Plawangan Sembalun: A Heavenly Place


“It feels like an Everest basecamp here.” Said Ian when we saw a parade of tents and a bunch of people began to swarm  the camp site at Plawangan Sembalun (2.639 masl). I had no idea, I never went to Everest basecamp anyway, He did. It was high season, the end of the year 2013, most people would spend a new year’s eve night at Rinjani. I never got tired of the magical view at Plawangan Sembalun. But for enjoying such a beautiful landscape, I had to endure one of the most agonizing experiences in my life.

I started climbing from Sembalun Lawang village (1156 masl) with ten other friends after spent one night at the village for acclimatization. It was 9 AM, the sun was beginning to creep out, the sky was clear blue. It was strange because Rinjani was covered with clouds and heavy rain for a week before our arrival. It seemed that the mountain was prepared to greet us with a special treatment. After loaded our gears on the pickup truck, we headed to the gateway to start climbing.

From the starting point I could see the mountain, stand tall and mighty, covered by the clouds. Then I asked Frans “Where is the campsite?” he answered “Over that hill” while pointing at direction slightly below the mountain. I couldn’t figure it how far but according to my rough estimation, it’d be no longer than 6 hours walk. But what happened next proved that I was wrong. Really really wrong.

The first three hours walk until the third post was easy. The trail was mostly dominated by long and flat paths combined with a few steep tracks through savannas, but nothing that I couldn’t handle. At first, it was all green and pretty like the good ol’ classic Windows XP wallpaper.

At the third post, we stopped for awhile and having lunch. While eating my sandwiches, I looked up at the track above the third post and I thought “Holy shit, that’s a tough track!”. Frans and Ian hadn’t told me –Rinjani first-timer– how nasty the track from the third post to Plawangan Sembalun was. There are seven steep hills with 30-45 degrees slope to scale. From the third post, it’s all the way up. I was doing a vertical walk with 10 kg worth of baggage and a 3 kg camera bag loaded with my photo equipments. Ah, hell…

I could deal the first four hills, but the last three were afwul, there was no mercy for the weaklings. The terrain was steeper and it took 1 hour per hill to climb. O dear, if only I were 10 years younger. My energy almost depleted, every inch of my muscles began to scream but I pushed myself a little bit further than usual and I was surprised of how I could handle the hellish track. Well, after 9 hours of slow walk, I finally made it to Plawangan Sembalun. At last. I was one of the first team members to arrive before sunset, the others followed in 10-15 minutes.

The landscape was so divine-looking that for the briefest moment, all of my pain was instantly gone. I just stood there, watching the result of mother nature’s millions of years work in awe, then silently whispered “Goddamn, it was worth it!”


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