October 20th, 2011
Carstensz Pyramid, a remote location in western New Guinea with primitive tribes, thick jungle and one of the best rock climbs I’ve ever done. I’d like to say that the expedition went off without a hitch but I’m afraid I can’t. What I can say is that my head was nearly removed by a local tribesman and I spent six days in a steel container before getting evacuated by helicopter. Let me start from the beginning.
The approach to the mountain took six days through some of the thickest jungle on this mans earth, it was bloody tough going. Under the permitting process to enter this part of the world and travel through multiple tribes lands we had to employ porters from each village, 32 of them. What tends to happen then is that the employed porters bring most of their extended family making our expedition team one of the biggest in history with over 45 people tagging along. It was a tough trail with multiple washed out bridges, knee deep mud and a continuous rain that guaranteed you were wet 24hours a day.
Once we had reached the base camp which was situated in a valley of turquoise lakes surrounded by sharp jagged mountain peaks we rested and prepared our gear and ourselves for the assault on the summit the following night. The plan was to leave at 2AM to reach summit and be back to Base Camp that afternoon.
Summit day was the best weather we had had the entire trip, not a drop of rain until we summated and made our way off the most exposed part of the climb. The mountain is composed of a sharp grippy rock that made it great to climb. One section had us clip into a rope and pull ourselves along it out over a drop off for about 30ft. It was only about 3000ft straight down if I came off, it just added to the excitement of the day. Our view from the top was amazing and the photos I took will have a place on the pool room wall for the great grand kids to marvel at.
It was after we had gotten off the mountain, back to base camp and in our warm sleeping bags that all the trouble started. While we slept so did the porters, but where they had chosen to camp was under an overhang further along the valley. A rock the size of a body board broke away from the cliff and landed on four porters, putting one into a coma. Now in this part of the world the local people have a fairly simple way of thinking, the climbers brought us here and we are hurt so now they must be hurt, an eye for an eye. The head villager ran down to our camp with his machete and began yelling for blood, waking us all and waiting for someone to show himself so he could level the score. ………
Stay tuned for Part Two Tomorrow……
October 21st, 2011
Now not to leave you hanging too long but what would you do if a local tribesman who just under 30 years ago used to eat people of your skin colour came to your camp and asked for a sacrifice ?. You would do exactly what our guide told us to do, stay the hell in your tent and don’t make a sound. Our guide Meldi came out of his tent and confronted the villager and after some very heated discussion had talked him down enough for him to leave but return in the morning for a sit down discussion. I found out later that in this part of the world even though it’s fairly barbaric there is still time for council, although if one tribe killed two of their enemy but had lost four they would have to kill two more before a peace talk could take place.
The following morning while most of the camp still slept, Meldi, Dean and myself sat down to discuss what we should do. The villagers representative came up from the valley and told us that one of the porters was dead and that the western climbers should come and take photos of the rock fall to see what they can do. We were all instantly sceptical about heading down to the awaiting villagers after what had happened the previous night but we were between a rock and a hard place. They weren’t going to leave the mountain until something was done. So reluctantly and with my military brain clicking back on thinking of every possible scenario that could arise when we get there, we set off down the valley.
On arrival it was a weird scene, some of the porters came up to shake our hands, others just smiled and some lent against the rock wall with a look of resentment in their eyes. They showed us the site of the rock fall; it was a massive slab that would have weighed well over 100kg. I thought to myself that whoever was under it would have been killed instantly; we asked to be taken to the body. The body turned out to be a 16year old boy who was wrapped in a sheet; we took one look at his rising chest and told them he was still alive. We immediately mustered everyone together and built a stretcher out of old timber and then used one of their tarps to wrap the stretcher with the boy inside into something that could be carried steadily. There was only one place we could take him, into the nearby mine.
It took twenty minutes carrying the boy with the help of ten porters to reach the security outpost of the Freeport mine. Security acted quickly and had two ambulances there within 20minutes, my biggest fear was that the boy would die while we were with him and that all hell would break loose. We were lucky though; the ambulance arrived and took the boy and three others with minor injuries to the mine hospital. After the meat wagons departed we had to try and sort out our massive team so that we could leave the mountain for home, albeit a day behind. The porters gathered round and with our guides translating we asked them if everything was ok now and if they were ready to depart tomorrow. It took a good ten minutes of back and forward words between themselves to give us a reply of “yes. We then asked, if this young boy dies while we are half way back in the middle of the jungle and we arrive at his home town to his waiting parents are we going to be safe? At this question it took a very long time to get any response, this automatically made me think we were screwed if it happened. For the rest of the afternoon we tried to get more information about our situation off the villagers, guides and the company who sent us out here, Adventure Indonesia. By dinner that night it was clear that we could not take the chance and head back into the Jungle with this team of porters, it was simply too risky.
We went onto plan B, evacuation by helicopter. We were told by Adventure Indonesia that we had helicopter evacuation if we needed it, although it was somewhat expensive. So calling on the Satellite phone we asked for evacuation, and were told that there are no choppers available, there never were……….where to now?….
Stay tuned for Part 3
October 21st, 2011
There was only one place we could go after our Jungle exit and our Helicopter evacuation were no longer available to us. We had to try and go through the mine. Now I had been told by many people that the mine is a no go for climbers, the security is super tight and they will never let you cross their land. Reports of some climbers trying have resulted in them being held for 4 weeks in prison and then fined. This was a risk but it was a risk that did not involve loosing an arm or a life so it was the only option left to us, we set off for the mine.
We arrived at the same security outpost Dean and I had been at the day before with the injured villagers. This time however the weather was terrible and there was not a sole in sight. The only structure in our vicinity was a steel shipping container that had a wooden door built into it; it must have been used as a security shelter in the past. The door was locked though, so while the others sheltered next to the container as best they could, Dean and I set off down the dirt road into the mine to raise the alarm and let security know we were here.
It didn’t take us long to get noticed, 5min down the road two massive mine trucks tore past carrying full loads and then a petrol truck stopped to see what the hell we were doing. The drivers were friendly enough but all that changed after they radioed security and we were transferred to a Toyota. We were driven back to the container on the edge of the mine and told to get out. The guard driving called up his boss on the radio and within minutes he was next to us telling us in no uncertain terms that you will never get through the mine, no matter what faces you in the jungle, “go home”.
Now I’m going to brush over the next part of the story in as little detail as possible as to avoid any legal action in the future and to protect the identities of some of the miners who helped us. You know who you are and we can never repay you for helping us get through one of the toughest weeks we have all faced. What I can tell you is this; we slept ten people inside that freezing shipping container on the edge of the mine for six days. The mine was having its own problems with 10000 miners on strike outside of the mine and 5 people being killed in a week. By the morning of the sixth day we were on board a chartered helicopter that cost us a small countries financial budget and flown to a nearby town called Timika. Timika at the time was surrounded by angry Miners and members of a free Papua movement, so it was blockaded with burning trucks, rocks and a screaming mob. We were told they had a body on display out there somewhere too, thanks for the information. We never left the airport but instead boarded a flight to another small town on the opposite side of Papua, then caught the beautiful Garuda flight back to Bali and freedom.
I can say this; it is more a mental battle with yourself then with the mine or the villagers when you are put in a situation like that. Even more so when you are in a confined space for a long period of time with relative strangers and no idea what will happen from minute to minute. I would also like to say that there are companies out there conducting mountain expeditions that only have the dollar signs in the best interest. One of these is Adventure Indonesia. Their handling of the entire saga was a joke and if we had not taken control of our own decisions early on, I’m not sure if this story would be getting typed right now.
On a positive note, I have stood upon the tallest mountain in Australasia and another of the Seven Summits, I have learnt patience and am more ready than ever for the next expedition to Vinson Massif this January in Antarctica. Thanks for reading and OLOC – One Life One Chance