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Climbing Rinjani: Lombok's Sacred Volcano

Located on the north of the island, Gunung Rinjani soars 3,726m (12,224 ft.) above sea level and is the second-highest volcano in Indonesia. Visitors from around the world come to Lombok to climb Gunung Rinjani to its crater lake or demanding summit, particularly from July to September, during the European holidays and Lombok's "high season". Gunung Rinjani is considered a "Home of the Gods" and the mountain is a pilgrimage site for prayer; pilgrims bathe in the pools and hot springs, which are said to have healing powers.

The 4km-wide (2 1/2-miles) caldera near the top of the volcano is almost filled by a beautiful crescent-shaped lake, Danau Segara Anak (Child of the Sea Lake). The lake is around 230m (755 ft.) deep and contains plentiful fish, and is home to birds and other wildlife. A smaller volcanic cone, Gunung Baru Jari, was formed a mere couple of hundred years ago and juts from the crater's interior at the edge of the lake. Caves, waterfalls, and hot springs are around the volcano, most importantly Aik Kalak on the northeast of the crater, where the volcanically heated waters are said to cure illnesses, particularly skin diseases.

The northern gateway to the Rinjani National Park is at Senaru . The Rinjani National Park (admission Rp150,000) is the nature reserve of 41,330 hectares (102,129 acres) surrounding the volcano. Senaru is the usual starting point for climbing Gunung Rinjani, with a number of trekking centers that can organize trips up the mountain. Other options, for a slightly shorter route to the summit, are Sembalun Lawang and Sembalun Bumbung to the northeast. Both are rustic mountain villages, with basic homestays and tour centers that can organize your trek.

The Rinjani Trek Management Board (RTMB; tel. 0370/641124 or 08/11390047; www.lombokrinjanitrek.org), originally set up and sponsored by the New Zealand government, forms a partnership between the Rinjani National Park, the tourism industry, and the local community. Cooperatives are at Rinjani Trek Centre (RTC) in Senaru and the Rinjani Information Centre (RIC) in Sembalun Lawang. Under the guidance of the RTMB, each center is run by a stakeholders' committee who look after roster systems for guides and porters, village tours, trail maintenance, and handicraft sales. Revenue from trekking and entry fees is used for conservation, training, and management of the Rinjani Trek, thus ensuring sustainability of this natural resource for the future. In 2004 the Rinjani Trek won the World Legacy Award for Destination Stewardship. Rinjani is currently being considered for Geopark status and World Natural Heritage status by UNESCO.

Guides and porters at the trek centers have many years experience on the mountain and in Rinjani National Park, together with a vested interest in safe and ecofriendly trekking, and are therefore the recommended choice for climbing Mount Rinjani. When climbing, it is prudent to use an authorized guide, deal with a reputable trekking business, and carry as few valuables as possible with you.

Two-day, 1-night treks (US$200) are the shortest, and take visitors to the crater rim. The most popular is the 3-day, 2-night (US$310) trek which allows trekkers to climb down to the shores of the lake and enjoy a soak in the hot springs. It takes 3 to 4 days to reach the summit of the volcano (US$310), a demanding climb with magnificent views from the highest point on Lombok. Costs include entrance fee, meals, porter, return transport, alcoholic beverage, first aid, tent, bag, and mattress.

Trekking on the volcano is not for everyone. A certain level of fitness is needed and climbing to the summit is particularly strenuous. Altitudes of over 2,700m (8,858 ft.) are reached in all these treks and, even on the equator, nighttime temperatures can be very cold, with strong winds and occasional rain.

The best time to climb Gunung Rinjani is in the dry season from around April to October, or before the rainy season starts. The sunny days and cooler temperatures make this time of the year the most comfortable for climbing, and enable the clearest views of the stunning scenery both on and around the mountain.

Tips for Trekking Mount Rinjani

* Always use a reputable trekking business and check that they have facilities to cope with emergencies.

* Never wander away on your own, even if you're an experienced climber. A number of deaths and injuries have occurred on the mountain. Loose shale and unstable surfaces are hazards.

* Use good quality, comfortable shoes and take a walking stick to help with the inclines.

* Make sure you have a warm jacket and enough clothes as it is cold on the mountain.

* Check that your trekking company is supplying sleeping bags and blankets.

* Don't try to save money by trekking on your own or using unauthorized guides. * Licensed guides will have identification, and are experienced to handle your trek and the conditions on the mountain.

* Don't take passports or carry valuables that aren't essential to your trek.

* Please respect this natural wonder. Don't litter or leave anything on the mountain, except your footprints.

Where to Stay & Dine

Lembah Rinjani, Sembalun Lawang (tel. 08/1803652511 or 08/5239543279; http://lembahrinjani.googlepages.com; year-round Rp175,000; no credit cards) is a charming and rustic mountain retreat on the feet of the Rinjani volcano. Rooms are basic, but very clean and comfortable, with private terraces and astounding views of the mountain, which seems to rise up immediately in front of you. The air here is clear and cold, rising up in mists when you breathe. At their restaurant, try the local curries, tasty soups, and stir-fries -- all great for warming up. A house specialty is the serbat (a traditional Javanese drink), made with fresh cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and other ground spices. The staff is very knowledgeable about the area and many of them serve as guides and porters for climbing the mountain. Ask for one of them to show you around or guide you on a short mountain trek. The view from the small mountain just out of town is incredible and you can see a Hindu temple half-way up.

The Pondok Senaru & Restaurant, Rinjani National Park, Senaru (tel. 0370/622868; main courses Rp10,000-Rp25,000; No credit cards; daily 8am-9pm), presents a good value on a small hillside next to the public parking area in Senaru, at the entrance to the Rinjani National Park. Stop here for a cool drink when visiting the waterfalls and enjoy the fine views from the garden bales over the rice terraces and jungle-covered foothills. The restaurant serves sandwiches and Indonesian meals for lunch and dinner. Basic accommodation is also available (Rp200,000-Rp350,000; no credit cards).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.