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Ain't no mountain green enough

by James Gray | 05 July 2017

With the taste of volcanic dust in our mouths, cheap energy drinks coursing through our veins and an icy morning wind billowing in our faces, we finally reached the summit of Lombok’s Mount Rinjani for sunrise.

“You made it in time,” grinned our burly mountain guide as he pulled each of our team into a strong embrace - exactly the kind of strength you would expect from a man who caters for, leads, and occasionally half-carries tourists like ourselves up a 3,276 foot active volcano for a living. We had made it.

The small plateau that makes up the summit area is crowded with a dozen or more aching hikers and many more are scrambling up the mountain’s last (and cruelly steep) 100 metres behind me. The pinnacle of the mountain is like an island jutting out into a sea of pearly white clouds. The first rays of the Indonesian sun are already beaming down on us through the thin cold air.

Arms around shoulders, our team took our soon-to-be Facebook profile pictures against this other-worldly backdrop, marking our victory over the second highest point on the Indonesian archipelago.

Rewind 48 hours and my two Australian travelling companions met our other two team mates in a sparsely populated village in the foothills of the mountain. We joked around as we set off into foothills, blissfully ignorant of just how steep the ascent would get.

Experiencing Indonesia’s most popular adventure tourism attraction is both thrilling and humbling. It is attempted by around 2000 people every August alone, all trying to reach the summit for the famous sunrise that awaits on top.

The challenges we encountered on our three day expedition, however, were modest at best compared to the Herculean effort required by our accompanying Indonesian mountaineers. Whilst we tramped along, enjoying the scenery, only slightly hindered by the light day bags on our backs, they hauled 25kg of our cooking tools and food, camping equipment and water up to the first camp on a bamboo log and two loosely tied wicker baskets. I felt embarrassed at my own fitness level as an Indonesian teenager overtook me carrying this burden on his shoulders with flip flops on his feet and still smiling.

For all its majesty Mount Rinjani has problems of sustainability and an uncertain future. Word of mouth in traveller circles spreads fast and locals have been quick to capitalise on the lucrative enterprise of tour guide mountaineering in recent years. Companies of wildly differing levels of professionalism and credibility have sprung up in the nearest town of Mataram and on neighbouring Bali. A lot of research on companies and the quality of the packages on offer is definitely recommended.

More hikers also means more litter. Although hardly ruinous, walking over of heaps of crushed plastic bottles, Twix wrappers and tissue paper riding an eddy of wind can never-the-less break the spell. Officials team up with tour operators and volunteers to clean the mountain ten times a year - twice a month during July and August, the mountain’s busiest tourist season. But one such clean-up operation costs around 5,500,000 rupiah (£324), biting into local profits. Serious, funded ecotourism is still yet to manifest itself wholly in Mount Rinjani National Park.

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