Lombok Vacation Part 1: The One Where We Didn’t Summit Mt. Rinjani

Perhaps one of the best things about teaching internationally, and more specifically, teaching in Indonesia, is the opportunity for travel.  A teacher’s calendar coupled with relatively inexpensive hotels and airfare make living in this part of the world dreamlike in many ways.  Back in October David and I were able to travel to Bali, and this summer we plan to visit Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, and potentially Malaysia and the Philippines.  It’s a shame we haven’t kept up the blog with our day to day experiences living overseas because it’s definitely been one of the greatest (and at times most trying) experiences of our lives.  However, we aspire to be better chroniclers of our time here in the future… beginning now.

Instead of a traditional weeklong Spring Break, our school provided a few days off just before and after Easter.  A friend of ours had used her Lebaran (the Muslim holiday season celebrating the end of Ramadan) break back in July to trek Mt. Rinjani, the second highest point of elevation in Indonesia.  Cool mountain air beckoned us as we made our Easter break plans, and we opted for a three day/two night Rinjani trek followed by two nights on Gili Trawangan, a small island off the northwest coast of Lombok.

Prior to the trip, we went into “training,” which consisted of a combination of Couch to 5K, Jillian Michaels, and incline walking on the treadmill in our boots.  We also attempted to limit the amount of sugar and fried foods consumed in the weeks leading up.  While these were certainly helpful pursuits, and I am probably in the best shape I’ve been in since before we got married, nothing can fully prepare you for Rinjani.

Our first day consisted of hiking to the volcano’s crater rim (did I mention that Rinjani is a part of an active volcano?), which took us about 8 and half hours.  It was a challenging day, but we took our time and ultimately felt pretty good at the end of day one.

About to begin the journey …
Savannah terrain
Savannah terrain
Our guide and porters making lunch
Our guide and porters making lunch
Foggy trail
Foggy trail … sometimes I felt like I was in Wuthering Heights
It rained quite a bit ...
It rained quite a bit …
Made it to the rim!
Made it to the rim!
View from high camp
View from high camp
Rinjani view from high camp
View of the summit from high camp
Crater lake and obscured volcano
Crater lake and volcano obscured by clouds

On day two, we got up at 2:00 AM with the goal of making the summit before sunrise.  We had been warned about the difficulty of the summit by several people, hearing that the last leg up there consisted of “one step forward, two steps back” because of rock slippage.  When the alarm went off that morning, adrenaline kicked in and the anticipation of summit views propelled us forward despite the fatigue from the day before.  I felt a little nauseous and had a hard time eating the small breakfast our porters had prepared, but I was ready to tackle the challenge ahead.

The summit ascent is broken down into three parts.  Leg one is very challenging.  Big rocks, little rocks, teeny tiny rocks … they all conspire to keep you from reaching the top.  An easier leg two follows with more of a traditional dirt path and no conspiring rocks, and leg three presents the most difficult challenge, or at least that’s what I’ve heard.  As you can see from the title of this post, we didn’t make it that far.

Each portion of the summit ascent is meant to take about an hour or so.  We made it past leg one, but it took us (okay, me, primarily me) about an hour and a half.  It was killer.  KILL-ER.  I felt even more nauseous, and the time issue began to worry me.  There was no way we were going to make the summit before sunrise.  If summit was all we had to do that day, I wouldn’t have cared, but we were also supposed to hike down to the crater lake and then back up the other side before nightfall.

We basically had two choices.  We could continue on with the summit attempt and then return the way we had come the day before, missing out on the lake and jungle portion of the trip.  Or, we could turn back and continue on with the trek as planned and not make the summit.  Quite the dilemma.  On the one hand, the summit was what we came for.  I would live with regret for the rest of my life if I didn’t at least try.  On the other hand, I wasn’t sure I would even be able to make it if I did try, and then we would miss out on the whole second part of the trek.  By this point we had begun the easy(ish) leg 2 of the ascent, and both my mental and physical anguish had brought me to tears.  I felt bad for David because I knew I was slowing us down.  He could have made the summit easily (okay, maybe not easily, but definitely more easily than I) and been okay to hike the rest of the day.  I lamented my feeble attempts at training, realizing that no two months of aerobics could undo the effects of the undisciplined lifestyle that has characterized my life in recent years.  My pride was hurting because no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t do it.  And David could.  I felt sick that I was holding him back, keeping him from an incredible once in a lifetime experience all because of the sum of a plethora of unhealthy choices I had made over the course of the past few years.  The physical pain was nothing compared to the mental dissonance I felt.

But David was incredible.  I knew he was disappointed (how could he not be?), but there was no trace of it in his voice or on his face.  He supported me wholeheartedly and ultimately made the decision for us to turn back.  It was a bittersweet moment.  I too was disappointed, tremendously so.  But I was also thankful for a partner whose commitment to me transcended his own desires and disappointments.  We would either make up the mountain together, or we wouldn’t make it at all.

Bittersweet moment of decision ...
Bittersweet moment of decision …

So we didn’t make it at all.  We turned back and headed down to where we had camped the night before to pack up and begin the next stage of the trek.

Now you might think a failed summit attempt would be the worst thing to happen on a trip like this, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.  Stay tuned for Lombok Vacation Part 2: The One with the Big Toe(nail) …


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