We had agreed to get up around 5am. Although there is some stirring around that time, the chilly air is a disincentive. There is still a glow in the fire but little warmth coming from it. As the fire ebbs during the night, my snugness also reduces so in the latter hours my sleep is broken. Even in the tropics, when you are at 3,400m (11,200ft) it can be cold. It does occasionally snow up here. It is time to climb Mount Giluwe.
We manage to be up and eating watery porridge by 6am. The youngsters are going no further. They are instructed to tidy up the hut and take the spare gear and food back across the valley to our outward route where they will meet us. Gedion, his brother and I are on our way by 6.30am.
And what a morning it is. I am so lucky. As I mention in a previous blog, the Papua New Guinea dry season just means that it is slightly less wet than the wet season. The day before has seen clouds swirling around the plateau and the summits with occasional patches of rain. Today there is not a cloud in the sky.
In the shadow my breath condenses in the air. An almost full moon is in the sky ahead. To start the way is hard working our way up the slopes of long rough grass. But we gradually trend left and re-cross the stream we had crossed the day before. Now two steps take us across. On the other side a faint trail appears.
Up to the right is the summit, seen in this zoomed shot.
To the left the sun spills over the subsidiary summit, sunbeams piercing the way ahead.
After the initial steep slopes we enter a shallow bowl.
Ahead is a grassy headwall topped by a ridge that links the main summit with the subsidiary summit. We follow a solid path that slants up to the right to meet the ridge near its low point.
Here is the view of the way ahead.
Although it looks straightforward, the steepness is significant as shown in this shot.
Indeed previous visitors (Russians I believe) had deemed it necessary to bolt the route.
Today it is a grassy scramble with the occasional tiptoe on narrow grassy ledges around the rocky outcrops. At times the exposure is quite great. If the grass had been wet, there would have been a constant danger of a slip, likely to be quite serious. On the lower slopes, Gedion’s brother decides he is too tired to continue. So we leave him with our bags. I just take my camera and a water bottle. The scramble at times requires grabbing on to grasses where there is no rock to do so. I have to be careful to hold live specimens. The dead ones come away in my hand.
A final grassy gulley is met and there above us is a pole that marks the summit.
Gedion insists I lead this section. We are at the top at 8.45am, just over two hours after setting off from the hut. I shake Gedion’s hand. There is a chill breeze on the top that I notice for the first time, the effort of the climb and the shelter provide by the summit block having masked it. The views, of course, are stunning.
Here is the valley in which our hut is situated with the plateau we crossed behind.
Here is a short ridge off.
And here is the subsidiary summit with the linking ridge. The slanting path I mention above passes below the rocky knoll to the left of the ridge.
View to the north
Gedion on top
Me on top
Another view north
Close up of the jaggedy subsidiary summit.
Zoom to Mount Wilhelm which is PNG’s highest mountain – seen over one of the pinnacles of the subsidiary summit.
View across the plateau.
After 25 minutes on top it is time to leave. I have still not made the decision whether to spend another night on the mountain or to try and make it back to the village. Here are some shots taken on the initial descent. We pick up Gedion’s brother and our bags on our way.
Back to the summit.
Looking down from the ridge – the woodland with the hut is the small one in the middle.
Guides pointing the way! In fact we go down into the valley which is behind them and then up onto what looks like a ridge line which is also behind them just above their heads.
At this point I was feeling quite chuffed. And during this part of the walk out I notice lots of flowers that I had missed on the climb that morning. Here is a selection.
And here is the path that we are following
We descend down into the valley and find the kids who had brought the gear from the hut. Here are yet more flowers/plants and Gedion posing in front of the summit block.
We stop for some refreshments. Gedion’s brother says he has a headache so I fetch some paracetamol out of my bag and gave him one. I take my sleeping bag and a few spare clothes from the boys and pack them in my bag. Then I offer them a treat as a reward for bringing the gear – some jelly babies. I ask Gedion’s permission first. The boys look suspiciously at them at first. But the moment they are popped into their mouths smiles appeared on their faces. The adults now want a try so another couple of rounds are distributed and my supply is severely depleted.
We now have the small matter of 300m (1,000ft) of climbing back up on to the plateau. It is now quite warm and the climb is energy sapping. Our little group spreads out – though in the case of Gedion and his brother it is as a result of a further cigarette break. Here we are about ¾ of the way up having just re-crossed the squelchy level section half way up. [I have marked the approximate route of our ascent/descent so far as it is visible in this photo. You may need to click on the image to see the red line.]
The boys struggle up this part. But we are back on the plateau at 12.30pm. Soon after we stop for some lunch. Using the machete, Gedion’s brother chops up a pineapple and hands big chunks around. It is absolutely delicious. He also cooks a huge pile of rice and mixes in more corned beef and vegetables. I am too hot and dehydrated to eat much of it. The dehydration is odd because I have already consumed 2 litres of water. I should have had more I guess. But we do finish the jelly babies.
From our lunch spot we can look back at where I have been. Note the build-up of clouds. [Again, in the next picture I have marked the approximate route and it also shows where the hut is.]
We seem to make good progress across the plateau. 45 minutes after leaving our lunch spot we pass this nice tarn. We will drop off the plateau near the large plug to the right.
A few minutes beyond the tarn I am shown some more caves.
It would be feasible to use these as a launch point for the summit but it would be a fair way and one would probably have to return here after the attempt rather than get off the mountain. But this might be a poor weather option. Here is the view back to the twin summits 20 minutes beyond the caves.
And yet a further 20 minutes on past the annoying dip in the ridge we are almost at the plug that marks the descent off the plateau.
It then takes a further 2¼ hours to reach the edge of the forest. It is 4.15pm.
During that time I have been debating off and on with Gedion whether to try to make it back to the village. He leaves the decision to me.
I make the mistake of thinking that descending through the forest will be easier than ascending. This is not the case for two reasons. First, it simply is not. The obstacle course that is jungle walking does not make this possible. Secondly after 45 minutes it goes dark. Now it is normally quite dark in a rain forest, but the sun sets at around 6pm and by 5pm it was disappearing behind other high ground.
As dusk draws in the noises of the jungle starts. The most disconcerting is the screeching. It is loud. It is blood curdling, spine chilling. I am told that the noise is made by a type of bird. It could be a swarm of ghouls as far as I know, or Dementors. In the fading light I slip on mud and roots, ascend and tiptoe along rough fallen tree trunks, am snared by creepers and trip on hidden rocks. The boys disappear ahead, not to be seen again, at least not until the village. In my tiredness I feel this all taking so long.
When it finally goes dark I lend a spare head torch to Gideon and keep hold of another one. The yellow halo captures some of the traps in its ring of light. At one point I am told it is another hour to the village. Surely that is not right? We must be closer than that? But the obstacle course continues.
Perhaps it would have been best to stay another night on the mountain, perhaps in the caves. That would have been fun, at least more fun than this purgatorial descent. And then, and then…. the insects. I am still wearing my hat, though I am sweaty. It is as well that I do. I end up with a ring of red dots across my forehead where the beasts have crawled off the hat and sunk their teeth into the first bit of skin they find. Without the hat my whole scalp would probably have been attacked! I do wise up to this and there is carnage on my brow. But often it is difficult to fight a battle with the beasts on the one hand and keep one’s balance on the other.
This goes on and on. I try to remember the few landmarks from the ascent, but I see none. Are they taking me back a different way I wonder? No, relief, the trees suddenly thin and we are into the scrubland and then the grassland. And then the village!
Although I have exercised my option to require being taken back to the Magic Mountain Nature Lodge, it will be a while before my transport arrives. So I am invited into his home by Gedion. I am amazed to see that it had taken just two hours to make my way down through the jungle. It certainly felt a lot longer than that. I feel a bit churlish at having turned down also an offer to stay the night in the village. But being the softie that I am I am looking forward to a shower and a bed for the night.
The tale of the next two hours is told in my first blog on Papua New Guinea. But I spent a happy time with the family. Here I am with Grace, Yarex and Rendy, face flushed by the tropical sun and the heat within the hut.
Here’s another picture of the happy family.
Eventually the car arrives. I say my goodbyes. The whole family is there. It is strangely emotional, as much for them as for me. Racheal gives me a hand woven bag to take home for Kirsty. I slip Gedion a tip – not a huge amount in my terms but possibly equal to 5% of his annual income. Hopefully it will enable them to buy some chickens.
And I am off into the dark. The car bounces around before we get to the surfaced road in Tambul. Again I have a driver and one other to collect me. They are interested to find out if I managed to reach the summit. They are also interested to hear what I think of their country. We then talk about birds of paradise, the national symbol of PNG. Perhaps, next time, I can be taken to search for them.
We are back to Magic Mountain just before 9pm. Food is offered. I say that a sandwich or similar will do. There is time first to change and have a shower. I shower away the flies first.
I then go up to the dining room. The Turks have gone. Other guests are here though they have all retired to their lodges. A sumptuous meal is served – not sandwiches but meat cutlets and veggies galore. I actually make a good attempt at it and feel rather bloated at the end. I go back to my lodge and sleep well.
What a few days!
As I am down off Mt Giluwe a day early I spend most of the day wandering around the gardens of Magic Mountain and sitting on the porch of my lodge reading. It is most relaxing. At breakfast I chat with an American couple who have arrived for the Mount Hagen Festival. I know I am to be turfed out of my room mid-afternoon and taken to a hotel in Mount Hagen. This duly happens and I stay at the Airport Resort Hotel – just a few hundred metres from the entrance to the airport. It is basic but fine. The grounds are surrounded by high walls with barbed wire. The entrance gate is 5 metres high and the entrance is guarded from a watch tower. Welcome to PNG!
I am eating my breakfast the following morning and Pym arrives to say goodbye to me. That is a nice touch. I am then on my way. The flights to Port Moresby and then on to Cairns are on time. Julie is there in Cairns to pick me up, though not before I have had some fun with Australian customs. But that is another story.
Mount Giluwe receives about 20 ascents a year at most. Very few Britons climb it, at least at the moment. British outfits such as Adventure Peaks and Jagged Globe are now offering trips there in tandem with a climb up Mount Wilhelm. There is a difficult balance to be struck here. Clearly the tourist dollar or pound or rouble (most visitors to Giluwe are from Russia (or former Soviet states) at the moment I was told) will be welcome to the PNG economy and, particularly, to families such as Gedion’s.
But if each group taken up by Gedion or other villagers produces a fire in the hut such as that I experienced, the slopes of Giluwe will soon be denuded of woodland. It is a fairly pristine environment up there. I saw one piece of rubbish (a discarded cereal bar wrapper as I recall) the whole time I was on the plateau. I hope that the impact of greater numbers of visitors will be well managed.