Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Rinjani

The photos and text is gonna be a little disjointed. Sorry hor.

That. That peak there. That's Rinjani. We would go up from the left side of this picture. Looks simple hor? I thought so too.

Giant earthworm meets pimple-face(which after contemplation I cooked for dinner. Earthworm tastes a bit like the fried chicken you get at the coffeshop. Except a little more sourish. If you fry it. I didn't boil it, which would have made it more yucky. And I'm joking actually)Passing cloud! (Descending from crater rim.)
Day 2 of trek. About to descend from crater rim. Me and my trekking buddy, Yuan Han
Second morning of trek. Moving up towards crater rim.
Day 0 Nuts bunk. Me, Keith, Alan. We make a crazy team. Our bunk/room/tent's usually the messiest.

Gunung Rinjani (3-9 June) Personal Account and Reflections

Account

It’s been an interesting past 10 days or so as I sit here in front of my computer, typing out a load of things off my chest. I’ve experienced and soaked up the lap of luxury in Singapore, sat on an airplane and known modern comfort and security. And then on the other hand I’ve experienced the sheer beauty and bittersweet might of nature. Nature can be a friendly foe- when you fight it within your limitations and learn to appreciate it. Nature can also be an ugly enemy, whipping you when you least expect it and hardly can cope. The forces of nature have been nice to us Odacians over these past few days; and have chosen to turn nasty at the worst moment possible. I thank God with all of my heart that we all made it home alive where another has died.

Why do I write or type out a reflection every time I finish an expedition?

It’s a process of give and take that all outdoor people go through (if I can call a measly 3 summits and a few sparsely placed camps within 2 short years enough to make me an outdoor person). Most basically you give your energy to the mountains to take the experience of its beauty from it. Some give their lives to conquer the summit. That’s giving too much. No mountain, as a mountaineer I respect called Ed Viesturs put it, is worth dying for. Some refuse to give. They give up. That’s giving too little. I have given 4 days 3 nights to the Lombok jungle and mountain range. Perhaps it is only fair that I take back all the experiences and store them in the immortality of the written word.

3 June. Saturday morning. Woke up at 0420 hours. Quiet time- the daily morning communion with my Lord. (Something that I never abandoned throughout the trip, never mind that many were teasing me whenever I brought out my bible.) Then dad brought me to the airport. The usual photos and travel stuff. Flight took off at 0755 and reached Lombok’s Mataram Airport at 1000 plus.

Picked up some supplies at the local Mataram Mall before heading to Senaru Village. Stayed at Pondok Indah hotel for the night (if you’re wondering, it’s a small room for 3 with an attached toilet and 2 dim lights- but that’s already luxury for us). Conversation on the first day and night centered on nonsense and jokes about how Gunung Rinjani was really Gunung Sinang. I quote the itinerary. “Rest stops (for 15mins) are taken along the way with servings of fruits and cakes.” That’s unheard of in Odac. Belumut and Tapis never saw such luxury. Frankly speaking we’d been quite disappointed when the tour agency was giving us our briefing. Too easy. But then again, this was a tour agency-organized trip. Besides, the locals needed to do their jobs to earn their income.

The night was spent chatting under the stars with friends before turning in to sleep. Away from the city lights, the stars can be so easily seen. Only when one leaves the city to see the stars can he or she understand what the Lord meant when He said to Abraham that his descendents would be like the grains of sand or the stars in the sky- uncountable.

4 June was really a reinforcement of the Gunung Sinang comments. Did a little 3 hour trek from Rinjani Trek Centre (elevation 601m) to Montong Satas, a rest area 1500m above sea level. Was talking with Chang Tai (J2) throughout the earliest part of that leg. It took us 7 hours with full packs to get to 500m elevation on Tapis and another strenuous summit climb to reach 1512m. That in stark contrast to Rinjani. Sinang, sinang. The climate at higher elevation is more pleasant. Less humid. More scenic. We reached Modokon Lolak (2000m) by the first day. That was another 3 hour trek. J2s had a looong GM that night talking bout a certain irritating person along the trek. Up till this point the trek was just too easy for most of us. Everything was done for us. Unlike Tapis, porters dug our toilets for us, carried and cooked our food, carried and pitched our tents and HQ tent, got our water for us. The food was luxurious for an Odac trip. There was tea too. I guess the toughness of Tapis only made us appreciate all these.

Alan, Keith and I did something rather unintelligent that night. We slept without the sleeping bags provided! It was warm enough at first, but even though the temperature dropped to 1 degree Celsius that night it never occurred to anyone of us to get into the sleeping bag. Really cold that night. I could hardly sleep. Well, at least the lesson wasn’t lost on me for the rest of the trip.

5 June was a really slow trekking day. Trekked to the Lake Camp Area. It was supposed to take 3-4(?) hours but we took around 5-6(?) hours.

Well, if it wasn’t challenging at least it was beautiful. The trek to the top of the crater rim (where most people drop off and die- I’m serious) consisted of amazing scenery all the way. The night trekking and the early morning sunrise. Much like the Tapis summit climb, except this time the vegetation was mostly tall grass and the silent beauty of nature was unhindered by tropical vegetation. Could look out and see the sea in the distant. Looking from the top of the crater rim at the crater lake was stunning. The trek down was slightly harder to navigate, and we really slowed down. As I’m saying this I do recall that the current standard of J2s didn’t come at no cost. It came at the cost of tough self physical conditioning and the fighter’s mentality drilled into us when we work with a demanding Odac teacher. It came when at Tapis no responsible person dared to pass his or her load to another person unless absolutely necessary, because everyone was already worn out. If we were too tired to reach the summit, the only responsible thing to do would be to turn back. Neither Belumut nor Tapis bear the luxury of porters.

The last part to the Lake Camp area was trekking beside the crater lake. Never tried coastal or lakeside trekking before, so this was something new. Lots of hooked seeds or spores caught on to my dri-fit shirt as I trekked along this point. Perhaps next time it’d be wiser to wear a jacket at this point?

At the part of the lake leading towards the waterfall there’s a body of water for which you have to take out your shoes to cross. Here I did something illogical. Tried to jump across the water with bag and shoes on. Well, I did reach the other side. But the soil gave way and I got my legs soaked in the split second before I could hoist myself up to dry land. Talk about gei-kiang. Tapis had taught me that wet shoes equal abraded feet. Thank God that my shoes dried real fast in the sunny, dry, cold weather.

In the evening we descended 50m to the hot springs. Learnt a lesson while soaking up all the heat. That is, body temperature, and not surrounding temperature matters. All the way back to the campsite I didn’t feel cold. Still felt warm. Even when I was part of a knee deep human chain with the other J2s in the chilly water (The current is strong at the top of the waterfall. Any person could get swept off his or her feet without a good foothold). The heat only started to leave me after I’d spent a few hours outside the tent in the night.

Talked for a very long time with Myra and Keith that night. A brother and sister in Christ. Thank God so much for all that sharing that night. Never knew them so well till this trek. Grown a lot closer to them. I guess they’re the only 2 who really know my deepest feelings bout Odac.

6 June. By far the easiest day as I recall. Ascended to Plawangan 2 Sembalun Crater Rim. 4 hours trek I think. The view here was simply beautiful. Clouds passing right in front of us. When it isn’t cloudy the crater lake can be seen on one side and the mountain slope dotted with sparse trees on the other. When it’s cloudy, all the view is shrouded by clouds. Sometimes the clouds past right through the open tent door.

One problem was the monkeys, which tried to attack the campsite and get away with food. They didn’t succeed. The most they did was to tear a hole in one of the tents before being chased away.

Then there was Monti the mountain dog. He was trying to negotiate a narrow ledge in front of Jeremy and me. He somehow lost balance and fell off, and we heard the sickening thud of his body. Next thing we knew he stood right up, looked at us and walked coolly off. Well, I guess even dogs have their pride. Heh, I think Monti was in pain but he still tried to act cool. Something which sort of rings a bell with me, whether for that’s good or bad.

7 June. This day will be unforgettable. The summit climb. Woke up at 1245 and set off from camp at 0200 after the early morning breakfast in the cold morn. Along the way there was this group of Canadians. 4 of them- 2 guys and 2 ladies. They overtook our group on the way to the summit (elevation 3726m). I can’t remember where exactly, but I think that it was slightly before the part where my group stopped and we had to send 2 casualties- Yuan Han and Kai Ling (J1) back to the Crater Rim camp because of hypothermia (body drops 2 degrees Celsius below normal, for those who don’t know. You’re so cold that you shiver uncontrollably. Logical thinking is gone. Another degree down and you’re so cold that shivering stops.) Stopping to treat the casualties was a terrible experience. The wind was howling. And I don’t mean the howling wind of Singapore’s tropical storms. I mean the unrestricted howling wind of the mountain ranges. Unprotected from any rock formation and merciless. The kind of wind which caused us to lose balance at times and almost fall. Which cuts through the track pants and rain jacket if you have not come prepared with good gear. Some guides say it was 5 degrees Celsius without the wind. Our group huddled together. J1s in the middle and J2s outside, trying to get some heat. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the image of that dark morning. Mr Lim and Mr Chin shouting at us. Telling us to keep talking and “don’t fall asleep” (cuz if you fall asleep you may never wake up again…). It was that bad. I kept praying for the Lord to stop the wind. But God didn’t. It was only later along the summit climb that God told me why. Would you have preferred it if I’d stopped the wind then? To which the answer was well, actually, no. It’d been better that we’d fought it and won. Quite a few J1 girls cried. But they didn’t give up and I think that proves a certain mettle in them. Perhaps someday they’ll become as rugged as our J2 ladies. It was only after the whole thing that we learnt that we get that kind of weather only once or twice in an entire season. I think that extra knowledge would have caused quite a few of us to turn back if it had been given us then.

The Canadian party must have overtaken us by a long stretch by then. The craziest part was the stretch of upward gravel towards the summit. 2 steps forward in the gravel and one step back. The powerful wind didn’t help either. Sometimes when the wind whipped us, we had to drop our bodies forward to keep from falling backwards. It grew so hard that I had to crawl during one part of the ascent. The legs just grow so tired and the lactic acid builds up. But one thing to thank the Lord for was the sun. The warm rising sun. On the way up Joleen (J1) got hypothermia and Chang Tai (J2) decided to call it a day. I remember looking around myself and figuring this out. If everyone else, especially the J1s, can reach the summit, then by simple logic, so should I. Not so much ego or pride, but ridiculously simple logical thinking in times of adversity, which just seems to work.

On the way up 3 Canadians made their way down. It never occurred to us why they were one less. When I reached the summit I was more relieved than exuberant. The ascent was crazy. Tapis was nuts throughout. Rinjani was simple throughout. But just for that 5 hours 45 minutes of ascent I’d say Rinjani can be put on par with Tapis. At the summit, someone (I can’t remember who) told me to be careful- someone had just dropped off the summit. It didn’t really sink in then. I was like, oh, ok. So some poor fellow must have broken a rib or something. It was only on the way down when we began to talk with the guides and saw the locals bringing rescue equipment up that we found out that a Canadian guy, the first to summit, had dropped off. They found his bag and camera intact, but his body was nowhere to be seen. The word came round on 9 June that they’d found his body.

I don’t blame the guy for being by himself, which is an absolute no as far as I’ve been taught. Often when the goal of a person is to summit, all other obstacles get pushed out of the way in the mind. You just think of the summit, the summit and the summit. And so you keep pushing, forgetting sometimes about basic safety rules. Man, that guy could have been me if I’d been older and fitter and trekking with friends.

I really thank the Lord that besides a few abrasions, twisted ankles, blisters and bruises our group made it down, not one man less. I seriously do not see how our teachers would have been able to explain themselves, given the conditions then, if any one of us had died.

Descending along the gravel path is very fun, if you know how to do it correctly. A mixture of using momentum and sliding. Of course if your gaiters (which are made to keep the sand, gravel and stones out of your shoes) do not work perfectly, you have to be patient, sit down and pour the particles out, and not keep going like Tai Yong. And Tai Yong for that very silly reason got abrasion and blisters within those few hours whereas his feet had been perfectly alright throughout the whole trek.

The trek down from the Crater Rim camp brought the total trekking time to 16 hours that day. We moved down all the way to Sembalun Lawang (1156m), navigating away from piles of faeces strewn along the trail cut through the long grass. We got transport back to the hotel at Senaru village. I thank God that my ankle never gave way along the trek. It gave way only on 8 June, after a ride on a coach, where I sat in an odd position, with a block of wood under my seat. I guess that was the last straw for an already strained ankle. They’d have to have used about 3-4 porters or so to bring me down I think, and 2 were already used on Fariha’s knee, which had already given way.

8 June we visited a waterfall in the morn and slept on the coach all the way back to Senggigi, near Mataram Mall. Spent the night at Coral Reef Resort, where we did a surprise morning breakfast for Mr Lim to kind of close his term as teacher in charge of Odac.

9 June. Flew back to Singapore. Had a nice talk with Yu Yan and Fariha on board the plane. Nice to be back in Singapore. The carpeted floor of Changi Airport Terminal 2 and the soft music through the audio system could not be more different from Rinjani. Rinjani where the floor was grass, sand or gravel. Rinjani where the audio system was the crickets or the pounding wind when it came to the parts where it was probably too cold for the crickets.

Thank you Lord, for bringing me back safely. Somehow a part of me is still at the Lombok mountain range. But then, mid-years approach. If I can conquer Rinjani, I can conquer mid-years. Help me on this one, Lord.

Hard skills/lessons

-When out of the warm tropical jungle and provided with a sleeping bag, use the sleeping bag.

-It’s not really the surrounding temperature that matters, but your own body temperature. If you warm yourself up the night before and begin the trek warm, chances are it’ll take quite a bit of time before you become cold. When you trek, your muscles produce heat, and that raises your body temperature, so that you feel warmer than when you stop.

-The elements you can’t control. But what you bring and how you use it- that you can control. Layering for cold weather. Dri-fit, woolen fleece, windproof jacket. That you must bring and use.

-In cool or cold climates, protection from the sun is very important. You can’t feel the damage the sun does because of the low temperature. Only when you sit in the warmth of your tent do you radiate heat and realize how strong the sun is. Worse still if it’s at high altitudes near the equator. Less tree cover and closer to the sun. Larger sun ray incidence too.

Soft skills/lessons

-One thing I must improve on is relations with superiors. Must learn to go through them when I have any decisions that will affect the whole group.

-When a relevant point will cause the morale of the group to drop, think about whether it’s a right time to raise that point.

-Training is important. But more important is the mentality. So what if I could do 04:39 with a 15 kg bag up a 28 storey building? So what if I trained harder for this than any other Odac expedition? If outdoorsmen do not respect the power of nature they will still perish easily. If they are not able to press on and overcome, and yet know when to turn back, then perhaps, the beauty of nature has been lost on them.


-Respect the basic rules. Never go it alone on a mountain. Never.

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