Trekking Mount Rinjani
Mount Rinjani is an active volcano located on the Indonesian island of Lombok. A trek to the top of the 3,726-meter peak gives trekkers awesome views of the surrounding islands, including Bali and the three Gili islands, as well as of the lake and new caldera that occupy the floor of the peak’s massive crater.
Contrary to popular opinion, the hike is easily done without a guide. Here’s how.
The typical route around Rinjani follows a three-day, two-night itinerary that takes hikers to the top of Indonesia’s second highest volcano. Guide agencies offer tours going both east-to-west and west-to-east. I recommend the former because it allows for a more gradual ascent to the summit and provides an extra day of acclimatization.
Going that direction, the trail begins in the small village of Senaru (which has no ATMs or useable wifi), climbs to the first night’s camp on the crater rim, descends to the massive lake that occupies the majority of the crater floor before climbing again to the second night’s camp on the opposing rim, where the trail forks with one direction leading up toward the summit and the other leading to the trail’s end in Sembalun.
Here’s a list of approximate hiking times and elevations for the major points along the trail:
- Senaru – 600m
- POS I – 1 hour; 1,100m
- POS II – 2 hours; 1,500m
- POS III – 2 hours; 2,000m
- Senaru Rim Camp – 2.5 hours; 2,641m
- Lake Camp – 2 hours; 2,100m
- Sembalun Rim Camp – 3.5 hours; 2,639m
- Gunung Rinjani Summit – 5 hours (return); 3,726m
- POS III – 1 hour; 1,800m
- POS II – 1 hour; 1,500m
- POS I – 20 minutes; 1,300m
- Sembalun – 1 hour, 40 minutes; 1,156m
Maps and Guidebooks
The only maps for the Rinjani trek when I was on Lombok were poster-sized affairs hanging from the walls of the guide agencies. Supposedly, small paper maps are available from the Rinjani Trekking Center (located at the end of the paved road at the top of Senaru, just below the trailhead), but none were available when we were there.
Most people travel to Lombok from Bali. Horror stories abound about the public ferry, or “slow boat,” to the island and as a result most people take a “fast boat.” In my experience, the slow boat was much less painful than advertised. Costing a mere 44,000 Rupiah (about $3.50), the ferries leave hourly from the harbor at Padang Bai and take around 5 hours to complete the crossing to Lombok’s main harbor at Lembar. If you’re in a hurry, a fast boast will get you there in around 1.5-2 hours at a price of 250,000 and up.
Two more tips for for those adventurous souls willing travel like a local on the ferry: 1) Buy your ticket directly from the Indonesia Ferry ticket office in Padang Bai, and 2) be sure your driver actually takes you to the ferry office. Despite numerous admonitions that we wanted to go to the ferry, our driver tried to drop us off at a private fast boat office. When we refused the fast boat, the fast boat operator told us that he could sell us a slow boat ticket for 80,000, nearly double the actual price. He lied, saying that the price had risen and that was the new price for the tickets.
We returned to the car and demanded that our driver take us all the way to the ferry. He complied, but not before trying the trick again with a second fast boat operator. Taxis can’t enter to reach the ferry office without paying for a ticket, so we were finally let off on the road outside a set of toll-booth style ticket windows that cross the entry road to the ferry port enclosure.
One last point on the ferries. The safety record of Indonesian ferries in bad weather is abysmal so be sure to check the weather before you travel. In case you’re wondering, the PFDs and the single life boat (for what looked to be 200 people) were located in the rear galley of the ferry I was on.
Once you arrive in Lembar, you can take one of the blue vans that operate as public buses around the island. They’re located just outside the port and cost 15,000 for the 4-hour ride to Senaru. Private cars are available for around 350,000-400,000 IDR.
Weather and Climate
Indonesia’s near equatorial location leads to an extended hiking season that lasts from April through November. Even during the dry season hiking months, though, rain can be common and should be expected.
Temperatures at lower elevations are extremely hot and humid. Nevertheless, the trail reaches sufficiently high altitudes that temperatures can drop to near freezing at night. Bring a wind/waterproof layer as well as an insulation layer to keep you warm.
Gear and Provisions
You can rent gear in either Senaru or Sembalun from the dozen or so agencies that take hikers up the mountain on a daily basis. Agencies in both villages are able to offer a full range of gear from sleeping bags and tents, to stoves and jackets.
The agencies discourage trekking without a guide so they mark up the prices of rental gear fairly high. My group paid 85,000 per day for our tents and 60,000 per day for sleeping bags with a 50,000 IRD discount off the top. A stove and fuel canister were quoted at 45,000 and 21,000, respectively, per day. I suspect that all those prices are fairly high but you’ll be able to negotiate a discount.
Stores in Senaru and Sembalun carry the typical food selection of Indonesia corner stores. They don’t have much, but you’ll find plenty of noodles, chips, nuts, and bars to get you through such a short hike.
Another option is to have your guest house prepare meals for you. We were able to purchase delicious and filling meals of stir-fried vegetables, spices, and white rice for 25,000 IDR. We also brought along a handful of hard boiled eggs (3,000 ea.).
All told, we provisioned for the entire 3-day, 2-night expedition for less than 100,000 IDR. As I noted above, Senaru has no ATMs so you’ll need to bring cash for your entire trip with you. The easiest place to stock up is at the ATM just outside the harbor in Lembar.
Water can be a bit of a challenge to obtain and should be treated once it is.
Ascending from Senura, water is available from springs at POS II and POS III. The spring at POS III is located about 15-minutes down a side trail branching off to the right of the main trail. When we were there, the water was just a trickle and we had to collect from a small pool.
Senaru Rim Camp is completely dry so carry enough water to last until you reach the lake at mid-morning the next day. The last possible water source before the camp is a series of seasonal, rain-fed pools a couple minutes off the trail to the left of the small concrete hut located about an hour from POS III and about 150 meters in elevation below the camp. These pools were dry when we were there due a lack of rain over the days before we started.
The next water source is at the Lake Camp. The spring, which appears to be quite reliable even in the dry season, is about 10 minutes from the lake along the outlet river. Follow the west side of the outlet (the side closest to the Senaru Rim Camp) away from the lake, past the small hot springs, until reaching a sign that says “Spring Water.” The spring is at the end of the small, overgrown trail leading to the left.
The Sembalun Rim Camp also has a seemingly reliable source of water. To reach the spring, follow the fork in the trail leading up toward the summit until you reach the last campsite. From there, go left through a copse of trees along the path that winds along the contour of mountain for several minutes before dropping steeply down to a clearing with a small, concrete building (and probably several showering porters and guides). Once you see the building, the spring is in a nook at the end of the short trail to the right.
There are likely additional sources of water below the Sembalun Rim Camp on the way to Sembalun but, given the limited water available to us in other sections, my group chose to carry everything we’d need from the Sembalun Rim Camp spring.
Registration and National Park Entry Fees
Hikers must pay a fee to enter Gunung Rinjani National Park. Payment is collected at the Rinjani Trekking Center (RTC). The entry fee for foreign hikers is 150,000 IDR. For Indonesian citizens, the fee is a less onerous 5,000 IDR.
Trekkers are also required to register at the RTC. There is no fee associated with the registration. Some un-guided hikers skip registration, but this is a basic safety procedure found at trails all over the world and should be followed.
Safety and Security
People occasionally have trouble on Rinjani and deaths do occur. This is most often because agencies take even the most inexperienced hikers on a pre-dawn hike up to the summit for the sunrise. That section of trail is very narrow with significant drop-offs on either side so the fact that people die is not all that surprising.
The reaction to these deaths, and to the mountain itself, is a bit overdone. The typical greeting on the trail is “good luck,” as if you’re climbing K2 rather than a low-altitude walk-up summit. The mountain isn’t very big, it definitely isn’t very scary and there’s no need to be worried if you use a little common sense.
I’ve read that theft is also an issue on the trail. There are hundreds of people on Rinjani every day, which increases the odds that a person of morally-dubious character might be around to steal your stuff. Be smart and stay with your stuff.
The only time this will be difficult is when you make the trip to the summit from the ridge camp. Most people begin the ascent before dawn on the third day and leave everything but some water and a warm layer in camp. Because my group didn’t have a guide or porter to watch our things, we brought our valuables with us and only left easily replaceable items in our tents.
Although very short, the trail itself is very steep and poorly maintained. Even so, the trip up the volcano is fairly easy if you’re in shape.
As far as the general environment goes, I found the Rinjani trek to be without a doubt the least pleasant hike I have ever been on. The trail is absolutely overwhelmed by the numbers and ignorance of the trekkers, guides and porters that toil their way up and down the mountain on a daily basis. The hordes of heavily laden porters and out of shape and inexperienced hikers make for massive traffic jams on the often narrow and challenging trail.
Even worse than the number of people, though, is what they leave behind. Trash and human waste is everywhere. I’ve seen a lot nasty places during a year on the road staying in cheap hostels and guest houses, and the camps on Rinjanji were the worst. From wrappers to food scraps to excrement and wads of used toilet paper, the camping areas are littered from one end to the other. It’s so bad that porters bring brooms to clear a space in the trash for the tents.
The examples of terrible trail practices abound, from uncovered shit-holes in the middle of camp to used toilet paper lining the trail and bags of trash floating in the lake.
And it’s not just the inexperienced tourists. Despite the fact that it’s their livelihood, it’s obvious that the agencies are not interested in keeping the mountain clean. The second morning, the agency group next to us decamped and left behind a massive bag of trash. Not half an hour later, a dog had scattered the refuse everywhere in search of its breakfast.