Rinjani- The Journey To The Summit

Well, I made it to the summit of Indonesia’s second highest peak. 3,726 meters to be exact. I still can’t believe it’s over, and I’m so grateful to have shared such an epic adventure with three amazing new friends – Alli and Clare who I met in Bali, and the lovely Jenny, who I met just the day before the trek.

The first two days of the 4 day journey lured me into a false sense of security with its magnificent green gentle slopes that merged gradually into a steeper climb.

After a blessing from a Buddhist nun during our lunch break on day two, we all endured the steep climb to base camp – a long and fairly challenging trudge up, up and up. It was the kind of challenge that makes you feel kind of tough, and we were amazed as we climbed into the clouds at how far we had come.

We were greeted by our fellow climbers at the top of the last steep section. We passed it on, whooping and cheering at tired faces and weary bodies as they emerged over the ridge, relieved and surprised by the celebration going on the top. We enjoyed the camaraderie with our fellow trekkers, and were particularly inspired by so many Indonesians who were of course much tougher than us, carrying all their own supplies.

We, on the other hand, had two guides and three rock star porters – the supermen who carried our food, sleeping mats, tents and other supplies (like, you know, face wash that never saw the light of day) up that mountain in baskets attached to bamboo poles like they were huge foam dumbbells.

Our Supermen

They also cooked for us, set up our tents and gave us foot rubs (okay maybe not that last one, but I’m sure if we’d asked…). They amazed us endlessly with their strength, their flair in the camp kitchen, and their cheeky sense of humour. We loved our porters, especially you, Mr Ira! Who else would sing Indonesian songs to us and do push ups during rest-stops, all with a clove cigarette hanging out their mouth? I mean, WHO?

The gang (Mr Ira is in the Malborough shirt, of course)

As we watched THE MOST SPECTACULAR SUNSET that evening, enamoured by the orange-glowing clouds – our very own wide-screen, 3D extravaganza – we were so full of a sense of accomplishment and joy that I don’t think any of us thought too much about the following day, which was definitely wise.

It doesn’t get much better than this

Oh wait, it does.

It was around 2am when we awoke to freshly brewed Lombok coffee and toasted cheese sandwiches. We were a little late hitting the trail after 3am, grateful for the full moon that lit our path in the otherwise pre-dawn blackness.

It was fairly steep, and quite gravelly, which we weren’t used to yet (YET!), so we took it quite slow, ensuring we didn’t fall down the mountain in the dark with a misplaced step. I breathed a sigh of relief as we finally made it to the large ridge of the summit, after about one and a half hours. From here it was a relatively gradual trek on a solid path that again tricked my ego into believing this thing wouldn’t be so hard after all.

How wrong I was.

Perhaps it’s just a survival mechanism, but why do we humans go into something like this never really believing that it’s going to whip our butts?

We crossed paths with summiters the day before, panting, covered in dirt, forlorn faces and shoelaces missing, laughing at Alli’s jokes about the mountain “eating their laces,” and not once did we actually realise how hard this thing might be.

We reassured ourselves with, “It’s just one foot in front of the other isn’t it?” refusing to believe that we might not make it to the top.

And as I made my way towards the final climb of the summit, and the sun began to present itself in peach-pink streaks through the cloud, I thought to myself “almost there”, not realising the three hours of hell that lay ahead.

Thank God for denial.

The Death Zone (the E shaped path at the top)

The trail became thick and soupy, our feet sinking into the loose pumice stone gravel, like quick sand. Legs burned, lungs heaved and wooden sticks were pressed into the soft trail for support. Clare had struggled with a sciatica-type pain down the back of her right leg, which now extended towards her hip. She told us she might not make it to the top. We all understood, even without injury this thing was starting to slow us all down to a gradual trudge, and whilst we had seemed to make such good progress before, the summit now loomed, looking even further away that before.

“It’s okay, just do your best,” we assured her, though I secretly really wanted her to make it. About ten minutes later, at a rest stop, our guide Dedy shook all of our hands, as Clare stopped on a rock to massage her problematic leg. “Okay guys, you go to the top, I’ll go back to base-camp to with Clare.”

We continued on slowly, though I never said good-bye to Clare – all I could say was “do your best, that’s all you can do,” because though I would have absolutely understood her not finishing the climb, I hoped she would continue. We were all in this together, and I wanted all of us to make it to the top.

But there was nothing I could do, it took everything I had to just to move my legs through the now severely steep path that rose towards my face as I hunched over it, trying to assist the gravity that continued to defy me.

Quite often I just stopped, amazed at how comfortable it was all of a sudden, how the pain just abated the very instant my butt hit the rocks.


However, above the clouds, on the rim of a volcanic crater, staring down into one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen, through the pain and the exhaustion and the dread of still more of both, I felt so alive. I felt so thankful for my hard-working limbs that got me up there, above it all, looking down into that magnificent crater, complete with cobalt lake and smoking cone.

It was magnificent.

Then inevitably, I would have to rise again, for I knew that procrastination didn’t get you to the top of mountains. People were well and truly coming down from the summit by now. They had left early, and made good time to make it to the summit for sunrise. We had seen their black heads, microscopic on the craggy summit hours ago. Now they were all streaming down, some looking worse for wear, responding with single words answers when we asked how it was (“Cold!” being the most widely used).

Alli powered on ahead, her pink beany appearing over the edge of the summit above me. I was jealous of her seemingly boundless energy, but happy that she had made it. I just wanted to be there too. My body was now moving so slowly, beginning to defy my mind that begged it to keep going.

I have to say, however, that though this was definitely in the “Top Two Most Difficult Things I’ve Done” (trekking with food poisoning in Nepal ranking up there too), mentally I felt a lot stronger than ever before. I mean, I was in pain, and  felt at my limit physically, but I never once believed I wouldn’t make it. In hindsight this surprises me, as I have always struggled with negative self-talk – the “Can’t Do It” attitude that rears its ugly head in challenging situations – and yet, in this instance, it kept relatively quiet.

Although, when one guy coming down the mountain asked why I was so late, and I snapped back with “Next time I’ll bring a NOTE!” dripping in vicious sarcasm, I realised that some things never change.

I began to really slow down now. Every step was a huge effort, and my energy was almost non-existent. My body had officially gone on strike, ignoring the pleas of my desperate mind. It was almost defeated by the evil track that swallowed my every step and drew me into it’s depths, mocking the huge amount of energy required to edge an inch or two forward in ankle deep volcanic skree.

And then, an angel appeared in the distance at first, and then was soon upon me in her bright yellow jacket, singing to herself at top notch in a sort of melodious trance. It was Jenny. She had stopped some time ago to massage Clare’s painful leg (told you she was an angel) and was now approaching me as I sat, resting, my back to the ever-elusive summit.

My angel in yellow – Jenny

I got up and let Jenny carry me with her songs, her inner optimism buoying my flagging spirit. Before long we continued with the trek-favourite ‘letter game’, distracting our minds with ‘Cities Beginning With H’. Anything to take the attention away from the physical and mental anguish we were both feeling.

And after what still seemed like an interminable amount of time, We. Made. It.

Alli’s pink beanie bobbed over to us, happy to have had the summit all to herself to “meditate, talk to god, and nap a little” but now ecstatic to share it with us. It was surreal. Above the clouds, towering above the volcanic craters either side, we really felt on top of the world, the exhaustion melting away as we lay back, dozing at 3,726 meters.

And soon, our guide Ecka emerged with Clare in tow. She collapsed onto the rocky summit with absolutely nothing else left to give, and we couldn’t have been more proud of her (I don’t think she even had the energy to be proud of herself).

WE MADE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Travel Bear, Clare, Jenny, Me and Alli


Our awesome guide Ecka on the right (I think he was glad we finally made it)

Alli’s Travel Bear taking a moment

I may not have known these ladies very well before the trek, but I feel very honoured to have shared this experience with them and our wonderful guides Ecka and Dedy – those people got me through some very tough times with their humour, positivity and energy in a way I never ever could have achieved on my own. Each one of them now hold a very special place in my heart.

Thankyou guys!




Rinjani- The Journey To The Summit — 50 Comments

    • Thank you Maddie!!! It was such a huge adventure with so much that happened, I actually had trouble focussing on what to write about! But the photos of such a spectacular landscape kinda speak for themselves :)

  1. Awesome blog muffin. It sounds like a bloody hard trek. Glad you had some special people around you to get to the summit. Another thing on my list for when i head back there. X kel

    • Definitely! Thanks Kel, it was an awesome experience, though it’s taken me quite a few days to finally get the dirt out of my toenails, and for my aching muscles to recover! I have a very sunburnt nose and a huge cold sore, awesome for reuniting with my boyfriend tomorrow night!!!!! :)

  2. Now THAT sounds like the kind of adventure I’d be keen to do. I love testing myself like that. Good work!!
    Awesome photos too.

    • I love it when you say ‘awesome photos’, coming from a photographer that means a lot!!! I lugged that Nikkon up that mountain and I’d be damned if I didn’t get some good shots. That sunset was one of the most spectacularly beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed, so I’m glad it came out ok. You and Tyrhone should do this together some day – ill come for the trek but I ain’t doing that summit again!!!!!!

      • Thanks, I do mean it though, I’m very impressed with your photo skills. You’ve captured some very good moments with some great techniques (won’t go into them on your blog posts).
        Hells yeh, would love to do that with Tykes!

  3. I find when I’m out on a seemingly easy run I struggle so much to make it through and let the negative self talk take over. But sometimes when I really challenge myself to a hard, hilly run, I have fewer expectations and I can’t help but let all my energy drift into just making it up that next hill. My self talk seems to be so much more encouraging and understanding. It seems like you pushed yourself to be really present, despite the extreme challenge and let your body continue to do what it needed to do to meet your goal. What an amazing payoff too! Those pictures are incredible.

    • Hi Carmel, isn’t that weird?! I think we all have hidden reserves of mental and physical strength that we draw on in these situations, and sometimes there is just no room for the ego to tell us we can’t. We just do. It’s definitely a spiritual experience!

      • I love that…No room for the ego to tell us we can’t. I’m going to remind myself of that this Sunday when I run my half marathon.

  4. Sounds AMAZING. I LOVE completing challenges like that and I love reading about your experience. Thanks for sharing it gorgeous x

    • Thanks Eggy! I’m certainly no born adventurer, but this was definitely a challenge I’ll never forget. Thanks for reading, hope you and your clan are all well, lots of love xxx

  5. Great post Jane, sounds like quite a tough hike. I think we may have found our “thing” for fitness, and you only have to do it once a month or so!

    Your getting real good on that camera, I’m a bit jealous now.

    Love you

    • Ha! Whatever, you’re definitely the better photographer, I had the good gear though :) It’s funny how we both had some tough challenges this past month, can’t wait to see you tomorrow night xxx

  6. Ive been checking your blog every day since your last wondering why you have written for ages, thinking to myself…Come on Sarah get online and write us something.
    Now I see why, what a great post. I loved reading every bit and really enjoyed picturing you up there.
    I wake up in the middle of the night (thanks to being 31weeks preggers now) and go straight to your blog to see where we are in the world. This blog really makes me feel like I’m there with you. And because I get out of breath just walking up the stairs to my bedroom I’m lucky to have such a wonderful close friend out there doing so much and writing all about it so that I can have a journey too. Miss you and am so proud of you xx

    • Ooh sweety, you must be facing some other challenges at the moment, and many more wonderful, life changing experiences to come when you welcome your beautiful daughter into the world!! You’ve been in my thoughts today, I’m in KL and was looking at baby stuff, I’ll know it when I see it!!!! Love you to to bits, thank you for your kind words gorgeous xxx

  7. What a beautiful nature hike! What an attraction! So worth it to endure the physical and mental challenge to take advantage of that wild terrain. Great pics. A tropical sunset over a mountain sure can be a feast for the eyes. :-)

  8. Sarah, congratulations on finishing that tough hike! Your beautiful writing made me feel your every aches and pains. And oh, that sunset! It’s insane!!! I thought I have seen the most spectacular of sunsets, but I guess not. Your photos are gorgeous. Looking forward to your China posts.

    • Hi Marisol! Thank you so much, my body has only just recovered, and I have only just got the dirt out of my toenails! And yes, that sunset… I’m so glad it made an impact on you because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to capture it’s magnificence on camera. I fly to China in 5 hours – I think it will be a huge culture shock!!!

  9. Sarah!! I would love to say it was an absolute pleasure…. but it was a little bit of a torture. Being with you lovely ladies and receiving the endless support was truly a gift though. What an unforgettable experience and so beautifully depicted in your words and photos. Look forward to reading more in the future. Hope you are having a great time in China. Oooooh yeah!

    • Oooh yeah! Not-to-be-confused-with I just got the dirt out of my feet! Good to hear you guys made it back to Bali safe and sound!!! What an epic adventure (slash ordeal, whatever way you wanna look at it), I’m still reeling from it!!!!!!!!!!!! Was great to share it wth you, we’ll always have Rinjani!!!! Lots of Love xxx

    • so proud of you, and also so grateful for your ‘team’s support’. thank you, sarah. hopefully this is the last mountain (proverbially) that clare has had to climb with some considerable guts notwithstanding the pains.
      well done, girls!!!
      (clare’s mum)

      • Hello Clare’s Mum!!!! It definitely was a ‘team effort’ that’s for sure! Clare’s Indonesian language skills helped us out so much, particularly after the trek, when the car broke down etc!!!! Nice to hear from you, take care :)

  10. Hi Baby Congratulations on your amazing climb.
    The sunset photos are truly beautiful.
    Talk soon Mum

    • Going down was a whole other story!!! Not as hard, but still taxing on the body in a different way – we were skiing through gravel basically!!! I may write about it another day, but I think I’m still too exhausted from it to relive it!!! And yes, that sunset literally brought tears to my eyes. Thanks Lela :)

  11. Hello Sarah, Congratulations on getting to the top of Gunung Rinjani, and thanks to all the support you and your team gave to Clare so that she was able to fully share in the achievement. Clare certainly found it very tough going, but I’m so proud she made it. I enjoyed reading your narrative, and seeing your wonderful photos. Keep up the good work! Best regards, Roger (Clare’s Dad), Manila, Philippines

    • Mr Jackson, what an honour!!! thank you for reading and for your kind words and support. We all found it very tough, and the fact that Clare made it through with her painful injury is an absolute testament to her inner strength. We will never forget this experience, I’m so happy you dropped by :)

  12. Sarah,
    These photos are absolutely amazing — as are you! I have been following your journey and you are inspiring. That is an understatement. Your joy is contagious, photos exquisite and writing –well, you’re the best.

    Stay well,

  13. Pingback: Capture the colour | Two for the Road

  14. I have said it before, but I will gladly say it again – Sarah, you have an incredible gift for sharing your adventures with us. Your words are so emotive and joyful, I feel like I just reached the summit with you! You are an amazing woman, and I can’t wait to share our Indian adventure together – I just know you are going to be the most perfect partner in crime xxx

  15. SARAH!!! WOW! First of all – THAT SUNSET! Second of all, what an amazing experience. That whole blog post made me want to hike that mountain too. Great photos as well. I just loved the whole thing. CONGRATS!

  16. Hi Sarah Somewhere,

    Wow. What you guys have achieved makes me so proud- first of my sister, who has overcome so much in her life and second, proud to be a woman! Your porters also looked amazing.
    I wish I could have been there with you all on the climb, but your eloquently written blog and great photos helped me to share your experiences.
    I also wish I’d done a similar thing when a group of friends and I did the arduous trek up Adams Peak in Sri Lanka, from Ratnapura about 7 years ago- 10 hours up, 8 hours down. Never been so knackered in all my life. That may be one for you to do Sarah, and write about.
    Wishing you peace and happy discovery on your travels.

    Wendy xx

    • Hi Wendy, well it seems like Clare has an exceptionally supportive family to help her along the way!!!! Thank you for your comment, Adams Peak sounds like a challenge that could definitely be on the cards! P.S, love the flags, I have been to the Glastonbury festival and they were amazing!

      • Thanks Sarah, glad you got the chance to see the flags. They are made by my partner Angus, very creative man. I just help him run the business. Womad festival next week, horaay!
        Good luck doing the Peak :)

  17. Sarah these photos are amazing! The first one looks like a snap from an adventure travel catalog!

    But more importantly, wow. I am so impressed by you. What an achievement! Can I be cheeky and ask how much a trek like this costs?

    • Thanks Alex! When the scenery is as beautiful as this, it makes taking photos easy!!! We paid 1,200,000 Rupea, which is around $130. That was for three nights camping, two guides, three porters and all meals, water, tea and coffee. We each chipped in another $25 for tips. There are plenty of guides on Lombok, and this trip can be easily arranged when you get there :)

  18. Beautiful!!! So well written… Wish I could have joined you ladies! But I’m looking forward to doing the hike after I finish my dive master in Lembongan. Keep on trudging girl!

    • Hi Carmel! Wish you could have been there too, but I know you guys will love it when you do it. I assume the girls filled you in on our ordeal afterwards – took me a week to recover I tell ya!!! But I have to say, it was one of the best things I have ever done, the hard things usually are :) thanks for organising it for us, enjoy Lembongan!!! Hope Chris is on the mend :)

  19. hi all thank you to visit our mountain.

    dear owner of this block how many time you come to this mountain already. if you come again you can come to our base came in senaru village.
    best regards