Climbing an active volcano

Our travel writer attempts to conquer one of the world's highest active volcanoes, Mount Rinjani, on the Indonesian island of Lombok.

Gary Evans January 10, 2016

Towering above rugged Indonesian island Lombok, Mount Rinjani is one of the world's highest volcanoes. It erupted in November 2015, just days before these photos were taken. Before it blows again, we sent a writer to conquer its peak.

We pitched camp on the crater rim of an active volcano. Indonesia is a country consisting of thousands of islands. On Lombok, east of Bali, Mount Rinjani dominates the skyline – standing at 3,726 metres.

The final stretch in my attempt to conquer the mountain would begin from my two-man tent at 3am and end on the absolute summit at sunrise. In between stood a treacherous climb through loose volcanic rock.


The trek started first thing in the morning, blue skies, sun shining, with long-tailed grey macaque monkeys scuttling and bickering alongside. I found a guide in Sembalun, a village in the foothills of Mount Rinjani. Harry had worked the mountain for two years. The 19-year-old led the way through open, steadily rising savannah.


The afternoon's trekking is all uphill, tough and steep. The sun's heat wains and the air cools. We pitched tent at over 2,700 metres and slept in the clouds. We had made good time. My two chain-smoking porters undermined this feat, however, by matching our pace while wearing flip-flops. They waited at camp while we climbed the summit, and were very smug about it.


The ridge leading to the summit is slight – at one point it’s wide enough only for two trekkers to walk shoulder to shoulder. For three long hours, in perfect darkness, I dragged my boots through scree – the loose stone and volcanic rock that covers the ridge. Two steps forward, slide one step back, all the way till sunrise.


There's something going on in the skies above Indonesia. Sunset and sunrise are spectacular – all these oranges, yellows, reds, wispy clouds backlit by a golden sun. The night, the cold, the howling mountain wind and the distressed noises it caused my tent to make – they were made bearable by the thought of the sunrise waiting for me at the summit.


We made it to the summit just as the sky began to lighten. All those oranges and reds returned. The sun rose and I saw for the first time the full spectacle of Rinjani: the volcano's huge caldera, its lake and hot spring in which a smaller volcanic cone puffed white smoke, and the rugged island of Lombok rolling all the way out to sea.


Many trekkers spend the recommended five days camping in and around Rinjani National Park and protected forest. Going to the top, however, is optional. I – boldly, stupidly – attempted to reach the summit and return to Sembalun Village in two days and one night.

What made the scree so intolerable on the way up is what made it so much fun on the way down. A little jump carried me skidding five, ten, 15 metres down the ridge. I slalomed back to camp – skiing without skis – flying down to my tent in under an hour. It took three days to clear my nose and throat of all the dust.

Images: Carol Stritch