Part 1 of 4 Carstensz Pyramid Climb – Journey to Papua
(Click for Part 2)
The Carstensz Pyramid is the highest peak in Indonesia/Oceania. It is one of the most difficult and rarely climbed of the Seven Summits. The typical route requires trekking through equatorial jungles and rock climbing steep jagged limestone cliffs while repairing frayed fixed ropes along the way. It’s mountaineering and adventure travel at an extreme level. Many previous expeditions to this peak have reported robbery, extortion, detention, bribery, abandonment, kidnapping, and even violence. Carstensz is not a forgiving mountain and a misstep can be deadly -a chinese expedition who climbed immediately before us lost one team member on the mountain -on our climb we walked past the blue tarp that covered his body. This is my story and the start of climbing the 7 Summits.
The trip started on the evening of Wednesday, September 27, 2017. I am sitting in the Toronto #AirFrance/#KLM Lounge and I am a little calmer. A few hours earlier, at home and even when I was arriving at the airport, I was having a mini nervous breakdown. My heart strings were stretched taut and I knew they would only relax when I was back home with my family after this adventure.
It was an 8 hour flight overnight to Amsterdam, Netherlands, with an almost 9 hour lay over. It just gave me enough time to take the train directly from the airport to the center of the city. Then a pleasant reprieve – a one hour canal cruise to see the 100 most important places – Amsterdam on fast forward!
After a 14 hour flight, I arrived in Bali, Indonesia on Saturday September 30th. Indonesian time is 12 hours ahead of us in Canada.
Earlier in the week at home, there was news that a volcano was ready to erupt at any moment; news that had me a little worried as it was close to my Bali stop. As I arrived, Mount Agung had not erupted, and locals in Bali seemed completely unconcerned, even though all news reports previously stated eruption was imminent. Well, like everything, the Volcano is in Gods hands and timetable.
As our plane landed in Bali and I waited for my two duffle bags, I felt the relief of being out of the plane, stretching my legs and mind after the long journey. Finally I was in Bali, but I was anxious to see my bags because they contained all my supplies for my climb and their contents were irreplaceable. At last, the familiar bags arrived and I was able to breathe a bit easier.
My hotel was only a few kilometers from the airport, however the journey took an hour. It really seemed to take forever. Traffic in the morning or evening rush hour on the Gardner Expressway is a ‘speedway’ compared to this drive!
My mind raced in anticipation of what was to come, but I felt calm. Could I really be the first Portuguese woman to climb Carstensz Pyramid? I already missed my family, my husband – I am a ‘homebody’ (like my husband always says) …. Wait! What? And I am climbing mountains I ask yourself? Yup!!! Let’s do this Ema!
Bali was only a stopover and meeting point for the members of the expedition. From here on we travel as a group to Timika, West Papua, to climb the long awaited Carstensz Pyramid. First we took a flight from Denpasar, Bali, to Timika, West Papua. Our flight left at 1:30am local time – I loaded up on coffee again!
This was not #KLM or Air Canada but a local carrier; as I prepared for 4 hours plus of flying, sandwiched in the middle seat between Adam and Phillipe, two other teammates. More flying? Really?
When we arrived at the Timika airport, our whole team was excited as we waited for our duffle bags on the conveyor belt. We all looked like ‘hikers’ with our gear bags and backpacks, easily recognizable as heading to climb the Cardensz Pyramid. As we waited, our team started a conversation with other passengers waiting, a hand full of men from China.
“You guys climbing Carstensz?” Adam, from our team, asked them.
They told us that yes, indeed they were. This was their third expedition and will hopefully summit this time. And no, they would not be trekking in, as they had tried it once and aborted due to the EXTREME difficulty at every step. Secretly this answer scared us, but we all remained positive on the outside. The Chinese team would be taking the helicopter directly to basecamp bypassing six days of hiking through the jungle. Perhaps we felt stronger and braver with this route, because we would be trekking in, gradually climbing over many days to basecamp. I personally thought, that they just wanted to brag that they had climbed Carstensz and the helicopter was just the easiest way to go. I was not fazed at what awaited us at that moment. Little did I know…
As we piled our duffle bags into pushcarts and headed to the exit, we were all stopped and our passports were taken away from us. ‘What?!’ ‘Why?’ ‘What’s going on?’ I felt completely powerless without my Canadian passport. We are left speechless.
Denny, our Indonesian head guide, that that been hired by Terra Ultima, had gone through and I can see him outside looking at us trapped inside. I didn’t understand what is going on and why he left us – he later told us, that he left us on purpose; that this was our first test to see how we would handle ourselves, as we would encounter more of this type hostility towards us. ‘Thanks for the warning Denny!’
Apparently, Indonesians, more particularly those from Papua, don’t all like tourists or foreigners and certainly do not see the benefit of the money we bring in to explore their country. Strange as it seems, I was told that they feel we are somehow invading their country, simply by hiking and climbing the largest mountain in Oceania. How does that make sense; maybe something was lost in translation?
At last, one of Denny’s employees came inside and showed that we had permits to climb Carstensz. So after much screaming back and forth between our guides and immigration, an officer took pictures of our passports and let us through. I have to remind myself, we are in a very foreign country that just a few years ago didn’t think twice about shooting foreigners for just being “in” the country and a few decades before, went to arms against Australia in their fight for independence. So in some ways I suppose they still feel we are some type of enemy invader I suppose.
After we left the airport we were ushered into two separate vehicles with Denny’s Team and were driven to the hotel, where we could rest until our yet another early morning flight, which would take us to where we would start our journey to the mountain!
This hotel was newly built and its modernism was a blunt contrast between the “favela” atmosphere of the neighbourhood in which it was located.
That afternoon we also had to go to the Immigration office and fill out paperwork for our permits to climb Carstensz. I did not understand this step as we had already provided our pictures previously and it seemed we already had shown our permits at the airport. But we went to the Immigration Office, had our pictures taken again and new paperwork signed. When in Rome…
Here I took the opportunity to enquire again if any other Portuguese woman or man had climbed Carstensz. I was assured that records are now kept and they did not have anyone registered from that country in there office. The only other office where permits could be obtained would be Naribe. However, the officer seemed to believe no other Portuguese person had climbed, and certain no other Portuguese woman had. ‘Yes!’ I was to be the first!
Next, we went shopping for a few necessities – umbrellas (ALOT of rain was in the forecast) and also food for what was supposed to be for me – the only vegetarian in our group 4 climbers. Cans of beans and some corn was purchased to supplement what would surely be a nutritious diet provided by the touring company.
Shortly after our shopping trip, our lead guide Denny, informs us that our toilet and shower tent, which we had been told we would have for the expedition, had been stolen from basecamp, so we will have to make do. Another bit of stress being added;climbing with no privacy to shower and the jungle as the toilet area! As a business person I didn’t really understand this. If it was stolen, just go buy another one! We decided to take the “Oh well!” attitude and move on to more important items.
And then at last, we had a group dinner and rested for the night before our trip to the airport to catch a small plane that would take us to Sugapa.
It was my husband Steve’s birthday– October 4. I was sad that I missed it and it tugged at my heart. I missed my family already, but the anticipation of the climb was still pumping through my veins and was keeping me focused.
When we arrived at the landing strip in Sugapa, all the YouTube videos I had previously seen came to reality. There were hordes of motorcycle riders, ready and eager to get your business. After lots of negotiation from our local guides, we all got on the back of a motorcycle including duffle bags, all our supplies, and tents. Quite the sight!
We made several stops along the way. The first two were close together and both were to pay off local government authorities and the local government army office.
Then we had the start of roadblocks by local tribe members. I’m guessing three, because honestly I lost count and tended to blend into each other. One of the roads blocks was very intense, to the point it actually seemed choreographed to scare foreigners out of higher bribes! Even the local army guy, whom had been paid off less than half an hour before, had to be brought in and threats were made between the two groups. Eventually we were let through and were able to continue our trip. ALOT of money greased their palms during this long process. Even though our climbing group was on the sidelines with our guides handling these negotiations, the entire process seemed very intense.
Finally we arrived at the leader of the Dani tribes’ farm, where we spent the night. This tribe was also from whom we hired porters the next day.
We stayed in two local wood homes, which had three rooms. We slept in our sleeping bags on the floor. It rained all night and we spent that time with all the local children.
William, local leader, and his farmhouses accommodate guests such as us. He has 7 wives and countless children. Yes, I said 7. William claims to be a Christian. ‘Ahhhhh … no; I don’t think so.’
All of this travel, negotiating, suspicion, and living arrangements and we hadn’t even started the expedition! ‘Is this what I signed up for?’ It was. And this was only the beginning.