Monday, December 9, 2013

conquering mountains

I'm no mountaineer. Rock climbing isn't my thing. Heights are abhorring. Funny that, being the daughter of my mother and all. In her twenty's she jumped out of planes and free climbed up cliffs. At five years old she brought me bouldering. In retrospect the boulders couldn't have been more than 15 feet high, but in my little eyes, they couldn't have been bigger. Every inch higher she climbed brought more screams from me requesting her decent.

So logically (or not so much), when I met Esther at a hostel in Semenyak who mentioned her desire to hike Mount Rinjani - an active volcano on the island of Lombok - I expressed my interest to do the same. I don't know where the interest came from... at least no picks or ropes were involved.

A while later we met back up for our 3 day / 2 night adventure. One I've only finally come to look back upon with a willingness to do again sometime if the offer ever arises. It's just a simple mountain, we thought. We couldn't have been more wrong. Even from a distance the view was deceiving. The 3,726 meter (12,224 foot) mountain had a lot more up its sleeve than we were prepared for.

While looking for a tour guide, we met a young Danish girl named Eva. Unlike the both of us, Eva was prepared. At least in the shoe department. As Esther and I are both traveling the world as light as possible (her more-so than I) proper hiking shoes are things we thought more of as dead weight. So we borrowed some. And if there's was no greater lesson in all of my travels than this, it is: never break in shoes while climbing vertically up and down a mountain for 10-12 hours a day. To say I destroyed my feet would be an understatement. I still don't know if they've forgiven me yet.

The first few hours of day one brought story-rounds. The way the story magically connected as one person ended a thought and the next person picked it up had our guide questioning how we all knew the story he never heard before. For us it brought two hours worth of entertainment as we slowly made our accent.

Lunchtime came when the sun was its hottest. Our two flip-flop clad porters, whom we openly admired for their brute strength in each carrying 25 kilos worth of items (hanging off a bamboo pole) on their shoulders, automatically switched into chef mode. A make-shift tent was constructed for us to relax under while they and our guide cooked up our first meal of the trek. It put our future pain in perspective knowing they climb once, if not twice, a week on a regular basis.

The following afternoon hours were harder. Our enthusiasm started waning. And the walking sticks our guide fashioned out of branches became our greatest joy. We grew so attached to our perspective sticks, that by the end of our journey it took prying it out of our cold, stiff hands to part them from us.

Young, sprite, 19 year old Eva had a bounce in her step the entire way up. She was consistently 12 steps ahead of us the entire trek. What a difference a decade (and a few years) makes. That and a comfortable pair of shoes. Esther, in turn, couldn't have been a better companion, shooting out words of encouragement when pain from bursting blisters on the back of my ankles consumed my every thought.

Reaching the crater rim our first evening was one of the most joyous moments for the three of us. Sweat stained and tired, we swapped into dry and warm clothes as the night's chill set upon us. Then, after dinner, we retired early to our tent. The three of us cuddling close to stay warm.

A 2am wakeup call came the following morning. With advice to bundle up, we layered on all the clothes we brought with us. The seven hour trek up and down the summit would be a cold one. With the knowledge of the cold I decided it wasn't necessary to weigh down my load by topping up my 1 liter bottle with water. Any way to lighten the load up the steep ascent was a good one.  Never did I realize I'd be stripping off clothes, or begging for water so soon.

One step up and two steps back. Full, shin deep, gravel paths 3/4ths the way up. Not enough water. All contributors to my body succumbing to altitude sickness. At 3,450 meters up, nausea and dizziness overtook me. As much as I wanted to say I conquered Rinjani, my body was readily willing to accept defeat.

I pushed myself further, until I had no strength left in me. Huddling behind some rocks as the chill of the wind pierced straight to the bones, Esther and I watched the sun rise above the mountain. Eva was somewhere near the top with our guide.

I couldn't continue on and joined another girl back down to the crater rim. Esther, in her desire to reach the top, turned the other direction. Two hours later, after feeling well rested and 'equilibrialized' we were reunited at the tent - Eva and Esther showing me photos from the top.

But the journey didn't end there. After a quick breakfast we set off on another 4 hour hike into the caldera. A sheer drop down. With legs as tired as ours already were, the steep rocky steps we climbed down were harder than they otherwise would have been.

Our treats that night were deliciously warm hot springs and a beautiful lake-side campsite. That and the temperatures were a bit warmer.

Our third and final day was the longest. A 3-4 hour hike back up to the volcano's rim and then further 9 hour journey back down the opposite side. For hours we sang one tune after another to keep our spirits high. We watched as group after group passed us in the opposite direction, sweat dripping off their brows as they'd stare at us in disbelief of our energy.

But it was the final hour that got me. The ground was flat, but my bloodied socks now stuck to my wounds and every step I took hurt worse than the last. I fell without provocation. The only thing keeping me upright most of the time being my stick. A hot shower, warm bed and a nearby wall to elevate my feet were the only things I was dreaming of. And gratefully, that came.

Not one of us could walk properly the following day. Lifting our legs in any fashion was laughable. Locals would glance our direction. Our cheeks would redden and they'd nod in a knowing fashion.

"Rinjani," they'd verbally conclude. 


Donna Bardsley said...

Wow Claire!

Sounds like the kind of thing most people would spend a few months training for. ;)

Patti said...

Finally got a chance to catch up on the last four posts after a crazy month. What amazing places you have been! The food looks fabulous! I have learned the same lessons you did about hiking shoes but on a much smaller, and not even as close to challenging mountain. Kudos!