Saturday, September 22, 2012

Carstensz Pyramid in Pictures...

So upon reflection I've decided that the most effective way to recap Carstensz Pyramid is to do a very picture-heavy blog post. This is what I've come up with. Hopefully you'll get a good sense of what our adventure was like from these stunning photographs taken primarily by my mother and myself.

Flying into the jungle was a fascinating experience. The day before we flew in, local militants had blocked the runway, threatening to shoot any planes that tried to land. When we arrived, however, everyone seemed happy, nice, and welcoming.

Unloading our gear from the small Cessna that flew us into Sugapa, a village connected to the outside world solely by this small airstrip.

Walking by the locals gathered to watch the day's entertainment: the new batch of foreigners here to climb Jaya Wijaya (the Indonesia name for Carstensz Pyramid). 
A local woman selling cigarettes and a local form of lipstick that she was modeling herself.

The main drag of Sugapa, a town comprised of five different Papua tribes, each with its own language.  
Archery is a favorite local sport, pastime, and hunting tool. 

This guy is a pretty badass archer. 
And yes, penis gourds. These are the traditional attire and so are primarily worn by older men.

A cute local kid.
The local huts...notice the huge fire inside. That's the local method of preventing mosquitoes, leeches, and cold.
Some local kids standing outside one of the local stores.
A fierce looking local...
Local women selling wares along the main road of Sugapa.

And the jungle trek begins...

An auspicious start to our trek... 
Complete with (wet) log crossings over raging rapids. Talk about dangerous... 

And tons of rain, and deep, deep mud...

A typical campsite during the latter stages of the jungle trek.

Ed striking a model pose.

My mother extracting herself from a deep mud pit. Picture this x 1,000,000 and that was our jungle trek experience.

A couple of days the terrain changed and it got more barren and rocky. Still muddy, but this time there was rock climbing which always makes life more interesting...
Resting after a long day of jungle hiking.
Stuck in the mud...check out how deeply my right foot is planted into the swamp.

You never know when you might need to climb up a root system suspended 10 ft above the ground...

Almost to Base Camp! We were so close we could almost taste it.

And the summit push begins...

Reaching the summit ridge just before the sun came up.
My mother pulling herself across the Tyrolean Traverse along the summit ridge.
An unbelievable view from the top...apparently the best summit weather our guides had ever seen. You can actually see the ocean in this picture...

Don't look down...huge two-thousand foot drops on either side...just keep walking, one careful step at a time.
My amazing mother atop the highest peak in Australasia.

WAHOO!!!! Another summit down!

The whole group atop the summit of Carstensz Pyramid on a beautiful August morning!

Me (in center wearing light blue) pulling myself across the Tyrolean Traverse on our descent of the summit ridge of Carstensz after reaching the top.

Returning to Sugapa from the mountain with Carstensz Pyramid in the background.

More river crossings...did I mention how dangerous these things were? And how the log was wet and slippery?

Such beautiful, strong people. 

You just could never get rid of those damn bugs...
Back in Sugapa buying a Fanta from the local grocery store.

And we're back in Bali...yay!

Hope you enjoyed that picture summary of our Carstensz Pyramid expedition. It was truly incredible!

Sugapa to Timika to Bali (a.k.a. Civilization!)

And we're back in civilization!! We got up early (around 5am) to be at the airstrip in case our plane arrived early to Sugapa. Since we were all eager to get out of the jungle, no one complained. We actually ended up waiting several hours, but around 9am our plane arrived and we hopped on. The flight back to Timika was quick and easy and we went straight to the other terminal to arrange our connecting flights to Bali. The agents were helpful and allowed us to change our flights to the flight that was departing in an hour. We purchased some local goods (primarily penis gourds) and then boarded our flight. Now we've landed in Bali and are in a form of culture shock after the past two weeks in the primitive jungles of Papua. It's nice to have a shower and a toilet again! Now we have a couple days of R&R in Bali before heading back Stateside. I think we're all going to take advantage of it!

Eating a delicious seafood meal back in Bali!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Day 12: Camp II to Sugapa

True to form, the expedition ended on a difficult and stressful note. Ed and I, eager to drink a soda, hurried on with Poxy and made good progress towards Sugapa. We were attempting to make it through our initial first two days in one. We made it to lunch in the village of suangama in a speedy 3:45. We were each served a plate of the local yams and a spinach-esqe plant along with a stick of sugar cane. It was surprisingly good! I ran out of water though, which wasn't a big deal because we were only an hour and a half hike to the motorcycle pickup site.

After completing this section in just over an hour, Ed and I celebrated the completion of our trek and sat down to wait for a motorbike. We waited about 10 mins before our companion--one of the cooks--motioned down the road to Sugapa and said the motorbikes were that way. Disappointed by the prospect of continuing our 'completed' trek, we marched on nonetheless knowing the Sugapa was close.

After a half hour of walking we still hadn't seen any motorbikes and were starting to get frustrated. When we finally reached the supposed motorcycle meetup point, we were again disappointed: no motorbikes.

We sat down there to wait for them. And we proceeded to wait, in the rain, for the better part of the hour. Eventually I asked our cook, "Where are the motorcycles?" and he responded, "Sugapa."

Not exactly the response I was hoping for. After confirming that we would indeed have to walk all the way to Sugapa, we began the final couple hours in a sour mood. Ed went on ahead and I walked up in the middle, with the cook bringing up the rear. The hike turned out to be a 2.5hr slog almost entirely uphill. It honestly felt harder than anything we'd done the entire trip. I had to stop every fifth feet to catch my breath and rest. On top of that, I had long since run out of water and was massively dehydrated in the 90+ degree temperatures.

I reached a fork in the road. Not remembering this point, I randomly selected the left side branch and walked for another hour into the village of Sugapa. I got quite lucky. I waited at our hut for another hour before Ed arrived. He had taken the right side road and had gone on a massive detour. I would not have been able to handle that.

In all, it had taken just under 7.5hrs of walking for me and Ed to reach Sugapa. Compared to the past two days (9.5 and 8.5 hrs respectively) it was short, but still a tough one. It took my mother another hour before she came in and then Robert didn't arrive until nearly 11 hours after we had set out. He had taken a wrong turn and spent several anxious hours unsure of the path. Luckily one of the head porters rescued him.

Tired but content after today's long day, we are all headed to bed early tonight. We have a 6:30am flight (weather permitting of course) and could be back in Bali tomorrow afternoon! Wouldn't that be something...

When I saw this sight, I knew we were back in civilization! Yay!!! Not exactly NYC, but at least there are other people and shelter!

Day 11: Camp III to Camp II

I like to think of the penultimate day of something as the "last" day, because the actual last day is generally pretty easy to complete (psychologically). This harks back to a lesson I learned from my high school cross country coach, Ned Gallagher, who always used to call a final interval an "optional" Ironman run. The idea is that, though you've essentially completed everything, you throw an extra one in to go just a bit farther, a bit harder. This was the approach I took today. I gutted out the 9-hour trail in under 6 hours, considering it my "last" day the whole time. I just hope that I'm not too exhausted for the real final day of the trek--the Ironman day--tomorrow!

This was the hardest trekking day of the hike in, and it wasn't much easier going out. It literally felt like one slip to another, with each perilously close to resulting in a broken leg or a twisted ankle. We also had several terrifying river crossings. I won't even bother to describe them with words; pictures do them much more justice.

Ed and I shot on ahead to try to finish the day speedily. We managed to, and bonded with the porters after arriving at camp. We can almost smell civilization now. And, I have to say, I am quite excited by the prospect of returning to civilization tomorrow. It's been a difficult two weeks. Today I asked my teammates what kind of "reward" they wanted to give themselves/be given when they completed the trek. Robert said a shower, Ed a cigar and glass of aged whiskey, and my mother said a swimming pool and the beach. I'm not sure what I'd like. Perhaps all three things!

Spirits are high as we prep for our "Ironman" day tomorrow. Hopefully the political situation is still stable and we won't run into any issues!

No more wet log crossings! Thank goodness we all survived them uninjured...

Day 10: Camp V to Camp III

Today was a hellishly long day. We combined two of the days from the hike-in and the result was an epic 9-hour slog through hail, mud, and jungle. The day started well enough; the weather was fine until around midday. By noon we had reached the intermediary camp site and ate some lunch. However, almost as soon as we started out after that it began to hail very, very hard. Though they weren't golf-ball sized, the hail was very hard and I was afraid we might have to stop and take cover at one point.

Luckily, it eventually abated and we continued. Because of the wet conditions, however, we were all soaked to the bone and freezing cold. I was legitimately worried that my mother would get hypothermia. We didn't take any breaks for the remainder of the day, and rolled into Camp III in the early evening.

We dried our gear in the porters' smokey tent and then barely made it through dinner before falling asleep. We're seriously going to need it if we intend to get out of this jungle in two more days...

Back to the crazy jungle trekking...notice how our porters are barefoot. They are incredibly strong and have totally awesome hobbit feet!

Day 9: Base Camp to Camp V

Though we had hoped to make it all the way to a camp between Camps IV and V, we were pleased to at least make it to Camp V. It was a surprisingly tough climb up and over New Zealand Pass and then down and out of the Jaya Range. The weather held up most of the day until the final descent--a harrowingly steep 1000ft climb down through rock, trees, and slick muddy slope. With that behind us it was smooth sailing into Camp V. It was actually the porters who insisted on remaining here for the night. I think they had a pretty tough day with the steep ascent and descent.

The mountain is finally behind us...


I don't know if I've had a more exciting summit day than today...

I actually can't even think of the best place to begin. I guess I'll go chronologically: The "day" started during the night. We woke up just before 1am and ate a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, and rice. We also received some chocolate bars to add to our summit snack bag. The atmosphere at that hour was unbelievable. It was (relatively) warm and the air felt energized. Looking to the south, the lights of the Freeport Mine gave the sky an ominous red tinge. It looked like a real-world Mordor... (Or the real-life equivalent of the Avatar storyline...but actually.) Though it was several miles away, we could hear the buzz of the machines and their non-stop action; I guess mines operate 24/7. 

After breakfast, we grabbed our gear and made our final adjustments before grouping up to being our summit bid.   The day starts with a rolling 45 minute trek up and over the first range to the actual base of the mountain, which is essentially a massive granite slab sticking up out of the earth. The fixed lines stretch all the way down to this base, so we cached our poles and umbrellas there and prepared to begin the technical portion of the day.

I do not have a ton of rock climbing experience, so this summit was new for me in many ways. One of those ways was rock climbing at night. Rock climbing is hard enough for me in full daylight, but at night your vision is restricted to the narrow halo of light shining from your headlamp. It makes identifying the best handholds and footholds significantly more difficult. I should add that, though one could simply "ascend" using the fixed lines (not actually climb the rock, just use the lines to pull oneself up), I did not want to do this because the lines are quite old and are fraying very badly in places. So I ended up climbing the rock as if I did not have a fixed line and then using my ascender as a self-belay for safety. 

Summit Day begins!
This all felt pretty manageable until the final 70 vertical meters of the climb. At this point, the slope turns completely vertical and the handholds more scarce. Though this sounds painfully difficult, it was actually quite fun to do. By and large, this summit day had turned out to be way more interesting and fun than any I had done before. Though my arms and legs felt fatigued from the six days of trekking and the morning's rock climbing, I almost didn't feel it because of the excitement this terrain provided. 

Once we reached the top of this steep section, we were on the summit ridge. From here it was a 15 minute walk to the Tyrolean Traverse, which is a wire stretched across a 25m gap in the ridge. One essentially slides/pulls oneself across this wire, trying not to look down at the 800+m of empty space below. This was surprisingly difficult. Because you're going slightly uphill, it requires some significant arm muscle to drag your body (and harness and bag) up those final few meters. Luckily we all made it without incident and continued on our traverse of the summit ridge. 

Me pulling myself across the Tyrolean Traverse.
To my surprise, there were two other features on the summit ridge that were actually scarier than the Tyrolean. Both were notches that featured a sort of jump to the other side... If the drop had been a couple feet (or even 10ft) it would have been a piece of cake, but having such a huge drop beneath you makes everything more difficult. We made it across with varying degrees of assistance from our guide Poxy; Ed and I managed it unassisted, but my mother (who has significantly less leg reach than us guys), needed a helping hand to make the jump safely. 

Finally, we ascended the final 50 vertical meters to a steep knob. Suddenly we realized that there was nowhere higher to go. An ice axe marked the highest point in Australasia and we all let out a massive "Woop!" to express our satisfaction and excitement at having made this summit.

To say it had been a difficult journey would be a massive understatement. It was the hardest and most miserable thing I had ever done. But we were only half way; we still needed to get down (and out of the jungle) without incident. 

We spent around half an hour at the summit, taking pictures and exchanging hugs and congratulations. (I reached the summit at 7:27am, with the whole group gathered before 7:35am.) Then we decided to head down before the weather had a chance to turn. In that respect we had been incredibly fortunate all day. We could even see the ocean, some 100+miles away! But didn't want to push our luck, so we began to head down soon after taking some group pics. Ed and I made quick progress, reaching the Tyrolean about half an hour before the others. We waited there and when the others joined us, we all went across the Tyrolean. We were significantly more efficient this time than we had gone across on the way up to the summit. 

From the top of the ridge we abseiled (rappelled) down approximately 8 pitches to get to the base of the fixed lines. This was by far the most dangerous part. As I said, much of this rope was not in good shape and when you're abseiling you're putting all of your trust in a single line. Not a great feeling. At one point, I literally heard a tearing sound coming from my rope. I tried to get off of it as soon as possible. It's only a matter of time before one of those ropes breaks and someone gets injured or dies. 

It began raining lightly as we collected our umbrellas and poles. We then began a casual walk back to Base Camp, all excited by our big summit. We reached Base Camp after 9:59 minutes of climbing--an average time for a Carstensz summit bid. We were shocked to find that our cooks (and one of our guides, Yosh, who had gone down due to illness), had prepared a massive lunch and even had cold Balinesian beer (Bintang--a great drink) ready for us! Nothing could have made up more happy. 

After stuffing ourselves, we retired for the day. We still have a four day trek out, so we need all the rest we can get. To be honest, this summit day was one of (if not the) easiest day of the entire expedition so far. Hopefully we will manage to make it out of this jungle efficiently and safely. 

Wooohooo! Another summit down!

Our whole group at the summit of Carstensz Pyramid, the highest peak in Australasia.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Day 7: Camp V to Base Camp

We're finally here! Phase one of the expedition accomplished. It was a pleasant five hour hike up and down the rocky granite Jaya range. We went over New Zealand pass and down to the base of Carstensz. The mountain appears as a massive granite upshoot and dwarfs everything around it.

As usual, it rained during our trek. However we noticed today that instead of fat raindrops, it was actually pouring down hail! This makes sense, since New Zealand Pass is 4,500m.

It's a weird feeling being completely alone on the mountain. Every other peak I've climbed, there have been other teams climbing at the same time. Here, it's just us. It's a pretty cool feeling!

Anyway, the temperature is definitely dropping (the perpetual dampness of everything doesn't help..) and is probably in the low 50s now. Gloves are a must for the rock sections because of how sharp it is--you'd cut up your hands otherwise.

Once at camp (4,330m according to the sign here), we sorted through our summit gear in preparation for tonight's summit bid. We are excited but nervous too!

Because we did not want to risk getting out clean, dry summit clothes wet in the afternoon rain, my mother and I both used our pee bottles. For me this was super easy because a) I'm a guy and b) I've had countless times to practice. My mother, however, had never used her 'female urinary device' (it's called a GoGirl and is aimed at women who need to pee in public or in a tent like now). These devices are not super complicated but some practice beforehand is definitely recommended. My mother had not done this and it was both amusing and painful to hear her struggle with it as I shut my eyes. Luckily none of our stuff got sprayed.

We're going to get some shut eye now in advance of our 1am wake up and 2am departure for the summit!

My mother at Carstensz Pyramid Base Camp after six long, hard days of trekking.