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 contract negotiations between the Australian 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. The mine prohibits climbers from passing through their premises, but are understanding of their helicopter pilots being able 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 any expedition that had been in planning stages and were now well on the road to executing this trip into reality. One of those expeditions just happened to be us!
The first order of business was if I 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 will cause you to lose a day when crossing the international dateline. When making your flight reservations, allow for adequate layover time between legs of your journey. This will give you a buffer should any of your departures be delayed and assure that your luggage is transferred between flights. As a precautionary measure, make sure you check with the agent (you will need your luggage tags for this) at the gate to see that your luggage actually did make the connecting flight. This will give you a leg up should any of your bags become delayed in transit.
My flight that 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. 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. Your maximum stay in Indonesia is 60 days and you will also need to have a passport that is valid for 6 months and plenty of free visa pages to be allowed into the country.
After the unfortunate procedure of filing my claim with the fine folks at the Cathy Pacific luggage desk, they had been able to locate my bags in Hong Kong and gave me assurance that they would be on the following days flight to Denpasar. I made my way through customs and out through the arrival gate and located my driver that had been sent by the hotel. In the event that you are unable to locate your driver, the key beta is to go directly to the taxi kiosk which is located outside of the arrival entrance. You will want to prepay with Bluebird taxi (100,000 rupees = $10 usd) and just have them take you to the hotel which is about 3 kms from the airport.
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 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.
Our Indonesian logistics company we used paid for the 1st and last night of our lodging while in Bali. Our last day in Bali did allow us to take care of some logistical must do’s…
1. Pack trekking backpack with everything you plan to be carrying on the trail. This will also act as your carry on bag for the domestic commercial flight from Denpasar to Timika. This cannot weigh more then 7 Kilos (15 lbs).
2. Pack duffel for the trek that will be carried by porters. This bag cannot weigh more then 20 Kilos (44 lbs), make sure to have a TSA lock on this duffel. This will also be your only check in bag for the flight from Denpasar to Timika.
3. Pack a duffel with all of the gear you will not be bringing and leave tagged and locked at the Ramada Hotel in Bali.
4. Relax and enjoy Bali. You can rent surf boards on Kuta beach and the hotel has a nice 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. We needed to bring all of our luggage with us. Our day pack and checking in duffel was loaded into the van. While our duffel to be stored at the hotel was taken at this time by the hotel staff.
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 to after a long trip on Carstensz Pyramid.
There were two independents that were on our expedition and shared our permit. They originated from Jakarta and were on our flight from Denpasar to Timika.
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. We were then able to have breakfast at the hotel. 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 at the airline office. We also brought our daypacks to be weighed, but we brought these back to the hotel. Make sure your duffel has a lock on it since you will not be seeing this duffel until you arrive in Ilaga. Therefore you will need to make sure that you have everything you need with you and packed in your daypack.
We flew on a Twin engine Otter. Similar to ones flown into the Khumbu in Nepal. The airstrip we flew into was also reminiscent of Lukla and the elevation is around 2100m/7000ft. Once we landed at Ilaga (Sugapu) we were met by some of the local Dani people. They carried our gear for us 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 is 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 tried our best to be as respectful as possible. The meals were prepared for us by our Indonesian cook staff and we ate our meals in the Chiefs house. We had a good deal of free time on this day. Nice time to connect with the locals or play a hand of hearts (I have now dominated at hearts on 6 of the 7 continents thus far). There are two rooms on the second floor of the house which we were able to lay out our bags and sleep.
You will want to make sure that your Indonesian staff is bringing these items and adhering to your expectations you are establishing with them: 1) A separate dining tent and a separate cook tent, do not allow your staff to cook in the dining tent. 2) A dining table is brought to keep food elevated off of the ground.
3) That the fastest porter is in charge of carrying the members tents and that these are all together and are first to arrive into camp. Preferably when the team members arrive into camp.
Our departure was at 8am and we begin the day hiking up a steep slope to reach our first high pass which brought us to the first (of many) highlands marsh plateaus. We were happy to have our Wellington boots for this entire day since their was a lot of wallowing through the mud. The terrain eventually does open up into rolling terrain through many really cool outcrops of limestone pinnacles. This is pretty and cruiser and the end of the day will bring you down off of the plateau into a lower valley. You will then have to negotiate your first major river crossing and then continue up the adjacent valley for another 45 minutes until you reach the camp which is located on the bank of another river.
This day could result in people getting spread out due to the cruiser terrain once you get to the limestone pinnacle region. The trail is pretty well defined although I would recommend that you have people constantly regroup at the many passes you will be going over.
On day three of our trek in we left at around 8 am and made our our destination for the day would be camp 3 located in the highlands marsh.We begin the day with 2 big river crossings and then begin ascending up the valley through steepening terrain. We wore our Wellington boots for this entire day. As we gained the plateau that marked the start of the highlands marsh region, our trail was mainly full of up/down, rolling and wet terrain until we reached our camp at 11,800ft. Today was chock full of river and stream crossings, about 12 in total, and careful steps were needed to avoid having our boots fill up with water.
Everyday we would experience the classic Papuan afternoon downpour. Like clockwork, it would begin between 12pm and carry on/off until around 3pm. You will want to have your rain gear and umbrella accessible at all times. I found that my rain pants (even with full side zips open) were just too much for active trekking and would result in overheating, so I would often just use my parka and umbrella to keep the magnitude of the rain at bay.
One thing is for certain, the Dani porter staff do not like walking in the rain. Once the afternoon rains begin, your staff will stop dead in their tracks and build a big fire to warm themselves and cook their sweet potatoes by. They will also want to have you stop and wait out the weather with them, I guess misery likes company. Even when we attempted to continue on ahead, the Dani would all get really upset and yell at you to stop and wait with them. We were in their lands and we did not want to upset our hosts, s0 we often waited with them a majority of the time on our trek in. Eventually though it just became too much and we would continue on despite their demands, especially when we trekking out after the climb.
Camping in the highlands marsh can be a challenge and we would instruct our Dani staff to prep the tent sites for us by cutting down the tall grass (that is available in the vicinity) and then laying the grass down like stable hay in the tent site locations. This would make our tent sites much more flat, comfortable, and dry amongst the uneven hummocks of wetness that are indicative of this area.
For us, this day kicked our butts! We stayed consistent with our normal late departure out of camp as a result of our porters wanting us to wait for them. In hindsight, and if it is at all possible, I would have really pushed the staff early on make 7am departures a mainstay to our daily routine. Most of our time was taken up by the river crossings (ringing out wet socks) and the afternoon downpours forced us to stop multiple times to sit with our inherently ombrophobic Dani staff. Again, in hindsight, I would not make this apart of our daily repertoire, best to keep the team moving forward.
The beginning of our day had us walking through more of the muddy marsh lands, but then transitioned into a climb of a steep muddy face to a our first pass. From here we descended down to Larson Lake, a good sized lake that was named after one of the early missionaries that visited with the Dani of this area. From here we made our way around the lake and to the upper reaches of New Zealand Pass. This area transitions into a pure alpine zone as you make your way to New Zealand Pass and continues as you then drop down into the valley where Carstensz Pyramid base camp is located. We arrived into base camp around 2 pm and this was early enough to allow us to have plenty of rest before our summit bid.
We found the water is marginal at base camp. Our camp was beautifully situated on the shore of a lake, but the lake has a lot of harsh minerals in it and is not fit to drink. What worked well for us was to continuously fill up our water bottles along the varies side streams we encountered along our trek prior to our arrival into base camp. Most of the streams are very clear and the water tasted really good, although we still treated our water with iodine (we were in Papua).