Climb a Volcano


We booked on Monday and travelled on Wednesday after Jack got the all clear after dental surgery. It was a lot harder than anticipated and I found two days harder than the Marathon. We effectively did 3 half marathons in 4 days. (with a 6Km jog on Day 3)  with an elevation changes of 1500, 2800, 650 and 2840 Meters each day. We were blessed with the weather as we had 5 minutes rain in 4 days but we had wind and cold.  Overall an amazing trip and thanks to Jack for his support.


If you ever plan to climb a volcano and descend into the crater do not and I repeat DO NOT download an app for your phone that tells you of all the recent seismic activity in the world. There is something going on all the time and I had to turn it off within 12 hours of starting as it was not doing my confidence any good, particularly as we were heading to Indonesia a country with 129 active volcanoes.

Day Zero

We chose Air Asia from KLIA2 direct to Lombok (3hrs and a chicken wrap) so a nice easy entry. There was an interesting situation developed in the passport lane beside me when a woman from the Middle East complete in her black outfit asked for a woman to expose her ID to. The passport clerk dealt with it very well and said he was a Muslim there were no women on duty and she could go into the back room with him.  All solved and a reflection on the flexible nature of Indonesia.

On arrival as is per my normal mode of operation I attack an ATM with a foreign card and never buys currency before I travel. The first challenge is to get an ATM to accept the card and then to get one that pays a decent amount per transaction.  Anyway with 3 swipes and a cash exchange we managed to get over 8 million Rupiah. Ever since we arrived in Asia I am always shocked at the numbers,  50 bucks will make you a millionaire in Viet Nam and 75 bucks here in Indonesia. Even though you know it’s not huge the big number makes you uneasy and that increased when I had arranged to hand over 6 million Rupiah to the driver when he collected us.  He asked for it straight away producing an invoice for us. It’s an uneasy feeling handing 6 million anything over to somebody so the least I could expect was to get a signature on the receipt. The driver immediately headed off to talk to a man hanging around on the corner.  As the man shook his head I realised he was asking for a pen so I called him back and gave him my pen. He then went back to the man on the corner and HE signed the receipt. Now I’m thinking ‘well that signature is proof of nothing’ but the driver then hands the man over the envelope of money.  Now I’m getting really worried. On his arrival back at the car I apologetically asked who that man was and he explained it was Mr Budi the boss I had e mails with.   PHEW!!

We then headed north east and went over a high pass to reach Sembalun.  A Sleepy town with a few nice views when I walked around at sunset and finally a view of the road to the mountain.   A VIEW TO A HILL



Ten to Five,  Cow time. Can’t get away from it.


Day 1

After a reasonable breakfast in the Lembah Rinjani Hotel. Our guide took us down the road to the check-in centre. Here you pay your fee (already included) and they check you equipment but nobody at that counter, so missed that bit which in tougher weather could well have been a problem. I would say the trek turned out a lot more difficult than I was expecting and there is a warning sign to note if you have and heart complaints that you should not do it. They also say if you have haemorrhoids you should not proceed. Now I’m happier there was nobody doing that “check”

We headed off from the trek centre and it immediately started to rain, light but wet. Was now the time to dig into the bags and get out the ponchos? The thought of getting wet early and being wet all day was depressing however the rain eased and stopped.


We started out in the foothills beyond the village of Sembalun and up through the farmers gardens. Maize, Tomatoes water melon and chillies were what we saw. It was sad to see the chillies rotting on the plants(see photo) as they only get 15US cents a Kilogram and they are not worth picking. After the farms we got into grassland and the guide told us it used to belong to Suharto but it was now common land in dispute. Whoever had it had loads of cattle hiding someplace because I’ve not seen so much cowshite since the last time John cleared out the slurry pit.




The Malaysian heat strikes again. We knew that Jack’s boots had already had a good life but we did expect them to last more than 40 minutes. Within an hour they had lost their soles completely and he had to switch to his runners. Mine faired a little better, I lost the outer soles on both but made it to the end of Day 1 and switched to my Brooks marathon shoes after that. The London tag is still on but nobody asked which was really disappointing.

We had a lovely stop for lunch on the way up.dsc_9097

We also had lots of other rest stops as the terrain got steeper and in all it took us 9 hours of which we were moving for 6.



Our tent was parked right next to the shop and the industrious shop-owner was disappointed to find that we were not dying for a Bintang Beer.  Considering where we were and what calories a porter had to burn to get a big bottle of Bintang to 2600 M the price of 6UKP was not bad at all. Granted there was a sale on.20160721_161652

It was pretty crowded and we were on the Rim which was not very wide and the wind blew hard creating a pretty serious chill factor, certainly enough to encourage you to go to bed.


The view from our tent captured the task ahead for the next day with a 1200 Meter climb and an idea of the angle.


Indonesians are very fond of singing we found and the main problem with the shop owner was that he only knew two songs and as far as I could discern it was only the chorus on each he had. However it acted as a lullaby for our tired limbs and we did manage to get some sleep ( a lot less that the fitbit suggested I might add)


Day 2.

Wake up call at 1 o clock for a 1.30 start.  That’s AM.  The last time I got up that early I could not remember why I got up and went back to bed again. We had breakfast and headed off up the mountain guided by moonlight and a dodgy head torch. There really are a lot of rubbish head torches in the world, I blame pound shops. It was a bit like a candlelight procession as we queued up to go up steep steps early on then it opened up a bit as we got onto the ridge. When I say ‘ridge’ I mean it! this was the real thing with a sheer drop to our right, about 2 meters of walking space and then a sharp drop off to the left. Now add a strong gale from the left and the fact that it is 2 am you start to doubt why you are there, it’s not even a pilgrimage that you can say your faith made you do it.

Thrill of the Day

About 3 am we came upon a flat piece of ground where there was a view into the Caldera and what a sight. Now we read all the notes and guides and Wikipedia about Rinjani and understood that it was active but we were not prepared for what we saw in the weak moonlight. Looking over the edge we could see the red glow of the Volcano with smoke rising from it. You could see the life right there and it all became more real. Unfortunately we were not able to get an image of that and only a professional looking photographer with a tripod seemed to be able to capture it on a 10 sec exposure. This is what it looked like from that spot later.



Whoever coined the phrase ‘two steps forward one step backwards’ climbed Mt Rinjani.  The next section was really rough as the whole mountain was loose rocks and as much as the guide helped it did not seem to do any good. His 60kgs versus our 85kgs made a big difference to the shear angle (there is a bit of my civil engineering coming into use). It was the only time I even considered giving up. It was such a fight to gain even 10 meters, however we persevered and got to the summit.

Even the Garmin watch had enough at this time and packed it in as the battery ran out.

Light had appeared in the sky at this point and can you believe we met people coming down. Serves them right for rushing up I bet they were just too cold to stay there. As we approached the summit we found people cowering in the rocks trying to get some shelter from the wind, using every bit of clothing they had. We reached the top (5hr 40mins) just as the sun appeared over the island of Sumbawa and the home of Tombora the largest volcanic eruption ever recorded on 10th April 1815 killing almost 100,000 people.




DSC_9129The summit was well populated and it was a little hard to find a spot to get a clear photo.  Managed to get a few.

It was bloody cold as you can see from the cold in our eyes in this photo


We managed to find a small crevice to get a rest from the wind for a while before heading back down. It was a great relief but we were keep to keep moving before getting too cold. We had no interest in taking off any layers. Once we got onto the scree it was hell with constant sliding and slipping. Once we got onto more solid ground there was a huge risk of small lose stones acting like ball bearings on a tiled floor. The main concern for me to try and protect my knees so I was taking it handy as I could,  using my stick. Despite my best efforts I fell 7 times and No 5 was the worst where my legs came flying out from under me and I fell flat on my back.

2-7-poser. a friend we met who was waiting for people to fall and raid their bags.

We reached the tent (2 hr 30 mins) and had a rest again after a second breakfast. I actually slept for half an hour despite bright sunshine, I was that tired.  We then headed off down into the crater and that was different again as it  was more climbing down over rocks and small cliffs, so I was using my stick a lot to brace my step. After a about 2 hours we started to flatten out a lot more and had some good views.

Getting to eye level with the crater.


We had a target of 3 ½ hrs but we did 3 hr 50 mins because I took it very easy on the steeper drops but our guide Kian (we called him Cian after Cian Healy but that was where the similarity stopped) started getting on my case and started only speaking to Jack as I reckon he did not remember my name and called me Dad once. Once we reached the lake the porters had got us a prime position right on the water’s edge. Our tent was just in that valley where the lake overflow is right beside the water.



We relaxed for a while and then headed to the hot springs which were a welcome sooth to our tired limbs.

2-8 The Relief. Hot Springs

We were very tired at the end of the day and were off to sleep quickly, imagine off to bed at 6.30??

Fitbit says 11 hours of sleep and if you asked me I’d say I did not sleep at all except I do remember some dreams so I must have had some.


Today as well as yesterday were more demanding than the marathon, in fact I reckon we did 3 half marathons in 4 days and a 6k equivalent on the 3rd day. Let me clarify however, there was no running involved at any point and the only time I picked up any speed was when I was skating on my backside downwards towards the crater.

Day 3

What a spot to wake up to, great view. See the view from a similar spot 8 days later in the postscript.

3-1 Wake up View

Jack was impressed with the hot springs so he headed back to the springs for a morning dip. I “rock taped” up my legs and put a tight brace on the left knee and a weaker one on the right and got ready for the next trek. Cian was pushing that we get off early but we finally got off at 10:45.

We walked alongside the lake for a while and had some lovely views before we headed up into the hills and up to the crater rim. It was tree lined as we headed up and that was nice to be shaded. We met some Malaysians from Serdang on the way who had stopped to eat that favourite past time of Malaysians.

There were a few very steep climbs but it was certainly easier than going down and overall it was an easy day. Cian was pushing us to head down the far side so we would not have so far to go on the final day but we pushed to stay at the top of the rim and I was so glad that we did as we had brilliant views. We were there early,(1:30pm)  the porters got a great spot and we had views both in and out of the caldera.


We actually got a phone signal here and let the world know we were out. We ate at 6pm and had a brilliant sunset with the clouds rolling in from the North East. To the west we had a view of Mt Agung in Bali.


We had a lot of visitors come to our spot as it was so good, we were surprised how many were on one night or two night trips as they had a tough climb to do. The downside of having the view was that we were exposed and I remember hearing the porters out three times tying down the tents. It was a pretty cold night so I did not bother getting up to see the moonlight or hopefully see any red colour in the volcano.


Some of the neighbours with their outside loo.


Thrill of the day was the view and a lovely dinner, egg pancakes rolled and deepfried into spring rolls.

Fitbit says I had a great night sleep but all I can remember was trying to get a comfortable position that did not hurt and hope that you fell asleep before the pain started.  First there were the sunburned ears that were sore to lie on but the travel pillow helped as I was able to nestle the ear in the middle. Lying flat on my back did not work as it put pressure on the results of the number 5 fall.  Lying on the left side seemed to put pressure on the quads and I seems to find a lump on my right side (that turned out to be a roll of money I had hid in my pants pocket)  The tent was tight for a near six footer so very hard to stretch out the hamstrings so overall a tough spot to relax in. However as I said Fitbit says I got lots of sleep.


Day 4

Before we left we decided to give Tipperary Footballers as much support as possible as they took on Derry. It worked.

Cian was keen to get us started off early today so we were off at 7.45 and had 45 mins lunch on the way down and we arrived at 3pm. It emerged at the end that he was keen to get back to arrange his daughter’s wedding.

Very tough at the top as there was a lot of potential for slipping as the slope was steep and had a lot of loose debris.

IMG_20160724_122119 we can’t get away from dogs.

Later as we got into the tree line we had more of a stepped terrain and we just had to be careful of slipping or reaching too far. As we flattened out more we reached the edge of the park and then had a nice walk through a coffee plantation.


We were met by out driver at the outskirts of Senaru and we said farewell to our comrades of 4 days.


Thrill of the day was a minute after I gave the tip to the porters to see him check the money again and break into a really big smile.  Maybe I got my zeros mixed up???  Whatever it was a lovely moment.


Our driver took us west and south to Singiggi and what was a calm careful driver that I praised on Wednesday this man turned into a madman who tried every chance he could to overtake and we had to keep him on a choke chain several times. I made it clear the small tip was directly related to his driving. Maybe that has an impact but I’m not sure.  We stayed one night at the Kila Senggigi Beach Hotel which was excellent. We checked into our beachside villa and had the best shower in the world before a swim in the sea.


The hotel was lovely and lots of places nearby to eat and have a Bintang. I found a massage place that inflicted immense pain on my legs and I convinced myself that it was all worth it.

Day 5

Recovery with a lovely morning reading my book on the veranda and a lovely long slow breakfast followed by another leg massage.


One important aspect of a hotel after a long climb is to make sure there are minimal steps and the Kila was excellent for this with lots of little ramps. Taxi to the airport and check in for Air Asia.  Great Trip which will be remembered forever.


Eight days after we left the mountain it erupted suddenly with a plume that reached
32,000ft and caused Lombak airport to be closed and caused planes to be diverted and
cancelled to Bali.
Mother Earth needs to be treated with caution and respect.




Some earlier reports and photos from December 2015.






  1. Joe what a interesting read. Such a clear description of this amazing trip and a lovely experience to share with your son. I felt I was there with both of you. I’m glad I wasn’t though as I wouldn’t have had the stamina. And the cold and the lack of sleep would have killed me. I love your photographs but I think my favourite is the scene from the tent. Well done to both of you. This was such an achievement.
    Which volcano will you take on next? Is there such a thing as ‘Volcano Bagging’


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