Seven Summits

It’s not easy.

Stigma or discrimination attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier, not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community. *

This is a fact, and coupled with the holidays where people can feel more stress and anxiety, it is perhaps the reason I personally came home from climbing Vinson Massif about 2 weeks ago, to feelings of confusion that if what I am doing will matter at all and even to some resentment.

7 Summits for Mental Health, is a hard task at hand and just like anything in life, there are moments of doubt.

When I started this endeavour for Peaks for Change, I had hope to make an impact, but I did not anticipate that it could be hard on my personal life or me.

However I have come to believe that Jesus put me in this path and he keeps me there for a reason. There are little signs. Just as I was feeling overwhelmed on the morning of Christmas Eve, I receive a personal note on our Facebook messenger, which I have permission to share it here in its entirety, in hope that it can help someone else, and also further ‘our’ goals to end the stigma on mental health.

December 23,

2018 The Trillium Trauma.

On December 12th, 2018 I found myself at the back of a Peel Police car as people stared with curiosity at the Family Services of Peel. Not that I had committed any crime, but the Officers were there to support and service and transport me to the Trillium Hospital. After consulting with a Clinician, 911 was called for assistance.

I do not recall three of the first ten days of this cruel crisis! However, for whatever reason in-comprehensive to me, I recall the main Police Officer’s number, 2482. I might be mistaking during my crisis, but I will have to follow up with Division 11 and send the four officers my genuine appreciation.

During the transit, admittance and those three disoriented days of my life, I felt absolutely nothing! I had no feelings, no lucidity. I was a blank canvass for the further infliction I was to combat. Every single personal item was taken from me, I was left with my underclothing on and locked up in a room at Emergency for my own safety. The Police officers remained outside the restraint until the Doctor was available to attend me with the Hospital Security.

And so, I was a formalized as a Mental Patient in Crisis. I simply cannot account the frightful sorrow I experienced at this place that exists to help people. I also have to remember the utmost challenging employed Nurses and other individuals that handle multiple unwell people every day. My admiration for them as I could never endure an environment such as the one I experienced.

I had a many breakdowns during this period. More often than not, with my Peer Patients and we nourished and supported each other regardless of gender, age or race. People of all walks of life share one thing in common, Mental illness.

Under this umbrella within, they have various levels or a different diagnosis. When I was able to actually convey a reasonable conversation, I spoke to staff and patients of a friend, Emma Dantas. She climbs tall mountains around the world to change the ‘stigma’ about Mental Health.

I am in some ways distressed by Governments, society, and companies such as the one that triggered my PTS. Lack of awareness and education. Personally, I feel it is simply ignorance.

I requested to be discharged earlier. I could not manage my emotions watching my roommate undergoing his own horrible crisis, a handsome, early 20’s year old male having horrifying episodes.

Returning home and to the welcoming of my Cat, Ronaldo, I have not been able to stop weeping. He also went through this trauma with me.

I am uncertain if I made the appropriate decision. At present, I am doubtful what the future brings. With PTS, the many years of Panic Attacks, Depression and now I also have Social Anxiety.

This is a soul who performed on stage, TV, Radio and loved music, now long foregone, as it has for years. I feel that the place to heal my trauma, has brought me other traumas and I still break down in weeping for not only me, but others. The different individuals and the sadness I lived through would altogether destroy me further.

I was coached by the Staff that my empathy for others was not healthy, but how can One not feel.? Fortunately I am blessed with the support of my sister, nephews, and nieces.

It has only been about 10 hours since I arrived home and some would think that now am fully cured. That would be a miracle, but not even on Christmas that will materialize for me and others suffering and being stigmatized.

John Neves “I read this several times and wept. It brought me to a place when I could hear my own mothers’ turmoil of feelings. It brought me to a time, I just did not want to deal with it. It spoke to my own present thoughts of tiredness and emotional ache. Climbing mountains may be difficult, but way easier than living with any form of Mental Illness. Easier than feeling lost, broken and hopeless.

As we come to a close of 2018, please join us in our commitment to raise funds for CAMH’s new Acute Care Center, to open its doors soon, with your one time donation of $5.00. Lets together build a future without at least the Stigma on Mental health.

With gratitude, wishing you a Happy New Year,

Ema Dantas
Chairwoman of the Board
Peaks for Change Foundation




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Mount Elbrus Russia Climb Part 2 -Summit

It is Sunday, July 29th, 2018 and to the ‘Putin on the Ritz’ team, day 9 of our adventure.

My alarm is set for 2:00am for breakfast, but I, like several of my teammates, was already up. Vern turns on the electrical kettle for hot water, to warm our first batch of water bottles, and we are ready to go.

Our plan was to be ready and mobile at 3:00am and be by the ‘cats’ to put our crampons on at 3:30am. Plan accomplished. Yes! Off to a good start.
We have a large group and need two ‘snow cats’ and awkwardly get on board, with all our equipment. We sit excitedly, knowing what’s to come and hold on tight as it brings us up to just past the Provesky Rocks on Mount Elbrus. We all jump off. The moment has come. At last, we are about to attempt to summit Mount Elbrus. For me, mountain number three!

We remove our down jackets, because we always ‘start cold’; our bodies start heating up fast. Snow googles on next, with our face buffs securely underneath its strap, so we don’t have any of our face exposed. My buff has a Canadian flag print. Yes, I am proud to be Canadian!

It’s windy and cold as we start out. And we all knew that as we gained altitude, the temperature would decrease and the winds would increase. The clear blue skies we had been seeing the previous days as we glanced up the mountain from base camp were merely a rouse. Clearly, this is NOT going to be easy.

The previous day, when we were informed by Vern that we would attempt our Summit today, it was with the expectation that the weather would be similar to the previous day. The report brought back from the climbers that had reached the Summit, was that they had to literally ‘crawl’ to the Peak. I had visualized the ‘crawling’ action myself and yet only believed Vern 50%. I thought he was simply exaggerating. In a few short hours, I learned first hand, that ‘crawling’ was the right adjective. A daunting exercise; but the only way…

However, with our backpacks securely buckled on our backs, our headlamps turned on, we get to business. We ensure our ice axe is deployable and both our trekking poles are at the appropriate climbing length. These two skills we learned and reviewed with Carole and Vern until we were proficient.

In a single file, one step at a time, practicing both our rest-step and pressure breathing, we start to climb. I concentrate on both, and at the same time, ensure each of my steps are careful ones, so as to not get my crampons tangled on each other. I try to only concentrate on my rhythm and nothing else. ‘One, two, whooof…. one, two, whooof…’

I know to others looking at us from below or even from behind, we look like fireflies, slowly moving up the mountain, as only the light from our headlamps is visible. Fireflies in a string, moving upward in the extreme cold and wind.

Daylight is breaking and we reach our first stop. Vern directs us, “Keep warm people.” “Ten minute break.” “Remember to pee, drink and eat – in that order.” “You do not want to be caught with your pants down when we are ready to go!” His sense of humor lifts our spirits. We need to smile.

This first rest stop is by a broke -down, red, snow caterpillar. It is now a fixture on its ridge, and I doubt it will ever be removed. Just another piece of ‘garbage’ on Elbrus. I wonder how long it will remain here.

Modesty in the mountain does not exist. Men and women simply accept our basic nature needs, and simply that. And all are respectful. We ‘go’ when told, like in grade school.

“Two minutes people!” Vern commands and we know its time to rap it up and get going. We all respond as quickly as possible.

We continue our ascent as the sun slowly slides past the fluffy white clouds, painting a a golden hallow around them, as it rises to set its place against the blue sky. For a brief moment, both sun and moon share the same space. It’s magical what God has created. And from this vantage point, even more so.

Anatoli, the ‘official’ mountain photographer is going around from group to group, capturing special moments, which he will sell to us in a couple of days. Vern tells us at one point to simply pull our buffs down for a brief smile into the camera as we pass him at a certain point and time. We do. It records our red, frost faces that are hiding under our buffs. And also relieves us. There are some civilized moments up here! Plus we are not alone. We are having this adventure together.

Our second break is on the vertical face of the mountain, just off the narrow trekking path. As we follow our break routine I try not to think of the height which we are at, and also the fact that one slip, would have any one of us demonstrating our ice axe arrest techniques. Better not to think of that possibility. None of us wants to practice that. I try not to look back because of my fear of heights and simply tell myself I am on solid footing. It helps.

As we continue in single file, we come upon another group, which after a few moments, our guides and theirs, negotiate our passing ahead of them. All of our group secretly feels good about this maneuver. We seem to be moving at a decent pace!

I can see that we are entering ‘the saddle’. The saddle is termed as such because it’s a ‘dip’ between both mountain peaks, resembling an actual saddle.

While we enter the saddle, the wind is not prevalent and I foolishly think that Vern was exaggerating about the wind speed we were to expect. Never doubt Vern!

As I look ahead I can see snow blowing and creating dust clouds against and around other fellow climbers, already at the base of the saddle and also making their way up the other side towards the Summit. The brief stillness we feel was very much like the proverbial ‘calm before the storm’. Brace yourself Ema.

As we reach the saddle base, the wind is demonstrating its superiority. It pushes us like a bully, demanding we push back and fight to keep ourselves vertical.

Vern commands and guides us efficiently to get our down jackets on. We need to pee, drink and eat like on any other break, plus we need to put our harnesses on. We are securing all our backpacks and trekking poles in a pile and leaving them behind here. This is both to facilitate our final push up to the Summit, but also to save space – there is not much room up there!

Our guides help us with getting our harnesses on, without taking our crampons off. As Irina and ‘Jason’ (nicknamed by us, because of his white mask) help us, I make a mental note that I need to get a better harness for when I repeat this task in a future climb. It’s just not smooth enough for crucial times like this.

And we are off, for the final leg.
Again, we are soon feeling the wind’s defiant tease to ‘take him on’ with only our ice axe in hand as if to threaten the wind to ‘back off’. Just as we clip on the static line, the wind retreats teasingly, giving us a false sense of hope. Then it comes gusting against us with speeds of about 50km an hour. At moments, it takes a deep breath and then when it exhales, it spits out ice pellets that hit our faces and bodies, with demanding threats against us. I have never experienced wind like this. Truly, if we break our attention from it, it will and can toss us into the abyss. I briefly wonder if this is what Denali or Vinson will feel like, but I don’t have much time to ponder this thought, as all my energy is spent concentrating on each step, bracing myself with my ice axe and also guiding my leach on the fixed rope.

And suddenly it dawns on me, we ARE ‘crawling’ up to the Peak. The roar of the wind, the stinging of the ice, and the concentration required, are all very real. We are indeed crawling to the top.

Then as we leave the fixed rope section, we continue slowly, hunched down, up the glacier ridge towards the summit point. It’s in sight and that encourages us. But we move very slowly and carefully, because even though wind has given up throwing snow dust at us, it continues to push us defiantly.

And then suddenly – we are there! We are at the top of Mount Elbrus! We did it!

The Summit space is maybe a 10×12 foot small, cramped space. Our group alone fills it, as others also compete to share it.

At the same time, I realize and feel like, the wind is going to blow me away. This is not a good feeling; despite the relief at being successful, I still need to concentrate. I hunch down and secure my axe ice on its floor. I start to pull out my first flag, the Portuguese and Canada flags. I have sewn them together and realize the wind is blowing it like an out of control boat sail. Another climber sees me struggle and helps me hold an end, while Andrey, takes a picture. I know that it will not be possible to take pics of all my flags: the Language Marketplace flag, the Peaks for Change flag, CAMH, and why I climb. I will also not be able to take a pic of #JesusRocks flag and my heart tugs in sadness. However, I quickly stuff the flag into my jacket and try to hold up my ‘Julia and Ethan’ flag, for my beloved grandchildren. Unfortunately, the wind crumples it in response as Andrey snaps a quick picture for me.

Then I join the rest of the group for a group summit photo and just like that, it’s over.
It reminds me of a wedding – it takes so much time and preparation and you look forward to it with great anticipation, then it’s over so quickly. And today, there is no time to savor the moment.
It’s time to move on. Others are waiting to take our place and want us to move along.

However, I do have time to take a deep breath and look around in a 360 degree motion and memorize the true beauty that scourged us below. Peaks adoring the horizon around us, like a crown, as we stand on the top of Europe. Thank you God for allowing me to see this; to have this moment. Your mountain tops are truly awesome and You brought me here safely.

As we start our decent from the peak I feel disappointed I was not able to take more pictures and fly all my flags in celebration. But the goal of my trip was realized. I summited Mount Elbrus. Another successful climb and a resounding exclamation to the world that the stigma of mental health must change. That brings a smile. Now comes a well needed rest with my family before starting to prepare for Antarctica.

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Mount Elbrus Russia Climb Part 1 – The first few days

First few days…

I left Toronto on Friday July 20th early in the evening. That was day 1 and a necessary part of this adventure – long flights! I arrived at Moscow Airport late on Saturday afternoon, July 21st and instantly marveled at the sight of Russia. It didn’t look at all like it’s portrayed in the movies. It just looks like any other country. Clearly, the stereo type is not very correct. Incorrect stereotypes; hmm … where have I heard that concern before?

Having said that, the people DO seem different. They don’t smile a lot. They are polite and do their jobs, but there are no smiles offered.

As I met the group, I was relieved that everyone seems nice. Another part of this adventure – you have to make friends with and rely on all sorts of people. I am happy to see two other females in the group in addition to our guide Carole. She and her husband Vern are highly experienced and rank among the best in the mountaineering circles. Yet they exude politeness and happiness – like they really like their jobs.

The hotel is OK. It has a bed and a bathroom – just a functional space. No smiles here either.

Day 3. Sunday July 22nd. Heavy sigh. The jet-lag is affecting me. I had a very hard time sleeping beyond the hour I slept around 11:30pm local time. I fell asleep again around 3:30am, but it was not deep, just resting in a semi aware state.

Still, I was excited to be here. I am actually in Russia! The day was spent touring Moscow: Red Square, the Kremlin and the cemetery where politicians and famous Russian socialites are buried. I found the tombstones fascinating and disturbing, as well as quite pretentious. Statues serve as headstones for the deceased, for example Boris Yeltsin’s is an abstract piece of art.

The architecture is wonderful and fascinating. The details that show Persian, Portuguese and even Spanish influences were wonderful to see. The city is extremely clean, perhaps the cleanest city I have ever visited. Certainly, Moscow puts to shame the dirty, smelling streets of New York City.

I enjoyed seeing the changing of the guard, an English monarchy influence.

Still, the lack of smiles of Russian residents is something that I kept noticing. There was an emptiness to it. Though never rude to anyone, their presence is never inviting, warm or happy. It seems strange to me …

We believe that if one smiles to another person, and are polite and cheerful, it will evoke similar feelings in return. Not here. I have tried, but to no avail. No response. None.

Our team of fellow climbers seem like a wonderful group and we have been easily bonding. Our #AlpineAscents guides, Carole and Vern, are not only professional, but warm, caring and so far excellent hosts and guides. They share not only their guidance and leadership, but their own friendship and love for mountaineering.

I was privileged to learn from Carole that she and Vern actually got married on the summit of Vinson Massif in Antarctica. Vern proposed on their way to the summit, as they both were climbing alone, roped together, him shouting down to her – “So, do you want to get married?” and Carole simply answering back, “Sure!” Vern is not a man that waits to get things done. He saw another guide on his way down from the summit, guiding a client, that he knew was licensed to officiate marriages. On the spot he asked if he could marry him and Carole.

And so it was, with the other client in tow, the officiant guide turned around and married Vern and Carole at the top of the Summit. Both bride and groom wearing climate warming outfits and with routes and carrabiners hanging from their harnesses. Now THAT was a mountain top marriage! Haha.

That was a decade ago. However, as Carole told me the story, I can see in her eyes the love and romance of the gesture her husband made. Not many people can say they got proposed to and married in Antarctica and on the highest mountain of that continent! #Priceless.

For what would be our day 4, again, I managed to sleep only an hour and then around 1:30am I am wide awake. Not a problem if I didn’t have to wake up at 5:00am, shower, and get ready to get myself checked out to be ready in the hotel lobby at 5:50am, so we could head out to the airport. Some how I made it.
We were finally headed to Mineralyne Vody, on our way to Elbrus. The highest peak of Europe.

The flight was about 2 hours and then we a had a bus ride of over 3 ahead of us. Shortly after we landed, my first real test and my fear of huge bags and weight was presented to me. “Ok team!” Vern states. “We have about a kilometer to walk over to where our ride is. Put your duffels on your back and carry your backpacks on the front.” Easy. No really Ema, easy. I was trying to talk myself into it. I was quite nervous. There were 12 other team mates, 10 of them guys and let’s be realistic, even cutting down, my duffel still weighed 55 pounds! Fortunately, one of the guys helped me just with securing one of the straps as it slid down my arm. I walked awkwardly – mainly because the duffel bag was ¾ of my size – the weight did not bother me very much. ‘I can do this’, I kept silently telling myself. After about 100 meters we arrived at our location. I was happy! Phew. Test one – check.

After a few minutes we stopped for lunch and the group had chicken, lamb and beef. Myself, I had some salad, grilled vegetables, fresh bread with butter and tea. I learned that this part of Russia enjoys lots of Persian influences and the restaurant where we ate lunch reflected it.

After a 3 hour bus ride, we arrived in Tersol, which is at the base of Mt Elbrus. Here we are at last. The lodge where we stayed, was not luxurious, but clean and we were the only residents. There are 15 of us in total. Vern and Carole introduce us to two Angelas, who would be taking care of us during our stay.

The following day, which is day 5 in the itinerary, was our first acclimatization day. We hiked for about 5 to 6 hours. We hike up tall grass and a steep hill towards the Observatory.

It was on this first day that Vern and Carole taught us about pressure breathing. Some of my teammates seemed to have theirs already down pat, but I am always out of breath. When I had learned it in Mt Rainier, I found it complicated and it made me light headed and actually short of breath more. Breathing should not be complicated. And it isn’t. Their method was to blow the stale air out of your lungs, by filling your mouth with air until you get cheeks like a chipmunk and blow it out like to are exasperated with someone. Bingo! Feels great.

On day 6 we climbed a different side of the valley. We went very close to the Georgian border and the majority of my team joke about crossing the border illegally- like the fact we were all going to attempt to climb Elbrus was not dangerous enough! We still needed the prospect of getting shot or detained either by Georgian authorities or the Russia police to be added in to the mix?! Fortunately, no casualties to report.

Each day we climbed up to more than 10,000 feet in altitude. We also learned to pace ourselves and I kept practicing my new breathing technique.
Both days we saw Mount Elbrus towering over the valley. Spectacular sight.

Day 7. We repack our duffel bags, leave what is not necessary in the mountain in our second small duffle bag, and lock it. It will be stored for us in a room, and will await our descent from the mountain.

We load our duffel bags, our backpacks and 40 litres of water – 4 bottles of 5 litres each per climber. From the van, which brings us to the tram, we go up to the last stop. Its official, there is no turning back and I am nervous. Again.

Basecamp at Mount Elbrus is a dirty place. Let me explain. There is garbage everywhere, the toilets are 3 walls and a door and a hole in the bottom, which means that each time anyone goes to use the ‘facilities’, urine and feces just free fall in the air and lands on rocks that lie underneath. Yuck.

Our accommodation is one of the nicer ones. Inside accommodation was hostel style – 8 of us shared one room, with 4 pairs of bunk beds. The staff was always washing the floors and our hiking boots were always contained to a designated area. But it is hard to clean inside, when no one cleans outside.

We were not there for a vacation and I set aside my dismissal of my surroundings and concentrate on training as directed. Vern and Carole don’t let us waste any time and right after lunch we go on a short hike on the glacier. They take the opportunity to teach us hiking roped as a group, as a review. Even though we would not be roped into to each other on summit day, this exercise is great to practice.

On day seven we take a longer hike, in altitude. We climb up to the
Pastukhov rocks area, even though on summit day, we take a ‘Cat’ up to this point and start our accent here. We use our crampons for the first time, get them properly fitted to our boots and I was pleased that Vern helped fit mine flawlessly, his experienced hands helping me with a couple of adjustments (stretching and bending). They now fit my #SportivaSpantik boots like a glove! Thank you Vern.

Our altitude gain was about 15,000 feet.

Later in the afternoon, we review the intricacies of anchor building. There are crevasses on the glacier and being armed with more knowledge and skills is nothing but a benefit.

Day 8. July 28th. This is supposed to be a rest day, as the following day we will attempt to summit the tallest Peak in Europe. However, we are athletes. We can’t just laze around all day and we need to practice our ice axe skills. Self confidence and readiness for emergencies, in case of an accidental fall or slip is crucial.

Therefore, we spend a couple of hours in the morning practicing just that. We replicate, on purpose, several ways we can fall and how to use our iced axe, to stop us from sliding down the glacier from the possible reach of our teammates. This is a potential life saving maneuver. Very important.

Although we did not anticipate traversing over any crevasses during our summit accent, Vern and Carole generously set up a couple of stations for self-extraction out of a crevasse, so we can refresh the theory and practice the skill, for other mountains. Learning from the man that currently holds the title of 70 Summits, meaning, he has climbed all 7 Summits, 10 times each, is a privilege and treat.

And we are then instructed to rest for the next day.

Rest is not easy. Several of our teammates are suffering from intestinal problems and lots of trips to the “facilities” are necessary. We all worry about what we are eating. The last thing we need on Summit day is to need to run to the bathroom with diarrhea or vomiting.

And as is the normal routine, we each take turns for privacy during the afternoon and put on our Summit day clothes we have packed for the occasion, and get our backpacks ready. The time has come. Here we go …

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Mount Kilimanjaro Jan 1-8, 2018 Summit

My journey to climb Mount Kilimanjaro began on January 1st, 2018. As I look back on years past, and for many of those that I have been married to Steve, I know he has always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro, followed by an African safari. Pretty much every time we planned a vacation, Kilimanjaro came up as a desired destination. For the most part, I thought it was a ridiculous suggestion – especially the climbing part. Plus, I hated camping! I had a couple of previous experiences with it, and both times surmised I did not enjoy sleeping on the ground AT ALL! Also, the thought of climbing mountains didn’t hold any appeal whatsoever. And then there was Peaks for Change…the Foundation was created and everything shifted. It’s amazing how a new goal and fresh motivation can change one’s perception! All of a sudden, I was going to do A LOT of climbing and A LOT of camping on the ground! The 7 Summits for Mental Health event started.

When I was preparing to climb Carstensz Pyramid in October 2017, Steve had started organizing the Kilimanjaro climb. I was happy to let him do most of the arranging, as I was focused on the details of the current climb ahead of me.

On January 1st, 2018, we embarked on a lifelong dream of Steve’s and a new mission and goal for his wife – moi. We were about to attempt something substantial together! Our New Year’s resolution was to climb a volcanic mountain in Africa, not high on everyone’s list of ‘must does’. Off we went.

When we arrived, two guides from the local touring company met us at the hotel, gave us a brief overview of the schedule of the climb and then explained their services and also their tipping policies. Tipping is a very big issue in Kilimanjaro as they can make a huge impact on how much the guides/cooks and porters earn overall in a trek -they do not take them for granted!

Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, and the tallest peak of Africa, but it is also a national park in Tanzania. Therefore, it attracts over twenty thousand people annually.
It is a busy, quite ‘touristy’ place. Anyone in the travel industry can set you up to travel to the mountain and climb it. The campsites along the route are littered with various outfitters and local guides – all local. Anyone climbing Kilimanjaro must use the service of a local guide. I say local, but I learned that the companies are actually owned by foreigners – go figure. Our guides were from Ultimate-Kilimanjaro, a US based company. We had a guide, an assistant guide and when they both led us to the bus waiting outside the hotel, 10 other people were sitting in it – they were our porters, a dedicated cook and a ‘service boy’. Sandals Resorts would have called him a ‘butler’! LOL.

Since it was January 1st and the majority of passengers were hung over from the previous night’s festivities, we were told we would stop for a short breakfast along the way. It was a 3-hour bus ride to the park entrance – we had chosen to hike Kilimanjaro via the Lemosho route. They graciously invited us to join them – and we just tagged along, because we didn’t want to wait in a hot bus. Their breakfast was a beer and ‘barbecue’. Whoa! Quite the way to start 2018! Steve sampled their ‘breakfast’ and was not sure what part of the cow he was eating! I called it the ‘stomach’ – Steve stopped eating. When I inquired what part of the cow they were actually consuming, our guide confirmed my suspicions. “It’s the inner part of the cow, the stomach”. He continued, “I know white people don’t eat that part of the cow, but for us, we eat the whole cow”. I simply smiled. Steve changed color as the “piece” he had in his mouth was like bubble gun which he later tossed!

My husband reminded them I was a vegetarian. We both wanted to ensure I had something to eat in the mountain, even though I had packed freeze-dried fruits and vegetables and dehydrated meals as a backup. I am happy to say, they were not needed.

The ride to the chosen entrance gate took us past lots of farmland which surprised me. Everywhere I looked there was cattle, herds of goats and sheep. Also, there were large spreads of agricultural land for as far as the eye could see. In Tanzania they grow potatoes, beans, mangos, pineapple, coffee and corn among other things like ginger.

My backpack organized and ready, we got off the bus. Our porters helped us unload and carried our bags to get weighed to ensure they met the maximum weight guidelines we were allowed to carry. As an aside, porters in Kilimanjaro are unionized – another indication of the level of sophistication of the climbing climate.
I learned from Carstensz, and packed much lighter this time. Each climb helps me prepare more efficiently for the next one.

We signed in with the park ranger, with the current date, our names, profession, nationality, age and the length of our stay in the park. We had to repeat this process every time we checked into a new campsite point as well as upon exiting the park. That detracted from it feeling like a wilderness adventure. Red tape in the mountain!

We started our day towards our first camp, Mti Mkubwa which was a hike through the rain forest in the park. The trails are beautifully maintained and yet natural. We saw white tailed monkeys and the views were amazing! This was a breathtaking part of our climb.
We climbed slowly, higher and higher … or like we learned to say in Swahili: “Pole, Pole”.
Walking slowly, and consistently, with one foot in front of the other, is the key to reaching the top I learned. On Summit day, I was pleasantly surprised when I suddenly arrived – I had reached the top!

When we entered the first camp, our tent was set-up, our two duffle bags were inside our tents, and there was a toilet tent, a kitchen tent AND an eating tent. What a difference from Carstenz!! Coleman, our ‘service boy’ who really was like a butler, informed us that as soon as we were settled, he would bring us hot water “for washing”. Is this real life!? And then asked if we could kindly go to the dining tent for some hot beverages and a snack. I kid you not – it was like being in an old English movie where you are traveling with servants. This is not your typical mountaineering expedition trip – it’s was a five star vacation!

Coleman also woke us up every morning 30 minutes before bringing hot water in two bowls to the tent ‘for washing’. And then breakfast was served in a timely fashion so that we could get on our way to continue climbing. The 30 minutes were used to get ourselves re-packed so the porters could carry our duffle bags, which had our clothes, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, etc. I’m SO glad Carstensz was my first climb, not my second. It would have been so much harder after this ‘royal’ treatment!

The second day took us from Mti Mkubwa directly to Shira 2 Camp. The third day we went to Shira 2 Camp that stands at 12,500 feet, then hiked to the Lava tower camp to 15, 190 feet. We stopped there for lunch and then descended to the Barranco camp to spend the night at 13, 044 feet. Climb high, sleep low – mountaineering motto for acclimatization! The fourth day we went from Barranco camp to Karanga camp and after a long like of up and down, up and down, we rested at 13,106 feet. On day five we left for Barafu camp, or base camp at 15,331 feet.

Basecamp is really more like a scene from one of those futuristic movies where there are no trees in the world. And on lava rock people live in makeshift homes. The terrain was slanted downwards which made for an interesting sleeping experience. Plus, it was bitterly cold.

After an early dinner, we were instructed to go to sleep and Coleman would wake us up at 11:00 pm for breakfast. Yes, I said breakfast, as we would start the summit climb at 12:00 midnight and needed sustenance. And so, it was.

Backpacks were lightened to hold just the bare minimum, which in my case was my inReach GSP tracker, iPhone for photos, my GoPro, our passports (you never leave those) and a bag with 6 flags for photos at the peak. I also had my trekking poles, a thermos full of hot ginger tea and my water bladder with about 1.5 liters of hot water, as I wanted it available as long as I could before it froze. Plus I had an extra two layers of clothing for the changes in temperature as we climbed. This was an unusual check list for the reader, but for the climber anticipating reaching the top, it was perfect!

We had been told by our guides they were only taking their water and emergency supplies like oxygen and one was not carrying a backpack at all. They encouraged us to not be shy about asking them to take ours. Steve’s was lighter than mine; he only had water and his extra layers of clothing and his GoPro. We both had a couple of snacks, as we cut down on the lunches that had been prepared for us. When Iwad picked up my backpack he said to me in a disapproving tone of voice: “This is about 7 kg with the water now.” I simply replied. “ I know.” As his client he could only say “Well, if you need help up the mountain we can carry it.” And I simply replied to his skeptical expression, which conveyed his doubt that a small woman such as myself could carry such a load to the summit, “Thank you. If I need help I will ask for it”. I didn’t ask for it. I carried my backpack up and down Kilimanjaro. Why am I proud of this? I needed to prove to myself I could do it. In other mountains, I won’t have the option. I did it unassisted. It felt good.

As we started the final journey, I looked up and saw the familiar head light dots moving up the mountain of climbers that had already started ahead of us in hopes of summiting. I made a comment about it and Iwad said, “Yes, those are the very ‘pole pole’ people.” “We will pass them.” I didn’t believe him at the time, but slowly, slowly, we passed several teams of climbers. Then more and more, ‘pole pole’, and all of a sudden, I looked up ahead and there were only a few lights moving. I looked behind me and saw a lot of lights. This fed my confidence. And I believed then that we would make it.

As we slowly passed other climbers resting, I noticed that the majority of them were not carrying their backpacks – and as I passed one set of climbers, I overheard a comment about a big ‘backpack’. Probably wrongly, I immediately thought they were talking about me. It chipped away at my confidence a little, but then I kept talking to myself – “one, two, one, two”; “I can do this” – and before I knew it, Iwad was telling us that we were almost at Stella Point. This is a point in the mountain where many climbers reach and take a photo and ‘call it a day’. However, it’s not the top. It is approximately 800 meters short of the highest peak (132 meters in altitude)– Uhuru Peak.

It never occurred to me to stop at Stella point, and I honestly did not understand why anyone would stop – and we kept going. The wind was high and the trail was thin. I started thinking we should be roped in, or have crampons on our boots or at least an ice axe with us. Godfrey points to the left and says: “There is the glacier…”, as I see Steve walk a little wobbly to the left side – the side of the Glacier. And I tell him to please walk more to the right of Iwad. I was imagining him slipping down the snow, towards the glacier, and I knew we had no ropes, nothing…. that was a difficult moment.

Then all of a sudden wenrise, we would not see the sun that morning. We started taking pictures and I still had my head light on. It felt unreal. Easy. Mixed emotions. How were we there?

After spending time at the peak, I pack up my flags and finish sending our peak location on my InReach, to record that we reached the summit.

Descending was not easy. When we had passed Stella Point I noticed many climbers were taking pictures, others sitting and exhaushed. We took a different path down – it is all downwards for many many hours. After a few minutes on this new path, I looked on my altimeter watch, I knew we were already a couple of hundred feet lower in altitude. As we were descending I looked at Steve’s face – it seemed purplish. Just then I noticed the baklava he was wearing was pulled around his neck and seemed to be chocking him. I tell him to take it off and once he does I noticed deep creases in his skin – the baklava was way too tight for his head! After a few moments he said, “That feels better”. I am so relieved, but I have to admit, I rolled my eyes in silence.

We passed a couple of people being helped with oxygen by their guides. Another individual was being carried along by two other men. Even though this climb felt ‘touristy’, it was clear that those who were ill prepared, were paying the price.

We arrived back at basecamp at about 8:45 am. Our porters cheer for us. We had done it! Coleman had four glasses of mango juice and four chairs waiting for us. We celebrated. It was very nice.

We are told to rest until 11:00am, then we will need to pack by 11:30am, at which point we will be served lunch so we can continue our descent to Mweka camp, which is about 9,000 feet lower. This is where we will spend our last night of our Kilimanjaro climb, before descending the rest of the way the following morning and exiting the park at the Mweka park gate before noon the following day.

Taking 6 days to climb and 24 hours to descend worked the front muscles of my legs – muscles I have to be honest, I had never felt so vividly!  Upon reflection, I’m so glad I had Steve with me. I didn’t have to struggle with the loneliness I did during the first climb. We did this one together.

Was the climb challenging? It was a physical challenge rather than technical. Did I find it hard? Not really – it was only hard work, but very rewarding.

During our descent to Mweka, I noticed metal contraptions lying and scattered along the side of the trail. They were stretchers, with two front heavy-duty tires, with super tire shocks. I first noticed a couple of them, then a few feet further down, I noticed many. They were the stretchers for injured climbers and porters. We never saw them on the way up, because the way down Kilimanjaro is by a very different route.

The stats are startling. It is reported that approximately 1,000 people yearly get evacuated from Kilimanjaro. Approximately 10 deaths are reported for the same time frame, but it is believed that numbers are at least 3 to 4 times higher.

I believe it. I understand the lure of climbing a mountain and I have experienced the drunken, happy feeling one feels when you reach the Summit. It truly is intoxicating! But, I also understand the hard work it takes to train, the safety issues that need to be respected and the commitment required to persevere. Kilimanjaro is a huge tourist attraction and where there are enormous amounts of people, with some ill prepared for the climb, there is bound to be accidents.

When we arrived at Mweka camp, I was exhausted. I had been awake and moving for about 16 hours. We had climbed to 5,585 meters and then descended to about 3,100 meters. I had been worried about Steve and that had preoccupied my mind – one of the few detriments of climbing with a spouse.

After setting up our sleeping bags, we rested for a few moments until Coleman came to announce dinner. We reluctantly went to eat. Coleman tells us to please stay seated after dinner as they have a surprise planned. We did.

The surprise was a baked cake, congratulating us on the successful climb. I asked the cook HOW he did it. He baked a cake, with a vanilla ganache topping, in a one burner camping stove. He even wrote our names and had it decorated. I can’t even do that in my professional stove at home. It was amazing! Steve and I had a slice each and then we had Coleman cut a slice for the rest of the porters and team.

Well, I may expect this service next in Elbrus and Vinson…. but it’s unlikely. And I know my husband won’t be accompanying me. He is content with scratching this item off his ‘bucket list’. Next time is solo Ema.

This second climb was so much easier and gentler in many ways than the first. I wonder what twists and surprises are coming. There’s no point in wondering; I need to get back to training. Five (well 6) more to go! Stay tuned!

The final day, the entire team performed an extertaining dance -in english its called “The Tipping Dance”!  You can see our two guides in blue, Godfrey on the right and Iwad on the left -both of whom did a fantastic job getting us to the top! The porters were great, the cook was absolutely fantastic. We even had a personal toilet just for the the two of us (I would suggest this option if it is available, as the “public” toilets are squat ones and just walking past those small buildings you need a strong stomach.

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Carstensz Pyramid Climb Part 5 –The Waiting Game!

(Click here to read previous Part 4) (Click here to read Part 1)

The following morning after our summit of Carstensz Pyramid, it was reported to Raymond that the weather in Timika was bad and there would be no helicopter that day.

I had woken with my face noticeably swollen and my left side, in my kidney area, painful to the slightest touch. I was desperate to leave the mountain.

But I accepted that tomorrow we would hopefully be leaving. I could manage for another day I told myself.

I texted Steve to let him know, as well as my family. However, when he responded that he read that a group took 6 days to get off the mountain, I silently started to panic. I was worried about my health and started to feel trapped. “What if I had to wait for a week?” “What if I started to get very ill?” I felt powerless and I didn’t know what to do. There was nothing I could do but wait.

Meanwhile, we had decided to move from our basecamp to the other basecamp (Yellow Valley), so we would a) be with Philippe, our other teammate and b) we would be on site when the helicopter came. Also, it would be less challenging for the pilot to only have to make one stop.  The pilot was new, as the 3-month switch over had just occurred. Raymond wanted to spare us his worries, but we later found out first hand how inexperienced the new pilot was.

The following day, the weather in Timika was reportedly good, however, we waited for 3 hours for the clouds to clear in Carstensz. They did not. All helicopter rides were cancelled at 9:30 am and I was crushed. We had summited two days ago and we were still waiting. I turned on my InReach GSP and sent a quick text to Steve and my family: “Weather bad. No helicopter. I am OK. Turning GSP off.  Little battery. Love you.” I turn the InReach off because we couldn’t recharge our devices since we hadn’t had enough sun to charge them.  I felt stranded.

Emmanuel had started monitoring my water intake the day before and had me on antibiotics, but my hands were very swollen, my face was swollen, and my left kidney was screaming in pain. He had borrowed the satellite phone from our local guides and had called a Toronto hospital and asked for additional advice on how to treat me. I felt like a nuisance, alone and sick. I tried not to cry but I did. I am the only female in the entire camp and I am crying – for some reason crying made me feel even worse.

However, my teammates don’t judge me, actually, they were all very attentive and even taught me how to play poker and presidents. We played many card games to pass the time since we were essentially trapped. We also listened to music and were surprised that Philippe had an amazing music collection on his phone!

As I lay in the general tent the second day, inside my sleeping bag, the guys relaxed by taking turns playing various card games. Suddenly, we heard a commotion outside. But it’s nothing of consequence. Fifteen volunteers from Freeport Mine have arrived at basecamp to clean up the garbage. They secured the bags together and afterward the helicopter, from the mine, would do a flyby and pick up the bags. It’s a volunteer group of workers. Heavy sigh.  I silently wished they had come to rescue me.

Emmanuel went outside to talk to them. Unknowingly to me at that point, it seemed that morning I looked really bad – perhaps as bad as I felt, and my teammates were worried. I should have figured it out when Emmanuel called Toronto from the base camp. He also had moved me from my private tent into the main group tent, where he, Adam and JP had slept the previous night. Manu had said it was easier to keep an eye on me there. So, JP took my tent and I took JP’s spot. I was grateful to be monitored.

He spoke with the leader of the volunteer group and explained he had a Canadian client who was very ill. Together they determined that if our helicopter did not come the next day, I would activate my SOS button on my InReach GPS device, which then, in turn, would be picked up in Jakarta, and then sent to Freeport Mine. I would be picked up by mine emergency personnel, taken to the mines medical facility and accessed by their medical team. I would then be transferred to Timika, depending on my situation, either by air or car. Well, I am thank-full for my Canadian passport and also for Manu’s ex-girlfriend! Some name dropping to the pit mine leader helped immensely!

Freeport Mine operates the Grasberg Mine in Papua, near Puncak Jaya, Carstensz Pyramid. Freeport Mine employs 30,000 local Indonesians.  It is the largest gold mine and the second largest copper mine in the world. Thus, their resources for dealing with medical emergencies was well established. For that, I was pleased!

At the end of the day Juan brings us our dinner, but it is very little. Juan apologizes, and we tell him not to worry. Juan sounds and seems sick. When we ask him if he is okay, he smiles and assures us that he his, but one look at him and we all could see he was ill. O dear, not another one…The small amount of food doesn’t bother us; no one feels like eating anyway. We just want to get out of the mountain. Fortunately, we didn’t know, but we had run out of food as well.

That evening, Raymond came into our common tent and said that Denny had messaged him to say the next day’s weather forecast looked good in Timika and hopefully the mountain would be clear as well. Flight time down the mountain is 30 minutes.

Denny had given instructions that the first 3 off the mountain would be me, JP and Philippe. The second team to come off the mountain would be Adam, Manu and Hata. Then followed by Raymond and Juan on another flight.

As Raymond spoke those words, I saw Adams’ heart drop. He was as desperate as I was to get out of basecamp. The only difference between us was that I was puffed up like a balloon! Plus I had signs of severe edema in my lower legs and feet, hands and face.

Manu hesitated and then told Raymond that he might need to change the plan, depending on my condition, as he or Adam would need to go with me to a private hospital.  He was adamant that he would not leave any client behind, so it would have to be Adam. That had been the original plan.

Then it was Philippe’s turn to worry. Adam jokingly commented to Emmanuel, how easy it was to get him off the flight.  Manu answered firmly, “Well, I can’t play favoritism”.

I realized then how hard the past few days had been for him. He is Adam’s good friend and a fellow paramedic but now was his guide. He is my friend and fellow board member, but now my guide and I was his sick client.

Emmanuel asked for Raymond’s reassurance regarding the next day’s weather, and as Raymond got up from his seat, as he was exiting the tent, said, “Well Eman, you better pray to God the weather is good tomorrow, and pray hard!”

I woke up in the middle of the night to use the washroom. Outside the sky above is clear and the stars are bright. I knew this meant nothing, as in the morning clouds could move in quickly. I had been begging Jesus to provide help; to bring the helicopter. And not just begging- crying, pleading, praying, over and over. I simply wanted to close my eyes and hear my husband’s voice. I wanted to be home with him and my family more deeply than I can ever remember. Please, Lord …

As I lay down again, Emmanuel stirs from his sleeping bag and asks me how the weather looked outside. I told him it was clear and he replied, “Good, I had been wanting to check, but I was just too afraid”.

As morning approaches I can’t stop myself from pleading more and begging Jesus in my head. “Please”, “please”, “please” I repeated the word like a mantra.

Then it becomes official that the helicopter will take off from Timika, with 3 passengers from Alpine Accents that had been waiting to come up to base-camp to climb. And myself, JP and Philippe would go back down. Raymond said the helicopter would arrive in 20 minutes. We packed up in 5. The sense of relief was overwhelming. At last, I was going home.

The helicopter arrived at about 6:30 am. We were ready to go, more than ready!  As the helicopter landed, three guys, who dressed and looked like they all belonged in a GQ magazine, came out and immediately turned their gaze up to Carstensz. As soon as I got over the fact that they looked like models, it occurred to me that they were in shorts and t-shirts, and it was at least minus 10 at base-camp! They were in for a rude awakening! I was wearing three layers of clothing and my Gortex jacket over them. I had slept with long johns and two layers of clothing and two hot water bottles. I shook my head.  I noticed an expensive camera around one of the guy’s necks and his gaze transfixed on the beautiful Carstensz Pyramid. Suddenly it occurred to me, yes, it was indeed a beautiful mountain. But now I was desperate to get away from it as quickly as possible.

I was delighted and relieved to finally be sitting in the helicopter. Then I realized that our pilot was very nervous. It was the co-pilot that gave instructions to the pilot on speed, how to turn around, so I assumed he was an instructor.  Philippe had commented that the pilot that brought him and Hata up, was nervous and was constantly asking for oxygen. We had the same pilot. Philippe was right. This new pilot was visibly anxious. For some reason, I didn’t care.  I was going home.

The view during the ride was amazing. We got to see the mountains and the Freeport Mine. The sky was blue and we were surrounded by soft white clouds.

Yes, the Chinese guys, back at the airport 11 days ago had been right. Why trek, when you can fly?! But I must say, the waiting game for the helicopter and dependence on the ever-changing weather, can be more maddening and demoralizing then trekking in deep mud. At least trekking you are doing something, moving and feel somewhat in control!

Sitting in basecamp, cold, hungry, and very ill, after a successful summit can crush you. It crushed me … and my spirit. I felt vacuum empty of hope.

This particular pilot did not like flying… and he couldn’t drive much better. For unknown reasons when we landed in Timika, the pilot decided to chauffeur us to the terminal and made the car driver walk across the tarmac. The pilot was wasting time. So much, that he was only able to do one more trip and drop off 3 more climbers, and pick up Emmanuel, Adam, and Hata.  By the time they returned to Timika, the weather in Carstensz had turned and no more flights were attempted.

Climbers waiting to go up remained in Timika and those waiting to come down, remained in Carstensz, stranded. I worried about Juan and Raymond.

Denny booked a flight for the five of us the same afternoon (1:00 pm) to return to Denpasar, Bali.

We arrived in Bali, on October 15th,2017 around 6:00 pm and checked again into the Ramada, our groups’ hotel and had a celebratory dinner. It all felt surreal.

I left Bali on October 16th, 2017, on KLM, at 8:40 pm local time, headed for home, anxious to see my family and be in my own bed, next to my husband.

As I sat on the plane headed for home, my feet were pounding. I feel the pressure in my legs. I can actually feel the swelling. My hands are no longer swollen or my face, but my legs are. I need to figure this out, and see if this is due to altitude because Kilimanjaro is higher…

But, I will be with Steve, and no matter what happens, he will be with me –  help me figure things out or just be there to hold me in his arms.  And after that, only five more mountains to go!

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Carstensz Pyramid Climb Part 4 – Reaching the Summit!

Part 4 of 4 –  Reaching the Summit!!!
(Click here to read previous Part 3) (Click here to read Part 5)

(Le français suit)

“A summit is a point on a surface that is higher in elevation than all points immediately adjacent to it. “

The night is clear and we take off again from our basecamp and trek to the first rope. My stomach is nervous and my body is fighting back – and like an angry child, it chooses the worst time possible to throw a tantrum. I had to make two stops during the trek to urgently relieve myself. Some things you would rather not do while tied into the rope with a gentleman, at close quarters, on Carstensz’s rock face – but I will skip the details.

The climb is hard, but more than hard, it is long. We climb up aided by our jumars clipped into fixed ropes that have been put in place – There are two sets of ropes on some sections; one its integrity is questionable so a second was added. Each member of our group has a dedicated guide. One member, Adam, is an expert and strong rock climber; he has climbed several several rock faces with a 5.12 grade difficulty. He is assigned to Raymond, our head local guide. Raymond has climbed Carstensz more than forty times. They are the fastest duo and will be in front. Philippe is climbing with Hata, and they had started before us, since they were already at a closer basecamp. However, once Adam and Raymond catch up to them, they went ahead and took the lead as planned.  JP has been partnered with Juan and then Manu, our guide from Terra Ultima took on the challenge of guiding me up. Manu, short for Emmanuel, is my friend and colleague on our Board of Directors for the Peaks for Change Foundation. He was our expedition leader.  In his role, I must say, he was very patient and helped me diligently, as needed.  A couple of times he offered his leg as a prop for me to climb over a rock face – being short has its pitfalls! We are a team today – tied to the same rope and our safety and success requires we work as a team. I listened closely to him, as I know he was not doing this selfishly for himself to summit Carstensz, but to ensure I had the best chance of succeeding myself, as his client. He encourages me several times during our climb, stating how great I am doing and that we were making excellent time. I don’t quite believe him, but I needed to hear this and appreciated his kinds words. So I move on.

I later learned, as he was telling Adam about our climb, that he had doubts that we would summit – because of my fear of heights. Manu had a great poker face on the mountain!

During the hike up using the jumar, he had me reciting – “jumar”, “step up”, “jumar”, “step up”, “jumar”, “step up”.  Oh yeah, and he reminded me several times to breath!

When we approached the Tyrolean Traverse, I was literally terrified. Walking on a steel cable suspended thousands of feet in the air and only held by two security lines from my harness, each attached to a carabiner, I started to have a panic attack. I had promised to “communicate” this climb since breaking my three ribs during training at Mount Tremblant and climbing all day back in May without saying a word… remember? So I told Emmanuel I was having a panic attack and I could feel my throat tighten. He quickly helped me by responding with a calming tone of voice – sure helps having a Toronto Paramedic for a guide! We stopped for a moment, then he instructed me to slow down my breathing. Once I accomplished that, he gently explained how to walk on the rope and where to focus my attention and emphasized the magic words that I would not fall. He assured me I was secure on the ropes and then finally firmly told me I could do it! I wanted and needed to cross this and summit. With my heart stuck in my throat, I followed his instructions and started self talking to myself- ‘duck feet, duck feet’, and I moved one foot at a time on the steel cable. Suddenly I had completed the whole traverse!  As happy as I was, and even though I heard Emmanuel’s praises on the other end, I realized I would have to repeat it on the way back. Somehow, I cleared my mind enough to focus on the rocks and narrow path ahead.

We did stop at some point in time, I can’t quite remember exactly where, and looked around us – the view was incredible! At 16,000 feet up in the air, the sunrise was amazing and the clean crispness of the various rock faces was breathtaking. It’s amazing what God creates for us. Even through my anxiety, I could see and finally understood why mountaineers climb! It was surreal in it’s beauty…

Walking, secured on the rope, but without the jumar was easier and faster, and we were able to do this in some sections. There are two literal ‘leaps of faith’ that we are required to jump before reaching the summit – meaning you need to jump from one rock point to another with open air below. Yes, you hook a carabiner from your lanyard attached to your harness as a security onto a few fixed ropes, but let’s be honest, the rock is hard and sharp. If you miss the jump, you may not fall to the bottom, but it is going to hurt hitting your body against either rock!  I could imagine my face getting cut – and it’s not like I am not accident-prone! I am the one that broke 3 ribs on a bathtub just before a training day in Canada a few months ago! AND I have short legs and jumps are a greater challenge for me! I really, really didn’t think I could do it.

Again, my anxiety was so high, all I can remember is Emmanuel telling me to breathe. “Calm down Ema!”. He went first. He explained to me what I needed to do, how I had my back-up line, and then he added that he would be there to catch me if I needed it. Even though he was working as our guide, this was his first time in Carstensz as well. I did not want to be responsible for him not reaching the summit because he got assigned to me. This thought motivated me. So, I followed his instructions that he was repeating from the other side, and just when my hand was falling short of reaching the last handhold on the rock, he grabbed my hand, and pulled me up. Phew – he caught me! Ditto for the second gap. Talk about feeling like your life is in someone else’s hands!

Suddenly came music to our ears… our colleagues’ ecstatic screams of happiness at reaching the top of Carstensz Pyramid!  We cheered with them! They were at the summit point. The sky was blue, but clouds were moving fast towards the mountain. This is a daily occurrence and predictable weather pattern; its why we start so early. The summit point still seemed far for us. But a few minutes later, as Adam and Raymond start descending, Adam assures us we are only minutes away! Climbing and descending Carstensz is rope dependant and only one person can pass on a rope at each point, and we were eight in our group, therefore Raymond did not want to waste time hanging around the Summit point.

We continued excitedly and as we see Filipe waiting for the others, just a few feet down from the summit point, we pushed up and reached the Summit ourselves. I cried. Emmanuel screamed in happiness, and laughed – and Hata and Juan still on the summit point, helped us take many pictures. Juan captured our arrival to the summit point on video, which he sent to me. And the reason I am so glad he did is because in all honesty, it was all quite a blur. All I remember is being there. And being elated.  It was real; I had climbed my first mountain.

I fumbled with my InReach GSP device. I had it programmed with an automatic message, that would tell everyone we were on top of Carstensz. I couldn’t find it.  AHHHHHH! Emmanuel told me to breathe, relax and take 5 minutes and look. We had time. But I was shaking and I was only able to share our location, and hoped anyone following us could see we were on top of Carstensz Payramid, the highest point in Oceania. We were at the summit. We were actually at the summit. Then it was time to come down. Same route, same way. JP, guided by Juan and Philippe, guided by Hata were in front of us.

Again I listened to Emmanuel’s instructions on the two leaps of faith, because when I saw JP having difficulty with one of them, I panicked a little, but then Emmanuel said I had it! And with his help I did.

We had about 600 feet of rappels to do. We were using our ACT’s, as we normally do in Canada, even though our Indonesian guides use a figure 8 device even though it may not be so foolproof, for the type of ropes on Carstensz, it was supposedly easier. However, the ropes get so wet and therefore harden, I don’t know if it mattered. Trust me, the descent was hard.

Then it started to snow. Yup!  Snow. After the snow and I guess because we were descending in altitude, it began to rain. And I started thinking about hyperthermia, as just a few days prior to us reaching base-camp, a climber had died. The blue tarp was still in the side of the mountain, where his body had been found. “Try to think positively Ema.”  “It’s okay.” “You’ll be okay.” I try to manage my thoughts.

The rope was hard to insert into our ACT’s. Emmanuel helped me with many of mine. He would secure himself at each transfer point, get the rope on his ACT, then I would secure my line, on the transfer point, and we would secure the same rope on my ACT device. This allowed us to be faster; as soon as he was done with that rope, I would be ready to go. He always double checked our set-up. Safety was a priority.

I was getting cold and wet. We had JP and Philippe in front of us, so at each new rope section I would start to get cold as we stood still, waiting for the line to be free. I felt my body was unreasonably chilly and when I checked why, I realized my Gortex pants were not secured properly. The only thing holding them from falling down my waist was my harness. I had not secured them properly when I had needed a bathroom break earlier on the mountain and I had not realized it. I tried to secure them properly, however, it was too late – I was already wet. Ugh.

After a few rappels, I started to feel short of breath. Each time I leaned back on my harness while on the line, I felt like the air was being sucked out of me. My left side hurt. It was like someone had punched me. After trying to adjust myself on each new rappel to see if the pain would ease and breathing would be better, I finally told Emmanuel, and he immediately requested my backpack. I did not think that was the problem, but I gave it to him and he put it inside his.

Removing my backpack changed nothing. My left side continued to constrict my breathing with each rappel. But I knew I needed to move and to move fast when the rope was free. Waiting for the rope allowed me to breathe, even though I just wanted to move and get down, I suppressed my urge to ask Manu for us to go ahead of Philippe. However, he was ‘our’ guide as a group, and he was instructing and encouraging Philippe at the same time. We were a team after all, and teams work together and are there for each other. Emmanuel’s leadership impressed me. I realized Francois-Xavier had sent Terra Ultima’s best guide, for their first expedition to Carstensz Pyramid.

Finally we were on the very last rope. Emmanuel secured himself, then called out to me to come secure myself on the line next to his as we would repel side by side and get off the mountain at the same time. I was a little puzzled, but he said – “Let’s have some fun!” Then once I was ready on the second line, which we had determined was solid, we started rappelling in parallel on the rock. Wet, tired – we had been on the mountain for more than 12 hours – my friend Emmanuel said, “Ready?” I signaled yes and we did a last jump and landed off the mountain at the same time.

My first summit. I was grateful to our team, and I am indebted to my guide, Manu, as he is known at Terra Ultima.

I have become the first Portuguese woman to climb Carstensz Pyramid and summit! And yes, I did this to try to bring awareness that stigma on mental health needs to end.

I look now at the summit pictures and my face is puffy. I don’t look like myself.

We summited without a lunch break but just sipped water. We ascended and descending the mountain for 12 hours straight.

I know I became dehydrated. We had been expecting a celebratory meal when we reached the tents at Yellow Valley (the base camp close to the first rope on Carstensz), but when we arrived, we only rested briefly and made our way to our base camp. It was another 90-minute trek to my tent. I was exhausted, but was happy to be able to change into dry clothes. It was my last pair of everything. My teammates were looking concerned as they gazed at my swollen face and squinting eyes.  Something was wrong.

But we were leaving the next morning to Timika, as the helicopter was picking us up – that had been the plan.

It was not what happened.

 

« Un sommet est un point sur une surface, plus élevé que tous les points se trouvant dans son voisinage immédiat. »

La nuit est claire lorsque nous quittons encore une fois notre camp de base en direction de la première corde. Je suis stressée et mon organisme se défend, et comme un enfant énervé, c’est au pire moment qu’il pique une colère. Au cours de la marche, j’ai dû m’arrêter deux fois en urgence pour me soulager. Des choses que vous ne préféreriez pas faire encordée avec un homme sur la face rocheuse de Carstensz. Mais je vous épargnerai les détails.

Si l’ascension est difficile, elle est également longue. Nous montons aidés de nos jumars attachés aux cordes fixes qui ont été installées. Certaines portions sont équipées de deux cordes, la fiabilité de l’une étant douteuse. Chacun des membres de notre groupe a son propre guide. Adam est un grimpeur expérimenté en rocher. Il a fait l’ascension de plusieurs faces rocheuses cotées 5.12. Il appuie Raymond, notre guide chef local. Raymond a fait l’ascension de la pyramide de Carstensz plus de quarante fois. Ce sont les plus rapides, ils seront devant. Philippe grimpe avec Hata. Ils sont partis avant nous, car ils étaient déjà à un camp de base avancé. Cependant, une fois qu’Adam et Raymond les ont rattrapés, ils sont passés devant et ont donné le rythme comme prévu. JP a été associé à Juan. Enfin, Manu, notre guide de Terra Ultima, a relevé le défi de me guider jusqu’au sommet. Manu, diminutif d’Emmanuel, est mon ami et collaborateur au conseil d’administration de la Fondation Peaks for Change. Il a été notre chef d’expédition. Je dois dire qu’il a été très patient et m’a constamment aidée, quand c’était nécessaire. Plusieurs fois, il m’a aidée à l’aide de sa jambe pour franchir un passage rocheux – ne pas être grande a des inconvénients! Aujourd’hui, nous formons une équipe. Encordés ensemble, nous savons que notre sécurité et notre réussite exigent un travail d’équipe. Je l’écoute, car je sais qu’il ne fait pas l’ascension de la pyramide de Carstensz que pour lui, égoïstement, mais pour s’assurer que j’ai toutes les chances de réussir, comme cliente. Au cours de l’ascension, il m’encourage plusieurs fois en me disant que je me débrouille très bien et que nous progressons rapidement. Je ne le crois pas vraiment, mais j’ai besoin d’entendre cela et je suis reconnaissante de ses paroles réconfortantes. Je continue donc à avancer.

Plus tard, alors qu’il discute de notre ascension avec Adam, j’apprends qu’il doutait que nous irions au sommet, en raison de ma peur du vide. En montagne, Manu est vraiment impassible!

Pendant la montée au jumar, il me demande de répéter « jumar », « un pas en avant », « jumar », « un pas en avant », « jumar », « un pas en avant ». Parfaitement, et plusieurs fois, il me rappelle que je dois respirer!

Lorsque nous arrivons au passage que nous devons traverser en tyrolienne, je suis littéralement terrifiée. À l’idée de marcher sur un câble en acier, d’être suspendue à des milliers de pieds dans les airs et seulement retenue par deux longes de sécurité attachées à mon baudrier et reliées à un mousqueton, je commence à faire une crise de panique. J’avais promis de communiquer depuis que je m’étais cassée trois cotes et avais continué de grimper toute la journée en mai sans dire un mot. Tu t’en souviens? Je dis donc à Emmanuel que je fais une crise de panique et que je sens ma gorge se serrer. Il m’aide rapidement en me répondant d’une voix calme. Nous nous arrêtons un moment, puis il me dit de respirer plus lentement. Cela fait, il m’explique tranquillement comment marcher sur la corde, où porter mon attention, et me dit que je dois me répéter que je ne tomberai pas. Il m’assure que les cordes sont sécuritaires puis me dit fermement que je peux le faire! Je veux et dois traverser pour parvenir au sommet. Le cœur battant fort, je suis ses instructions et commence à me parler – « marche en canard », « marche en canard ». Je mets un pied devant l’autre sur le câble en acier. Et puis tout à coup, j’ai fait toute la traversée! Comme je suis heureuse. J’entends même Emmanuel me féliciter de l’autre côté. Je me rends alors compte que je devrai le refaire au retour. Curieusement, je parviens à me concentrer sur les rochers et les passages étroits qui nous attendent.

De temps à autre, nous nous arrêtons – je ne me souviens pas vraiment où – et je regarde autour de nous. La vue est incroyable. À 16 000 pieds dans les airs, le lever de soleil est extraordinaire et la netteté des différentes faces rocheuses est à couper le souffle. Ce que dieu a créé pour nous est extraordinaire. Même si je suis nerveuse, je comprends enfin pourquoi les alpinistes grimpent! Cette beauté est irréelle…

Marcher encordé sans jumar est plus facile et rapide; nous avons pu le faire dans certains passages. Il y a littéralement deux « sauts courageux » à effectuer avant d’atteindre le sommet, ce qui signifie que vous devez sauter d’un rocher à l’autre dans les airs. Oui, vous fixez un mousqueton de votre longe de sécurité attachée à votre baudrier sur quelques cordes présentes, mais soyons honnête, la roche est dure et tranchante. Si vous manquez votre saut, vous ne tomberez pas forcément dans le vide, mais vous vous blesserez en frappant ces rochers! Je n’imagine pas mon visage coupé, et croyez-moi, j’ai eu ma part d’accidents! Je me suis cassée trois cotes dans une baignoire! En plus, je n’ai pas de grandes jambes et sauter représente un grand défi pour moi! Je ne pense vraiment pas, mais vraiment pas pouvoir le faire.

Encore une fois, je suis très nerveuse, et tout ce dont je me souviens est qu’Emmanuel me dit de respirer. « Calme-toi, Ema! ». Il passe le premier. Il m’explique ce que je dois faire et que j’ai ma longe de sécurité, avant d’ajouter qu’il me rattrapera s’il le faut. Même s’il est notre guide, c’est également la première fois qu’il gravit ce sommet. Je ne voulais pas qu’il n’atteigne pas le sommet à cause de moi, parce qu’il était mon guide. Cela m’a motivée. Je suis donc ses instructions qu’il me répétait de l’autre côté. Et juste quand j’ai failli ne pas attraper la dernière prise sur le rocher, il a saisi ma main et m’a arrêtée. Ouf! Il m’a rattrapée! Même chose pour le second saut. C’est cela le sentiment que votre vie est entre les mains de quelqu’un!

Et puis de la musique parvient à nos oreilles. Ce sont les cris de joie de nos compagnons qui viennent d’atteindre le sommet de la pyramide de Carstensz! Nous les applaudissons. Ils sont au sommet. Le ciel est bleu, même si des nuages approchent rapidement de la montagne. Cela se produit tous les jours et est une situation météorologique prévisible; c’est pourquoi nous sommes partis tôt. Le sommet nous semble encore loin. Mais quelques minutes plus tard, alors qu’Adam et Raymond redescendent, Adam nous assure que nous ne sommes qu’à quelques minutes du sommet! Ce n’est qu’à l’aide d’une corde que l’on atteint le sommet et que l’on en redescend. Et seule une personne à la fois peut être sur la corde. Nous formons un groupe de huit. Par conséquent, comme Raymond ne voulait pas perdre de temps au sommet, lui et Adam ont commencé à redescendre.

Nous continuons tout excités et quand nous voyons Filipe attendre les autres, juste à quelques pieds sous le sommet, nous poursuivons jusqu’au sommet. Je pleure et crie. Emmanuel crie de bonheur et rit. Hata et Juan toujours au sommet nous aident à prendre de nombreuses photos. Juan immortalise notre arrivée au sommet sur vidéo qu’il m’a envoyée. Voilà pourquoi je suis si contente qu’il l’ai fait, car en toute honnêteté, c’est passé en un éclair. Tout ce dont je me souviens est d’avoir été là. Et d’avoir été remplie de joie. C’est réel, j’ai gravi mon premier sommet.

Je tiens maladroitement mon appareil InReach GSP. J’avais programmé un message automatique pour annoncer à tout le monde que nous avions atteint le sommet de la pyramide de Carstensz. Je ne le retrouve pas. AHHHHHH! Emmanuel me dit de respirer et de prendre cinq minutes pour chercher. Nous avons le temps. Mais je tremble et partage simplement l’instant. J’espère que ceux qui suivent peuvent voir que nous sommes au sommet de la pyramide de Carstensz, le plus haut sommet de l’Océanie. Nous sommes au sommet. Nous sommes bien au sommet. Puis il est temps de redescendre. Même itinéraire, mêmes mouvements. JP, guidé par Juan, et Philippe, guidé par Hata, sont devant nous.

J’écoute encore une fois les instructions d’Emmanuel au moment d’effectuer les deux sauts, car quand je vois la difficulté qu’éprouve JP lors de l’un d’eux, je panique un peu. Mais Emmanuel me dit que je l’ai fait! Et grâce à lui, j’y arrive.

Nous devons descendre environ 600 pieds en rappel. Nous utilisons nos assureurs ATC, comme cela se fait normalement au Canada, même si nos guides indonésiens utilisent un descendeur 8. Même s’il n’existe pas de méthode infaillible, pour ce type de cordes sur la pyramide de Carstensz, cela est censé être plus simple. Cependant, comme les cordes deviennent si humides et rigides, je ne sais pas si cela importe. Croyez-moi, la descente est difficile.

Puis il commence à neiger. Génial! La neige. À mesure que nous perdons de l’altitude, la neige se transforme en pluie. Je commence à penser à l’hypothermie, car seulement quelques jours avant notre arrivée au camp de base, un grimpeur est mort. La bâche bleue se trouve toujours sur la montagne, là où son corps a été trouvé. « Essaie de penser positif, Ema. C’est bon. Tout va bien se passer. » J’essaie de gérer mes émotions.

Il est difficile d’insérer la corde dans nos ATC. Emmanuel m’aide souvent. Il doit se sécuriser à chaque point de transfert, mettre la corde sur son ATC, puis je m’assure sur le point de transfert, et nous mettons la même corde sur mon ATC. Cela nous permet d’être plus rapides. Dès qu’il en aura fini avec cette corde, je serai prête à partir. Il revérifie toujours notre encordement. Priorité à la sécurité.

J’ai froid et je suis mouillée. JP et Philippe sont devant nous, donc à chaque nouveau passage de corde, j’ai froid, car nous attendons debout que la corde se libère. Je sens que j’ai excessivement froid et lorsqu’à un moment je vérifie pourquoi, je m’aperçois que mon pantalon Gortex est mal mis. La seule chose qui le retient de tomber de ma taille est mon baudrier. Je n’ai pas remarqué que je ne l’avais pas fixé correctement lors de ma pause urgente plus tôt sur la montagne. J’essaie de bien le fixer, mais trop tard, je suis déjà mouillée. Quelle horreur!

Après quelques rappels, je suis essoufflée. Sur la corde, chaque fois que je me penche en arrière dans mon baudrier, c’est comme si l’air de mes poumons est aspiré. Mon côté gauche me fait mal, comme si quelqu’un m’avait donnée un coup. Après avoir essayé de me repositionner à chaque nouveau rappel pour voir si la douleur se calmait et si je respirais mieux, je finis par le signaler à Emmanuel qui me demande immédiatement de lui donner mon sac à dos. Je ne pense pas que c’est le problème, mais je lui donne et il le met dans le sien.

Avoir retiré mon sac à dos ne change rien. Mon côté gauche continue à gêner ma respiration à chaque rappel. Mais je sais que je dois avancer et que nous devons descendre rapidement lorsque la corde est libre. Attendre que la corde se libère me permet de respirer, même si je veux simplement avancer et descendre. Je résiste à l’envie de demander à Manu que nous passions devant Philippe. Toutefois, c’est le guide de notre groupe, et il guide et encourage Philippe en même temps. Nous formons une équipe après tout, et les membres d’une équipe travaillent ensemble et sont là pour les autres. La capacité de guide d’Emmanuel m’impressionne. Je prends conscience que Francois-Xavier a envoyé le meilleur guide de Terra Ultima pour la première expédition sur la pyramide de Carstensz.

Nous atteignons finalement la toute dernière corde. Emmanuel s’assure puis me demande de venir m’assurer sur la corde à côté de la sienne, car nous descendrons en rappel côte à côte pour quitter la montagne en même temps. Je suis un peu déconcertée, mais il me dit : « Amusons-nous un peu! » Alors, dès que je suis prête sur la seconde corde, dont nous avions vérifié la résistance, nous commençons le rappel côte à côte sur le rocher. Mouillé, fatigué – nous sommes sur la montagne depuis plus de 12 heures – mon ami Emmanuel me dit : « Prête? » Je lui fais signe que oui et nous faisons un dernier saut pour quitter la montagne, en même temps.

Mon premier sommet. Je suis reconnaissante envers notre équipe et suis redevable à mon guide, Manu, connu ainsi à Terra Ultima.

Je suis devenue la première portugaise à gravir la pyramide de Carstensz et à avoir atteint le sommet! Oui, je l’ai fait pour essayer de faire prendre conscience qu’il faut arrêter cette stigmatisation de la santé mentale.

En regardant maintenant les images du sommet, je vois que mon visage est bouffi. Ce n’est pas moi.

Nous sommes parvenus au sommet sans pause casse-croûte. Nous avons bu de l’eau. Nous avons réalisé l’ascension et la descente en 12 heures.

Je sais que je me suis déshydratée. Nous nous attendons à un repas de célébration en arrivant aux tentes de Yellow Valley (le camp de base proche de la première corde sur la pyramide de Carstensz), mais une fois aux tentes, nous nous reposons brièvement avant de poursuivre en direction de notre camp de base. Une autre marche de 90 minute pour gagner ma tente. Je suis épuisée, mais contente de pouvoir mettre des habits secs. C’est ma dernière paire de tous mes vêtements. Mes compagnons sont inquiets en observant mon visage gonflé et mes yeux plissés. Quelque chose ne va pas.

Seulement, nous partons le lendemain matin vers Timika, l’hélicoptère vient nous chercher. C’est ce qui est prévu.

Ça ne se passera pas ainsi.

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Carstensz Pyramid Climb Part 3 – Not Swiss Chocolate!

Part 3 of 4 –  Carstensz is not Swiss Chocolate!  
(Click here to read previous Part 2) (Click here to read Part 4)

(Le français suit)

When I announced I wanted to take the helicopter back after our summit, JP said he wanted to as well.

At this point, I am tired of stepping in mud. And I am tired that the 5 day trek has become 6 days. “I just want to get there people!”

In fact, I’m uncomfortably hungry and my body is showing signs of rejecting the rice, noodles and cookies, which are the only things I am feeding it. The countless sugary cappuccino mixes I drench it with, are also starting to shows signs of threatening to be expelled. “Uh oh!”

At the end of day five, we camp at Nasidome. The view is incredible, as we can see Puncak Jaya, and Carstensz just behind it. It’s a wow moment. The morning sunrise greeted us teasingly, to entice us to continue over the New Zealand pass that awaited us, and then we would finally arrive at basecamp. We are now at 3,734 metres (about 12,250 feet above sea level).

Only a few porters will proceed with us to take our supplies to basecamp. The rest will remain here and wait. Three of our young porters pose for a picture with a perfect backdrop!

This will be our first introduction to alot of rock! The New Zealand pass stands at approximately 4,500 metres (approximately 14, 700 feet above sea level).

Our next big challenge – we had to scramble up a rock face, free style. THAT is not easy folks! We are getting tired as we have to trek on rocks and rocky pathways up and down, up and down, for hours. “Argh”.

 

We have to be careful with loose rock, both as a courtesy and potential danger for those behind us. And so the pace is slower than I’d like, but necessary. It truly was a team effort keeping tabs of what’s up ahead and what’s going on behind you.

 

We arrive at what is supposed to be basecamp, as you can see in the pictures and on YouTube. But aside from the aquamarine small lake, which is stunning to behold, basecamp is filled with garbage. God’s beautiful creation was a bit of a muck heap! And it’s cold. Brrrrrr. We find out that there is another camp set at the base of Carstensz called Yellow Valley, and involves another 90 minutes of hiking, on rocky ground of course! 

The seventh day in the mountain is our much planned for and awaited day. At last … we get to attempt to climb Carstensz Pyramid. “Yay!”

 

 

We get up at about midnight and start trekking, wearing our summit day clothes. We head towards the other basecamp, next to the first rope for Carstensz. Unfortunately, it is raining. And it’s steady.

 

 

Once we arrive, Raymond guides us into a large common tent to wait out the rain. We are met by Philippe, who had arrived via helicopter the previous day, along with Hata, the 3rd local guide. Raymond says we will wait until about 6 or 7 am to see if the rain stops.

It does not. And Manu, our Terra Ultima guide and Raymond, make the decision to return to our basecamp and try again the next day, as they said it was too dangerous to climb in the rain. I am very disappointed by this news. We trekked back. (I won’t share my inner dialogue.)

 

It rained all day and I spent the whole day alone in my tent. I was able to watch “The Choice” that I had downloaded in my IPad, before the battery died, which helped pass the time. Because of the lack of sun, my solar charger didn’t work very well and all charges were conserved for my iPhone and InReach devices, so I could communicate with my family. They were my lifeline through this whole adventure..

 

It was as we walked back from a non-summit day that Manu decided that he too would take the helicopter back along with Adam. Myself, JP and Philippe were already onboard. It was a relief to know that once we summited, we wouldn’t be facing that long muddy trek back to civilization. Manu called Terra Ultima on the sat phone and informed them, so that arrangements could be made.

I think the rain, dampness, coldness and lack of food choices and proper nutrition was taking a toll on all of us. I know it was for me. “Ugh… cookies and rice again!?”

Raymond then proceeded to advise William’s brother who had stay with us, as a point of contact between us and the porters, and arrangements were made to have the porters dismissed.

We had provided Manu with our share of the tips and he gave them to the porters. All this happened while I was inside my tent, as the rain never stopped.

At dinner time we realized the porters had taken JP’s boots and Adam’s umbrella. It was raining; we needed that umbrella! Manu was annoyed. But Raymond said nothing could be done, as the porters had already left.

I remember feeling that I was exhausted and I didn’t care much. I wanted to go climb the rock face, summit and go home as quickly as possible! I was so close to accomplishing my goal, but I still needed to finish what I came to do.

My internal voice was saying, “Come on Ema, you are almost there.” “Let’s do this!

 

 French Translation, courtesy of Language Marketplace Inc.

Carstensz, ce n’est pas du chocolat suisse!

Lorsque j’ai dit que je voulais rentrer en hélicoptère après le sommet, JP a dit qu’il voulait aussi faire de même.

Pour le moment, je suis fatiguée d’avancer dans la boue. Je n’apprécie pas non plus que la randonnée de cinq jours se soit transformée en randonnée de six jours. « Je veux simplement arriver au sommet. »

En fait, j’ai faim jusqu’à en être malade et mon organisme présente des signes de rejet du riz, des pâtes et des biscuits, seuls aliments que je mange. Les innombrables mélanges de cappuccino sucré que je bois pour m’hydrater menacent également d’être rejetés. Prudence!

À la fin du cinquième jour, nous campons à Nasidome. La vue est incroyable, nous apercevons Puncak Jaya et la pyramide de Carstensz juste derrière. C’est un moment extraordinaire. Au matin, le lever du soleil semble nous provoquer, nous persuader de poursuivre vers le col New Zealand qui nous attend. Et puis nous arriverons enfin au camp de base. Nous sommes maintenant à 3 734 mètres d’altitude (environ 12 250 pieds au-dessus du niveau de la mer).

Seuls quelques porteurs nous accompagneront pour transporter notre équipement au camp de base. Les autres nous attendront ici. Trois de nos jeunes porteurs prennent la pause pour une photo dans un décor magnifique.

Nous rencontrerons beaucoup de rocher pour la première fois! Le col New Zealand se situe à environ 4 500 mètres d’altitude (environ 14 700 pieds au-dessus du niveau de la mer).

Notre prochain grand défi – nous devons escalader une paroi rocheuse en libre. Croyez-moi, ce n’est pas facile! Marcher sur les rochers et emprunter des sentiers rocheux qui montent et descendent pendant des heures est fatigant. « Argh. »

Nous devons faire attention aux rochers instables, par politesse et pour éviter un danger possible pour les personnes qui suivent. Je marche donc plus lentement que je ne le voudrais, mais c’est nécessaire. C’est vraiment un travail d’équipe pour rester concentré sur ce qui nous attend et sur ce qui se passe derrière.

Nous arrivons à ce qui est censé être le camp de base, comme vous pouvez le voir sur les photos et sur YouTube. Mais à part le petit lac bleu vert éblouissant, des détritus recouvrent le camp de base. La magnifique œuvre de Dieu était un tas de déchets! Et il fait froid. Brrr. Nous découvrons qu’un autre camp est installé au pied de la pyramide Carstensz, la Vallée jaune, à 90 minutes de marche, sur un terrain rocheux bien entendu!

Le septième jour sur la montagne est notre journée de planification et d’attente. Enfin… nous allons tenter l’ascension de la pyramide de Carstensz. « Super! »

Nous nous levons vers minuit et commençons à marcher, habillés pour le sommet. Nous nous dirigeons vers l’autre camp de base, à proximité de la première corde pour la pyramide. Malheureusement, il pleut constamment.

Une fois arrivé, Raymond nous guide sous une grande tente commune pour attendre la fin de la pluie. Philippe nous rejoint. Il est arrivé par hélicoptère la veille, accompagné d’Hata, le troisième guide local. Raymond nous dit que nous attendrons jusqu’à six ou sept heures du matin pour voir si la pluie s’arrête.

Il pleut toujours. Manu, notre guide et compagnon de cordée de Terra Ultima, et Raymond prennent la décision de retourner à notre camp de base et de retenter le lendemain. Selon eux, il était trop dangereux de grimper sous la pluie. Je suis très déçue de cette nouvelle. Nous revenons sur nos pas. (Je ne vous dirai pas ce que j’en ai pensé.)

Il a plu toute la journée que j’ai passée seule dans ma tente. J’ai pu regarder « Un choix » que j’avais téléchargé sur mon IPad, avant que la batterie soit déchargée, ce qui m’a permis de passer le temps. En raison du manque de soleil, mon chargeur solaire n’a pas bien fonctionné et j’ai conservé toute l’énergie pour mon iPhone et mon appareil InReach pour pouvoir communiquer avec ma famille. Ils ont été ma corde de sauvetage tout au long de cette aventure.

C’est en rentrant d’une journée sans sommet que Manu a décidé qu’il redescendrait aussi en hélicoptère, avec moi, JP et Adam. Nous étions soulagés de savoir qu’une fois après avoir atteint le sommet, nous n’aurions pas à refaire le long chemin boueux pour retrouver la civilisation. Manu a appelé Terra Ultima sur son téléphone satellite pour les informer afin que des dispositions soient prises.

Je pense que la pluie, l’humidité, le froid, l’absence de choix de nourriture et une alimentation convenable avaient de lourdes conséquences sur chacun de nous. Je sais que c’était le cas pour moi. « Argh… encore des biscuits et du riz! »

Raymond a ensuite averti le frère de William, qui était resté avec nous à titre de personne intermédiaire entre nous et les porteurs, et des dispositions ont été prises pour congédier les porteurs.

Nous avons donné notre part des pourboires à Manu qui les a remis aux porteurs. Tout cela s’est passé pendant que j’étais dans ma tente, la pluie n’ayant jamais cessé.

Au moment du souper, nous nous sommes aperçus que les porteurs avaient pris les bottes de JP et le parapluie d’Adam. Il pleuvait; nous avions besoin du parapluie. Manu était énervé. Mais Raymond a dit que nous ne pouvions rien faire puisque les porteurs étaient déjà partis.

Je me souviens m’être sentie fatiguée, mais je ne m’en souciais pas vraiment. Je voulais escalader la paroi rocheuse, atteindre le sommet et rentrer chez moi aussi vite que possible! J’étais si près du but que je m’étais fixé. Je devais pourtant terminer ce pour quoi j’étais venu.

J’entendais ma voix intérieure me dire « Allez, Ema, tu y es presque, fais-le! »

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Carstensz Pyramid Climb Part 2 – Lots of Mud

Part 2 of 4: Carstensz Pyramid – Lots of mud on the trek to basecamp!
(Click to see previous part 1) (Click to see next post 3)

I had lost track of what day of the week it was – the sense of which only returned a couple of days after I arrived back home.

It was the day after we arrived at Williams’ farm. Even though we got up at 7:00am local time, we only started hiking around 11:00am. It took several hours for the bidding and organization of the porter team to be organized. I am told we have 19 porters – it’s hard to say, because the whole family comes … husband, wife and children.

The head of the Dani tribe, William stood in the middle of his farm, and after having an argument in public with one of his 7 wives, he started selecting porters. Once selected, each was given a blue pouch, which I assume had some information of what they were carrying and whom it belonged to and a bag to carry. The porters each carried one of our duffle bags, our supplies and our tents.

William also put out a ‘work order’, to the villagers that attended this ‘work’ assignment meeting, for those selected members of the tribe to go ahead of us and repair some sections of our trail that had been affected by a recent mudslide. This I was told by Raymond, our local head guide, was to have cost us the equivalent of $400.00 US dollars.

I actually had a two person tent to myself which I had chosen specifically to have more room so that I wouldn’t feel so claustrophobic. It was a luxury to be alone; it gave me the opportunity to journal, to write this! J

Raymond, our local lead guide led a prayer before we left. This would be a daily ritual, which I appreciated. Raymond back home is a non-practicing Pastor. However, his wife is the lead Pastor of their local church.

The trail was demanding, as we had to navigate up and down wet, rocky terrain, tree stumps and even rushing rivers. At one point, as we are walking along the river bank I could hear the raging waters and I started to feel anxious, as the previous crossing had been scary. But then I was presented with a bridge – what a beautiful sight! I was so happy and relieved, I got giddy!

The trail demands your complete attention, one distraction and you fall. I tripped once- the first day! Many more would follow….

One of our fellow climbers decided one day was enough, and would be returning the next morning with one of the guides, Hata. He opted to fly again to Timika and would take the helicopter option to base camp. The cost of this choice was $6,000.00 US, pretty steep! His plan was to meet us at base camp and then attempt to Summit with us. He planned to return to Timika via helicopter as well. I secretly envied him on day ‘One’ of trekking. It was daunting and exhausting. But I was pleased to experience that, because I had trained hard, I was up for the challenge!

I had to keep reminding myself that I was doing this, both to accomplish something very challenging and also, to be the first Portuguese woman to climb Carstensz Pyramid. This climb was primarily for my Mom and to raise money for mental health. These goals kept me going.

Several times, during my hike and when certain sections were scary, I knew Jesus had me in His care, and I felt secure. Thank you!

At the end of the day when I reaching camp and being able to contact my family was an incentive and a huge comfort. I missed them, especially my husband. I was the only woman on the expedition and even though my tent was always erected first and all the guys were great— attentive, helpful and true gentlemen, I still felt at the end of the day that I could have used a hug, the kind of hug only Steve could give.

The next day promised to be an especially hard one. Juan, another one of our local guides who was leading us, kept saying, “Hard.” “Lots of mud!”. He was not kidding.

One never expects to eat gourmet meals while trekking. However, there are several options of freeze dry foods, such as those by Mountain House. And there are other lighter weight options of certain foods that make long expeditions nutrition reasonable.

I am still not certain why, if it was the remoteness of Carstensz Pyramid, the harsh condition of trekking in, or the necessity of using local porters all the way, but nutrition was a HUGE issue, especially for me as a vegetarian. This had not been an issue when I climbed Mt Rainier in July. I feasted with my various Mountain House meals.

Here, the first day of trekking when we set out from the Dani tribe camp, we were handed a box of chocolate cookies and a smaller box of another variety of cookies – I thought it was a joke. But no! It was our lunch. The remaining lunches throughout the expedition would vary from the type of cookie box and then we graduated to a chocolate bar to accompany it. “Are you kidding me?” “We are hard core trekking people!” “We need better nutrition than average, not ridiculously less!”

For breakfast we had a slice of white bread and a one egg omelet. There is a jar of Nutella on the table from one of our expedition members and I offered a jar of dehydrated peanut butter I also had brought, in spite of weight limitations. That was it. Nothing else.

We also warmed ourselves with ready mixes of flavored cappuccinos! Load up on the sugar!

Rice and ramen noodles were our daily staple for dinner. The guys had fried spam with some dinners, canned fish and at base camp chicken wings and one night prawns – I saw an ice box and it was below 0 in temperature there – and the supplies come via helicopter, so it is possible! I had some of the corn and beans that had been bought in Timika – the times when the beans were not mixed in with meat! At base camp I did have steamed green vegetables added to my rice on a couple of occasions, and noodles. A massive treat!

I had packed some granola bars, which I had been advised against because of the extra weight – but I put some in my backpack, since a porter carried the duffle bag to the next camp. I’m so glad I did!

The following morning, which would be our 2nd day of trekking, once again even though we got up for breakfast at 7, we only hit the ‘trail’ at 9 or so. There were more negotiations with the porters some of whom was going to take Philippe back, because of this turning back and taking the helicopter meant the loss of payment for a couple of the porters. Afterwards more arguments on load allocations occurred, so we had to remove some stuff from all our bags, so more porters could carry stuff. It’s all about the money wherever you go in the world folks!

The trail was truly difficult. There were so many roots on the trees that it was similar to rock climbing, but on trees. At one point I got my UGG’s rain boot stuck in the mud and my foot came right out. I knew some days would be hard. This was one of them.

We reached camp late that day. It was about 6:35pm and I was finally in my tent. It was raining – it had been the pattern every evening; cold and tired and just craving to cuddle up in my sleeping bag.

I started to think about taking the helicopter option to return after we summit. I can’t imagine retracing my steps on the return and having to walk on the treacherous terrain. Just thinking about it was a comforting thought!

My stomach started to hurt a little; it seems I am starting to feel the affects of all the sugar I am consuming. Our bodies just aren’t built to survive on cookies and chocolate bars. Duh!

Raymond and Juan, said that today was the hardest part of climbing Carstensz. But warned us that tomorrow would be involve lots of mud. “Really?” “More than today?” I silently ask myself.

Many times today I had shed tears, but mercifully no one saw. About midway we got hit with a storm and climbing in the rain was really hard. My rain boots got completed soaked, so I knew the next day I would start my day with wet feet. Ugh.

There were so many fallen trees and roots, that constantly climbing them felt like rock climbing, but on trees! And twhen you add in the rain, it becomes a really hard trek. I kept thinking about Steve telling me he read online of people crawling to climb through certain jungle areas due to its density and overgrowth – that was an accurate account. There is no graceful way of climbing over and under all the roots!

I had to remind myself several times that Jesus had me in the palm of His hand and that I would display the flag I had made when I went to Mt Rainier. I would take His flag to the Summit, and have a picture with it saying: “Jesus Rocks!”

And with that came the peace and willpower to continue towards reaching the basecamp of Carstensz Pyramid, and then to climb to its summit. With perseverance came the opportunity to also marvel at the beautiful landscape that surrounded us. Along with the rainforest and muddy trails, I had the opportunity to see gold dust that just flows freely from the Freeport mine, sparkling in the rivers. The landscape itself seemed to be basically non-existing of wild life (at least we didn’t run into any)– we saw or heard the occasional bird – which was still impressive.  I do feel privileged and certainly blessed to have seen it and have trekked through it. It was exhausting, and yet, on some level, exhilarating. My excitement was fueled by what was to come.

Ema

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Carstensz Pyramid Climb Part 1 – Journey to Papua

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.

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French Language Anxiety is OK

With each passing day I get closer to travelling to Papua New Guinea to climb the Carstensz Pyramid, a twenty plus day journey to its peak, I am filled with excitement – of both kinds! Included with all the fun and anticipation I am experiencing as I prepare for this climb, I have some French language anxiety as the date approaches!

The group of fellow mountaineers whom I am climbing with are all Francophones.   They also speak English, including a couple of our guides.

Our lead guide hired for our group is from Switzerland, where the official languages spoken are German, French, Romansh and Italian.  My first language is Portuguese and my other native language is English.

This past weekend (September 1-3, 2017), I spent two full days in Mont-Tremblant, Québec, learning rock climbing skills, along with team building exercises with my follow mountaineers. I could feel my French anxiety building during these exercises.

Even though everyone can understand and speak English, their language of preference was French for instruction because it’s their default first language.  When the English translation of the instruction was provided, it was a ‘summarized’ version of the communication that had transpired. I can’t blame them, since only trained interpreters (verbal translators) know that summarization is not very effective for important situations. Proper language interpretation only occurs when word for word is translated, using the same tone of voice, nuances and intent of the original speaker. Come on guys – after all, I do run a translation company!

As I sit at my desk every day at  Language Marketplace, I have the comfort of being able to take my time to read emails when they are sent to me in French, and if I have any comprehension difficulties I simply forward the material to one of our French translators, who quickly provides me with a perfect French translation.

However, when communication is verbal and instructions are being given, discussions are occurring all in French – the luxury of time is not possible.  I think one of two things would really help; an interpreter or an improvement in my French comprehension skills!

To climb the Carstensz Pyramid, which stands at 4,884 metres (16,024 ft.) above sea level, is an epic challenge in itself. It is considered to be one of the most technical of the 7 Summits –even more technical than Mount Everest.  In addition to ensuring that I’m physically ready, the mental aspect of long days of trekking through the jungle and tropical rain forests just to reach the mountain, will also take its toll mentally.

I have decided to turn this “French anxiety” I’m having into a constructive learning experience. I have always loved French and have taken several French language courses over the years.   With this limited French language training, I have decided to change my fear into something positive –increase my French comprehension and help my fellow mountaineers improve their English!  We’ll all be spending long hours together and what better thing to do than all of us improve our language comprehension abilities! As I finish writing this I can’t help but be grateful that at this juncture, THIS is what is taking up my thinking time. “I am blessed!” ‘’J’ai beaucoup de chance!”

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