#JesusRocks

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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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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