I wrap up my Mt. Rinjani series by talking about the differences that I observed between that mountain and Mt. Kilimanjaro. These 2 parks are managed in vastly different ways, with very few similarities, in my opinion.
The first difference struck me when my Mt. Rinjani trek organiser didn’t even check my gear. Not a glance at my boots, not a question about appropriate warm clothes for the summit, not a look at my backpack to see if I would have trouble with it going up. No-one mentioned a word about altitude sickness either. They had no way of knowing that I was already used to being at the altitude of Mt. Rinjani’s summit. What would they have done if I had fallen ill with altitude sickness, which people have died from?
Most of the people going up and down that mountain were wearing tennis shoes. Tennis shoes! As I watched them slipping and sliding through the loose gravel and dirt, I thanked God for my boots, which made me much more stable than others on that mountain in this regard. But I suppose lack of proper footwear is no big deal to Rinjani trekking authorities, since every porter ascends and descends that mountain wearing flip-flops, for goodness sake. More on that shortly.
I remember sitting in the lobby of my hotel in Arusha the day before my Kilimanjaro trek was to begin with Elly checking every piece of gear I had brought with me and advising me on what I needed to rent in order to ensure my safety and success out on that mountain. I remember him briefing me on altitude sickness, what to expect and what we would do to prevent it. I remember him talking through the entire itinerary with me, even though I had already read it a thousand times. I got none of that as I set out to trek Mt. Rinjani.
It is also my firm belief that you should be at American Ninja Warrior fitness level to take on the 3-day/2-night Mt. Rinjani trek agenda. At the very least, somebody should ask people if their knees are healthy. Every part of the route up and down that mountain is steep and should not be attempted by people with knee issues. In addition, if you are not at a good fitness level, there is a very real possibility of losing the strength in your legs and literally tumbling down the mountain on day 2 or day 3. Not kidding, people. As far as I know, nobody lets trekkers know the physical risks involved in climbing this mountain.
When I was arranging my Kilimanjaro trek, my trek organisers suggested the 8-day route instead of the 4, 5 or 6 day route particularly because they knew that I was just a regular person attempting to do something a little extraordinary, and they wanted to maximise the possibility of my success.
I also noticed on Mt. Rinjani that there was no weigh-in of the porters’ loads. They simply loaded everything that we would need for our 3 days in the wilderness into baskets tied to bamboo poles, which they hoisted onto their shoulders and set off. My experience in Tanzania was the exact opposite of this. Yes, the porters were heavily laden with our supplies, but before we were allowed to enter that park, every porter’s baggage had to be weighed and stuff had to be re-balanced between porters or an additional porter hired if necessary. There are strict rules that are designed to ensure that the porters get treated as fairly and as humanly as possible, and not like pack mules.
And while we’re on the subject of porters, let’s talk about Mt. Rinjani porters’ lack of proper gear. Aside from having no hiking boots or backpacks, they are also not provided with proper tents to sleep in. While we were wrapped up snugly in our toasty sleeping bags and zipped up tight in our tents each night, our guide and 3 porters were huddled together under a tarp that was propped up using those same bamboo poles that they use to carry their loads. Meanwhile, going up Mt. Kilimanjaro, we had a kitchen tent where meals were prepared and where a couple of porters slept, as well as another tent where the other porters slept. Those tents zipped closed against the elements. Maybe I’m being too western-minded but I’m thinking these Rinjani porters and guides need to unionise.
And say what you want about African bush toilets, but at least they have toilets, a.k.a. pit latrines where I’m from. All along the way up Mt. Kilimanjaro, from the entrance gate to base camp to the exit gate, there are enclosed toilet huts. You can go inside, close the door and do your business in private. Mt. Rinjani has not one toilet. Not one! The last toilet that I know of is at the office where our guide paid our entrance fee back in Sembalun.
I also noticed a lot of smoking on Mt. Rinjani, and it wasn’t from the volcano. At every single point where they stopped to rest, every porter and guide would light up at least 1 cigarette, as would several trekkers. For obvious reasons, this struck me as odd, especially on the ascending parts of the climb on days 1 and 2. In addition, for most of the trek we were walking through grassy areas or forests, and the last I heard, cigarettes in national parks are not a good idea (forest fire, anyone?).
Finally, garbage management seems to be minimal, at best, on Mt. Rinjani, as is evidenced by the amount of it liberally strewn along the trail the entire way. As I mentioned before, I saw everything from vegetable peels and food wrappers to soda cans and gum. To be fair, our guide and porters seemed to be doing some amount of garbage management but the evidence suggests that they may be the exception and not the rule.
Up Mount Kilimanjaro, garbage management is taken seriously. In every campsite that we stayed at, I saw not 1 piece of stray garbage; every outfit cleaned up after itself as it went, including cooking garbage such as vegetable peels. I remember walking along with Elly 1 day, and noticing that his guide friend from another outfit who was walking and talking with us would pick up any little bits of trash we came across (which were minimal) and put them in a plastic bag that he was carrying just for that purpose, tut-tutting every time.
Overall, I was unimpressed with the Mt. Rinjani. My bar was already set with Mt. Kilimanjaro and I see no reason to lower it.
Rock on, Tanzania. Rock on.