If you think you’re tough enough to handle a Mount Rinjani Trek, read on to discover the 7 essential tips you need to know to make the most of your Rinjani tour.
I’ve been tossing and turning in my sleeping bag since 8pm. It’s now 2am and all I can hear is the wind whipping our tent into a frenzy. Any second I expect to be lifted, tent and all, into the air and swirled away on the wind.
Which would be bad (very bad!), since we’re camped high on the rim of the gaping Mount Rinjani crater in Lombok, Indonesia.
I am lost in deep thoughts about the awesome power of nature when I hear the sound I’ve been dreading.
Meow. Meow. Meow.
A kitty cat? No. Stephen’s iPhone alarm, playing a recording of a cat we sat in Hanoi last year.
As Stephen stirs awake beside me, a lump comes up in my throat.
I’m about to make one of the hardest decisions of my travelling life.
We’ll come back to that. But first, let’s set the scene…
What makes the Mount Rinjani trek so compelling?
Mount Rinjani is the second-highest volcano in Indonesia, reaching a dizzying 3,726 m above sea level.
The gaping caldera, which thousands of hikers visit per year, was formed in 1257, during an eruption that, according to Science News magazine, “was the most powerful volcanic blast since humans learned how to write.”
Scientists think the eruption helped cause the Little Ice Age, a cold snap that lasted hundreds of years (winter is coming!), froze the canals in Amsterdam, and turned London’s Thames into a skating rink.
The Mount Rinjani volcano is still active today and liable to blow without warning. Mount Barujari, the small volcanic cone that smokes ominously inside the Rinjani crater, most recently erupted in late 2016. The 2016 Mount Rinjani eruption sent hundreds of hikers fleeing down the mountain, while some deeply silly ones stayed up there to take selfies.
Also, people like to do hard stuff.
The Mount Rinjani trek is hard. Seriously freaking hard!
In three days, we ascended 3,000 m, much of it practically straight up. What goes up must come down. The 3,000 m down are, arguably, even more difficult. By the end, our knees were begging for mercy.
If the idea of jumping out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself to the breaking point appeals…
If you would love to gaze out over a vast crater, and watch smoke pour forth from the guts of the earth…
If the idea of trekking Rinjani makes your heart beat a little faster…
Then read on to learn our…
7 Essential Tips for Surviving a Mount Rinjani Trek
For all the practical details of hiking mount Rinjani, like what to pack for hiking Rinjani, what questions to ask your Mount Rinjani trekking company, and the price of a Rinjani trekking tour, read our post on How To Plan Your Epic Mount Rinjani Trekking Adventure →
1. It all starts with 1500 m of sheer vertical torture.
If you opt for the 3-day, 2-night Rinjani trek starting in Sembalun, don’t let the first few hours fool you.
In the morning, the rolling ascent through grasslands is so gentle that a few motorbikes buzzed the trail, engulfing us with clouds of fine volcanic dust as they passed. It lulled into a false sense of confidence.
But after lunch, things got serious.
In the old days, hikers would climb a series of smooth switchbacks to accomplish the day’s 1500m elevation gain. But about 10 years ago, a bridge leading to the official trail was destroyed by the awesome power of the mountain. It has never been repaired.
The new trail goes straight up the side of the mountain. Straight up. For four hours.
It’s steep, it’s slippery, it’s not maintained, and in August, it’s crowded too.
For Stephen, who is part mountain goat, this wasn’t too much trouble. Sure, his legs were burning and his heart was pounding, but he bounded up with energy to spare (Stephen always has energy to spare).
For me, if not sheer torture, the afternoon’s climb was certainly agony-adjacent. Each dusty step up sent my heart hammering in my chest. At first, I had to stop and rest every 10 minutes. Then every 10 metres. Then every couple of steps.
Either this trail is crazy steep or the altitude was getting to me. Probably a bit of both.
If you’re thinking I’m a novice hiker, think again. I’ve been crushing mountain trails since before I could walk, riding in a backpack on my Dad’s shoulders. I’ve hiked in Canada and Vietnam and Norway and America and all over Europe.
I’ve never seen a trail as steep, or as bad, as this one.
As the afternoon wore on, I seriously considered the possibility that I might not make it.
I repeated my mantra all the way up the mountain.
One more step. One more step. One more step.
It’s not the mountain we have to conquer, but ourselves. –Edmund Hillary
Reaching the day one campsite was nirvana, a miracle so wildly wonderful that I could barely breathe (or perhaps that was my heart still trying to recover?).
This is us, just after we reached the campsite. What sweet relief!
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We marvelled at the comfort of our simple camp chairs. We savoured our freshly cooked dinner of gado gado. We stared in amazement at the blanket of stars overhead.
When we could stand the cold and the wind no more, we crawled into the tent. It was only 7:30pm but it felt like midnight.
Mount Rinjani Trek Tip #1: Be prepared for the trail to be harder than you anticipated. Also be aware than altitude can strip away the strength you normally have at sea level.
Take your time, stopping every few steps to catch your breath if you need to. Your mind needs to be the master of your body. If you take just one more step, and then one more, and one more, you will get there eventually.
For quick recovery after the trek, try Stephen’s guide to easy yoga poses for hikers.
2. It’s perfectly OK not to summit.
The typical Rinjani itinerary involves summiting in time for sunrise, early on the morning of the second day. The Rinjani summit stretches 1000 vertical metres above the first night’s campground.
Getting to the Rinjani summit for sunrise means getting up at 2am. It means hiking for four hours in the pitch dark. And the bitter cold.
Related: Don’t leave home without a headlamp! Here are a few of the best headlamps for backpacking →
When we left the beach on Lombok, it was 35 degrees Celsius. At the top of Rinjani, the temperature hovered around 2 degrees.
The wind grew more and more violent as we settled in our sleeping bags. Instead of resting and recharging, I tossed and turned, listening to the wind howl.
Instead of sleeping, I wrestled with my all-important decision.
Could I make it to the summit? Should I even try?
Shortly after Stephen’s alarm meowed us awake, our guide Adi shone his light outside our tent, gently calling to us.
“Adi,” I said with an unmistakable quiver in my voice, “Is this morning’s climb easier than yesterday?”
To his credit, he didn’t mince words.
No, it’s harder. Much harder.
And with that, I knew what I had to do.
With fresh legs, a proper breakfast and a good night’s sleep, I would kick that summit’s ass. Exhausted, on no sleep, with only a quick snack to fuel me, I didn’t stand a chance.
So I bid Stephen a teary farewell and he set out in the dark with Adi to conquer Mount Rinjani.
As soon as they left, I felt sheer relief. Without a doubt I had made the right decision.
As Adi wisely says…
The sun still rises even if you’re not at the summit.
Mount Rinjani Trek Tip #2: Don’t be ashamed to say “no” to sunrise on the summit. I was worried that I would be the only “unadventurous loser” who stayed in my tent while everyone else was celebrating their physical prowess with champagne cocktails at the top.
In reality, plenty of people don’t go to the Rinjani summit and many more turn around half way up! If the first day sucked up all your energy and resolve, stay in your tent and rest. Save your spirit and your energy for the remainder of your time on Rinjani.
3. On Rinjani, safety comes first.
The first hour from the campsite to the Rinjani summit is a grind. Deep, loose scree covers a trail only a metre or so wide. The trail is steep and slippery – with sharp drop-offs on either side. And remember, you hike it in the dark.
With the wind continuing to whip crazily around them, Stephen and Adi made their way up, up, up, as the sunrise chased them. Even Adi, who has been guiding Rinjani treks for almost ten years, had never experienced winds like this.
Despite the effort of the climb, his winter gloves, base layers, scarf and wooly hat, Stephen’s fingers and toes were soon numb. About 400m from the summit, they came to the narrowest part of the trail, a knife-edge with a cross wind so sharp it took their breath away.
On a normal day, the final 400m could take up to an hour. Today, it was anyone’s guess.
In a hollow beside a large rock, trekkers and their guides sat huddled together for warmth. Stephen and Adi nestled in with the rest of them. The conversation was all about the safety and the wisdom, or lack thereof, of continuing to the summit.
Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory. – Ed Viesturs
Stephen now had to make the decision I’d made a few hours earlier.
Was it worth it to continue to the summit, an undoubtedly unpleasant and possibly dangerous experience? Or should he turn back?
Even without the ferocious winds, helicopters can’t land on Rinjani. If you twist an ankle or suffer a more serious injury, the porters become your rescue team. They have to carry you down the mountain.
That’s why our tour organizer Hajar, who runs Hajar Trekking, drilled a safety mantra into our heads before we left the base camp.
Don’t rush. No running. No jumping. Safety first.
When Stephen finally decided to turn back without summiting, there was palpable relief in Adi’s eyes.
Only a few dozen intrepid (and possibly stupid) people made it to the summit that day. That’s out of hundreds of trekkers.
As soon as the sun started to rise, Stephen, Adi, and everyone else sheltering under the rock, turned and skittered as fast as they could back to our campsite.
But not before they grabbed their Instagrammable moment!
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Mount Rinjani Trek Tip #3: If your guides are unsure about the safety of the final ascent (or any other part of the trail), listen to them! They know what they’re talking about. Don’t go to the summit if the weather is bad or if you’re not sure it’s safe.
4. Don’t get cocky on the descent.
For many people, descending is the hardest part of any mountain climb. The Mount Rinjani Trek is no exception.
From the crater rim, the trail winds down a rocky, unmaintained path, to the crater lake. It’s like a rough staircase hewn for giants, with huge knee-jarring steps.
Despite the challenges, the spectacular valley unfolding before us was more than enough motivation to keep going.
For us, trekking is not about seeing the sunrise from the summit or beating someone else’s records. It’s all about these quiet moments, where nature reveals her true beauty.
The halfway point of day two is the crater lake, a stunning turquoise that echoes the colour of the sea around Lombok.
At the lake, we stop for an hour to leap into the cold water and then soak in the very hot hot springs.
And Stephen still has energy left for yoga…
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Another (almost) comically steep trail rises out of the lake to the opposite crater rim.
Before long, our trekking poles, on which we had been leaning heavily all morning, became a nuisance. We needed our hands to scale each almost-vertical “staircase”.
We are put to shame by the porters, who walk up with no more effort than if they were ascending an escalator in a shopping mall.
Because of the wind, which is building into another roar, we camp in a small clearing on the hillside. Most hikers have to make the entire ascent before nightfall, to camp up on the rim.
After camping on the crater rim, the final day is all down down down.
The slippery upper trail, of fine loose gravel over deep sand, made us thankful for our trekking poles once again. Even with them, I managed a couple of nasty slides which scraped the skin off both my knees.
By the time we reached the rainforest, where the path starts to even our, our knees were threatening to mutiny.
Mount Rinjani Trek Tip #4. Don’t get too cocky on the final descent. The trail is still steep and precarious. It’s easy to slip and fall and even easier to injure your knees. Just because the porters are running down the trail in flip-flops, doesn’t mean you have to follow!
5. The hot springs on Mount Rinjani are really hot.
I know I’m making a Mount Rinjani trek sound like sheer agony but I promise you, it’s not.
There are stunning views everywhere you look. The blanket of stars at night is simply astonishing. Being outside your comfort zone is pure joy and freedom. The sky is insanely blue.
Plus, the hot springs are truly wonderful.
Just a rocky scramble from the crater lake, the Rinjani hot springs bubble up from within the earth, heated by mysteries deep beneath the earth’s crust.
(Actually, hot springs are not that mysterious. It’s science!)
As we eased our aching bodies into the sulphuric water, we noticed a few looks of astonishment from a couple of tourists sitting nearby. As more hikers arrived, we started to understand those looks.
We watched with amusement as hiker after hiker attempted to sink into the pool, only to discover that it was really damn hot.
It’s amazing how universal the “Ow, fuck that’s hot!” face is.
Finally, after being passed on the mountain by countless younger, fitter scallywags, I had found my secret power. I could stew my tired body in the hot springs better than any of them!
Rinjani Trek Tip #5: The Rinjani hot springs are hotter than any we’ve enjoyed in Europe and North America. Take a few minutes to ease into the water. If your skin starts to turn bright red, don’t go any further.
However, if your skin stays a normal colour, you can safely sink in. The hot springs left our muscles in great shape, ready to make the steep climb out of the caldera.
Note. If you have heart problems or any other relevant medical issues, obviously hot springs are not a good idea!
6. Porters and guides are the superheroes of your Mount Rinjani trek.
We usually travel independently, so we’re not used to the luxury of having a guide plus a porter each. But, without porters to lighten our load, we would never have been able to do the Mount Rinjani trek.
The Rinjani porters and guides are more amazing than you can imagine.
For a start, they carry all your food, water and camping equipment on their shoulders. Not in high-tech ergonomic backpacks, either. Each porter hefts around 40 kgs on a contraption of baskets tied to a wide bamboo pole.
They also move faster than any hiker on the trail, ascending as if by magic and racing each other on the steep descents.
Plus, they do the whole thing in cheap flip-flops.
Then, while tourists are recovering from the days’ climb, whining about how exhausted we are, the porters set up camp and cook fresh, delicious meals. It is bloody wonderful!
My mind simply can’t understand how this feat is possible. But, struggling up and down the mountain, I was so grateful to our porters.
Rinjani Trek Tip #6. You will fall in love with your porters and your guide. Really. Make sure you bring cash to tip them appropriately (a minimum of 100,000 IDR each – much more if you can afford it)!
7. Mass tourism is ruining Mount Rinjani.
Too many travel bloggers who write about their Rinjani trek gloss over the ugly side of a Mount Rinjani trekking tour. As mindful travellers, we feel a responsibility to get real here for a minute.
Yes, Rinjani is stunningly beautiful. Yes, completing a Mount Rinjani tour will leave you feeling triumphant.
But when you open your eyes and look around, it’s also depressing as hell.
For a start, the mountain is crowded. Overcrowded.
Hundreds of people ascend per day, somewhere in the 10s of thousands per year. There can be as many as 500 tents on the crater rim each night. This is not a trek to take if you’re hoping for solitude and a chance to reflect in the peace of nature.
And then there’s the garbage.
The crater lake is stunningly beautiful, but as you get closer, you’ll notice that it is rimmed by garbage, much of it floating in the water. As an added bonus, smouldering garbage fires around the lake campsite fill the air with acrid smoke.
There are piles of garbage at every rest stop, too.
There aren’t any toilet facilities on Rinjani, either.
The better Rinjani trekking companies provide a toilet tent. This is nothing glamorous. Just a square tent that surrounds a hole dug into the black volcanic soil. But at least it allows you to bury your crap.
If you need to sneak off into the bushes to do your business, you’ll see toilet paper and baby wipes scattered far and wide.
It’s easy to blame this garbage on the locals or the government. But the only reason it’s there is because tourists come and leave the clean up to someone else.
The problem is, there is no one else. Fees for entrance to Rinjani National Park rise every year. They are supposed to go to trail maintenance and garbage clean-up, but the money disappears and promised improvements never materialize.
Any cleaning and garbage removal is done by non-profit groups and tour companies. While many tour companies carry garbage out with them, many more don’t. It’s crucial to ask your company what they do with your garbage. If their porters don’t carry it out, don’t trek with them!
Mount Rinjani Trek Tip #7: Bring a ziplock bag with you and pack out your own toilet paper, baby wipes, cigarette butts and other personal garbage. Even better, for Mother Nature bonus points, distribute large trash bags to your group and fill them as you trek.
Make sure your Rinjani Trekking company doesn’t leave any garbage on the mountain. Yes, this costs a few dollar extra — it is completely worth it!
Here are more ways to leave Mount Rinjani better than you found it.
So, should you do the Mount Rinjani trek?
If you’re up for a physical and mental challenge that comes with great rewards, then go for it! Just make sure to choose a responsible Rinjani Trekking company and be sure to leave the mountain as clean (or cleaner) than you found it.
Mount Rinjani Trek Bonus Tip: We trekked Rinjani as guests of Hajar Trekking. Not only did we love our guide Adi and our two heroic porters, but Hajar provided us will all the essentials for a safe, comfortable and responsible Mount Rinjani hike.
If you’re looking for an excellent Rinjani trekking organizer who cares deeply about the mountain and his guests, we can enthusiastically recommend Hajar Trekking.
What to read next…
During and after your Rinjani trek (or any trek) you’ll want to try Stephen’s favourite yoga poses for hikers →
If we’ve convinced you to plan a Rinjani Trek, read our post for NOMADasaurus about How To Plan Your Epic Mount Rinjani Trekking Adventure before you book →
For the perfect place to stay on Lombok, this is our pick →
Or, find your ideal Lombok hotel here →
Here’s help if you’re looking for other things to do in Lombok →
♥ Happy adventures, Stephen & Jane