I was in between guiding gigs in Argentina when I learned the news. The helicopter we were planning to use for our fly in/out approach of 16,024ft Carstensz Pyramid had been canceled indefinitely until further notice. I had a total of two days to notify my clients that all of our preparations thus far were in jeopardy of coming apart at the seams.
The reason for the setback was due to current contract negotiations between the Australian helicopter pilot and the massive Grasberg Mine. The Grasberg mine is the largest gold mine on the planet and is situated in direct proximity to Carstensz Pyramid. Currently, the mine prohibits climbers from passing through their premises, but is allows their helicopter pilots to subcontract out their services to accommodate climbers. Therefore, the Aussie pilot was forced to abstain from all of his helicopter taxi service commitments until a contract could be forged with the mine. This completely through a curve ball to all the expeditions that were in late-planning stages. One of those expeditions just happened to be us!
The first order of business was if we could resurrect a workable trip itinerary with the ground logistics company we had hired in Indonesia. They already had our deposit and we felt a bit uncertain about our chances, but in the end they came through and were able to parlay our commitment into a trekking expedition.
There is a reason why most people fly in/out of Carstensz Pyramid Base Camp; the trek can be a logistical nightmare! Not to say that the helicopter option has eliminated all probable hiccups in climbing the highest mountain on the Oceanic Continent, since I have heard of many tales of misfortune of weather delays on that front. Although the 6 day trek in and 4 day trek out to Carstensz Pyramid absolutely trumps any notion of the many variables that most vivid imagination could conjure up, and therefore we were in for an adventure of a lifetime.
The international arrival for our trip was on the Indonesian island of Bali, which is nestled in the chain of islands that make up the southern reaches of Southeast Asia. The international flight from Seattle, USA to Denpasar, Indonesia was a 30+ hour multiple leg flight experience that caused us to lose a day when crossing the international dateline. When making our flight reservations, we allowed for adequate layover time between legs of our journey. This gave us a buffer should any of our departures be delayed and assured that our luggage was transferred between flights.
As a precautionary measure, I always make sure to check with the agent (you will need your luggage tags for this) at the gate to see that my luggage actually did make the connecting flight. This always gives me a leg up in order to formulate a plan should any of my bags become delayed in transit.
My flight, which departed out of Vancouver, BC, was delayed about 2 hours and unfortunately our Boeing 747 couldn’t make up the time in the air due to the headwinds of the jet stream. Therefore my late arrival into Hong Kong resulted in me having about an hour to spare for the transit. I thought that this would be enough, but upon my arrival into Denpassar I found that my luggage had not made the switch in time. Omen for things to come? I try my best not to project such tidings into the universe, but I have yet to tap into a higher level of transcendence when it comes to traveling internationally. Having your luggage delayed can be a bummer, but losing your luggage just sucks!
First and foremost I had to pay for my 30 day visa, which cost $25 USD, and then make my way through immigration. The maximum amount of time you are allowed to stay in Indonesia is 60 days. It was very important that my passport was valid for at least 6 months and had plenty of free visa pages in order to be allowed into the country.
After the unfortunate procedure of filing my claim with the fine folks at the Cathy Pacific luggage desk, I was happy to find out that they had been able to locate my bags in Hong Kong. They gave me the assurance that both delayed duffel bags would be on the following day’s flight to Denpasar. I then made my way through customs and out through the arrival gate and located my driver that had been sent by the hotel for my transport. In the event that I am ever unable to locate my hotel driver it is super important to have the hotel address and a general whereabouts of where your hotel is in relation to the airport.
Another key piece of beta is to go directly to the taxi kiosk which is located outside of the arrival entrance at the airport in Denpasar. The average cost for a taxi from the airport to our hotel (3 Km distance) was about 100,000 rupees ($10 USD). The most reliable taxi service I found in operation was Bluebird taxi.
Our initial rally point for our group was at the Ramada Bali Bingtang Resort. This is the larger of two Ramada Hotels that is located in the popular, high paced Kuta Beach scene. The resort itself was set up as a starting and stopping point for tour groups and it was a welcome oasis to the spring break party scene that managed to sprawl throughout the Kuta Beach area. I am either getting older or my pallet for the path of least resistance is beginning to manifest itself in my life. I personally look forward to quite poolside cabanas rather then rubbing elbows with the buffed out techno budget crowd when traveling these days.
Our Indonesian logistics company we used paid for the 1st and last night of our lodging while in Bali. Initially we were told that we were to arrive into Bali on the 23rd and then we were to depart Bali for Timika (Papua) early morning on the 24th. We actually didn’t end up leaving Bali until early morning on the 26th. Therefore we had to not only pay for two extra nights in Bali (evening of the 23rd and 24th), but we were departing a lot later then we had anticipated. This was very disappointing since my clients had arrived too early and we ended up burning time hanging out on Bali when we were here to climb a mountain.
Our last day in Bali did allow us to take care of some logistical musts…
1. Pack our trekking backpack with everything we planned to be carrying on the trail. This also acted as your carry on bag for the domestic commercial flight from Denpasar to Timika. This could not weigh more then 7 Kilos (15 lbs).
2. Pack our duffel for the trek. This would be carried by our porters and could not weigh more then 20 Kilos (44 lbs). This was also our only check in bag for the flight from Denpasar to Timika. We made sure to place a TSA lock on this duffel.
3. Pack a duffel with all of the gear we were not bringing and leave it tagged and locked at the Ramada Hotel in Bali.
4. Relax and enjoy Bali. We were able to rent surf boards on Kuta beach and the hotel had a nice pool and spa.
Our Indonesian logistics team paid for our lunch and dinner during our stay in Bali. The lunch we had was at the hotel and dinner we had at a restaurant in the Kuta beach area (that gave you upper back massages while you waited for your meal). After dinner we retired to the hotel and we only had about 4 hours of rest since we had to check out of our hotel room at 1 am on the morning of the 26th in order to catch our 3 am departure from Denpasar to Timika. Our meeting time was at 1 am sharp in the early morning and we needed to bring our entire luggage with us. Our day pack and check-in/porter duffel was loaded into the van, while our duffel to be stored at the hotel was taken at this time by the hotel staff.
We were transported as a group to the airport in the transportation provided by the Ramada Hotel. Our flight departed Denpasar on Garuda Airlines (Indonesian airline) at 3 am and arrived into Timika (Papua) at 6 am. We flew on a Boeing 737 and our Indonesian logistics people had organized this flight and facilitated the check-in process while we were in Denpasar.
There seemed to be no way around this early flight departure. The Garuda flight we were on originated from Jakarta then stopped in Bali and then continued onto Timika. Therefore, you can start your trip from either Jakarta or Bali. In my opinion, Bali is a nicer place to depart from and arrive back into after a long trip on Carstensz Pyramid.
There were two independents that were on our expedition and shared our permit with us. They originated from Jakarta and were on our flight from Denpasar to Timika. After talking with them, we came to understand that one of them was delayed in Jakarta while entering Indonesia. Reason being was that he only had 5 1/2 months left on his passport before it expired. The Indonesian government had delayed his entrance and therefore we found out that our trip was delayed as a result. All of this was kept at bay from us by our logistics people, but we found out why we had to spend the extra nights in Bali (at our cost).
Early this morning we arrived into Timika and we were picked up by our divers which our Indonesian staff had arranged ahead of time for us. We were transferred to our hotel and checked in and were then able to have breakfast. During this afternoon we had to weigh our duffel for the chartered flight to Ilaga. We weighed our gear, we weighed ourselves, and we left all of this gear locked at the airline office until our departure to Ilaga. Our day-packs were also weighed, but we were able to bring these back to the hotel with us.
Later this afternoon and evening our Indonesian staff had organized the Lunch and Dinner and we used our hired drivers for our transport around Timika. It was during our free time on this day that our Indonesian staff informed us that we were going to be delayed a day in Timika. This was not good news since we only had two contingency days figured into our schedule and this setback would use up our final contingency day.
The reason for the delay was that the pilot of our chartered flight decided that he did not want to fly. It wasn’t weather related since we had clear skies. Most of Papua was settled by Christian Missionaries and the Indonesian’s whether Christian, Muslim, or Hindu can be very religious. We would have been flying on a Sunday, so we deduced that this was the reason why we didn’t fly. This was all a result of a domino effect from our delay in Bali as a result of the independent having a difficult time with his entry into Indonesia in Jakarta.
Our Indonesian staff planned some activities for this extra day we had in Timika. We had a driver take us around to a community out along the coastal tidal flats and we also visited a community center that was created as a good will gesture by the Grasburg mine (of the Freeport Company, Louisiana). The center had some good restaurants and we had a nice lunch here. The center also had a really nice Olympic size pool which we spent the latter part of the afternoon.
The morning of our flight from Timika to Ilaga had us rallying at the hotel dining hall for our 5 am breakfast. We needed to be at the airport in Timika early (around 6 am) and our flight departed around 6:30 am. We did not need to go through security, so there was no need to worry about pocket knives, liquids, etc. Upon arriving at the airport, we were told to wait in our vehicle until summoned by the flight crew. The reason being was that people from the Papua separatist’s movement (or OPM) were protesting for their provincial separation from Indonesia and tend to congregate outside of the airport.
We flew on a Twin engine Otter similar to ones flown into the Khumbu region of Nepal. The airstrip we flew into was also very reminiscent of Lukla and the elevation of the strip is around 7000ft. Once we landed at Ilaga (also known as Sugapu) we were met by some of the local Dani people and they helped us carry our gear from the airstrip to the Village of Panapa. The walk took about 45min and we wore our Wellington (Rubber) boots for this section since it was very muddy.
We spent this day at the Chiefs house in Panapa Village. The Chief is very gracious to open up his home to visiting climbers and we tried our best to be as respectful as possible. The meals were prepared for us by our Indonesian cook staff and we ate in the Chiefs house. We had a good deal of free time on this day and it was a nice time to connect with the local Dani people. There are two rooms on the second floor of the house which we were able to lay out our bags and sleep.
This was a great time to sit down and talk with our Indonesian staff and lay out our expectations of them. Things that we covered in the debrief were firm breakfast and dinner times, a high standard of cleanliness with the cook staff, and early departure times from camp on our trekking days. Looking back, it would have been beneficial to have our Indonesian staff talk with the Chief and head Dani porter during this debrief with us being present. Unfortunately though, this was not the case and as a result a lot of our communication to our Indonesian and Dani staff was often lost in translation. Not a good combination when one is beginning to embark on the trekking adventure of a lifetime into a terrain often deemed hostile.