Carstensz Pyramid, Australasia  •  October 2007

Nicki's Updates from Carstensz Pyramid

October 11, 2007  •  Back Through the Mines

Well Holy Toledo!

After another epic night going thru the Freeport Mine, driving an hour in underground tunnels and being shuffled onto the hummer bus with lots of military police guys now with us, then into a police riot truck and whisked to a dingy hotel room, I got to lay in a bed and go to sleep. Dinner consisted of a one piece of KFC chicken which I savored and a diet Coke.

I'm so sore. Every muscle and every cell in my body is sore from my summit climb, and hiking out was a chore for me. But, I'm back in civilization in Timika and alive. Forgot to mention that Nova was telling us one night in the cook tent by candlelight how the Asmat tribe here still practices cannibalism. They sacrifice a tribal member every once in awhile to continue their tradition! More stories later... and as I was waiting for the jeep to pick us up at the mine I looked down on the ground, where they are newly mining... and found some gold rocks? nuggets? and put them in my pack.

I'm waiting for a room... I want a shower!!! badly!

This trip is definitely NOT for the faint of heart!!!

—Nicki Branch

October 10, 2007  •  Safe in BC After a Difficult Summit

Nicki called to say that they summited yestday at 10:30am under "extremely bad conditions" after it had snowed on the mountain the night before. She says the climb was a very scary 16-hour day with a Tyrolean Traverse across a big gap. They are now safe in basecamp.

October 7, 2007  •  Through the Mines and at BC

Nicki reports their second attempt to navigate the mines succeeded. Everyone made it through and spent the night at the Zebra Wall camp. They then had a rainy hike to the Third Lake camp, and yet another soggy hike to basecamp where they'll spend a couple nights to acclimate before trying for the summit on the 10th (they are 16 hours ahead of Pacific Time.)

Basecamp is at over 13,000', so everyone is feeling the fast altitude gain. Nicki says the South African team they went through the mines with are going for the summit the very next day, but that she is happy to have a little time to adjust to the altitude and play it safer.

October 6, 2007  •  Now This, People, is Adventure Travel

Ohhhhhhh, where do I begin? the last 24 hrs have been ten times more treacherous than the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ride at Disneyland... but, very similar to the actual ride!

Yesterday, we left here at 5pm in two mini vans from the hotel. Then our ever loving indonesian guides and cohorts drove us around the town of Timika for um, two hours. We kept passing by the same landmarks and parts of town, and they even pulled over next to a river for a "pee break", like me and Mandy, the other woman who is on the South African team is going to go in front of the guys in full daylight in town!

More waiting... our South Africans got restless so they started throwing rocks at a street sign for fun (they do that in Africa), well that scared our drivers enough to say enough, lets go! So we all piled back into the two vans and headed somewhere in town...along the way, our driver gets a phone call, and then two more mini vans join our secret caravan thru town! It was Franky and two more clients, the Chileans, and Toni our other indonesian guide. We are now four vehicles moving faster thru town.

We finally stop and get off and theres a police/military bus and armed military police and guys running around moving bags from the vans to the huge mine hummer type bus! The police have semiautomatic weapons (S-1's I think!) and are moving everywhere in and out of the bus as we get on. It's dark, completely, and some of us are in headlamps. We are at some military police outpost. I find a seat on the bus and call out for Scott to make sure he's there. He gets on later and sits in front of me on a bench seat. Then, three police get on, and one sits right next to me. They told us to close all the windows and not sit by the window, so I put my pack in the seat by the window and have to sit in the middle seat. Scott tells me not to be scared. The indonesian military police guy next to me has his butt of his machine gun digging into my hip and we take off. I cannot go anywhere.

Nova tells us we will go thru two checkpoints, and we have to duck down when we do and stay away from the windows. Dear lord. It's dark and the hummer bus starts going towards the mine. I can't believe this is happening. There's a huge window in front of the bus section and then a cap in front with the two drivers in that. The windows are all fogged up from the rain outside and its somewhat humid in the bus, so you really can't see out much. It does feel like I'm on a ride at a theme park as we bounce along the road and head up to the mine. We drive for a long time and at the checkpoint, my police guy next to me jumps up and stands official in the aiselway of the bus. There's another guy up front and one in the back of the bus too. We stop at the checkpoint, and I hold my breath, hoping nothing goes wrong. We get through. I'm trying to look out the windows to see parts of the mine. There's lots of vehicles that pass us, mining vehicles, huge monstrous things with flashing lights and equipment everywhere.

We go through a second checkpoint. It's dark, mysterious, and I have no idea what will happen and am just amazed what IS happening! The butt of the machine gun is still diggin in my hip, and the young man holding it is pretty serious. He points out to me Hidden Valley, which looks like a little city in the mine, housing I guess for the workers. This being the biggest mine in the world, takes hours to drive through it. We finally stop and get out of the bus and now are in the military outpost in the mine! There are military police everywhere, and they shuffle us into a small room where we are to wait. It's now close to midnight. They post a guard near the door of our wooden bare room that has two bare cots in it. We stand against the wall. The rest of the team are cracking jokes, and of course how our american guides were promised the helicopter ride into Carstensz, instead of going thru the mine.

We wait for at least 30 minutes and are taking pictures of each other in the box room with the guard at the door. They let us go to the bathroom. I'm somewhat comforted by the fact most of the military police are in on our caper. I believe they will at least protect us should something go wrong. We then pile in to three smaller vehicles for the mine. As we get in we have to put on orange vests, like we ARE miners. The seating is in the back of these jeeps and very umcomfortable. Our baggage is in there as well and I climb in next to Lance and have Vaughn and Jason on the other side. Our legs are scrunched in the middle, then Steven, another Indonesian guide climbs in next to me when there was no room! We take off thru the mine and now it's gone to a bumpy water filled road and we pass many vehicles. We see the huge rock carrying trucks that have the tires larger than a building! Our little jeep has a tall flag on an antenna so those big trucks SEE IT and dont run right over it!

Now, we go into tunnels and are underground still going thru the mine! The opening is narrower and there are many turns. It's like a maze and we are turning everywhere. Our driver pulls a cord as he comes thru some sections and that's to tell someone NOT to come thru as there's only room for one vehicle. I try not to think of the fact we are underground, but as I look out the window it's very evident, cobwebs, cables everywhere! We drive for AN HOUR thru here. Our legs cramp, backs get twisted, we are buffeted around in the back of the vehicle and groan in between comments about how bizarre our guides and how big this caper is. At one point our driver, who speaks NO english, says, "SHIT!" We all perk up... this can't be good. He's backing up and mine vehicles are comeing towards us, etc. We think he missed a turn. He gets going the right way and we continue thru the night, bouncing along in underground tunnels in the mine.

We hear our driver again say, "shit!" and he stops. He then gets on the phone. Somethings going on. He drives us to an area now not underground, but above ground in this huge pit mine. We are at about 9000 feet and I can feel the altitude in my head. We hear sirens, mine sirens! There has been an accident and it happened just ahead of us. A mine accident with sirens, not a good thing right now as we are trying to sneak through! They drive us to another area with huge scrap metal and gigantor tires and we park behind them, hiding. All three vehicle drivers get out and discuss as we sit and wait in the jeeps. After 20mins or so, they tell us there was an accident with 75 cars. Not sure what he meant by that, but Scott said he saw one of the huge rock carrying trucks, the ones bigger than buildings, was sideways on the road and one of the wheels was BENT in two! So I think it fell or slid down a hill. We cannot pass the accident as they have to investigate and clear it up. They tell us we have to go all the way back to the military outpost.

So, we drive back again in bouncing discomfort winding throught the tunnels of the mine for an hour. WE get to the military outpost and are again shuffled into our room. It's now 2:30 in the morning. Nova brings us box dinners..we are starving and we eat rice and an egg, plus rolls of bread that have a fried banana in them and cheese. We are dead tired but the south Africans keep us entertained with their wacky humor. WE dont want to stay in this room and the police dont want us there anyways. So? Nova tells us it will take two days to clean up the accident and we are to go back by bus to the town. We say Sheraton? because we all want to go there instead of where we are at. He says no, another hotel in town. So, we get back in the bus and again, have to go thru the checkpoints and have our police guys on there with us. We are driven through the back roads of town and to a dingy hotel where we pile out extremely tired. It is now 430 in the morning. We are all thinking the same thing..the helicopter would have been nice!!!! They put me in a room with Mandy, the only other woman and we fall asleep in a humid, tiny room with just a sheet for a blanket. We don't care, we are tired!!! It's been an incredible night but now we are worried as to when we can go back through so we can climb the mountain.

We found out we had been 15 minutes from our destination, Zebra Wall, when we came upon the accident in the mine. I hoped nobody was hurt in the accident. We wake up at 11:00 or 12:00 this morning and have coffee. Nova tells us we will go again tonight. I didnt wwant to hang around the dingy hotel so I said lets go to the Sheraton, and that's how I'm writing this email. Tonight, we leave again at 5pm and do the same thing... or so we are told!!!!

Will keep you posted on Freeport Mine Caper Number Two! Cross fingers for me. All we want to do is climb a mountain...

With Much Love Always,
—Nicki Branch in Indonesia

October 4, 2007  •  The Soggy Action Plan... and Geckos

Ok, heres what I know so far — got an update from our guides and Scott tonight!

Tomorrow we have to have our duffle bags ready at 10am for them to drive to where we start hiking. I will have my daypack with raingear and headlamp kept with me. We then leave here at 2:30 pm and drive for 8 hours or so through the mine, lots of stops on the way. We should then get to where we have to hike up to Zebra Wall and up to base camp, where it will probably be pouring rain. We will either hike in the dark or sit in the rain until daylight to hike in for another two hours in the rain. We will also be going from down low to 12,000 feet I found out. I will be popping Advil due to that sudden gain in altitude.

There are geckos on the walls outside here.

Pray for dry weather, though that really doesn't happen here!

—Nicki Branch

October 4, 2007  •  Timika, Papua New Guinea

We visited the island of Ayer where we saw marine iguanas (big ones!) swimming in the water and walking up on the beach. Today we flew from Jakarta, stopped off at Bali briefly, then on to Timika in Papua New Guinea.

We met up with some members of another group that will be traveling with us on the expedition. There are 6 from South Africa, 1 from Iceland and 2 climbers from Chile. Our indonesian guides are Steven, Nova, and Franky. We are settled in at the Timika Sheraton and tomorrow will be leaving at 2:30 pm to drive through the Freeport Mine and towards Zebra Wall. It should be a 5 hour trip by car, then 3 hours of hiking in. It's more humid here than Jakarta and lots of mosquitos and malaria. We should be spending at least 5 days on the mountain with acclimitization. I feel fine and everything is going smoothly so far. Will be calling in via satellite phone after tomorrow since we will be on the mountain. We are prepared to get rained on daily, but I'm still going to pray for sunny skys and dry weather for us!

Out from Timika,
—Nicki Branch

October 1, 2007  •  The Trip Begins in Jakarta

Hello from Jakarta, Indonesia!!!

24 hr flight for me to get here.

I arrived today; Scott arrived yesterday, and we met up at the hotel. We took a quick tour to the MONAS, or monument to Jakarta's independence this afternoon, walking through the city. This city is huge, about 20 million people, and I think half are on motorcycles in the streets. Lots of traffic, so Scott suggested we go to an island offshore tomorrow. We will take a boat to it and get out of the city and spend the night there then come back here before we leave for basecamp near Carstensz Pyramid.

Our local tour operator said the natives are restless where the helicopter lands... so... we might go a different route to get near the mountain. Either we go thru the Freeport Mine, or a different route, it will be up to them, not us, and things are not really in our hands.

I'm feeling well, and all luggage made it here with me, wahoo!!!

Over and out from Jakarta, Indonesia, where the local holiday this week is Ramadahn. It's mainly Muslim religion here.

—Nicki Branch

September 26, 2007  •  Carstensz Pyramid Itinerary

Scott Woolums and Nicki Branch
Duration: 15 DAYS


—Nicki Branch

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