What Kate Does Next – Let’s Climb a Volcano

Sometimes you can plan too much. For example, you might decide on a whim to hike a volcano in Indonesia, but in planning for the hike you might stumble across a lot of articles about the volcano and how dangerous it is, how many people have died in attempting the summit and the low success rate of people actually reaching the summit, and all of that might be enough to put you off. Or, sometimes you might not plan enough and be so completely ill prepared for said hike that it becomes dangerous. Or, sometimes you might completely nail the level of preparation by knowing just enough to get you to the starting line, keep you safe and sound, but not quite know enough to scare you off altogether.

When it comes to climbing volcanoes, I am happy to report that I nailed my level of preparation – knowing just enough to stay safe but not quite enough to pull out. In fact, it wasn’t until days after the hike when Freddie decided to do a little research, that he discovered that what – during the hike – had felt really, really fucking hard with a handful of moments of – shit, this is actually pretty dangerous – was in fact, genuinely and well documented to be really, really fucking hard and yes, actually pretty fucking dangerous too.

But I am getting ahead of myself. And like the actual climb to the summit, I need to take a few steps backwards and set this up properly…

I am currently living and working in Bali for a few months. It is every bit as wonderful, and more, as you can imagine. I was very thrilled when my son Freddie and his girlfriend Jaimee timed their trip to Bali to spend a few days with me. And I was even more thrilled when they invited me to travel to the island of Lombok to climb a volcano with them.

Sure! I said, Sign me up! Can you pack my thermals, beanie, and puffer jacket and I’ll met you on Lombok.

At that point in time I did not even know the name of the volcano. But I sure do now: Mount Rinjani – you mofo – your name, your topography, every single step of you is etched into my brain forevermore.  

In my new book, The Life List I talk about chasing down 3 types of goals in our lives: ‘Go Big Goals’, ‘Go Small Goals’ and ‘Go Now Goals’. In the normal course of events, the decision to climb an active volcano would be listed as a ‘Go Big Goal’ (because it is an epic goal) but in this case, it was never on my Life List to start with (it was on Jaimee’s Life List), and the decision for me to climb it was one of pure spontaneity. To be honest, I said Yes because it would give me the chance to do something very awesome, somewhere very awesome, with my son and his girlfriend – who are both very awesome. So, I am firmly placing this experience in the ‘Go Now’ category of goals.

Mount Rinjani is an active volcano, the second highest volcano in Indonesia at 3,726 meters, and part of the famous ‘ring of fire’ which contains 75% of the earth’s volcanos. This much I knew when I rose at 6am to catch the shuttle bus from Ubud to Padang Bay to catch the fast boat to Lombok to be picked up by Freddie and Jamiee and a driver to be driven across Lombok to our home stay. That bit sounds easy, but seriously, it took over 12 hours and some things are best forgotten and never spoken of again.

So, let’s start this epic tale at 2.15am on Day One of the hike. Because that is the exact time when I was woken by an earthquake (measuring 4.9). Having visited Bali a number of times, this was not my first earthquake, but it was a reasonably big enough quake to shake the bed, rattle the room, wake the roosters and send the dogs into a frenzy. Not being au fait with Rinjani’s history of quakes and/ or eruptions at this stage (see my notes below on the scary shit I should have checked before the hike), I did not lose too much sleep until the call to prayer from the mosque (which seemed to be positioned in my bedroom), roused me again 5.12am. Excellent.

At roughly 7.30am we were collected from our home stay by a small truck and were bundled into the tray of the truck with our 6 fellow hikers (2 boys from Switzerland, a couple from Italy and two girls from Malaysia) and our local guide. This is fun – I thought – as we barrelled down unmade roads, bouncing on our poor bottoms in the tray of the truck, but laughing in that carefree way you do when you have absolutely no fucking idea how hard the ordeal is that you are blithely swanning into. 

After stopping to have our blood pressure checked (a new requirement that nets the local authorities $1 per person per trek and where our questionable results were recorded in a little book by a group of very non medical looking folks) we stopped to lodge our papers with the police and we were off.

I need to pause at this point to note that Jaimee did all of the heavy lifting organising the hike and had booked our trek through a tour company who were wonderful in every single way apart from their genuine concern that ‘Freddie’s mum’ (they did not seem to want to call me Kate at any stage), might not be up to it. It was my first ever brush with ageism and to begin with, I found their concerns amusing: 

Are you sure Freddie’s mum is OK?

We have never had anyone as old as Freddie’s mum on our hikes.

What is your blood pressure?

But eventually the fun wore off as we repeatedly reassured them that I am a fit, healthy, seasoned hiker and only 53. I mean, WTAF?

But again, I digress. It must be my age.

By about 10.30am we commenced our hike and the first hour or so saw us walking through lush and fairly flat farm land studded with cows and their melodic tolling neck bells. This is nice, I thought with a seemingly endless supply of self delusion. Because, ever present, every step of the way through that lush farm land, the great, bald, Rinjani loomed over us, her summit hidden above the clouds. It was probably best not to look up too often and wonder how the hell we were actually going to get from point A to point B.

The first day’s hike saw us climb over 2000 metres from Senaru (approx 650m) to Rinjani’s crater rim (2639m), with three main rest stops: POS1, POS2 and POS3 along the way. POS2 was our longest stop where our porters made us lunch and we ate amongst the 200 or so other hikers who were preparing to summit Rinjani. 

It was at lunch that I first took a careful inventory of my fellow hikers and did, in fact, notice what the trekking company had been at great pains to point out to me all day – that I was a good 30 years older than the average participant. This age gap became more obvious as we continued to climb towards the crater rim and I passed groups of youths who felt it entirely necessary to hike whilst listening to techno music booming from their portable speakers. Please turn the music down, dickhead and enjoy nature. Oops, there I go again, showing my age.

As we hiked higher, the lush vegetation fell away to a much more exposed landscape mainly composed of hardened laver rivers, dust, dust and more dust, and steep inclines. Did I mention the dust? We were now above cloud level and the heat was intense. As was the dust. 

And just as my hip flexors were starting to scream and show their incredible age, we reached the crater rim and a small city of tents being erected by the porters. We would be spending the night here and it was pretty spectacular. 

The crater was full of low lying clouds and so we could not see Lake Anak (we got to see it the next day), but the views were breathtaking nonetheless, and the sunset across the crater was stunning. The bowl of laksa soup made by our porters was close to the best I’ve ever eaten and it was with relish that I fell into my tent at 6pm to sleep. Well, that was the plan, but for the tent load of twenty year old boys positioned next to me who had other ideas until 11pm and by this point I was very much feeling every bit my age and more. Seriously. Shut the fuck up lads.

Day Two saw us up at 1.30am, head torches on, layered in thermals and beanies and a solid determination to reach the summit for sunrise.  

I have previously written about how hard it is to experience genuine joy whilst hiking. Because it hurts so bloody much. Some of the joy comes in the moment of reaching your destination but most of the joy comes weeks later when you reflect on what you have achieved. I call it ‘latent enjoyment’. My hiking buddy calls it ‘type 2 fun’. 

There was no joy or fun real time in that summit hike. None. It was truely fucking awful. Apart from the fact that it was pitch black, the wind was howling, it was freezing cold and you could not see the death traps that lay either side of the steep narrow path – aside from all of that – the incline was like nothing I have ever experienced. In. My. Life.

The actual distance from the crater rim to the summit is only 5km. But it is 5km of pain, navigating a path of scree that collapses under foot every single step you take, and where the expression 1 step forwards, 2 (or 8) steps back takes on a new meaning. 

We started the hike at 2am. It seemed that not everyone was up for the ascent to the summit and I estimate that less than half of the 200 camped at the rim were up and ready to hit the trail. Certainly the party boys in the tent next to me were still snoring and so I banged around a little, just in case they had slept through their alarm.  

The thin line of non techno playing trekkers both ahead and behind me were discernible only by their head torches, a column of fairy lights dotting the landscape, looking quite pretty. Our group of 9 started the climb together but quickly split up and I sent Freddie and Jaimee on to climb at their own pace (which was significantly swifter than mine). I spent the first hour or so walking with the guide, because it felt safer in the dark. But eventually he fell back and I found myself on my own for much of the ascent. 

Two hours in, at 4am, my hands were frozen stiff and I was very  much in my head. My thoughts ranged from the encouraging to the disparaging to the downright crazy:

Just 5 steps my darling and then you can rest. Just 5 steps.’

‘Come on – you can do this. Prove them wrong! Don’t give up!’

‘I. Can’t. Go. Onnnn’

‘I have done so well… It’s OK not to summit. Just stop here. This looks like a nice bit of really rocky, super exposed, scree slope to sit on. And look, if you kind of bend in on yourself, the wind isn’t that bad. You can watch the sun rise from here. It will be just as pretty.’

‘NOOOOOOO! Get up! Come on! Get upppppppp.’

‘Don’t let that person pass you!’

‘FFS, if that guy can keep going, you can keep going!

‘Hey – how come she has poles? Where did she get poles?’

‘Just 5 steps my darling and then you can rest. Just 5 steps.’

‘I can’t do thissssssssss.’

‘Fuck this! Come. On.’

‘Fuck this!’



And so on and so forth.

The last 300m is genuinely hell on earth. I am climbing at a 45 degree angle. The path is loose volcanic scree – a mix of tiny pebbles, rock, sand, ash, charcoal. There is no getting a grip on this stuff. There is no surety in your footing. My boots are full of volcano detritus. I splay my feet and try and waddle up. I stamp down hard to try and gain some purchase. In stages I resort to my hands and knees. I am literally crawling up this thing. 

There is an intricate mix of fierce determination and crazy as bat shit ferocity here that continues to propel me slowly forward. 

In bursts I clamber one metre or so at a time and then pause, doubled over, gasping for breath. I rest with my hands on my hips, leaning into the fierce wind which is buffeting me and threatening to simply lift me up and send me over the edge, and I let my eyes gaze up to the summit. I am trying to make out if the head torches above me are still moving (and hence not yet at the summit, which would break my spirit) or if they have stopped and are clustered together (hence at the summit, and worth striving for) but I mistake the stars for head torches and that throws me into a deep funk where I simply cannot go on…only to realise a few metres later that the stars are stars and not head torches and I laugh in a kind of hysterical way that has me seriously worried for my sanity.

The next time I stop – 5 paces later – I can clearly discern between head torches and stars and I can see that the summit is a mere 100  metres above me. It feels like 10,000 km. I may as well be shooting for the stars. The summit could not feel further away.

I take 5 more steps and rest. And repeat.

It takes me 4 hours. The last 300 metres takes me an hour and a half.

Just as the sky starts to change colour and the sun sends its beams across the horizon signalling to me that my time is almost up, I look up and spot Freddie and Jaimee at the summit. They tell me later that they have been yelling down to me for half an hour, but the wind is so powerful and I am so far in my own head, that I didn’t hear a thing. 

I will never forget the moment that I lock eyes with them. Their faces are alight, they are screaming with such passion and their willpower for me to make it to the top and their energy with their arms held high in the air in triumph – their sheer joy at seeing I did not pull out, their conviction that I can do it, their determination for me to join them on the summit is the injection of energy I need. I plant my feet hard and fast and push through the pain and I scale the last 50 metres of that fucking mountain like a warrior woman and I fall into their arms and we hug and cry and laugh and I can not believe that I have done it.

Mount Rinjani, you beauty – you almost broke me. But I conquered you. The hardest single physical act I have ever experienced aside from bringing my 3 children into this world. 

I may be 53, but I am not too old to climb volcanos. In fact, I am just getting started. Because life is too short not to make every moment count.

What I learned about Mount Rinjani after the hike that I am glad I did not know before…

Mount Rinjani last erupted in September 2016.

In 2018 a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on Lombok killed 16 hikers and injured 330 others who were trapped at the rim and on the summit when paths collapsed, closing the mountain for 10 months.

In 2022 a hiker fell from the summit whilst taking a selfie –  it took 4 days to recover his body.

The temperature at the summit before dawn hovers around 0 degrees. Mount Rinjani is known for attracting severe storms, lightning and strong winds due to its unique geography. It’s important to be aware of the stinging insects and stinging plants and the numerous leeches.

Only 25% of people make it to the summit. And I am one of them.

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I am an executive coach and small business coach specialising in time management, productivity, goal setting and life by design.
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Grief and loss taught Kate—a top lawyer turned time management expert for global businesses—life is too short. You need to set then chase outrageous goals. Now.
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At its heart, this book is about sharing my story so that you know you aren’t alone – that there are many women just like you who are reflecting on what’s next.
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