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.
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.