It’s 2:00am and the clatter of groggy people moving around half asleep fills the air. The word coffee is whispered multiple times, and a bright flashlight shines into my cozy tent. It’s time to get up. I’m wearing as many clothes as I have with me, and it’s still freezing. With my headlamp on, I look around. Today, me and about a hundred other tourists will try to summit Mt. Rinjani.
Mt. Rinjani is an active volcano on the island of Lombok in Indonesia. It stands at 12,224 feet. Today, we will (hopefully) ascend 3,370 feet before sunrise. The summit is broken into three parts, which as far as I can tell, can best be described as shitty, not so shitty, and really shitty.
It’s pitch black, and all I can see are the feet of the person in front of me. I stare at them for so long that I begin to think that they are my own feet just seconds from now. I just need to get to where that person is. It’s a strategy that helps my mind focus on a small goal rather than the big picture. As soon as I look up, it fails. I can see headlamps floating above me. The lights form a clear path going straight up into the sky. Immediately, I regret checking how far I have to go, as it seems to stretch on forever.
I start to climb the first major stretch, and I’m not getting anywhere. The entire ground is volcanic ash. As soon as I take a step, my foot slides down so far that I’m actually moving backward. There’s no resistance, and my legs begin to ache. It’s like an elliptical made out of dust. The person in front of me stirs up so much of the ash that I can barely breathe even with a scarf over my mouth. My eyes struggle to see anything through the fog of dust churning in front of me. I pause to catch my breath and look away. Up in the sky, I can see almost every star. Even if I don’t summit, it was worth getting up for this incredible view.
After what feels like (and might actually be) hours, I notice there are only a few more headlights in front of me. I’m almost to the top of this section. Once I make it, a new path of headlamps is in sight. It’s going fairly straight and with little incline. I begin to walk, and suddenly, I realize there is no ground to my left or right. Just pure blackness. As if the world simply drops away. The wind picks up, and I immediately feel unsteady. It whips across my face so harshly that it feels like a million little razors leaving scars on my skin. At the same time, the temperature feels as though it’s dropped another 20 degrees. My guide, Adi, walks behind me, and I hope that if the wind were to carry me over the edge, he’d catch me.
The flat area is a much-needed break, which ends all too soon. In front of me, I can see a smattering of headlights going high up in the distance and shrinking so small that they almost blend in with the stars. The sun is starting to illuminate the sky, and I wonder if I’ll make it before sunrise. We begin to walk and the volcanic ash is even deeper than before, only this time it has gravel mixed in. It’s nearly impossible to take a step. Every time I try, I fall forward. This summit could be used as some kind of cruel and unusual punishment.
My group gets ahead of me, and I can’t keep up. Every so often, they stop to give me a chance to catch them, but it’s too hard. I tell them to go on without me. After a quick rest, I see another group that has a nice slow pace, so I fall in line behind the guide and watch his feet. I begin to count my steps. “Just take five steps closer to the summit,” I tell myself. One. Two. Three. I pause and take a deep breath. Four. Five. Then I start over. I get into the same groove as the guide, and soon I’ve caught up with my group.
The lights in the distance seem closer, so I dare to ask the question, “How much further?” Surely, it can’t be that far. I can see the people standing at the top. “An hour. Maybe more.” My heart drops. There is no way I can make it another hour. We’ve already been trekking for almost three or four, and I’ve barely gone anywhere. I feel so defeated that I plop down in the volcanic ash, and my landing forms a cloud of dust around me.
“How much further till our destination?” a girl asks her boyfriend in the distance.
“The destination is right in front of you,” he replies.
The group goes ahead, but Adi stays behind with me. I’d told him the day before not to let me quit. I needed to make it to the summit. I knew before hand how tough this would be and that my mind would want to give up on me. What I hadn’t anticipated was the muscle I’d managed to pull on the inner part of my thigh. Every time I took a step, I felt a massive pain, which consumed my entire right leg. Add in the fact that each step sent me sliding backwards, and I wanted to give up more than anything.
My ego has always been able to drive me forward in tough times. Knowing I’d be writing about this in a blog made me feel like I had no choice but to summit. Writing a post titled “How not to summit Rinjani” didn’t sound so catchy. At this point, I was so utterly exhausted that I literally said “F*** the blog” in my head. I didn’t care what people thought. I’d live on the side of that volcano the rest of my life if I needed to. Surely, tourists and trekkers would take pity on me and give me water and protein bars to survive. But Adi had other plans. He wanted me to see the view from the summit, so he grabbed my hand and said “Come on. Let’s go.” It came out a little harsh, but had he said it any nicer I wouldn’t have listened.
The Final Assent
Thus began my final assent, or what I like to call “Adi dragging me up the mountain.” I began counting steps again. As time went on and the steps got harder, the count got shorter. I started to count to four. Eventually I was down to two. One. Two. Two steps closer. One. Two. Two steps closer. Two steps felt like a mile. We’d take about ten steps, and then take a thirty second break. Then, ten more. I needed a real break, so I sat down. I wanted to cry. My eyes began to tear up, but it was too much work. I had absolutely no energy left. I took a few deep breath and thought to myself…
Do you want to give up?
Summiting a mountain is on your bucket list…
If you don’t finish it today, you will have to endure all of this again somewhere else. Do you really want to go through this hell again, or just suck it up for less than an hour?
Needless to say, I stood back up and went another twenty or so steps before collapsing again. F*** my bucket list. I didn’t care. I sat there a little longer, and then Adi grabbed my arm again, ready to drag me further. “Never try. Never know,” he said philosophically. I told him I needed a few minutes. My heart was pounding. My chest was tight. My nose was running. I could barely breathe. I was shaking uncontrollably from the cold, and the wind was hitting my face at an uncanny speed. So, I sat unable to move or maybe just unwilling.
I took a few more deep breaths and my dads face popped into my mind. He was smiling. I’m going to be honest here and say that I’m not sure I buy into the whole heaven idea, but at that moment, I thought maybe he could see me. I was definitely high enough. That small thought gave me the final push I needed. I was going to make it to the top.
I grabbed Adi’s hand and began walking with him again. Sometimes behind him, being dragged. Sometimes next to him, pushing myself to go further. We caught up with the rest of the group who were surprised to see me, but happy I didn’t give up. We were each given some kind of Indonesian Kit Kat bar. It took me forever to open the wrapper and even longer to eat it. I can say this with confidence, I have never been too tired to eat, but in that moment I couldn’t even chew.
As a group, we began to work our way toward the summit. My legs were shaking with fatigue. It was as if someone had tied weights to them when I wasn’t looking. They started to give out, and I began falling forward almost every other step. I loathed the people with two ski poles who were passing me with ease. Adi gave me his walking stick for support. With Adi on one side and the walking stick on the other, I was almost able to get my footing. Even with both of those, it was excruciating. But now, I could see how close I was. Nothing was going to stop me from getting there and holding that little sign that said I made it. I had to summit.
I finally reached the top, and all I could do was sit. Adi took my camera and began to take a few photos of me holding the coveted summit sign. He then proceeded to take some photos of the volcano behind me, not wanting me to miss out. I continued to sit, unable to move even slightly. After several minutes, I got enough energy to turn myself around to see the view I’d fought so hard to witness, and it didn’t disappoint. It took what little breath I had left away. Tears filled my eyes, but this time they were happy. I’d made it to the top. It took every ounce of power I had and one very determined trekking guide, but I’d made it.
This year has been all about pushing myself to my limits. There are so many times in life when we doubt ourselves. When we think we can’t do something. When we want to give up. Doing things like this trek constantly show me how strong I am. How far I can go. How much I can accomplish. Even beyond my wildest dreams. The day before the trek, I told myself it didn’t matter how far I made it. I honestly didn’t know if I’d be able to summit. As long as I pushed myself as far as I could go, I knew I would be proud. Sitting there on that mountain, I knew I gave it everything I had. Every piece of strength. Every piece of focus. I gave it all, and in the end I made it to the top.
Special thanks to Rinjani Trek Centre for organizing my climb. I’ve never met a guide who was so dedicated to helping me achieve my goals. I would not have made it up the mountain without Adi’s help.
This is a sponsored post. Like always, all opinions are my own. This post originally appeared on www.fulltimeexplorer.com