Heli to Base Camp
Wednesday morning (21st February) Jon and I got up early, at around 04:30, in preparation for our flight to Cartstensz. Breakfast at the local hotel was less than appetising. It was a small buffet thing in the mess hall with a limited selection of mainly local dishes. I tried a bit of it but it wasn’t going down real well. Fortunately they had some bread, butter and chocolate sprinkles at one end of the table so made myself some fairy bread of sorts, washed down with some suspiciously frothy lychee cordial. Not as bad as it sounds
We got picked up just after 05:00 and driven to the nearby airport. It was funny watching locals checking in with live chickens in cardboard boxes. One way to keep your groceries fresh I guess. We checked through then went upstairs and waited. From the airport we could see the gap in the maintain range we needed to fly through the get to Yellow Valley, the site of Carstensz basecamp. If there is any fog or cloud in the gap they will not fly. And of course it was clouded in.
After about a 3hr wait with cloud clearing we saw a helicopter on the other side of the runway take off and fly the short distance over to the terminal near where we were. Had to be a good sign. We were ushered downstairs and straight onboard.
There was just three of us flying in, Jon, Meldy (our local guide) and myself. Onboard it was reassuring to hear the familiar ascent of our Australian pilot as we took off. The flight to Yellow Valley is only about half an hour, initially over the lower jungles and flood plains then up into the steep rising rocky mountain range. We flew just to the east of the massive Freeport Mine then through the small gap in the mountains into Yellow Valley, a small bowl surrounded by large rocky cliffs and hillsides. I was initially thinking why was the flight so weather dependent, surely they could just fly up over the mountains and drop us off on the other side. But now that I saw the narrow entry we needed to go through to get into basecamp I can see why they needed good visibility.
Landing in at base camp was wonderful. Not only were we back into the crisp cool air at 4300m compared to the tropical heat and humidity down lower, but simply to get in without delay was a miracle. With all the disruptions and delays the groups just before us encountered, there was a very high chance our trip was going to be cancelled. It was a massive relief to be there without any delay.
Is That It?
At basecamp we met Poxi, our local climbing guide. He had been there with the previous groups and had waited there for us to come in. Apart from that, there was no one else around. It was nice and quiet.
Being pre-acclimatised coming off Kilimanjaro we decided to start our climb straight away while we had good weather. We dropped our gear in the tents which were still set up from the previous group, got changed and set straight out. It was a short walk to the base of the rocky face then a straight up rock scramble from there, reasonably steep but nothing too technical. There were fixed lines for clipping into most of the way just for safety but not essential for climbing. At the top of the ridge it was then a short rocky traverse along to the true summit. There was an interesting tyrolean (wire rope bridge) which we had to use to cross an open gap about 20m wide and some sections were quite narrow and exposed but it was all pretty straight forward. We were on the top in under 3hrs. For such a remote and difficult mountain to get to, particularly with all the local politics, it left you asking, “Is that it?” For Poxi, that was his 81st time on the top. Quite remarkable.
After a few photos and a couple of games of Connect 4 on the summit we were back down in basecamp in time for lunch. And that is something I must applaud Poxi and Meldy for, the food they cooked up was impeccable. For lunch we had fried chicken good enough to rival Colonel Sanders’ 11 secret herbs and spices.
We spent the afternoon just relaxing then for dinner were served shrimp the size of your dinner plate with sides of fresh vegetables. If we were in a restaurant we’d be impressed but for camp food this was exceptional.
The Inevitable Delays
That night as we retreated to our tents it clouded in and started to snow. With temperatures hovering around zero it was more like slushy sleet and didn’t settle on the ground for long but it was not a good sign for our planned flight out the following morning.
When we got up on Thursday morning it was still drizzling and the mountains were shrouded in mist and cloud. We remained hopeful it would clear by mid-morning in time for the heli to come in and pick us up but that hope quickly faded. We resigned to the fact that we’d be spending another day there. With not much to do, I took the opportunity to catch up on some sleep and spent most of the day in my tent. I felt a bit guilty but guess all the travel and jet lag was catching up with me.
Yesterday (Friday) morning we were greeted with clear blue skies so packed up camp in a rush as the heli was already on its way. A half hour flight back to Tamika and we were back at the hotel by mid-morning. We had a quick shower, collected the rest of our gear and went straight back to the airport in time for the return flight to Bali. With all that could have gone wrong with this climb, it was wonderful to have got in and out so quickly with only one day delay.
Carstensz was a really fun climb, more vertical and technical then many of the other 7 Summits. But it is a lot of effort for a half day outing.
Today (Saturday 24th February) has been an enjoyable, relaxing day in Bali. Tonight we get a red eye special back to Sydney, really not looking forward to that. However, after being on the road for almost 2 months now, what I am looking forward to getting home for a short break and to partake in the Rotary Kosciusko Summit Wheelchair Challenge next weekend.
“Go with the decision that will make for a great story”.
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