#7Summits

Reaching the Summit of Vinson Massif and back

It’s Wednesday morning – Summit day – and the sun is out! I have gotten used to it being daylight 24 hours a day, but somehow the sun shining over high camp is particularly special.

Getting ready to go to the Summit, was the same as with all other climbs: our guides wake us up early – well, in Vinson its 8:30am and bright daylight – so no need for a headlamp! We get ready, have breakfast and start moving.

Tre-C suggested we put hand warmers inside our mittens, accessible in our backpacks, ready to be used as it gets cold on the Summit Ridge. I do as she suggested.

We continue our climb roped in our teams of 4, and we gain another 1000m by the time we reached the Summit.

Unlike Elbrus where we dropped our backpacks for the last Summit push, here we keep our backpacks and I am happy we did, as it ensured I had all my flags!

Just before the Summit, for about 15-20 minutes we had to walk on a thin ridge, snow iced and snow covered, with rocks, and a few boulders thrown into the path. This was daunting, but the excitement inside was mounting.

Because we are roped together, each team, the fellow climber that is in front of me keeps pulling me forward, no doubt in his own anxiety. But that increased my anxiety and I am surprised to find the thin ridge, where I find I have to ‘self talk’ myself to, “Keep moving Ema!” “Don’t look down.” I kept thinking that the Summit of Vinson Massif was just in front of mw. Just in front of me.

And then we are there! When we reach the Summit, it is clear. It’s beautiful!

There is a larger area, like a small plateau. It’s wider than I ever imagined and we are allowed to unclip from each other, and take our backpacks off.

I am elated. I feel like I am on top of the world. Wait a sec, I AM on top of the world! Or some will argue the bottom of the World! Its Antartica!

Lakpa Sherpa and his rope team are still there, as they were just ahead of us, and he graciously becomes my photographer for all my flags.

Sebastian mentions to me that this is the first Summit ever for him to have anyone wear such thin gloves, as he gestures to me just wearing my liner gloves. I don’t need my mittens and hand warmers inside my backpack today. Our parkas are also accessible in our backpacks, but there is no need for them at the top of the Summit on this particular day. I can’t believe I am at the Summit of Vinson Massif.

Then it’s time to leave and make our way back, so we can make room for other climbers that are making their way as well to the Summit.

It’s a long way back to high camp and we don’t arrive until 8:30pm. We are tired. I welcome the comfort of my sleeping bag in a way I can’t describe. We are planning to get an early start down the next day as the weather is promising to turn.

The next morning, the plan was to descend from high camp, with a quick stop at low camp, all the way to basecamp – it was going to be a long day.

The next day it was not the hiking on the snow, or the wind that had picked up exactly as our ALE guides had read the weather, that fazed me or scared me, it is was getting on and coming down the fixed lines.

My fear of heights got the best of me, for the first 2 to 3 ropes. I was scared as I saw a chocolate bar fall from David’s’, one of our fellow climber’s pockets or backpack into the abyss as he was getting on the fixed ropes.

The first rope is so tight, with tension that it is hard to clip in.

At the first rope, Emmanuel was going backwards and told me to go backwards, while our guide told me to turn around and face forward. And I listened to Sebastian of course, he was our guide, but turning around in an upright angle, in such a small space of snow only served to increase my anxiety. I know Emmanuel was trying to get me not to see how high we were – but my mind knew!

I have a mini panic attack in the second line, as I need to transfer from one rope to another, and as I see my feet needing to be precise in their positioning, or I fall. I know I am tied in and our guide has the line secure on his prusik, but I also know if I fall it will be a big deal for me mentally to get up again. I panic and it is hard to breathe. I feel my airways suffocating me.

Emmanuel tells me to focus and relax, and breathe and that I can do it and that I am ok and I am not going to fall. It was kind of him to say so. He knew I needed help in that moment.

I relax after a few breaths and we continue down, slowly, line after line.

I know I need to calm myself down and moving forward to other mountains, believe more in myself. I got this. And Jesus has me!

Once at basecamp a celebratory dinner awaits us, with 3 bottles of champagne to celebrate our successful summit the day before. I have a glass, but somehow alcohol does not taste the same in the mountains, its kind of anti-climatic.

We were hoping the next day we could fly to Union Glacier and get on the scheduled flight back to Punta Arenas, so we can fly home as planned on December 10th.

But the weather does not cooperate and we wait. The next day is the same thing, more waiting.

But unlike in Carstensz Pyramide I am not ill, the food is amazing and the pure silence and beauty that surrounds us, relaxes me and fills me with awe.

On December 9th we finally had a break in the weather and we fly back to Union Glacier. As ALE clients we are on the first flight from base camp to Union Glacier.

It is disappointing we missed the Ilyushin, even though it had not flown into Union as scheduled. Its delay was not enough for us to catch it. At this point, we get scheduled to leave Union back to Punta Arenas on the 12th.

 

When we arrive back at Union Glacier, we line up for a shower! Ahhhhh …. clean again. I am reminded of life’s simple blessings.

Afterwards we get a behind the scenes tour of Union Glacier.

We also meet Richard Parks, who was the first person to do a grand slam – complete the 7 summits and ski the North and South Poles – in less than 1 year. Is that humanly possible? Apparently so!

He was trying to beat his solo record from the Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, a distance of 1140 km. He had been trying to do it in 25 days. However, due to illness, his solo attempt ended prematurely, early in the New Year.

We spoke for a bit during the couple of days we were waiting, and in one of our conversations he commented: “Courage is how you act and face your fears and learn from it”.

My fear of heights is still present. I need to learn how to control it more. I am learning.

Not only am I meeting amazing people on these climbs, I am facing things and growing in ways that surprise and delight me. I am becoming a climber!

Four down; three (well hour) to go – after all the 7 Summits are 8!

Aconcagua, next…..

Ema Dantas

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From Base Camp to High Camp

From Base Camp to High Camp

After dinner at Union Glacier, there was talk about the possibility to have us flown to base camp that evening, there was even a person from ALE walking around with a flight scheduled. But the weather did not co-operate, and we spent the night at Union Glacier.

However the next morning though, On November 27, after breakfast, we boarded one of the twin otter planes, which are planes operated by Ken Borek Air, a Calgary based airline, on service for the season for ALE in Antarctica. I was on the first flight. Lakpa and Sebastian also flew with us to base camp, as we were the first group of the season.

ALE ultra-qualified guides are assigned a rotation schedule of working as guides and rangers. Rangers are ALE guides available to assist other climbers with their expeditions in case of an emergency.

Our flight to base camp was about 20 minutes, and all we can see out the frosted windows is snow-covered peaks. Of course, we are in Antarctica.

Once we land, we are greeted by a smiling, happy head guide name Tre-C (pronounced Tracy). She knew our names, greeted us all like old friends and then proceeded to give us the most important tour – how to pee in Antarctica.

Number “2” is flown out of Antarctica, back to Chile, but ‘pee’ remains in Antarctica and as per the Antarctic Treaty, its Environmental Protocol has set guidelines to deal with Waste Disposal and Management, which essentially directs that “ as far as practicable so as to minimize impacts on the Antarctic environment and to minimize interference with the natural values of Antarctica”, read more about it (https://www.ats.aq/e/ep_waste.htm).

Our sleeping quarters here at base camp are huge dome shape tents, that could accommodated at least 4 people inside each, and which I was able to stand in. Yes, I am a short person. But even my friend Emmanuel when he refuted at my comment, that he could “not relate” to standing up inside the tent – just assuming I could because I was short, had to say to me: “ I stand corrected, I CAN relate”. This only after I politely had asked him to stand in the middle of the tent himself, and he obliged cynically. ☺

Our group tent, which was also ALE’s basecamp office and the kitchen was heated, had chairs and tables for all of us to hang out at, with hot water at our disposal for tea, coffee, hot chocolate, etc. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served here, along with an array of soft drinks, beer, red and white wine, as well as champagne for celebrations and sangria for treats.

 

 

 

 

 

This was just for ALE’s clients.

At base camp, there were other groups from different companies. They set-up their own tents, including their own kitchen and dining tents, etc. I realize there is an argument to be made for those that call themselves “purists” that this is the best way to experience the mountains and its true mountaineering. That the comforts and attention to detail and may I venture to say, the touch of luxury (in the mountaineering realm) that ALE provides in Vinson is not true mountaineering, then I argue to disagree.

In Everest no one complains for using the services of Sherpas, and in Killimanjaro the use of porters. Well, in Vinson, I am of the opinion, one should climb directly with ALE.Why can’t one enjoy climbing the tallest mountain in Antarctica in more comfort? I see no reason.

We still carried our own personal equipment to the other two camps. We still climbed up the same fixed rope from low to high camp. We still ‘trekked’ the same distance from high camp to the Summit. But we enjoyed a little more comfort. I know some of the other mountaineering companies and they are wonderful of course, but I am just saying, ALE has the right idea. I want to climb the 7 Summits, but I do not see any reason why I can’t enjoy it as much as possible. After all is ‘mountaineering’ not just the act of climbing mountains?

The next day, on November 28th, 2018, our three assigned guides, Lakpa, Seba and Tre-C divided our team of nine, into three rope teams, randomly selected. Each rope team has three climbers and one guide. At all times when outside the camps areas, we are roped in together, because of the existence of crevasses.

Myself, Emmanuel and Christian are in Seba’s rope team.
On Lakpa’s team is David, Matt, and Nicolas, and Tre-C has Jenny, her husband Matt and Steve. This last one became the British connection rope team!

 

 

We practiced putting our crampons on. And we go for a small acclimatization hike, training, to get used to being roped in, the team’s pace, the weather and of course ensuring our crampons are working well in our boots and also our clothing layering system is working for us.

 

 

The next day, the weather reports are not favorable for the next few days, and our guides explain to us, that we will continue to acclimatize in base camp.

However, to keep us ‘prepared’ we get a lesson on how to rig and attach the sleds to our backpacks. We will use the sleds to take supplies to low camp. In each rope team, only three sleds will be used, meaning the last person on the rope team will not have a sled.

November 30th, 2018, we are still hanging out at base camp, but we get our food planned for when we start to move to the low and high camps. We get to select breakfasts, dinners, and snacks from the ALE supply store. These are all meals that can be made by only adding hot water. We also have a going to the ‘bathroom’ lecture for low and high camps.

 

Here we will be using the disposal toilet method, which we will use with the help of a empty bucket for our seating comfort. The ‘portable’ toilets are personal of course and we will need to carry them with us, until our return to base camp, so they can be ‘packaged’ with the other entire bathroom ‘matters’.

We also do ‘arts and crafts’ and build the VINSON sign from snow. The sign is created once every season. Our lead guide Tre-C and I spearhead the undertaking of this task. Some of my teammates also got some exercise filling the hole of the previous seasons’ ‘freezer’ tent. Every year when ALE staff opens the camp, the location of the tent needs to move back a few feet. The old hole then needs to be filled again with snow, and because we were the first group of the season, and weather kept us just lazing around and enjoying great food, we needed to burn some calories!

December 1st, 2018, the weather became promising and our guides make the decision for us to move to low camp. We pack our gear into our backpacks, and some supplies get on the sleds. The suggested ratio was 70/30, on backpacks to sleds.

The hiking time from base camp to low camp was about 5-6 hours. We took a break about every 60 to 90 minutes. Breaks are used to catch our breath, eat a couple of snacks, drink some water and pee.

Once we got to low camp, the area is more rudimentary. We have to set-up our own tents, which ALE maintains stored on-site, but due to high winds, they cannot be left up when not in use, like in base camp.

 

The kitchen tent is also more basic. It is not artificially heated, but with 2 separated seating areas, with benches carved out of snow and a middle section for the cooking area, the double wall clam tent is pretty nice!

From here we can see the ridge of where the ropes start and go as high as 1200m (close to 4000 feet) that we will have to climb to move to low camp. We can also see Vinson Summit peak and we can see the wind blowing the snow, at the top of the ropes and on the Summit. We need to wait for a break in the weather to move to high camp.

Two other groups are also here, having moved from base camp to low camp with us.

The next day, we do a small hike to the start of the fixed ropes and we practice ascending the rope until about the third switch and then practice our descending.

December 2nd, 2018, weather is still bad up at high camp, however, because we are also a little restless of not doing much, except eating great food and sleeping, some of us go on a hike to nearby peaks.

Steve and Seba go on their own. Tre-C and Lakpa take five of us for a view of the pyramid. Three of our colleagues had decided that they prefer to stay back at camp and “chill”.

It was a 2 to 3-hour return hike but what can I say, the view was amazing. The Pyramid was the actual location of the old base camp. At the top of the small peak that we climbed to, we took a break, ate a snack and took pictures. Tre-C had some dress-up articles in her backpack, which give us the opportunity to take funny pics! Purple was Emmanuel’s color!

 

 

 

December 3rd, 2018; winds still prevailed up top. We rest, read, sleep.
December 4th, 2018; and our guides rally our team up to move up to high camp, as they are confident with a predicted 2 day window break in the weather.

We only pack our sleeping bags, water bottles, food, snacks, medication, and our clothing layers necessary into our backpacks. Our sleds also stay behind. We take down our tents. We leave any supplies and any equipment that we do not need up in high camp inside our duffle bags, and ALE stores them by the kitchen tent.

Another advantage of climbing with ALE in Vinson, is that the group does not have to carry up group gear, like fuel, tents, and even sleeping pads. ALE has all that at each camp. Each season ALE’s guides and rangers, in anticipation of the climbing season, for each team, restock supplies. Other companies must do “carries” and “cache” supplies. All climber teams with these other companies do this by taking supplies to a camp one-day and returning to the previous camp. They then move up to the next camp the following day.

The climb up to high camp includes a climb of about 1,200 meters, with an approximately 45 degree angle on the side of a mountain, aided by fixed ropes. We had to use our ascenders’ and cows’ tails to move on the fixed ropes and for safety. We took breaks, some just beside rocks but still roped in together.

I found the climb ok, with the exemption of the last transfer point. I had looked up and had seen Seba, our guide, positioning his feet, with each step on a very narrow part of the terrain. My fear of heights rose immediately with my heart rate threatening to deafen me, but I tried to concentrate in following his footsteps, completely aware I would have to climb down. I forced those thoughts out of my mind and concentrated in continuing the ascent. I would deal with descending another day.

When we reached high camp, both Wes and Nate, two of ALE’s rangers that had gone up ahead of us, to “open” camp”, had our tents set-up and ready for us to go inside and rest, after we removed our crampons of course and made sure that our other ‘sharpies’ were a safe distance from our tents.

We were the Vinson 1 team, and therefore the first set of climbers of the season, so the pee hole was still being done, as was the placement of the ‘toilet’ bucket.

We were able to admire the surroundings and the view from this height. Dinner was served inside our tents, after our guides’ boiled water for our drinking pleasure and our dehydrated food preparation. I enjoyed my oatmeal. Emmanuel complained about his Spicy Pad Thai and repeated a few times to me how he hated dehydrated meals; this after he had lectured me previously that I needed to eat more than just oatmeal. But my oatmeal looked pretty good now!

Personally I don’t like dehydrated food! It upsets my stomach. I have tried it and tasted various commercially available brands. I don’t like any of them. And I was not going to risk an upset stomach in a continent made of white snow! Even energy bars cause me issues. That is why I had only chosen oatmeal for breakfast and dinners and for snacks I stuck with my Suzie’s Good Fats Peanut Butter Chocolate Snack Bars.

Other teams shortly arrived after us and got busy setting up their own camp. Although, one of the teams had just come up to drop a cache and then they went back down to low camp. They would not be attempting the summit with us, and I personally found this to be a mistake since the weather was predicted to change shortly.

After ‘dinner’, Tre-C discussed with us our plan for the next day and suggested we go to sleep as the next day we were hoping it to be our Summit day, as we only had a two day of predicted good weather, so we would not be spending the following day acclimatizing and resting in high camp, as sometimes happens. I was honestly rested enough I must admit. Aside from 7 blisters total on both my feet, I was fine and looking forward to moving.

The next morning, we would have an early start – before 10:00 am. So, as usual, I pulled my hat around my ears and over my eyes to ‘shut the blinds’ form the Sun and I went to sleep. The next day was the Summit day.

Ema Dantas

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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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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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