Climbing Lombok's Gunung Rinjani offers the feel of a true expedition without the months of slogging through snow. Here you'll negotiate nothing more harrowing than thick mahogany and teak forests filled with creeping roots, impudent monkeys, and a cacophony of woodpeckers, yellow-crested cockatoos, and red-cheeked parrots. Maps and trails are fickle, so it's better to travel with a guide and porter. Not only will they deepen your cultural experience, but their sprightly maneuvers in flip-flopswhile shouldering inhuman loads on bamboo poleswill prod your flagging resolve on the steepest sections.
At 12,224 feet, Rinjani stretches its shoulders nearly to the island's edge but doesn't require technical skill; both the Balinese and Sasaks frequently make pilgrimages here (especially during the full moon). The more demanding route to the top makes a good first ascent for iron-willed beginners while offering experienced mountaineers all the usual elements: a predawn traverse over an exposed ridge, a heartbreaking false summit, and the daunting final push.
The three-to-five-day climb is best done before the rains begin in November, in an open loop of roughly 25 miles between the villages of Senaru and Sembulan Lawang. Views of Indonesia's archipelago are matched by the stunning sight of the volcano's interior. A crescent lake surrounds a miniature volcano-within-a-volcano (Rinjani erupted harmlessly in 1994), and at its edge, a cathartic hot spring joins a cool freshwater stream. After the climb, you can recuperate on Lombok's quiet beaches or make the quick trip to Bali for some old-fashioned pampering at a high-end resort.
Accommodations in Senaru are homestays (pseudo hotels); youth hosts can arrange guides, porters, and transportation for about $50 per person. Try Rinjani Homestay, Pondok Senaru, or Bale Banyan Senaru (each about $5 per night). Neither village has telephones; make your arrangements with Perama Travel in Senggigi at 011.62.0370.693007.
Asia Above the Fray
Hat Rai Leh: Phra Nang, Thailand
Climbers accustomed to hardship might initially resist the rhythms of Hat Rai Leh, in the saddle of the Phra Nang cliff at Thailand's southwestern spur. They may miss those arduous approaches, those wind-battered bevies, the bland boiled meals, but such longing will not last. A few days here will persuade even rugged rock rats to embrace simple beach bungalows, cool midday swims, and sumptuous dinners. All the comforts of slow tropical days can be had for less than $40 cam, and the time passes under a sun that rises and sets over the twin beaches of this striking spit.
But there definitely are challenges to be found in this limestone wonderland. Climbs range from 5.6 to 5.13d, over exceptional rock with deep, positive pockets and smooth handles. Steep routes reward dynamic moves that climbers recall with reverence during lazy evenings in the village.
Beginners can arrange introductory courses at one of the many climbing shops integrated with the half-dozen bungalow operations, while experienced climbers can choose from a host of spectacular routes, reachable from the beach or aboard one of the numerous small boats for hire in the bay. Bring one or two 60-meter ropes for multipitch climbs; sport routes are standard, and 15 quick-draws and some webbing are all you need.
Fall is a good time to go; November is usually the driest month, though protected overhangs provide routes even on a rainy October afternoon. Either month lets you beat the winter rush, when overflow climbers sleep on the beach, while still offering a chance to join the friendly community of climbers who make the pilgrimage to Phra Nang from all parts of the planet.
Among the bungalow accommodations are Sand Sea Bungalows (011.66.75.611.944, but don't count on it working) and Railay Village (no phones), each about $20 per night. For climbing guides contact King Climbers (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Wee's Rock Climbing in Rai Leh (no phone, but staffed most evenings). Check out www.thaibiz.com/texsrockclimbing/ for a preview.
Asia Above the Fray
The MacLehose Trail: Hong Kong
Most Asian adventure-travel itineraries include Hong Kong merely as a convenient connecting point or a brief stopover for souvenir shopping en route to or from more remote locations. But the MacLehose Trail, which snakes 62 miles across Hong Kong's New Territories, offers a different perspective that even city-phobic travelers can appreciate.
This mountainous six-day trek, from Sai Kung Peninsula in the east to the ancient port of Tuen Mun in the west, traverses subtropical forest and grassy wildflower slopes as it shoots you high above the throngs to view the South China Sea and the rugged hills of China. Linking eight of the region's more than 20 country parks, the trail reaches its apex atop Tai Mo Shan, at 3,232 feet the region's highest mountain.
Through-hikers should figure on about 35 hours to cover the entire trail, pitching a ten in campgrounds or staying hostels along the way. The hike begins gently; the tough sections occur between Pak Tam Au and Tate's Cairn at the Gilwell campsite, a 14-mile stretch that you reach on either the second or forth day, depending on which end of the trail serves as your starting point. At the small villages along the route you can stop for provisions such as sea cucumber in oyster sauce that'll make you relegate your freeze-dried meals and energy bars to the bottom of your backpack.
The ideal season is October through December. Summit Tai Mo Shan in clear weather and you'll be rewarded with sweeping views of the New Territories' northwestern plains and the Chinese coastline. The urban mayhem of Hong Kong down below will seem like an exotic dream.
Get maps and trail descriptions from the Country and Marine Parks Authority in Kowloon; call 011.852.2733.2132. The main ranger office (011.852.2420.0529) is also a good source of information. The hostels charge about $5 for members of International Youth Hostels, $8 for non-members. Reservations are advised: call 011.852.2788.1638. Campsites are either free or run a mere $2-3 per night. For additional information contact the Hong Kong Tourism Association's New York office at 212.421.3382 or call 800.282.4582 to obtain brochures.