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Thursday, 15 August 2013

Day 14 - Walkout 2

I saw the doctor first thing in the morning and he gave me the all clear. Just as we were packing to leave a lady from accounts came in with a bill almost 5 times more than I had been expecting - obviously all those I had been speaking to before had gone home by now and had obviously been wrong in the estimate that they provided. 

We went to a local ATM but unhelpfully the maximum that they would allow per card per day was about $150 so that was not going to work. The accounts people immediately called the rather aggressive mine security who said that we could not leave until we paid - I was about to start an argument on the legality of holding someone in such a way but he said he was busy right then but would be free a bit later and we could meet then to solve the problem as he had helped people in the past. I went back to Gus to break the news but he had power and a mobile phone signal for the first time in a while so was happy hanging around for a bit. 

Shortly after a security guard turned up saying he was here to give me a lift to go and meet his boss to sort out the payment so I headed off with him. Then in the parking area we met another security guard who asked where my friend was. I said that he did not need to come as it was my medical bill and I would sort it out. He then said no, where is your friend? He must come as well. This was when I realised that things were becoming more complicated again. So we went back to get Gus and then off to the Security office - we were rather concerned at leaving our bags behind but were still under the impression that his would be a shortish meeting and then we would come back for lunch before heading off for the midday bus. 

When we got to the security office it turned out that the boss was out somewhere and would be back in between 20mins to 1.5 hours. So we just sat, waited and carried on catching up with emails etc. 
Finally the chap arrived and we started chatting. We knew that we were not going to get (and to be honest should not expect) a warm reception but things really changed when he heard about our efforts to be honest and follow protocol as far as we could - well beyond what was reasonable given the delays and the conditions. Most people just head onto the haul road and try to bribe their way through the mine. Still he made it clear that we were not going to leave until the bill was paid and started telling us about the last group who had had to sleep on the floor of the security office for four days until the bill was paid in cash. He launched straight into his suggested method to resolve the problem which again headed off the discussion about the legality of the situation. We called the agent for our trip who agreed to transfer cash straight to the hospital and we could then pay him back later - once the hospital had the money they would call the security guard and he would arrange for us to get on the next bus back to Timika.
Once that was all in motion the security chap, who was naturally very concerned about what had happened whilst we were on the mine, asked us to write a report on what had happened so he could look into it - non-employees walking around unsupervised is one of the worst situations for a mine. He said that we would stay in the room until he took us to the bus and seem surprised to find out that our bags were still back at the hospital. He then started to lecture us on the risks involved in climbing Carstenz. The local tribes are in a constant state of on-off conflict with each other and the mine (with the last one turning into armed violence at times - the mine has spent $80m putting Kevlar on its vehicles to protect them from gunfire) and it would be very easy to get unintentionally mixed up in that. Additionally, there are no support or rescue services on the island and it would take a long time and a lot money for any foreign organisation to bring the equipment required for any form of rescue and lastly there were only a few helicopters on the island, these were all owned by the mine and in any case the weather was usually too poor for them to fly and even if they could fly there is no space in the jungle for them to land. Whilst there was a certain amount of bravado and enjoyment of telling us how poorly prepared he thought we were, there were some valid points and risks that I don't feel have been addressed by the tour operators providing trips here. Things can go wrong pretty quickly in the jungle and in the absence of any realistic chance of a quick extraction what is the plan? It may be the case that there isn't one, which is fine if people are made aware of it and accept the risk. Focussing on obtaining travel insurance is misleading as it indicates that emergency medical evacuation is possible and you just need to be able to pay for it! 
He went off to his meeting, Gus went back to the hospital to get our bags whilst I wrote the report. The police then turned up and spoke no English so everything was done via some random person in the office who walked past and happened to speak a bit of English - all rather worrying. There seemed to be an issue over paperwork so I showed them my permit to climb the mountain (perhaps it was more than that but I was never sure exactly what the piece of paper was, everything being in Indonesian) and that seemed to be satisfactory. The policeman then decided that he wanted to search our bags which Gus had just returned from the hospital with. These had been unsupervised for a while and I started to get really worried that either something had been or would be planted or the strong drugs that we were on for our respective conditions were covered by some greyness in the legislation on narcotics. I made sure that someone else from security was present to prevent a plant (or at least make it harder) and then got worried when the police patted a couple of the bags very softly and then went to a specific pocket of my rucksack and thought 'here we go and isn't it lucky that I have been dropping in the fact that the British Embassy know about us'. In fact there was nothing new in there and he barely looked at what I pulled out. The same happened with Gus' rucksack and then the policeman smiled happily at us, said thank you very politely and off he went. 
A bit later the security officer came back and asked us to sign a form releasing the mine from any liability to us. This did not seem an issue but I got a bit concerned when the first page I looked at covered the treatment of trespassers - we had made sure that we had got permission to proceed at every stage and therefore could not be considered trespassers. However this document turned out to be just the mine's policy towards all non-employees / contractors and the release statement did not have such concerning language.
All of a sudden the room went quiet as some lady walked in and the security officer as well as his apparent No 2 were extremely deferential. We had no idea what was going on or who she was but realised that something serious and unforeseen was happening. It turned out that she was the local chief of police - she looked nothing like that at all - and so we smiled at her very nicely and said hello. There was a bit of a conversation in Indonesian and then she got out a piece of paper and spent a while hand writing something which we were asked to sign - she even had her assistant produce her official stamp for each document for me and Gus. This was again a bit ominous but everyone seem pretty relaxed - we were keen to keep everything light and friendly as we appeared very close to extracting ourselves from this mess but at the same time it is never a good idea to sign a document that you do not understand. The document was about 10 lines long and all that people could explain was that the document stated that we had arrived at the security office at about midday and would be leaving at about 3pm. This was a) not true as we had arrived well before that, b) a lot less than the 10 line would indicate and c) an utterly bizarre document for a local chief of police to come down and handwrite. Anyhow, the security officer was telling her how we had complied with everything the mine had asked from us and we had had approval from the head of the mine to be released and the document did indeed contain our names and quite a bit of information from our passports along with what appeared to be the times discussed and so with a bit of trepidation we signed the documents. Everyone seemed happy with this and there were big smiles all round. Following this everyone sprang into action to get us onto the 4pm bus - its was still only about 3pm and again seemed a little strange. We were driven to an area with a number of the armoured off road buses and put onto one of them. The 4pm bus then pulled off at 3:30pm and with this bizarre piece of efficiency we were on our way back to freedom!!

It turns out that I had managed to develop patellar tendinopathy - basically the tendons holding my patellae in place were damaged and swollen which meant that they hurt when I moved my leg but also the ones in my right knee were so badly damaged that they were not holding my patella in place so it was floating around in my knee damaging the rest of the soft tissue there.
The main cause of all this seems to have been the muscle wastage that I have suffered whilst being on all these expeditions this year so I now need to get some leg exercises in before the next expedition. 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Day 13 - Walkout 1

We get up at about 06:30 to pack and prepare for a departure some time prior to 8 when the porters are meant to arrive. A couple will come with me, Zac and Gus to the mine with our bags whilst the rest will begin the journey back to Sugapa. Obviously they don't turn up until nearer 9 - the only reason that this is a slight issue is that we have given the mine an ETA which we will now not make. 

Anyhow, after saying our goodbyes to everyone we head off down to the mine. Our porters try their best to come up with reasons as to why they should stop at certain points but through a mixture of good humour, feigned misunderstanding and plain old ignoring them we manage to keep them going for a while. We had been told that they did not want to be seen by security so had agreed that when we got near to the mine boundary that they could head back. At about this point, we come across some keep out signs which we wisely decided to mock.


Shortly after this the way becomes flooded and we have to climb up and over some cliffs and then hike up a hundred metres or so of a slag pile to get up to security. 

However it turned out that this was not in fact security, just a couple of containers and no one was about. Unfortunately the mobile phone signal that we had been lead to believe was here wasn't and so we could not contact anyone. 

Mines are dangerous places and the one thing sure to cause a serious problem would be for us to go wandering about. Since we had time we decided to wait to see if anyone turned up and we could get them to contact security for us. Zac went back at this point as there was no need for him to stay and he had a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the group. 

We waited for about and hour and then someone turned up in a huge dump truck. We could not work out what he was doing at this extreme end of the mine but it just seemed to be a 3 point turn.

A tiny red jacketed Gus talking to the truck driver

We managed to explain that we needed to contact security and Gus got into his vehicle to try to speak to someone over the radio. However it appeared that security was not available and he could only speak to despatch who said that they would send out security for us. 

We sat and waited in the containers and a bit later some lorries and land cruisers turned up. It turned out that they were here to take the containers away so we watched them do that and discussed our situation with the head of the group. He appeared to be aware of the person whose name had been given to contact once we got to the mine. He said that there wasn't good enough reception where we were but he would contact them when he could and we should stay where we were. About two hours went by but no one turned up and it was now about 3pm - as usual it was cold and raining hard. Some other chap turned up in a huge dumper truck with the aim apparently of doing a 3 point turn and again he agreed to contact security for us and again nothing happened and nor did it when a third truck came a while later. 

By 5pm we were getting very cold and also getting worried that night would fall soon and we were keen not to spend it in a leaky and rubbish strewn hut. We ' health an safety'd' as much as possible, wearing our tough boots, climbing helmets and bright jackets and set off from shelter at the edge of the mine to have a look round and try to trigger some form of response. Just below us was a big open space next to a haul road (this is the road along which all the huge dumper trucks travel taking the waste and ore away from the pit). We stood on a mound next to the road to be at the same height as the drivers and over the next hour or so stopped over 10 trucks to ask them to call security causing massive traffic jams as the trucks pulled over to talk to us. They each did this and all told us that security would come and that we should stay where we were. After a bit it appeared that some of the drivers knew about us and before we could say anything told us in a friendly way that security were coming and just to stay there. 

Still no one from security arrived and it was now getting very cold and dark. One of the trucks came into the area to dump its load and I got into the cab to speak to security. Again, it was only possible to speak to Despatch and they said that security was on its way. I asked them to confirm when they would arrive and they said that they would call and radio back. 

In the meantime another truck had arrived and this time the driver spoke reasonable English. Gus was getting along well with him and he told us that this was the shift change for security and so not much would happen for some time. Rather than be stuck outside for some time he decided to drive us down to the operations centre and told my driver of his plan. 

Unfortunately, my driver could not communicate this to me so I got rather concerned when we started driving - although it was also very interesting to be driven in a high tech truck whose wheels were almost half my height again. We finally managed to communicate through some quite bizarre hand gestures and my concern was then what Gus had arranged about the bags which were still in the ramshackle hut.  I wanted to speak to him via the radio but for some reason this wasn't possible - I was not sure why as my genius with sign language seemed to have run out by then. 
Anyway we drove quite a way through the mine and then at some lights my driver stopped and indicated that I should get out. I had no idea where we were or what the plan was and nor could I see the other truck with Gus, and hopefully the plan, in it. Anyway, I wandered towards the buildings and went into the first on the left as I could see movement there. Unfortunately they spoke no English and could not work out why a foreigner had just walked into their building in the middle of a mine. I tried to explain saying I had had an accident and needed to speak to security. Remember that Health and Safety is the key issue on a mine and as soon as I mentioned accident they jumped up started running round and all talking to me in Indonesian at the same time. I managed to calm them down eventually and just then the driver from Gus' truck came in and took me to his office in the far corner of the square  - leaving the first group wondering (probably to this day) who on earth was that crazy foreigner? Was there an accident? Why did he not know whether there was one or not?

Anyway, we headed over to some operations office where Gus was sitting by a warm heater and having been given a bottle of water. It was by now about 19:30 or so. By now we have lost our faith in the likelihood of security responding responding and so Gus goes to use the Internet to email his friend. 

As usual I only needed to mention that I was English before we were all speaking the international language of football. It really is quite remarkable how English football and the players is much derided at home but so much respected and admired abroad. This fraternising seems to go a bit far when Gus' driver invites me for a drive in his truck - I was too tired to try and work out what was going on here but I could not think of much good that could come of it.  The chaps were very kind to us and we had a range of interesting conversations - a common theme being how cool our gear was and wouldn't it be great to swap our boots with theirs - luckily there was a complete mismatch in size so we could easily and jokingly turn this kind offer down without creating any tension. 

Anyhow, by now we had some expats at the mine contacting security as well as the 15-20 people that we had already contacted today and so started to feel a little more optimistic - at least we were no longer concerned about having to sleep outside tonight! However, we waited and waited and had further calls with security and our contact who said that he had contacted everyone who needed to be contacted and then somewhere near 10pm (a mere 12 hours after we arrived on the mine!) someone from security, with a rather self important attitude, finally rolled up.     

The first step was to have me checked out by the medical team to both look after me and make sure that I wasn't faking the need for help from the mine. The building was a small clinic (with the main hospital 20 miles down the mountain) which happened to be all of 20mtrs away. I was a bit worried about this as without a specialist or an MRI machine I was not sure how they were going to be able to assess the internal damage to my knees. However I needn't have worried as the cut to my left knee had continued to deteriorate with the whole area swollen and a lot of discharge. After a quick look the paramedic called the hospital who asked that I be taken down immediately to the main hospital - they had plenty of experience of serious complications following delays in treating cuts infected in the rainforest / mountains near the mine. First it needed cleaning which obviously meant that I nearly fainted to the amusement / bemusement of the rest of the room and then arrangements were made to have me transported and admitted to the main hospital. Meanwhile Gus had gone off with the security chap to pick up our bags which were still in the hut where we had first come into the mine. On his return he was rather concerned at a conversation where he felt that he had been asked whether he would give his jacket or his shoes to the guy before we could get our bags back. We discussed our strategies for this and my preferred one was me giving him my boots and then being 'forced' to walk around the mine in just my socks (the place was really wet and muddy) and arrive at the hospital in a suitably bedraggled state - the health and safety issues as well as ensuing PR damage would create an unbelievable hooha at management level. 

Finally, all the admin had been completed and various attempted skivers sent packing with some pills and then we set off to the hospital. This was a 15 minute drive followed by a 10 minute cable car ride and then a 20 minute drive - and this still only covered about one third of the mine! Both Gus and I have worked in mining so it was fascinating to see the place as we drove through it. On the journey the paramedics were admiring my jacket and shoes and wondering whether I had any spares! This was done in such and open, easy and friendly way that I felt no menace and so very able to say no and that I needed then for the rest of my trip. The security chap drove down to the cable car with us as (he had all our bags) and I was concerned as to how events were to unfold - in fact he seemed perfectly fine when he unloaded the bags for us. Whether this was because it was now in front of the medics or his earlier discussion had been along the lines of other friendly and very hopeful ones is not clear. 

We got onto the cable car with about 75 miners who were all staring at the oddly dressed foreigners when I heard a 'Hi, Sebastian' and turned to see one of the chaps from the Operations Centre working his way through the crowd to pride of place next to us. We had a bit of a chat and others who spoke a bit of English came over to talk as well. Everyone in the cable car would follow each attempt and then the whole place would erupt into laughter when some poor chap's English would falter. It was quite surreal being in a place where you really were not meant to be but at the same time being treated as some sort of hero or idol by most of the people that you came across. 

We finally got to the hospital at about midnight and I was seen immediately by the expat doctor there. He was reassuring in that whilst the infection was becoming serious, we had caught it in time and that there should be any long term damage or further contagion. He did want me to stay overnight just to be sure but expected that I should be able to be discharged in the morning - Gus was also able to stay overnight. 

I had been warned that I would need to pay the medical bill in cash and was told that it would be $500 to $700 or so which I knew I could cover. There was a bus down to Timika at 09:30 and they said that they would put us on that once I had been cleared by the doctor.  We finally got to bed at a bit after 2am thinking a long day was coming to an end but that things were finally resolved. Obviously, such affairs are never that simple.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Day 12 - Summit Day (4,900mtrs)

Up at a bit after 1 to prepare. My knees aren't great but I take rather a lot of ibuprofen which should get me through the day and most of the mountain is roped so there should be little need for me to do much downhill walking which is what seems to be causing me the problems. Gus is feeling better so hopefully by moving at a sensible pace and the drip feed of chocolate he should be able to make it through the day.

Setting off
We set off at 2am in a cloudless, starry sky. It is actually a lot warmer than at first it appeared and so we all get a bit hot on the hour walk from base camp to  the start of the climb.

New outfits warmed up

The first few sections are not that steep but are quite long and tricky and have fixed ropes on them - also as it is dark we cannot see the extent of the drop below. This means that they are more of a physical (strength and fitness) than technique test.


Having a (well earned) break
After a bit we can see the huge Freemont mine that creates a swathe of lights at the end of the valley - the first sign of anything man made / civilisation that we have had for some time now.

Then we manage to lose the path and head up a random and very steep gulley that has some interesting moves, no protection or any ropes. You can almost hear Zac's concern as he knows that ne is responsible for health and safety and that that has just gone out of the window! However it is less amusing when we get to a very steep section with a very long run out - if you fell here you would slip for several hundred metres on very sharp rocks and whilst you might escape broken bones if you were very lucky you would be cut to ribbons. I got half way and then found a lack of good foot and hand holds for further moves as well as a better understanding of what was below from the comments of the others who had been looking down more and lost my conviction in refusing the help of a rope.

Its a long way down if you slip
Our guide who had already completed the section dropped a rope and we all climbed out to find that we were back on the main route and at the base of the climb up to the top ridge. I went up after him and so got to see the sun rise whilst waiting for the others to come up.

Dawn over the opposite side of the valley

From there is was onto the Tyrolean traverse which was actually easier than the one we did as practice back in May. However there were a plethora of ropes and to be safe we attached ourselves to all of then which provided a lot of friction to pull against.

Getting ready for the Tyrolean

Don't look down!

After that we moved along the ridge

which in general was fine but had a couple of tricky parts where we moved between two mini sections. This meant one or two pretty difficult moves over thousand metre drops but mostly it was very tough mentally struggling with vertigo as you can't not look down whilst climbing down! After those we just had to climb the last short section up to the summit where we spent quite a while taking photos although there was a fair bit of cloud so we could see very little of our surroundings.

Cheesy, but rather good!
Team Millet!
 Unsurprisingly, the weather came in after a bit which was our cue to head back down.

The descent was the reverse of the climb with us abseiling most of the way down - other sections were rope assisted descents where you walk, step backwards or jump down a slope holding onto a rope to control your movement.

The main problem with the abseiling was the quality of the ropes. Many of these were thick, wet and elasticated - such characteristics make it very difficult to control your descent and so not much fun at all as I ended up bouncing all over the place and having very little control. My technique suffered from this and I took to just holding the ropes to help me down further on. This was probably less safe but it was much more fun and rebuilt my confidence for some of the later abseil sections where the ropes were not so bad and so I could move at a decent speed again.
Then all of a sudden we came round a corner and it was not far to the valley floor, and then the hour or so walk back to camp for a well earned rest and some food and drink.

Our times were:
Start: 2am
Summit: 8am
Depart: 9am
Camp: 2pm

This was a very different climb to most summit days in that it was technically challenging (especially once I could see what I was doing!) but not very physically demanding. You normally feel pretty elated at having made the summit and the stunning views you have from the highest point of the continent but here it was more a sense of relief that I hadn't fallen and had managed my vertigo despite the fact that it had really slowed me down at a couple of points. Overall we were pretty quick on the way up (6hrs) but slow to get back down again (5hrs), but it was an excellent and very different summit day.

We finally had a good view of the mountain in the afternoon after getting back. We went round the left hand end of the ridge immediately in front of the picture and then ascended via the crack just to the right of the pinnacle on the right in the middle of the picture and then back along the ridge to the left to the summit in the middle

There has been no real improvement to my knees in terms of the swelling and my wound has continued to deteriorate. It has now tripled in size and despite cleaning and dressing it twice a day continues to discharge quite an amount of worryingly coloured liquid and is now swollen quite a long way round it and it feels as if the swelling is going down into the knee as well as radiating out - that is pretty worrying as it is a sign of a pretty bad infection.
The way back out is four or five days of mostly downhill through the muddy rainforest we came in via and this poses quite a risk of long term complications for both problems - the damp and mud mean that it won't be possible to keep the wound clean and dry so that will get a lot worse by the time we get out and if there is something nasty in there at the moment (which I suspect there is given the ongoing complications) it won't be possible to organise a quick extraction if it flares up. The downhill will make my knees really painful and swollen and whilst I can treat those symptoms with more ibuprofen, who knows what long term damage I will be doing to my knees and how long they will take to recover - I am spending the whole of December on Antarctica and then 2.5 months on Everest next year and don't want to jeopardise those for a few days walking in the rain and mud!

There is a potential to exit via the mine that is next to the mountain but this is (and justifiably so) very restrictive so I get the various wheels on motion for that although this is seriously inconvenienced by the fact that the satellite phone cuts out every few minutes when whichever satellite we are using passes out of contact with the valley we are in and then it is 20 mins to half an hour before the next one comes into contact. The fact that as usual it rains most of the afternoon and evening which interferes with reception does not help.
Anyhow, over the course of the evening things slowly fall into place and I get to bed feeling that there is little else that can be done. Stay tuned for our epic exit!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Day 11 - Rest Day

Not much to do today other than prepare for summit day tomorrow. This means eating, resting and preparing our gear. In addition this is a chance for Gus and I to get better but there is not much change to my knees and my cut seems to be getting worse again.

We do a quick rope, gear and technical check after lunch - to make sure that we are going to approach the technical challenges of the the ascent in a consistent and complementary manner. Even for this we need to head for cover on a couple of occasions when heavy rain comes as we don't want to start our summit bid with cold, wet and heavy gear (especially the rope) and there is little chance of anything drying this afternoon.

As we expected it has rained on and off all afternoon and at 4,250 mtrs this makes things pretty chilly so we spend the afternoon and evening in our sleeping bags. Quite handily I get to sleep pretty promptly after our 6pm supper; again in bed as it is pouring as usual.

Sausage stew, rice and snails / kidneys (we can't tell from the taste and our guides don't know the English word)

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Day 10 - Base Camp (4,255 mtrs)

Nice lazy start to the day with the sun shining as we breakfast. The cut on my knee is getting better with only a small amount of light discharge this morning. The insides of my knees are a different matter with both still swollen after yesterday. Not sure what is going on with them as I have not had anything like this before.

Gus is not in that much better shape as he does not appear to have been able to shake whatever is upsetting his stomach. This is both unpleasant in the short term but a bigger problem is that a few days not eating will completely sap your energy reserves leaving you nothing for the summit. He seems better now but I would imagine that some drugs will be required should he relapse during the day. Today we are heading to base camp with a few interesting passes along the way and our first sight of CP itself.

The first pass is still pretty green and there are a fair few trees - this also provides a good view back towards last night's camp on the far side of a pretty lake. The slope up to the pass is pretty steep and we are climbing /scrambling most of the time. Unfortunately, by the time we get to the top it has started to rain and the wind is picking up so we take refuge in a nearby cave whilst we divide up Gus' gear as he is now really struggling with a combination of being unwell and not having been able to eat properly for a couple of days. As a result if this and our rapidly approaching summit day, it becomes necessary to give him some strong, last resort drugs to flush out his system.

After that we rise further, leaving all but the smallest patches of greenery behind and also rise up into the clouds. Although we can't see much we are now walking, scrambling and climbing on the grey, weathered limestone and despite the miserable weather the change or terrain makes it quite an enjoyable day. We have a break for a bit of lunch and a drink and for the first time on the trip the porters are pretty quiet as they are subdued by the clouds and continual rain.


We hit our maximum height at 4,500 mtrs on New Zealand pass which is the final one where we get out first glimpse of CP itself through the clouds and then drop down to base camp.

We get to camp in a rare dry spell which is great for putting up the tents but then as with every other day if proceeds to rain virtually all evening.


This has been a really dispiriting aspect of the trip as not only does the continually rain limit what you can do it also makes the cold a miserable, wet cold which penetrates your clothes and bones. This is far worse than the cold that you get in dry environments like high mountains that are far from the coast.

My cut is still playing up and for some reason decides to bleed quite a bit (this is the only time it has happened) whilst I am cleaning it.

We have supper in bed and then read / chat before going to sleep.

Peanut butter and jam sandwiches
Noodle soup then fried spam with boiled

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Day 9 - Trekking Day 6 (3,730)

The next couple of days should be pretty easy as the path to base camp divides neatly into two five hour treks. The first part of the day is a descent to the valley floor to cross a river and then we climb up the far side, approaching the shoulder into the base camp valley.

This second section is superb as there are not many trees here which allows the area to dry a lot more. Therefore for the first time on the expedition I am able to stretch my legs and walk at a proper pace as well as being able to see something of the scenery.

I have been the slowest in the group so far and the almost sympathetic looks from the porters as I have come into camps or rest stops have been hard to bear. Now, moving at my normal speed I am the quickest and it has been pretty satisfying to recover some pride overtaking the porters and then enjoyable to race some of the male porters up the various slopes and see the looks of surprise on their face when they can't keep up. 

As with other days, we get into camp at about 2pm and shortly after that, it starts to rain. It had also started to get quite chilly in the afternoon so now it is in sleeping bags as well as in the tents for the afternoon.

The rain continues for most of the afternoon and evening so today we have supper not just in the tents but in our sleeping bags as well. First time, I think, that I have had supper in bed - and I get quite a guilty pleasure out of it. Then an early night as usual - we will probably get up at 1am on summit day so it is quite handy to have your sleeping pattern set for such an early sleep.

Cereal and peanut butter and jam sandwiches
Instant noodle soup and sardines in spicy tomato sauce with rice

Friday, 9 August 2013

Day 8 - Trekking Day 5 (3,600 mtrs)

Up early again for an early start. One of my cuts seems to have become a bit infected (leaking a dark yellow bloody puss) so I have a fun time with my medical kit cleaning it out and then applying iodine (ouch!) and covering it more in hope than expectation with a plaster and some tape. The paths are never wide and branches are continually catching your legs - I am obviously in shorts still but might have to don my trousers if this doesn't clear up. A few months ago we met another mountaineer and one of his many injuries was losing half of his left calf to flesh eating bacteria out here! We do at least have some views now as opposed to a continual screen of wet vegetation.

However things slowed down a bit as the high plateau that we are now on turned into a real marsh with us frequently sinking in - one of mine was particularly unfortunate with me getting stuck in above my knees which lead to a bit of a delay in trying to get out and then trying to empty my boots of the mud, water and vegetation that had poured in.

Otherwise, the day was going smoothly and we were prepared to play our cunning lunch trick but be porters seemed to be wary of this and at an early break told us that one of them was suffering from altitude sickness and that we had to stop well short of our intended campsite.
It is not clear whether she was a good actress or the others are just very unsympathetic, but she really did seem to be in a bad way. So bad that our British guide felt that she should be sent back down and that one of them should accompany here. At this point there seemed to be a change in their tune and now she would be fine to carry on for a bit more - the next camp site was an hour away. Remarkably, having been unable to walk a few minutes ago she was now fine to cope with the next tricky hour to the campsite.

Our Indonesian guide was really apologetic about the various antics and was saying that this was probably the worst group he had had but there wasn't really much that could be done. The trip has a couple of contingency days that have never been used and it turns out that all the flights out are flexible so the delay is not really an issue for us and it is far more important to make sure that she is safe just in case she is not exaggerating her condition.

In any case, poor Gus has been losing his ongoing battle with the spicy tuna we had for breakfast so a shorter day is better for him as well.
We are now getting our first views of the mountain range we are heading for which helps lift spirits.

Quite remarkably the sun has shone for most of the day and continues a while longer so we manage to dry some gear but soon enough it arrives and we retreat to our tents.
Supper arrives and it is an ominous one. I have been discussing the diet in Nepal and it turns out that spam is a big part of it - spam is formed, processed meat and is pretty poor to eat. It was going to be interesting to see if the good cooks here could turn it into something appetising, but unfortunately this seems beyond even then. I will be on Everest for 2.5 months next year and so will be picking the only meat we will have out of my dinner on a regular basis - will have to remember to take some dried meat with me! My plan was to only have one helping tonight but somehow I end up having another and then a third when some very good spicy pork is brought out - there is some spam in this and even that does not taste good!

Spicy tuna with potatoes and eggs
Fried spam, spicy vegetables and then spicy pork and spam.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Day 7 - Trekking Day 4 (3,600 mtrs)

We woke up to a beautiful blue sky and wondered on the possibility of a day of good weather. Obviously this was not to be the case and the clouds soon duly arrived during another hard day's slog through the mud and dense foliage of the rain forest. We managed to avoid an early porters revolt by having lunch in a different location to them and then speeding past them when they were having their lunch which I think was quite a surprise to them. However a couple of hours later it started raining really hard which set them off again. To be fair, walking in a downpour is not too much fun for anyone and it gets really slippery and quite dangerous here so we are not too upset this time. It takes quite a bit of time to find anywhere that we can pitch our tents since there is a good few inches of groundwater everywhere. The rest of the day (as usual) is spent sheltering from the rain and then an early supper and early to bed.

Now dear reader, after three days of trekking I would like to give you an idea of what we are going through. About half the time is spent walking in almost knee deep mud which is tough going and pretty slippery and pretty much all of our gear is now filthy. At other times we are clambering round, through or under trees which is not easy with a pack on. The rest of the time seems to be walking on top of wet, slippery and rotten logs with drops on both sides, sometimes over the large river with some severe rapids - not the best when you have vertigo.
This afternoon we came out of the rainforest so the issues with trees and rivers have almost gone, however we are now walking pretty much continually through deep mud - that saps the morale as much as the strength. This is a very different challenge to big mountains!

Our porters are ideally built for this - short (so easy to navigate the trees and with a low centre of gravity) and with very large feet which both gives them grip and buoyancy in the mud.
We are not - being tall with narrow feet - and it is quite a struggle to cope with both the terrain and the constant cloud and rain. My other concern are my knees which still seem to be troubled following my fall right at the beginning.  Going downhill seems to be a lot worse than uphill and slippery footing doesn't help. I will have to see how they go but the journey back out does not look good at the moment.

Potato, egg and tuna fry up (actually a lot better than it sounds)
Sardines in spicy sauce (last night's substantial stew seems to have used up the last of the fresh meat)

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Day 6 - Trekking day 3 (2,600mtrs)

We have a quick breakfast and pack up and then get going to catch up on the hours missed yesterday. The weather as seems to be normal is pretty good in the morning with the strong sun coming through the trees and making it pretty steamy. Again there is plenty of fun with steep slippery slopes and river crossings.

We get to the planned campsite after 1.5 hours so things seem to be going pretty well. We have lunch at another campsite at 11:40 - as usual lunch is not my favourite meal on these trips. Here we have biscuits and chocolate bars which I am not really in the mood for.
As we are getting ready to leave, there seems to be some excited chatter amongst the locals and our guides get drawn in. It turns out that we have porters from both the local tribes and one of the tribes isn't happy about the performance of one of the older porters in the other one or as they claim they are concerned about his safety and think that he should be sent back. Obviously the other tribe vehemently disagree - no doubt they would be unable to agree and lose face even if they did privately agree - and a long 'discussion' ensues with plenty of finger pointing.
This seems a little odd to me especially as we happen to be at a campsite and my gut feeling is that this is just a delaying tactic and that soon they will say that it is now too late to carry on.
It is not clear what resolution is reached on this as it appears that the conversation shifts a bit and our guide seems to be having a few stern words of his own. It turns out that the shift in conversation was that it was now too late to continue on for the day as we might not reach camp before dark as i suspected. This was now in a way true as we had spent almost two hours here. Our guide had been saying that this was now twice in two days that this had happened and if it occurred again we would send them all back and carry on ourselves without them. It would be tricky and we would be down to the bare essentials for the rest of the trip but doable.
As I write this, I remember that late on in the various discussions a few of the porters  (who were not really involved in the discussions) were pointing at us and laughing - we w ereassuming that this was some private joke rather than at the idea / threat of us continuing without them!

Anyway, we are forced to stop early again so set up camp. It rains most of the afternoon so we spend it in our tent. Another good supper and early to bed in preparation for another 6am start.

Fried rice with omelette
Assorted biscuits and bars
Chicken stew with spicy vegetables and rice

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Day 5 - Trekking day 2

Did not make it back to sleep unfortunately but this has allowed me to work on my blog for Elbrus which for some reasons iPhone is taking exception to and keeps deleting.
We breakfast at about 06:30 and get various visits from the villagers and other locals who want to see the foreigners eating. Unfortunately this does not include all the new porters who start meandering in from about 08:30 so we don't manage to leave until about 9.
We now have 5 guides and 15 porters and a series of other people who are following us and probably hoping for some money at some point. It is not always easy to work out who is who as we now have a lot of people who aren't carrying very much. Still it starts to feel like a real expedition when you have such a large entourage.

The going remains really tricky. It is very hot and steamy with very steep ascents and descents and everything is slippery.  There are some fun bits in there as well: a bridge has been washed out so we have to build a new one before we can cross the river; there have been quite a few landslides since anyone came this way so on a number of occasions a new path has to be found and some mini bridges built to prevent immediate erosion of the new soil; there are a number of tricky areas where we are using vines, branches and roots to keep us sliding down significant drops.


However, all this fun eats into our speed and soon it becomes clear that we will struggle to make it to camp before dark and any more challenges will mean that we won't. As such we end up halting at 14:30 which is a real shame on what was mean to be a long day as we are now adding to the distance that needs to be covered which is in any case the longest and hardest of the trek to the mountain. We have to stop early as there are very few clearings in the jungle and this is the last one until the planned camp site for the night.

Our campsite

Campsite being used

Some of our porters

More porters and their tent

We spend the afternoon chatting and rehydrating and trying to dry out our wet gear for tomorrow - which is pretty difficult given the amount of moisture in the air.

We have another good dinner and then bed at about 7. Having not slept much for some time I sleep through to 06:30 am without too much trouble.

Pancake and peanut butter and pineapple jam sandwiches
Various biscuits and bars
Spicy chicken, beans and rice 

Monday, 5 August 2013

Day 4 - Transfer to Sugapa and start to trek into the jungle

Up early to get the morning flight further into the jungle. The flight could leave at any time from 6am so it is the usual case of 'hurry up and wait'. The determining factor is the weather - we are flying in a 12 seater with no radar etc so the pilots am only fly when they can see for both take-off and landing - given the jungle / rainforest is prone to mist and cloud such windows are small and don't last long. The airport is the usual ramshackle buildings full of arguing locals with us foreigners very obviously getting preferential treatment. Luckily today the weather is not that bad so we take off at 7am.

The flight is thankfully very smooth but we can't see a great deal to begin with given the amount of cloud but this is lifting towards the end.

 All of a sudden we start to dip towards the crest of a mountain - without a runway in sight there is a bit of concern in the plane but the pilots seem perfectly happy. Then as we approach the crest a runway appears just the other side of it. This is not that much less alarming as the runway appears to be really rather short with a large drop at the end of it. Thankfully the plane has pretty decent breaks and with only a bit of screeching and bumping we come to a safe stop - having successfully avoided the warthogs that seem to live there!

The airstrip is on the very edge of the town and you would never guess that 100,000 people live nearby. This seems to be the poor end and there is the usual group of people looking for portering work as well as a lot of kids just hanging around - even more so when people realise that foreigners are on the plane!


Our guides head off to organise the porters whilst we wait in the airport building. The chap running it is from the main island Java and so is pretty different in both appearance and outlook to the Polynesian locals. He is very unimpressed by their work ethic or, to be more accurate, absence of one. Although he seems pretty happy and smiley I don't get the impression he is too happy here - a bit of a worry (for him) since he is three years into a five year rotation. 

It is pretty tough to work out if anything is actually happening but each time we ask the guides, they seem to think that progress is being made although the locals still seem to be pottering about, chatting, smoking and chewing and spitting their betel.

After about 3 hours we head off on the back of motorcycles - something I am really not looking forward to. We are carrying our packs and presumably are quite a bit larger than most if not all passengers they have had before. In addition the road has steep ups and downs and is in very poor condition. I also end up with the boy racer who overtakes the others on blind corners and goes far too fast into every corner meaning that we usually end up on the slippery gravel on the outside of the bend. After about half an hour we get to the end of the road and my forearms and stomach muscles are exhausted from gripping so tightly.

Our couriers

Over the next 10 to 15 minutes, the rest our entourage turns up. In addition to 5 guides ( UK, Indonesian, local Indonesian and one from each of the two local tribes (Moni and Dani)) numerous porters, cooks and some kids who just seem to be following us, we also have one policeman, two soldiers with machine guns and another armed security man. There also happens to be a couple hanging around who have a warthog with them; perhaps they are with us and bringing along the celebration supper for summit day?

Our growing retinue

After a while and some more negotiating, we start to walk. Not further along the track but off the side down a steep and slippery slope. This is the first time I have walked in anger in my new wellies and unfortunately I don't seem to have gauged the grip well as I manage to slip and fall twice in the first couple of minutes. Nothing too serious I hope but I seem to have jarred my knees and have a couple of angry looking cuts that will need watching over the next few days as it is easy in jungles for them to get infected. Things smoothen out after that, both on terms of the terrain and my experience with the boots.

We are trekking at about 2,000m and even though we are only 4o from the equator it is not that warm out of the sun. The sun is very strong so sunburn remains a risk - I am trying the P20 all day sun tan lotion to get round my usual reluctance / omission to apply it; will be interesting to see how it works.

While the Indonesians seem to be very keen to help and get genuine pleasure from it (pretty much all the people we have met or come across so far have been wonderful which has really contributed to our enjoyment of the country) there is apparently a very different attitude on this island where the people just want money but don't really want to do anything for it. We start to see this in that there are some ongoing issues with the porters but also the locals have set up road blocks every now and then and we have to pay them to get past - only in a very few cases (and none that we have seen as yet) can it be claimed that they carry out any maintenance that would justify it.

After about an hour and a half we go past some school buildings that look relatively new and pretty unused. No one knows who built them and the contents have all been taken by the locals to use as firewood - it probably won't be long before the buildings themselves are taken apart.

This is a real shame as there is real poverty here with many living on a subsistence basis and there seems little understanding of the need to educate the children for them to have a 'better' life. One of the local guides tells me that people just don't really care about their children.
Whatever it is, the lifestyle for many can't have changed for thousands or years. They live in rags and some still were just a loin cloth (or the local version of one) live in wooden huts which they share with their dogs, pigs and chicken. Their diet is pretty much sweet potato as it is apparently very filling - it is not clear what happens to the pigs and chickens.
Having said all the above, most people who we have come across seem pretty happy which is not something that can be said of nations in the West.

We get to our camp for the night which is a village called Suanggana - in fact this is simply an area of land where there are about 8 huts, one of which we stay in for the night.

The rather smoke stained roof!

Despite saying and knowing that a nap won't be conducive to a good nights sleep, it is not long before we have all fallen asleep waking up at about 5 when a group of local children have come up to the entrance and are laughing at the strange white people. Shortly after that we have tea and then a remarkably good supper - very welcome as we skipped lunch.
The sun starts to go down at about 6 / 6:30 and so there is a bit of chat and then back to the hut for reading / blogging etc and then an early night in preparation for an early morning - as is usual on camping trips.
Unfortunately, the early night doesn't really translate into a good nights sleep. We all seem to wake up about six hours later and then struggle to get back to sleep. Part of the problem is that the hut has a significant rat problem and they are fighting with each other and some of the other animals living beneath the hut and in the thrashed roof. This culminates when one of the rats fall from the roof and manages to land on a pack of biscuits! This wakes us all fully at about 01:30 and from then on there is continual noise from them as well as the occasional foray onto the floor of the hut where we are sleeping


Spicy chicken with green beans and rice