A mountain of rubbish on Mount Rinjani

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“If you can see past the rubbish, Rinjani is a beautiful mountain” said the Aussie who had just come down. I wondered if he was exaggerating about the litter. I mean, how bad could it be?

Mount Rinjani. the second highest mountain in Indonesia, dominates the skyline on the island of Lombok. The islands are part of the volatile Pacific Ring of Fire and the cone inside the large volcano’s crater, the Rinjani Caldera, is constantly active. The last major eruption was in 1995. Last year’s eruption stopped flights into Bali for one month.

imageWe set off up the fairly steep dusty trail flanked by hedges of bright red Poinsettias. These flowers we associate with Christmas have been used here for centuries as an indicator of the dry season. We pass banana palms and cocoa trees while black monkeys, with their distinctive long tails, crash around the treetops above.

There are two routes up the mountain. One starts by the village of Senaru at 601m, the other at Sembalun (1,156m). Our trip follows the Senaru route as this climbs up through forest for most of the ascent whereas the other is largely grassland in full sun all day. Like most mountains in these parts, you have to sign in and out at the end and are obliged to employ a guide and porters. The volcano was once a lofty 5,000m high but the highest point now is just 3726m. Our trek would take us to the crater rim at 2639m rather than the full summit.

imageFollowing our tiny guide, Anom, we weave up through the forest, aided by tree roots. Where the rain has eroded the path into gullies you can see the history of volcanic activity – layers of orange, yellow, black. We reach the first rest stop. Grey monkeys skulk around picking up discarded rubbish to see what goodies have been left. I see one licking the inside wrapper of a chocolate bar, like I used to do as a child. The following two rest stops are similar. Rubbish from lunch packs, used toilet roll and bottles lie around these areas and the path.

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We continue up and reach the savannah. The path from here to the crater rim is very loose – like walking on ball bearings. I climb past people skidding around in their trainers. We reach our camping area but continue up to the crater rim. And it is beautiful. You can see the whole crater. Clouds have bubbled up below us but the mountain basks in sunshine. The tip of Mount Agund on Bali also peaks above the clouds in the distance. The aquamarine waters of Segura Anak Lake in the crater below us sparkle. The toes of the black lava stretch away from the active volcanic cone into the lake. A yellow inlet of steaming sulphur skirts its left flank. I will it to rumble into life. It stays stubbornly quiet. Spoilsport!

We head back down to the camp watching carefully where we step. Toilet roll marks the offending spots but you also get a pungent warning of places to avoid. The rubbish of previous camp occupants is scattered around – bottles, wet wipes, toilet paper, food waste – I look carefully before putting my rucksack down.

Our porters have dug a shallow hole for the toilet tent. A scan around and you can see old holes from previous toilet tents. They have not been covered. Some still have toilet roll inside. These are the fresh ones.

The sky turns a burnt orange and then fiery red as the sun sets. The temperature drops. We eat our noodle dinner swiftly and retreat to the ‘warmth’ of our tents.

Following a fitful night’s sleep on the rocky ground in thin sleeping bags we trek back up to the crater for sunrise. Plumes of steam from the little volcano cone are more visible in the fresh morning air. We watch another kaleidoscope of colour as the sun rises over the skyline. In these moments you just enjoy the view.

Our guide Andy explained that the government organises a clean up of the mountain every few years but this reactionary approach is unsustainable. Investment needs to be made into education both for the companies that rely on the mountains and the visitors to take their rubbish out with them. I am not a huge fan of buildings up a mountain and if there were toilets, these would need to be maintained. But there needs to be some sanitation infrastructure to reduce the faeces and toilet paper scattered up the mountain, especially at the top. Maybe the island should look at investing in a manned hut system like on Mt Kinabalu, which is a pretty clean mountain.

People have been coming to these islands for their beaches for decades but adventure tourism is still relatively new and the infrastructure is not in place to cater for the influx of these visitors. That being said, I would still agree with our Aussie friend – Mount Rinjani is still beautiful.

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