A couple of weeks ago, we featured some insight into the Rinjani 100, a monumentally tough race, where across the 100kms, there’s over 9,100m of climbing. When you consider there’s probably just as much up as there is down, that’s working out at an average of 20% gradient throughout the entire run.
Ultra168 reader, Pat Janes (who wrote our preview), took on this monster of a run and has very kindly shared his race report with us. If you’re considering this run, this is a must read to let you know what you could be in for! This is a long one, but it’s worth the read. Cheers Pat!
I first learned of the Rinjani races from a blog post on running coach, Andy Dubois’, site. His description of the race; the star attraction, Gunung (Mount) Rinjani; the crazy “unrunnable” terrain; all had me mesmerised. I kept a watchful eye on the race, but it was when a new race series was announced for 2016 – including a ridiculously vertiginous 100km flagship race with 9166mD+ of elevation gain – that my interest turned into obsession. Here’s the view of my epic Rinjani 100 journey.
Senaru to Senaru Rim (W1)
With a combined total of 445 registered entrants for the two longer races, the start line was a little bit cramped; but as always, the field thinned out fairly quickly as we made our way up the road towards the entrance of the Gunung Rinjani National Park. The road from the National Park gate varied in gradient – alternating between flatter sections and “hands on knees” – but it was, on average, a consistently steep climb that had everyone hiking most of the way.
The single track wends its way through the jungle; twisting and turning; presenting myriad tree roots to navigate through and around, and dirt ledges to climb. There were very few opportunities to “run”, as for the most part, the terrain and/or gradient dictated. The terrain eventually opens up, as you edge closer to the rim. With still quite a long way to go, we could finally see the sky, as the jungle turns into rock and dirt.
There was a fair bit more “climbing”, as sections of trail were interspersed with almost vertical slabs of rock. After the usual spate of false peaks, and about 2,000m of elevation gain, we finally reached the Rinjani rim.
W1 to Sembalun Rim (W2)
From the rim, you begin the descent to the lake in the centre of the crater. Once down at the lake surface, the path follows the lake around to the climb up to the Sembalun side of the rim. It was a great shame that we did all of this at night-time, as we were unable to see the lake up close, in all its glory. Luckily, there was plenty of time ahead, to see and photograph the lake from far above.
W2 to Summit (W3)
This was a very well provisioned and popular checkpoint. The night air had become much cooler as we ascended, and many runners revelled in the warmth and comfort that provisions and campfires alike, provided.
The climb to the summit… was hard. We knew it would be hard. We were told it would be hard. “Two steps forward, one slide back”. Everyone who made it up there is now vividly aware that there is no amount of reading that can prepare you for the doing.
Most people who I observed, ended up adopting the following strategy:
- Take 2-3 steps
- Lean on poles, exhausted
- Slide back 1 step
It really is that difficult. I saw no-one, myself included, who could make relentless forward progress. Periodic breaks were inevitable. I did, however, find that it was possible to make more consistent progress by forcing the “work interval” to comprise at least 20-30 steps, counting them off in 10s.
As we climbed higher and higher, with the tiny “ant people” off in the seemingly unreachable distance, the wind began to build. If the scree wasn’t enough to contend with, a head-wind strong enough to blow you off your feet, was just what we needed to propel us along. </sarcasm>.
Everyone I have talked to went through periods of believing that we would never reach the top. Extremely slow progress, and the enormity of the peak above us, makes it appear that no matter how many steps you take, you are never drawing any closer. The congo-line of people further up, never appeared any larger.
But, step by step – pause by pause – breath by breath – I eventually made it to the summit. Once there, those of us who persisted were rewarded by an epic 360⁰ view, with stunning views down to the lake surface below. At this stage, at the 22.5km mark, we’d accumulated over 3,500m of elevation gain.
W3 to W2
This was my favourite section of the race. The ridiculously slippery, impossibly untraversable, loose scree – that consistently confounded our upward progress – became our inner child’s favourite playground on the way down.
The descent from the summit was a golden chance to make up lost time, throw caution to the wind, and enjoy the free speed, skating over the deep rolling scree surface.
As on the way up, W2 was a haven for competitors; buzzing with activity, littered with resting bodies, and doing all it could to service people’s needs before they continued down the mountain. While refilling my water bottles, I came across fellow-Aussie, Damian Smith. He’d had a shocker of a start to the race, and had succumbed to overwhelming somnolence. As he slept at W2, he had slipped back into the mid-30s in the placings. He was to later overtake me and finish very strongly.
W2 to Pos 1 (W4) and Sembalun (W5)
The dusty dirt trail down from W2 was where we learned that the slippery scree is not the only surface poised to put our stability in peril. I saw far more people hit the ground – again, myself included – in this section, than on the way up to or down from the summit.
Once I’d become a little more accustomed to the (lack of) grip, this section provided numerous paths for passing. Winding its way down the mountainside, the slippery dirt eventually gave way to single and fire trails through the rolling foothills.
A short section of jungle single trail, and a creek crossing or two later, and we found ourselves at the W5 checkpoint in Sembalun. The checkpoint is just around the corner from the Sembalun entrance of the trail up to the Rinjani summit; so we’d essentially completed the equivalent of a standard 3 day 2 night trek.
W5 to Likun (W6) – Over Bukit Pergasingan
The route from W5, traces its way through some rice paddies, before crossing a river via a rickety old bamboo bridge. Not long after, the next ascent begins.
The first of the “hills”. The climb up Pergasingan brought Lombok’s heat and humidity, in all its fury. Although “only” hovering between 32 and 33⁰C, the gradient and climatic conditions, had everyone pausing for respite in the all too brief sections of tree canopy cover.
W6 to Sembalun Bumbung (W7)
Over Bukit Anak Dara At W6, I fell prey to my biggest single time-sink. What time I hadn’t wasted in the heat, I left behind in a chair at W6.
Some of the lingering was strategic – I restocked my pack with water, and nutrition; washed my feet and put on new socks – but I was there for well over 30 minutes, which was far more than required.
At least for this next climb, the sun had the sting taken out of it, and much more of it was under the cover of the tree canopy. Far easier going, but still relentlessly steep, this again had some short sections of “hands-on” climbing to navigate.
The reward at the top, was very special – an open green grassy ridge line, with an easily visible, and rather pretty trail winding through it.
The other side, however, presented the weary traveller with yet another of Rinjani 100’s infamous descents. So steep, so loose, so slippery, with a trail so occasionally narrow, that it is sometimes more akin to a (sheer drop of a) wall than a trail.
A couple of short sections had an almost comical piece of “rope” to assist the descent – the thin blue synthetic string that people use to hang their clothes rather than a real rope – but this sought to mock us more than offer any real cause for comfort.
So very slow going, it became abundantly clear that much of this race is as difficult and measured on the descents, as the ascents.
W7 to Pusuk (W8) – Over Bukit Montong Karang, Batekan, Nanggi, Solong and Tanah Abang
Land of a thousand hills.
The initial climb here was long – very long – steep, and dusty. It was preceded with a gradually increasing incline, after wending our way along a dirt road and up a dry creek bed. But as soon as it started climbing, it really never did relent, for what felt like hours (it probably was, in my case) all the way to the “top”.
What followed reaching the “top”, however, was an interminable series of additional “hills” on top of that first peak – one after the other, each of which mocked the one before it; the crest of each peak revealed yet another, and another.
The hills and trails progressed through quite a number of “tent cities”; a popular destination it seems, as are all of the area’s hills, for weekend excursions into the great outdoors for the locals. One of the more deserted meta-hills is where I experienced my only period of truly uncomfortable cold.
Cresting the top of this particular hill, the cloud cover had descended onto the mountain top, causing pea-soup thick fog and bringing a howling wind. Wind and rain combined to cut straight through me; and from what I later gathered, anyone else up there at the time. I hadn’t packed a spray jacket, but my single glove and fleece were enough to keep me relatively warm and dry.
Not far from there is where I encountered two pieces of equipment failure:
1. My headlamp began to fail. So I had to change the batteries with cold-numbed fingers (missing my right glove). This is really difficult to do in the dark. I had my spare torch, but using it to direct enough light onto the headlamp, and fiddling with the batteries – all while increasingly fatigued – took many times longer than it would have in ideal conditions. All for nought, the new batteries threw no more light than the old ones.
2. The top of one of my water bottles came off. Each bottle has a “bite” valve. Somehow, it came off and dropped onto the trail somewhere and I didn’t notice until much later. I heard it sloshing, but didn’t connect the dots.
Hill after hill after hill; sheer drop, after almost vertical wall, after steep slippery dust trail; I finally found my way to the W8 checkpoint in Pusuk, having completed 73km.
This, was unfortunately where my journey ended. When I got to the checkpoint, I was asked if I wished to continue; or pull out, as had a number of the people ahead of me. But not long afterwards, the decision was taken away from me; as I was advised by the checkpoint doctor that due to safety concerns, I would be unable to continue as I did not have at least 8hrs up my sleeve before the finish line cutoff.
While disappointed, I completely understand and fully support the decision. In retrospect, having had only 7 ¼ hrs until the finish line cutoff, I was not likely to be able to cover the 26km remaining, given the elevation change and terrain.
- Terrain It is ridiculous. I was saying that to all and sundry prior to the race, but it is impossible to convey just how insanely hard this race is, without showing it to someone in person. There are no words. Everything is slippery – the scree, the dusty dirt, the grass – everything. Most of it is steep. Going down is just as hard as going up – sometimes harder. Most of the race is “unrunnable”. That sounds like hyperbole, but it is simply the truth.
- Climate/Weather: From oppressive heat and humidity to single-digit cold with wind chill. You need to prepare for, and endure a wide range of climatic conditions.
- Equipment: Don’t just pass gear check. That is always a fool’s errand, but for this race, it will almost certainly be at your peril. Get a good quality headlamp. Plenty of light, and longevity. Use poles, but put them away and use your hands when descending. I didn’t do that nearly enough, having become frustrated with the difficulty of securing them over and over again. Make sure your water capacity is sufficient and secure.
This is the most beautiful, brutal, exciting, heartbreaking, soul restoring adventure that I have ever experienced.
Will I do it again? In a heartbeat.