep.
After the falls we went to look for the guide again, but he was gone and frankly we didn’t care that much. We decided to just grab some dinner and try our luck in the morning going without a guide.
Food is about double normal prices in Senaru warungs. After dinner Andrés managed to hire a sleeping bag and a mat for just 50,000IDR and we were ready to go.
You’d think accommodation would be expensive too, and it was at some places (up to 500,000IDR, but at Rinjani Base Camp we got a queen room for 250,000IDR and Carlos just slept on a mat on the floor. He slept on the streets of Japan for a few months during his trip so it was no real concern for him. I’ve never met such a die hard backpacker. He travels with a 4kg backpack and that includes his mat and sleeping bag?!
Day 1 – Senaru to Crater Rim
7.5hrs, approx 8km, 2000m ascent (from park office)
Around 8am the next morning we set off with a banana pancake in our stomachs and up the road towards the park entry point. It wasn’t obvious until the return trip but it was about 2kms up the road from our guesthouse.
At the park office we paid the 150,000IDR entry fee and not a word was said about a guide. No threat of arrest or deportation. They didn’t even try to talk us into getting a guide at all. They just handed us the waiver form and wished us well.
So for the next 7 hours it was up, and up, and up, and up some more. During the day clouds linger on the mountain side creating some nice shade. Dozens of porters were going up and down carrying big loads tied to bamboo poles. I thought Carlos was crazy for doing the trek in sandals, but the porters do it in flip flops! There must have been more porters than tourists.
Many guides coming down the mountain stopped to ask if we were alone. They genuinely cared I think, but I find it so strange that everyone is shocked that we carried our own things and navigated for ourselves. It’s not like the track was unclear, but in Australia and New Zealand that’s just how we do it.
The guides were all quite young and spoke good English which made me again question the credibility of the guy we spoke to last night.
It rained, but never for long periods. It was never worth taking out the rain jacket.
Scores of tourists marched happily down the mountain while we and the porters trudged along.
By about 3.30pm we reached the crater rim camping area. It was pretty filthy. Rubbish everywhere, toilet paper and human poo strewn about the grass. Now I understand the work that goes into our national parks back home, but maybe it’s also a cultural thing. On the way up I’d seen several porters and guides toss cigarette butts onto the track. It’s really sad to see the place treated like that, but such is Asia.
We picked a high vantage point that didn’t smell like a toilet and setup our tent. The crater was filled with cloud. Mt Rinjani was cloaked and invisible. We wouldn’t see her until 1am that night so in the meantime we had dinner and a few well earned swigs of whisky.
Day 2 – Crater Rim to Hot Springs to Crater Rim to Senaru
11hrs, approx 13km, 600m ascent, 2,600m descent (to park office)
Needless to say when you camp in a spot like that, dawn and sunrise was spectacular!
In the end we didn’t actually climb Mt Rinjani as that would have required an extra day. I think it would definitely have been doable without a guide too, but sometimes the highest point is not the best vantage point. Why climb the Empire State Building to see the view when this iconic symbol of New York should actually be the subject of your photo?
Instead, at about 7.15am we descended to the lake and the hot springs 600m below us. The path was treacherously steep at points and the hand rails were shonkey and couldn’t always be relied upon. Nothing that getting your hands dirty can’t fix though.
Huge groups of package tourists were climbing up and out from the crater. Hilariously we passed several of them later that afternoon on the way out despite their 3 hour headstart and us carrying all of our gear.
Arriving just before 9am, it took about an hour and a half to get down to the hot springs. To find the hot springs, walk along the lake until a rock face prevents you from walking around the edge. Then turn left and cross the campsites and head towards the opening in the crater wall. Water flows out of the lake here and into the hot springs. Don’t drink the water!
The temperature of the water was about as hot as Zao Onsen in Japan. Probably over 40C and requiring a little getting used to. Too hot for Carlos unfortunately!
Andrés managed to find a fresh water spring somewhere off to the left of the hot springs and filled up our water bottles. Generally, if we asked a guide for help they’d point us in the right direction.
Afterwards we headed back to the lake which had some rubbish in it, but not so bad. We walked well away from the campsites before going for a swim. It was much colder here than in the hot springs!
From here it was just a grueling slog back the way we came. We left the lake at 10.45am, arrived at the crater rim again at 12.30pm, Jebak Gawah at 5.30pm and finally the hotel at 6.15pm.
Victory was sweet!
I think we all rationed the food pretty tightly, especially Carlos who practically didn’t eat on the last day! I have no idea how he sustained himself, but afterwards we all pigged out at Rifka Cafe just down the road from the guesthouse.
So there you go. Mt Rinjani, without a tour, without a guide and with all expenses only about 750,000IDR. Plus the satisfaction of doing it yourself. If you actually want to climb Mt Rinjani you could add the extra day or do a 2D/1N trip from Sembalun Lawang. If you want to save more money on accommodation you can also camp around POS1 and POS Extra on the way up.