Well I couldn’t resist the title. As a boy I do recall watching, with horrified but rapt attention, the 1969 film “Krakatoa East of Java”. This was nominated for an Oscar but there were some problems including inaccuracy in detail (when did that ever hold Hollywood back?). As the majority of my readers will know Krakatoa is, in fact, west of Java.
Rinjani is east of Java and located on the island of Lombok. I was told by a friend that the journey across the Gunung (Mount) Rinjani caldera was one of the finest treks in Asia but the summit leg arduous. He was so right on both counts.
My two sons are growing up fast and both veterans of Mount Kinabalu so this summer we decided to go together with a friend (the Thrifty Traveller) and his own sons. Rather than repeat in its entirety the climbing experience I will refer you to the latter’s excellent account:
I will instead restrict my post to the following; the view over the Bali Sea, the erupting Mount Barujari and the Rinjani summit leg itself.
Firstly, to set the scene, a geography lesson. Rinjani is a giant caldera which dominates the northern half of the Indonesian island of Lombok. Lombok lies between the islands of Bali, to the west, and Sumbawa to the east.
Within the Rinjani caldera itself is a sizeable crater lake known as Segara Anak. Gunung Barujari is an active volcano, technically a post-caldera cone, that lies within the caldera. The lake is 6,562 feet above sea level and estimated to be 650 feet deep (that’s deep). A map is worth a thousand words.
At the end of the first day’s hike we sat out just below the caldera rim in the late afternoon sun, nursing our tired limbs and gazing out to the north over the Bali Sea. Well to be more accurate we were actually gazing out over a sea of clouds. As evening drew in Bali’s Mount Agung majestically rose through the clouds. A splendid view as well as historic and geographically significant one. We were looking over the Wallace Line.
The great Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (one of those famous people whose middle name is always stated – why is that? Do you know Charles Darwin’s middle name?) astutely noticed, during his travels of the East Indies, that to the west of the Lombok Strait were found animal and plants relating to Asiatic species and to the east, a mixture of species of Asian and Australian origin were present.
Wind forward. Late that night at we heard a low rumble that lasted several minutes. It certainly made me hold my breath. “Did you hear the Indonesian Air Force jet that flew over last night?” I heard an accompanying hiker exclaim next morning. I had my reservations and we were soon to find out how wrong he was.
At midday the next day we were down by the crater lake so beautifully clear and cool. We couldn’t resist the swim. The caldera walls, the towering Rinjani and smoking Barujari forming a dramatic backcloth. Soon thereafter we continued along the lake’s edge when Barujari erupted. Ok we are not talking Krakatoa 1883 type eruption (estimated to be the equivalent of 13,000 times the explosive power of Little Boy the bomb that devastated Hiroshima) but nonetheless it was a most impressive display which lasted about fifteen minutes. Psychologically I was very happy to be out of the water though had it been a larger eruption we would have been in more danger of stoning rather than boiling.
And so to the summit attempt. We woke up at the morale deflating time of 2:30 AM and after a quick brew up we were winding our way up to the summit. Just to explain we started that morning from the camp which was located on the side of the mountain at an altitude of 8,655 ft. Rinjani’s summit is 12,224 ft so we had a 3,569 ft climb. Essentially a Munro before breakfast and it transpired to be very nearly more than I could swallow. It was the most physically demanding climb that I had experienced and I have trekked in the Himalayas. There were three distinct stages.
First a clamber of about 1,000 ft up to the mountain ridge. This comprised winding our way through a series of steep sandy gullies. In the wet it must be impossible to obtain any decent purchase on the ground (in fact I believe the mountain is closed during the monsoon season). In the dry still difficult and uncomfortable with clouds of sand and dust being kicked up by the climbers ahead.
Having eventually negotiated this stretch a really wonderful gently inclined ridge walk for about half a mile. We could only really sense the precipitous drop to our right into the dark. Half way we paused to rest. A serendipitous moment. The cloud lifted and the wonderful canopy of the southern hemisphere night sky so clear above us. Some of us had never seen shooting stars before and we were rewarded with several streaking their brief fiery way across the outer atmosphere.
It was very cold so we didn’t rest long and were soon on our way. We walked up to the steeply banking last one thousand feet pinnacle. The wind had risen and the clouds were whipping furiously across the ridge. Hands were soon frozen and I had to use my spare socks as gloves. The image of the penultimate climber ahead was soon reduced to the dim glow of his head torch. Let me describe the terrain. Essentially this was a steep bank of deep volcanic ash and sand. There was no firm ground enabling traction. Every step up – half a step back and sometimes – a full slide back. Essentially a giant sand dune. Soon my lungs were heaving with the huge strain of keeping myself moving. I felt nauseous partly due to the effects of altitude sickness and my steps became shorter and shorter. Upward progression seemed imperceptible. I seriously doubted my ability to complete the climb 500 ft short of the summit. I began to crawl on all fours. Very undignified but at least no one could see me. So slowly, painfully and eventually I hauled myself to the top where the rest of the party had been waiting for almost half an hour. I was just too tired to be embarrassed. The blackness turned into a grey and there was no view but a Stygian like gloom. A round of frozen handshakes and then we were off back down for breakfast.
Late that afternoon as we gazed back at a sunny and benign Rinjani we wondered whether the early morning’s climb had all just been a dream.