I have been home for a couple days now and my recent trip and climb in Papua Indonesia seems like a distant memory. I still remember everything vividly but the entire experience feels surreal, like a great big magnificent dream. I always knew that climbing the mountain would be a fun challenge and it was that and more. The beautiful culture we experienced throughout the trip was astonishing. I loved every second we spent with the native people as well as our great climbing team. I have to say having positive rockstars in a team makes everything better.
One aspect of this climb that caught me off guard a little was the difficulty of getting to the mountain. I took three flights just to meet up with my team in Bali, Indonesia. It took FOUR more to get to the village where we would catch our final ride on a helicopter to the mountain! I'll start my story in Nabire, Papua before we took a small flight to Enarotali, the village where the helicopter would be picking us up. Our team and our gear filled up most of the small plane and we were all super excited to take one step closer to the mountain. I was sitting in the first row behind the pilot and as he showed up, I noticed that there was no co-pilot. Since there was an open seat up front I had to ask if I could jump up there. Our French pilot said "Sure!, It's pretty illegal but it's Papua and no one cares." We took off the small runway and climbed out over the ocean before turning back inland. The jungles were dense and the mountains were shockingly steep. The flight was about 40 minutes long and from the sky I could only see one or two small signs of human life. Enarotali resides on the edge of a beautiful lake near the center of the island of Papua. Many villages dotted the shoreline of the lake with Enarotali being the largest. We started the descent for landing when the pilot informed us that he had to buzz past the "airport" to let them know we were coming to land and clear the runway. I thought that might be a joke but sure enough, people started scattering. The landing was fairly smooth considering the dirt runway. As we pulled in to park, a plane that crashed there two weeks ago was being stripped down for parts and pigs were running all around us. Apparently if a plane hits one of the pigs...the pilot has to pay for it. THIS IS NOT A JOKE.
We unloaded our bags and walked down the street to our guest house. It was a stunning day out so our team took a stroll down to the local market. Vibrant colors and huge smiles from the locals were extremely welcoming. Everyone wanted to come and practice their English with us and get their pictures taken. The conversations were mostly just "Hello" "Good morning" but the effort and desire to try was amazing! We could've walked around all day but lunch was waiting back at the guest house. We had a wonderful lunch and listened as a huge rainstorm began. Our afternoon of cruising the market was out so we had to fill the time, thankfully my friend Vibs was prepared. She brought "Yahtzee"!!!! We played most of the afternoon and this became our official game of the trip. I must include that I won TWO games in Enarotali.
Early the next morning was our much awaited flight to the mountain basecamp but I was awoken much much earlier with an extremely upset stomach, an unfortunate side effect from travel and eating different unfamiliar foods. I'm sure some of you don't want to hear about this but it is a very real aspect of travel sometimes. Not only was I worried I couldn't make the helicopter flight to the mountain but I was becoming extremely dehydrated before a huge gain in altitude, which is never a good thing. Luckily, everything cleared up a few minutes before we took the drive to the helipad. I still didn't feel 100% but I was pumped for this flight!
As we waited for the heli to come the sun slowly rose over the village. Everything was damp with dew and it was incredibly peaceful. I have only ridden in a helicopter once before but this was very different. As the heli landed, the crew jumped out and uncovered the fuel barrels that were sitting only a few feet away and rolled them toward the chopper. Then another member of the crew came over with a bathroom scale and asked us to stand on it with our gear so they could calculate the loads we could take up. Everything still seemed super safe, it was just fun to see how they needed to improvise in these remote areas. We loaded all our gear, jumped on board and off we went! As we rose above the village and started sweeping over the fields all thoughts of my upset stomach were gone.
The first half of the ride was over dense jungle covered hills and mountains. Green as far as the eye could see. Lakes and rivers lingered in the valleys as the only disruptions of the vegetation. Through the front glass I could see huge limestone ridges approaching. Ryan pointed out the summit of Carstensz far in the distance and a nervous excitement spread over me. We flew by the massive mine that is the only sign of humans in the vicinity and is a very controversial topic in its own right, something that I won't get into here. Suddenly the terrain changed drastically and the vegetation gave way to stunning grey. As we neared basecamp my view went from the vast jungle to a shear limestone wall. I couldn't see anything but rock out my side of the heli. We touched down, grabbed our gear, spun around and stood in awe as the seemingly tiny helicopter took off in front of the most massive rock wall I have ever seen, Carstensz Pyramid!
Our basecamp was located at almost 14,000ft (4200m). Another small team was waiting there for their summit attempt the next day but that was it. We strolled over to our camp and began helping set up tents before the second half of our team arrived on the next chopper. As I carried a tent over to a flat spot and bent over to start assembling the poles I felt the huge elevation gain we had just made. We all had to take it easy until our bodies could adjust. With most of the tents up and waited for the next heli to arrive. It was almost as exciting to watch the next helicopter come in for landing as being on it! The setting and watching it cruise in for landing was absolutely stunning! Our other teammates jumped of and unloaded gear. We all walked over to camp and enjoyed a long lunch before getting a little hike in. We were all very anxious to get climbing after being cooped up in planes and hotels for the last few days and the short hike felt great! We hiked up a short ridge that led to the old basecamp for the climb. At the top of that ridge two stunning lakes came into view. One was light blue and hazy while the lake next to it was stunningly clear. Turns out one of the lakes is fed mostly from a glacier just above while the other is only fed by rain which give them the strikingly different looks. Another strange feature of this area was the limestone rock. I have never felt rock like this before. It had so much grip and was extremely coarse, even razor sharp in some places. A slight drizzle began so we decided to head down so we wouldn't get soaked the first day. Rain in the afternoon would become a very common theme of our time at Carstensz base camp. It felt so good to be back on a mountain and summit day would only be two days away!