I have a tendency of not thinking things through.
On the day of my twelve-hour journey via car, plane, and ferry from Kuala Lumpur to Bali, I agreed to trek Mount Rinjani, the second highest volcano in Indonesia. The summit juts 12,224 feet above sea level and the climb takes three days, two freezing nights, and a good degree of physical fitness.
For the previous four years, I spent my days trapped in a cubicle hunched over a computer. I lived a relatively active life for a New Yorker and worked out on a regular basis, but nothing that prepared me for the next few days.
I was told it would take us six hours to reach the rim of the crater on the first day. It took me nearly eight.
I started out strong at the front of the pack, but quickly fell to the back. The rest of my group was nearly running up the hill, led by our Indonesian guide who was carrying a 65-liter pack and wearing flip flops.
The climb to the rim of the crater was rocky and uphill every step. My pack did not contain enough Oreos to keep my spirits up.
By the time we reached the rim, my heels were shredded by my new hiking boots, my legs were shaking, and I was drenched in sweat.
“This is the hardest day, right?” I asked our guide.
He just smiled at me and shook his head.
But the view from the rim of the crater down into the blue-green lake below with the volcano rising out of the center was incredible. And after a dinner of rice, vegetables, and egg, I was feeling a bit more hopeful.
“Now, this is the hardest day, right?” I asked the guide as I pulled myself up the steepest cluster of rocks yet.
We were officially in the clouds now. I could only see a couple dozen feet in front of me before the world disappeared into a haze of white. Maybe it was for the better that I could not see what was in front of me because then I definitely would have turned around if I knew what was ahead.
That morning we had made the two-hour descent into the crater, taking time to swim in the lake and the hot springs before ascending again to base camp just below the looming summit of Rinjani.
“Only one hour more,” my guide said.
One hour! My heart sunk into my stomach. I thought we were nearly there. I wanted to sit down and never get up again. I was convinced that I was going to die on this volcano.
If I had been given the choice at that moment, I would have turned around. But I didn’t have the choice. Up was the only way to go.
When I finally reached the top, my group was waiting for me, as was a relatively cold beer. It was the best beer of my life.
We watched as the sun sunk below the clouds that we seemed to be perched upon. As soon as it had disappeared, the temperature dropped to nearly freezing. I huddled in my tent for warmth and lay awake dreading the next day—the day I would (or would I?) summit Mount Rinjani.
I lay awake waiting for the 1:30am wake up call. It was only three-hour climb to the summit. At least, that is what I’d been told.
Bundled up in a hoodie, a windbreaker, gloves, and a scarf, and with only my headlamp for guidance, I followed my group up the treacherous climb up loose rock.
This, I quickly realized, was going to be the hardest day.
The climb was not three hours. At least, not for someone like me. It was nearly five hours to the top, and for every two steps I took, my feet sinking into the unstable gravel, I slid back down one. I was freezing, exhausted, terrified of slipping over the edge of the crater and to my doom, and angry. Angry at myself for thinking that I could do this. Why didn’t I ever think things through?!
“You’re doing really well,” said one of my group mates. Even they could see how much I was struggling.
I sat down on a rock and willed myself not to cry.
As the first strands of pink-gray daylight began to show themselves on the horizon, I could see more clearly what was in front of me. I was nearly there.
I got up and threw myself up the last stretch of rock and to the top of the volcano, taking ten steps then resting, then ten more steps, until I reached the highest point.
I made it. I survived. It had taken me nearly five hours.
The sun rose over Lombok illuminating the terrain I had covered in the last three days. I was thankful that for the first time in three days, there was nowhere to go but down.