Far From Tsunami, Climbing an Indonesian Volcano

Bill Dalton in Gunung Rinjani, Indonesia
National Geographic Traveler
Updated January 21, 2005

Editor's note: Gunung Rinjani won the 2004 World Legacy Award for Destination Stewardship.

TravelWatch editor Jonathan B. Tourtellot points out that Rinjani, on Lombok, is 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) from tsunami-devastated Aceh Province. "The best thing tourists can do for Indonesia right now," he says, "is to follow through on their trips to unaffected places like Bali and Lombok. That provides the country with the economic support needed to offset disaster costs. Plus, you'll have a great trip."

A joint effort of National Geographic Traveler and Conservation International, the World Legacy Awards encourage sustainable tourism.

Breathing deeply in the thin air, two days of uphill hiking behind me, I crested a rise and descended into Mount Rinjani's six-mile-wide (ten-kilometer-wide) crater—an otherworldly habitat with deep gorges, towering walls, hot springs, waterfalls, a turquoise lake, rare waterfowl, and a perfect volcanic cone.

Famed for its beauty and isolation, Gunung Rinjani—at 12,224 feet (3,726 meters) Indonesia's second highest volcano—towers over Lombok, an island just east of its more famous and developed neighbor, Bali.

Years have passed since I made the climb, but it remains a great experience thanks to a winning stewardship program. When the national park named for the volcano came into being in 1997, local communities, businesses, and park officials joined to form the Rinjani Trek Management Board. The board linked the trek to the cultures of the Muslim Sasak and Hindu Balinese, Lombok's two main ethnic groups.

Revenue from tourism and entry fees support conservation, training, and management programs. Trekking and information centers educate tourists and villagers alike. The program also nurtures cultural shows, village tours, and repositories of oral history and mountain lore, all of which promote local pride and enrich the visitor experience. More than 20 community cooperatives offer village walks and tours that highlight local farming techniques and religious rites, as well as food, crafts, and postcards for sale.

Many of the leather-skinned Sasak mountaineer guides have made over a hundred ascents. Trained in mountain rescue—and English—they lead the way, lighten your pack, provide companionship, and do the cooking. The classic trek of two nights and three days aims not for the steep summit, but for jade-colored Segara Anak (child of the sea), a crescent-shaped lake amid volcanic debris 2,000 feet (600 meters) below the rim. More adventurous climbers tackle the summit on the edge of the caldera, which affords amazing views of the Java Sea.

Local villagers know their economy depends on keeping the mountain pristine: Communities regularly dispatch cleanup patrols to clear rubbish, rebuild shelters, and maintain trails.

But the people of Rinjani also know there's more to their mountain than profit. Twice a year thousands of Sasak and Balinese pilgrims offer rice, fish, and betel nuts to the deities of the lake and mountain. They regard the ascent of Rinjani as a spiritual adventure as much as a physical one.

For more information, contact Rinjani Trek, Lombok, Indonesia; telephone (from U.S.) 011 62 370 641 124; Web site: www.lomboksumbawa.com.

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