A Walk Above the Clouds: Part Two

Day Two, Continued:

The trail to the summit of Rinjani is like a steep dune made from volcanic sand and rock.  As you climb, your boot sinks deep into the thick grit and you begin to slide back down.  The slower you move, the deeper your boot sinks and the farther you slide.

This is pretty good incentive to not move slowly.

That’s what I kept telling my burning thighs, anyway.

Aside from the light on my head and the random beams from those around me, the trail was dark.

Larger boulders had rolled down from the summit to surround the lower reaches of the trail.  I was doing my best to keep a steady pace, and I began scanning ahead for a boulder or a rock as an occasional goal.  I’d climb to my goal and then step up on the rock and rest for a few minutes without sliding back down all my hard-earned progress.

Tiny rocks and sand quickly filled all available gaps near the ankles of my hiking shoes.  I was totally beat from the the day before, but I slowly made progress.

As we reached higher ground the boulders and rocks began to fall behind.  Without anything to break its path, the wind whipped relentlessly around us.  Even though I was wearing every piece of gear I had with me and I had built up some body heat from the effort of the climb, the cold was still intense.

The trail began to crest along a 6 or 7-foot wide path, still of sandy, rocky Earth.  On either side of us was a steep slope that dropped into darkness.

After three hours we had almost reached the top.  The trail had widened substantially, and Luke, Heru and I sat off the side of the path, maybe 40-feet down from the final push to summit. We watched the sun rise (amazing!) and then we finished the climb.

The view was incredible.


At the summit, you gaze out and see the shadow of the volcano stretching far into the horizon. You can see the top of the volcano Mt Agung on the island of Bali and the three small islands known as the Gili’s nestled between Bali and Lombok. You can see the incredible landscape within the crater – the smoking top of Mt Barujari, the full extent of the lake and incredible valleys at the base of steep green slopes.

I relished the view alongside the 20-some hikers at the top with us.  Each group spoke excitedly in various languages.  Almost every hiker flashed big brilliant smiles in all directions, which I returned enthusiastically.  It is a simple but powerful bond understood by everybody, whatever language you speak.


I closed my eyes and felt the cold wind blowing around me and the bright sun on my face.  I inhaled thin air into my lungs. I sat down, stretched, and I ate an entire pack of Tim-Tam cookies.

It was awesome.

All this happened at the summit in about 15-minutes and then Heru told us it was time to head back down to base camp.

Rinjani quicksand – check out Luke’s feet!

Going down is WAY easier than going up! We ran down the slope in the bright sunlight, surfing along the top of the grit.  It took us about an hour to get down, a third of the time it had taken us to climb it.

When we returned to camp, we had about 15-minutes to wolf down second breakfast before it was time to get going again.

Next up on the trek was tackling the steep hike down to the lake within the crater, about 650 meters (2100 feet) down.

I think if they had offered to show me a spot where I could barrel roll down the slope I seriously would have done it.  I’d probably scream the whole way (..it was a steep crater and it would still take a while) but at least I wouldn’t have to use my legs.

As it was, I knew that the effort would be rewarded with lunch at the water and an hour break, with time to soak the beautiful hot springs.  That’s pretty good motivation to get moving again!

View from the rim, at the top of the trail down.

As the day progressed I realized a number of things:

  1.  Luke was a mountain goat in a previous life.  For all the effort I was exerting, it didn’t seem to be phasing him much at all.  Mountain goat is the only explanation.
  2. My boots were too small.  After the steep hike down into the crater, I took off my shoes to survey my feet.  Met with the familiar swollen toes I’ve come to recognize over the years, I knew I’d be losing some toenails from our adventure. I was on a constant mission to find the right boots. For all the practice hikes I’d taken with the latest pair, they would clearly be joining the growing pile of rejects back home.
  3. When you are surrounded by the beauty of an incredible landscape, banged up feet and achy muscles are worth it.
  4. Natural hot springs are bliss on sore muscles, but require some level of balance to relax in.  The rocks are very slippery!  It was tricky work finding a spot where I could settle in without sliding down the rocks and having to catch myself before my head went under.


Before the trek, I had worried that I would be hungry the whole time.  I get “hanger” pretty bad (you know… hungry/angry), so I’d even packed some extra snacks. No hanger for me!

As it turned out, this was a completely unnecessary concern.  At mealtimes, the amount of food placed in front of me was enough to feed Luke and I combined.  My belly was constantly full, but I just couldn’t bring myself to waste the food our porters were working so hard to prepare for us (…not to mention carry for us).

On top of the big portions and multiple courses, we generally did not have long to eat.

Second course of lunch, fruit to share.  There is about a cup and a half of rice under that rice cracker!

My point?

Imagine gorging on a huge meal and then going to climb a steep slope in the hot afternoon sun.  Throw into this mix very sore muscles, swollen feet, and a higher altitude than you are used to.

After a huge lunch, we set out to climb out of the crater to the opposite rim.  It was the height of afternoon heat and I was working my way up an incline that involved all four of my limbs.  The sun blared down and in a sudden and unexpected rush, my body seized and I couldn’t catch my breath.  I began to cry.  Not from emotion, it felt very different than that. I felt out of control and it made me panic.  We were moving single file at this point, and so I was perched on a small ledge, trying to stabilize my breathing while Luke, Heru and Volker tried to figure out how to help me.  I haven’t had many panic attacks in my life.  This was one of them, and it is one of the more scary memories I have in my life.  I blubbered apologies and tried to hide my embarrassment, but in moments like this, it all becomes a blur.

I slowly calmed down and made it to the top of the technical climb. Luke insisted on taking my pack for the rest of the day – and I let him.  Getting acclimated to the new distribution of weight, a pack on his front and a pack on his back, he strutted around making the other hikers laugh. (Have I mentioned how awesome my husband is!?)

Two-Pack Luke

When we arrived at camp, we gazed back in the opposite direction. In the distance, we could see the spot where we had camped the previous night, follow the ridge line to the summit, look down the opposite slope to the lake and down the slope of the crater we’d just climbed.

The magnitude of it all was crazy!  Every time I wanted to just be done with it, I just needed to look around me and suddenly I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

That night I stayed up just long enough to see the sun set.  I was asleep by 7:30.


Day Three: Climb down through a gravel field and into the tropical rainforest, ending early afternoon

The next morning our whole group was tired, but the sunrise was gorgeous. We enjoyed our last breakfast together and then set out for the final descent down the side slope of the volcano.

When hiking down unstable terrain like a gravel field, each step has to be taken carefully.  Moving slowly when gravity is pulling you forward requires a bit more muscle and attention. Since we were all sore, we were all getting sloppy.

Halfway down, Angelica put too much weight on an unstable rock and fell forward.  Unable to catch herself, she hit her temple on a rock – hard.  The rock was sharp and she began to bleed as guides from groups all around us rushed over to help.  A doctor from another group joined the crowd around her.  Luke, Robin and I stood back, unsure of what to do, while Volker translated the doctors questions into German for Angelica.  They shined lights in her eyes, asked her questions, gave her water and bandaged her head.

In short – it was a very scary moment!

The group gave Angelica some time and then we kept moving forward. After her fall, we moved more slowly and deliberately.

When we entered the rainforest, the ground shifted to slick red dust atop hard packed Earth.  My feet were aching in my too small boots, so I put on my Teva sandals and sighed in relief to have free toes.

We hiked on and again the group was more cheerful. Eddie lightened the mood with his exceptionally high pitched rendition of “Three Little Birds.”

My Tevas had no traction at all, and parts of the trail were so steep I was constantly slipping on the slick red dust and falling on my butt. I was laughing now about how much this volcano had kicked my ass, but the joke was on me, because Rinjani still had one more battle scar to dish out.

Just as the land began to level out, we walked along the final stretch of path and my quad twitched and contracted unexpectedly and my knee gave out, causing me to trip, my foot rolling to the outer blade under the burden of most of my weight. I heard a snap and felt a sharp, immediate pain. Placing any weight on it had me gritting my teeth. Leaning into Luke, I hobbled to the end of the trail, smiled for a picture, and arrived at the van about 15-minutes later.

Eddie, Robin, me, Luke, Angelica, Volker and Heru

Sinking into the soft seat on our drive back to headquarters, my poor body was all kinds of banged up.  My muscles were sore and my foot felt tender and painful, but as Rinjani grew smaller in the rear view mirrors, I smiled with joy at what I’d just done.  I looked to the rest of the group and saw the same happiness reflected in each of their faces.

It was an unexpected challenge, but I think sometimes that is exactly what you need in life.  Challenging yourself  is a reminder that no matter what experience you find yourself in, you can trust that you will find the strength to keep going.  Sometimes it comes from within, sometimes it comes in the form of accepting help from someone you love, and sometimes it comes from complete strangers.

Strength and support exists within and all around us, whether you’re in your hometown or on the opposite side of the world.

It is an empowering realization.

(Oh…and as for my foot?  I found out a year later I’d broken it.  A surgery later, it’s still not the same.  BUT  explaining that the scar is from breaking my foot on a volcano in Indonesia is a solid conversation starter!)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And lastly, just because this image made me laugh SO HARD, I’m going to give a big shout out to planetbell.me for their on-point illustration of the experience of climbing Rinjani (though we also did the summit):



Adventure on friends!

xx Katie