Michelle Jana Chan hikes to the top of Mount Rinjani, an active volcano with views to Bali and beyond.
THE Indonesian archipelago, a region susceptible to tectonic activity, is part of the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire", a chain of beautiful and dramatic islands with cone-shaped peaks and fertile green fields enriched by mineral deposits and interspersed by stretches of solidified lava flows. With this island topography, volcanoes seem all the more monumental because they rise up almost from sea level.
Lombok's Mount Rinjani is one of Indonesia's highest mountains and offers a spectacular but straightforward climb. There are two main routes and it is common for hikers to avoid backtracking, using one trail up and the other trail down, which is what I choose to do.
I begin my trek from the village of Senaru, where I meet my friendly, talkative guide, Sujar. He points out the changing flora as we move from farmland into teak and mahogany forests. Adi, our wiry young porter, carries provisions across his shoulders on a bamboo pole. He has strung a radio to the yoke, which blasts loud, crackly Indonesian pop music. I'm relieved when the batteries die.
That first day we ascend more than 2000 metres. En route we meet a handful of trekkers, including Singaporeans, a group of Germans working on an eco-project and four South Koreans complaining about sore knees. Adi cooks hot meals, which are tasty, if a little repetitive: fried rice or fried noodles with a fried egg, or noodle soup with a boiled egg.
The first night's camp is at one of the lower points on the crater rim. As we rise over the lip, I peer into the caldera at the blue-green mineral-rich lake. Rising up from the waters is smouldering Mount Baru, a baby cone born out of the lake 50 years ago.
Sujar tells me that when he was camping here in 2006, he heard a deep rumble "like it was inside" his body. When he found enough courage to leave his tent, he saw Mount Baru erupting. He rounded up his group and they hotfooted it down the mountain.
"Were they scared?" I ask.
"That was the strange thing," he replies. "They were so happy. They told me how lucky they were to see an eruption."
The following day we head into the caldera to the banks of the lake. As we draw closer, there is a whiff of sulphur in the air. Some climbers are already swimming in the bubbling hot springs. Others are fishing for carp. We break for lunch before a heavy rainstorm hurries us on to base camp.
Overnight the temperature falls to a few degrees above freezing. We wake in the early hours and set off swiftly, with the aim of reaching the summit before sunrise. There is a sliver of a moon, turned up into a smile. The Southern Cross constellation punctures the night sky.
We put on our head-torches and begin hiking the steep final stretch. As the sun cracks over the horizon, I can see the shadow of Rinjani thrown against frangipani-pink skies in the west. Beyond is the silhouette of Bali's sacred volcano, Agung. With the land shrouded in mist, it looks as if the peak is floating. I sit there, upon layers of ash and cinder, in wonder at how the explosive Ring of Fire can also give rise to such serene moments.
- The Telegraph, London