This story was originally printed in the West Australian newspaper.
Sometimes Mother Nature is on your side, sometimes she isn’t. And when she isn’t, there’s one thing for sure; it’s a battle you’re not going to win. While trekking up Mt Rinjani on the Indonesian island of Lombok, Mother Nature subjected us to heat, humidity, fog, rain and near cyclonic winds, sometimes all within the space of one hour.
From the minute we laced up our hiking boots, it was obvious Mother Nature wasn’t going to play nice. The first weapon in her arsenal was intense sun coupled with sweat-inducing humidity, which kept us reaching for our water bottles every few minutes.
Our journey had started at the western side of the volcano. The landscape was nothing like I’d expected from the interior of a tropical island, all rolling open meadows and ravines dotted with shrubbery. I later discovered the area is described in the brochures as the place where ‘the flora and fauna of South East Asia meets that of Australasia’. It actually reminded me so much of Australia I wouldn’t have been too surprised if a kangaroo had hopped past, but all we saw as we sat down to lunch were dozens of monkeys who we left to fight over our food scraps.
As we climbed higher, the meadows gave way to dense forest. This was when Mother Nature pulled out her next weapon: rain. The higher we climbed, the heavier it got. As the track began to turn to mud beneath our feet and a thick fog came down around our heads, our stops to try and admire the scenery got fewer and fewer. By the time we trudged into camp eight or so hours later we were soaked to the skin and slightly grumpy.
When Mother Nature finally decided to turn the taps off and clear the fog, we struggled out of our tent to discover we were perched on the edge of the incredibly picturesque crater lake Segara Anak (Child of the Sea).
It was a view worth battling the elements for; the glassy surface of the lake reflected the blackening sky, while off in the distance the fading sun was setting the top of Bali’s revered Mt Agung on fire.
There’s nothing quite like waking up at two o’clock in the morning in the freezing cold and struggling into soaking wet clothes before trudging up a mountain in the pitch black. It’s the kind of thing that every time I do it, I swear it will be the last. Making the journey even more fun was the fact we were trekking in volcanic scree; ground so slippery it was like walking on a treadmill to nowhere. About an hour into it, my travel companion gave it up as a bad joke and decided to sit on a rock and meditate. After briefly considering joining her, I pushed on instead.
Just a few hundred metres from the top, as we were being buffeted by near gale force winds, my guide decided we’d gone far enough. “Too dangerous, fall off” he yelled into my ear. I thought about this for a moment before deciding I hadn’t come all this way just to give up. I told him to wait for me, dug my poles into the scree and continued to struggle towards the top on my own. Maybe, I reasoned, I could have a little chat with Mother Nature, woman to woman. But apparently, she was in no mood for girl talk. And, as my guide had predicted, she almost blew me right off the fairly narrow path. With the top achingly close, I decided the battle against Mother Nature wasn’t one I was willing to risk dying to win. I turned around and sat myself down to admire what has to be one of the most impressive views I’ve seen.
To my left, the crater lake was turning from black to an alluring dark green. Beyond the ridge on the other side of the lake was the ocean; the three Gili islands like stepping stones leading the eye to the majestic Mt Agung.
To my right, the blank canvas of the clouds was being painted a pallet of fabulous colours by the emerging sun.
After snapping as many photos as my frozen hands would allow, I half walked, half skied down the slippery slope back to camp, which was a lot more fun than on the way up!
After grabbing some breakfast, we were soon off again, trekking around the crater lake and down the other side on treacherously rocky ground. After several hours, we came face to face with the lake that had provided such stunning views from the top.
And pleasantly, we also came face to face with some hot springs and took a much needed soak.
After tending to our aching feet, we set off around the lake and up the other side. Mother Nature continued to play with us, pelting us with rain one minute and bringing out the sun the next. At times, the route was so steep we had to climb almost vertical rock faces, pulling ourselves up with our hands. But again, the views from the top made it all worth it as we peered down through the clouds and over the darkening lake before setting up camp for the night.
Thinking the hard work was behind us, I was looking forward to a nice easy trek downhill back to base camp. Not quite. The overnight rain had turned the trail into a mudslide and we nearly ended up tobogganing down on our butts more than once. As we descended, the terrain changed again, this time into dense rainforest, the track strewn with enormous tree roots ready to trip us up.
And with the change in terrain came a change in climate as the humidity once again sapped our energy. As the descent continued, every step became agony as our toes slammed into the end of our boots (maybe we should've followed the example of our guides and done it in thongs!). After eight or so torturous hours, we finally made it to the bottom; muddy, wet, hot and windburnt.
But, as we dragged our exhausted selves into the waiting car, we both agreed; Mother Nature may not have been on our side, but she still put on one hell of a show.
Notes: Rinjani spent a few months erupting in 2015 and all trekking ceased. As of December 2015, the Rinjani National Park was open for trekking. The best time to trek Rinjani is between May and August when the weather is drier, but it is hot. See www.rinjaninationalpark.com for details.
While it's unlikely you'll fall into an active volcano, you may still want to consider taking out travel insurance. For this trip, we used Australian based insurer FastCover, and you can get a quote for a policy here: https://fastcover.com.au/ref?id=Wafaraway