It was early in the morning on July 30 when Mackenzie Irwin became one of about 800 hikers caught in a 6.4-magnitude earthquake on the Indonesian island of Lombok. Irwin, a 28-year-old lawyer from Toronto, had been posing for a photo at the top of Mount Rinjani moments before the quake struck.
Dozens of other hikers had gathered to watch the sunrise at the peak. Many of them weren’t as lucky as Irwin, who was just steps away from the edge of the peak’s volcanic crater but eventually managed to make it down the mountain. She watched as a large plateau not far from her crumbled into the volcano, taking several hikers with it.
“People were climbing on top of each other because the plateau was just falling away,” she told The Washington Post by telephone from the nearby island of Gili Air. Once the shaking had stopped, she remembered, all the local guides near the summit yelled just one thing: “Run.”
The quake would kill at least 16 people and injure more than 300, the BBC reported. News reports said some hikers were among the dead, but Irwin said no one in her group was killed or seriously injured. She said she feels lucky to have escaped without major injuries, but the quake has taken both a physical and emotional toll.
Irwin said she woke at 2 a.m. Sunday to make the three-hour trek from her campsite to the summit.
Irwin, who started hiking as an undergraduate student 10 years ago, had been traveling through Southeast Asia with a friend to celebrate passing the bar in Toronto. She decided to fly alone to Lombok and make the trek up Mount Rinjani, which was supposed to be a straightforward hike.
At 12,224 feet, Mount Rinjani is the second-tallest mountain in Indonesia. The active volcano is a popular destination for hikers, attracting more than 89,000 visitors in 2016, the Jakarta Post reported. A highlight of the hike is watching the sunrise from the rim at the summit, which looks over a lake inside the enormous crater.
When the quake hit, nearly everyone was knocked to the ground. Others were buried up to their knees in loose volcanic rock, Irwin said.
Local guides, many barefoot or in slippers, were bleeding as they ran toward the rim and tried to pull people away from the edge during the quake. Amid the chaos, guides yelled at hikers to descend the mountain as quickly as they could, explaining that earthquakes on Lombok have been followed by volcanic eruptions.
It took Irwin two hours to reach her campsite. She met one of the four people who had been in her hiking group, then waited 15 minutes for another hiker to arrive before descending the mountain, scrambling to avoid falling rocks each time there was another tremor. Some paths that her group had used to ascend the mountain had fallen away; others had been split by ravines created by the earthquake. In many places, the hikers walked single-file to avoid the crumbling edges of pathways, Irwin said.
By the time she and her group reached the bottom, Irwin had been on the move for 11 hours, stopping only three times to drink water. “You just didn’t know when another quake was going to come . . . we never felt that we were in the clear,” she said.
“I can’t walk,” Irwin said, two days after the grueling descent. “I’m very sore. I pushed my body to the limit.” She added that she sometimes feels the tremors of a quake even though there have not been any. She flinches when she hears loud sounds and has trouble sleeping.