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The following morning after our summit of Carstensz Pyramid, it was reported to Raymond that the weather in Timika was bad and there would be no helicopter that day.
I had woken with my face noticeably swollen and my left side, in my kidney area, painful to the slightest touch. I was desperate to leave the mountain.
But I accepted that tomorrow we would hopefully be leaving. I could manage for another day I told myself.
I texted Steve to let him know, as well as my family. However, when he responded that he read that a group took 6 days to get off the mountain, I silently started to panic. I was worried about my health and started to feel trapped. “What if I had to wait for a week?” “What if I started to get very ill?” I felt powerless and I didn’t know what to do. There was nothing I could do but wait.
Meanwhile, we had decided to move from our basecamp to the other basecamp (Yellow Valley), so we would a) be with Philippe, our other teammate and b) we would be on site when the helicopter came. Also, it would be less challenging for the pilot to only have to make one stop. The pilot was new, as the 3-month switch over had just occurred. Raymond wanted to spare us his worries, but we later found out first hand how inexperienced the new pilot was.
The following day, the weather in Timika was reportedly good, however, we waited for 3 hours for the clouds to clear in Carstensz. They did not. All helicopter rides were cancelled at 9:30 am and I was crushed. We had summited two days ago and we were still waiting. I turned on my InReach GSP and sent a quick text to Steve and my family: “Weather bad. No helicopter. I am OK. Turning GSP off. Little battery. Love you.” I turn the InReach off because we couldn’t recharge our devices since we hadn’t had enough sun to charge them. I felt stranded.
Emmanuel had started monitoring my water intake the day before and had me on antibiotics, but my hands were very swollen, my face was swollen, and my left kidney was screaming in pain. He had borrowed the satellite phone from our local guides and had called a Toronto hospital and asked for additional advice on how to treat me. I felt like a nuisance, alone and sick. I tried not to cry but I did. I am the only female in the entire camp and I am crying – for some reason crying made me feel even worse.
However, my teammates don’t judge me, actually, they were all very attentive and even taught me how to play poker and presidents. We played many card games to pass the time since we were essentially trapped. We also listened to music and were surprised that Philippe had an amazing music collection on his phone!
As I lay in the general tent the second day, inside my sleeping bag, the guys relaxed by taking turns playing various card games. Suddenly, we heard a commotion outside. But it’s nothing of consequence. Fifteen volunteers from Freeport Mine have arrived at basecamp to clean up the garbage. They secured the bags together and afterward the helicopter, from the mine, would do a flyby and pick up the bags. It’s a volunteer group of workers. Heavy sigh. I silently wished they had come to rescue me.
Emmanuel went outside to talk to them. Unknowingly to me at that point, it seemed that morning I looked really bad – perhaps as bad as I felt, and my teammates were worried. I should have figured it out when Emmanuel called Toronto from the base camp. He also had moved me from my private tent into the main group tent, where he, Adam and JP had slept the previous night. Manu had said it was easier to keep an eye on me there. So, JP took my tent and I took JP’s spot. I was grateful to be monitored.
He spoke with the leader of the volunteer group and explained he had a Canadian client who was very ill. Together they determined that if our helicopter did not come the next day, I would activate my SOS button on my InReach GPS device, which then, in turn, would be picked up in Jakarta, and then sent to Freeport Mine. I would be picked up by mine emergency personnel, taken to the mines medical facility and accessed by their medical team. I would then be transferred to Timika, depending on my situation, either by air or car. Well, I am thank-full for my Canadian passport and also for Manu’s ex-girlfriend! Some name dropping to the pit mine leader helped immensely!
Freeport Mine operates the Grasberg Mine in Papua, near Puncak Jaya, Carstensz Pyramid. Freeport Mine employs 30,000 local Indonesians. It is the largest gold mine and the second largest copper mine in the world. Thus, their resources for dealing with medical emergencies was well established. For that, I was pleased!
At the end of the day Juan brings us our dinner, but it is very little. Juan apologizes, and we tell him not to worry. Juan sounds and seems sick. When we ask him if he is okay, he smiles and assures us that he his, but one look at him and we all could see he was ill. O dear, not another one…The small amount of food doesn’t bother us; no one feels like eating anyway. We just want to get out of the mountain. Fortunately, we didn’t know, but we had run out of food as well.
That evening, Raymond came into our common tent and said that Denny had messaged him to say the next day’s weather forecast looked good in Timika and hopefully the mountain would be clear as well. Flight time down the mountain is 30 minutes.
Denny had given instructions that the first 3 off the mountain would be me, JP and Philippe. The second team to come off the mountain would be Adam, Manu and Hata. Then followed by Raymond and Juan on another flight.
As Raymond spoke those words, I saw Adams’ heart drop. He was as desperate as I was to get out of basecamp. The only difference between us was that I was puffed up like a balloon! Plus I had signs of severe edema in my lower legs and feet, hands and face.
Manu hesitated and then told Raymond that he might need to change the plan, depending on my condition, as he or Adam would need to go with me to a private hospital. He was adamant that he would not leave any client behind, so it would have to be Adam. That had been the original plan.
Then it was Philippe’s turn to worry. Adam jokingly commented to Emmanuel, how easy it was to get him off the flight. Manu answered firmly, “Well, I can’t play favoritism”.
I realized then how hard the past few days had been for him. He is Adam’s good friend and a fellow paramedic but now was his guide. He is my friend and fellow board member, but now my guide and I was his sick client.
Emmanuel asked for Raymond’s reassurance regarding the next day’s weather, and as Raymond got up from his seat, as he was exiting the tent, said, “Well Eman, you better pray to God the weather is good tomorrow, and pray hard!”
I woke up in the middle of the night to use the washroom. Outside the sky above is clear and the stars are bright. I knew this meant nothing, as in the morning clouds could move in quickly. I had been begging Jesus to provide help; to bring the helicopter. And not just begging- crying, pleading, praying, over and over. I simply wanted to close my eyes and hear my husband’s voice. I wanted to be home with him and my family more deeply than I can ever remember. Please, Lord …
As I lay down again, Emmanuel stirs from his sleeping bag and asks me how the weather looked outside. I told him it was clear and he replied, “Good, I had been wanting to check, but I was just too afraid”.
As morning approaches I can’t stop myself from pleading more and begging Jesus in my head. “Please”, “please”, “please” I repeated the word like a mantra.
Then it becomes official that the helicopter will take off from Timika, with 3 passengers from Alpine Accents that had been waiting to come up to base-camp to climb. And myself, JP and Philippe would go back down. Raymond said the helicopter would arrive in 20 minutes. We packed up in 5. The sense of relief was overwhelming. At last, I was going home.
The helicopter arrived at about 6:30 am. We were ready to go, more than ready! As the helicopter landed, three guys, who dressed and looked like they all belonged in a GQ magazine, came out and immediately turned their gaze up to Carstensz. As soon as I got over the fact that they looked like models, it occurred to me that they were in shorts and t-shirts, and it was at least minus 10 at base-camp! They were in for a rude awakening! I was wearing three layers of clothing and my Gortex jacket over them. I had slept with long johns and two layers of clothing and two hot water bottles. I shook my head. I noticed an expensive camera around one of the guy’s necks and his gaze transfixed on the beautiful Carstensz Pyramid. Suddenly it occurred to me, yes, it was indeed a beautiful mountain. But now I was desperate to get away from it as quickly as possible.
I was delighted and relieved to finally be sitting in the helicopter. Then I realized that our pilot was very nervous. It was the co-pilot that gave instructions to the pilot on speed, how to turn around, so I assumed he was an instructor. Philippe had commented that the pilot that brought him and Hata up, was nervous and was constantly asking for oxygen. We had the same pilot. Philippe was right. This new pilot was visibly anxious. For some reason, I didn’t care. I was going home.
The view during the ride was amazing. We got to see the mountains and the Freeport Mine. The sky was blue and we were surrounded by soft white clouds.
Yes, the Chinese guys, back at the airport 11 days ago had been right. Why trek, when you can fly?! But I must say, the waiting game for the helicopter and dependence on the ever-changing weather, can be more maddening and demoralizing then trekking in deep mud. At least trekking you are doing something, moving and feel somewhat in control!
Sitting in basecamp, cold, hungry, and very ill, after a successful summit can crush you. It crushed me … and my spirit. I felt vacuum empty of hope.
This particular pilot did not like flying… and he couldn’t drive much better. For unknown reasons when we landed in Timika, the pilot decided to chauffeur us to the terminal and made the car driver walk across the tarmac. The pilot was wasting time. So much, that he was only able to do one more trip and drop off 3 more climbers, and pick up Emmanuel, Adam, and Hata. By the time they returned to Timika, the weather in Carstensz had turned and no more flights were attempted.
Climbers waiting to go up remained in Timika and those waiting to come down, remained in Carstensz, stranded. I worried about Juan and Raymond.
Denny booked a flight for the five of us the same afternoon (1:00 pm) to return to Denpasar, Bali.
We arrived in Bali, on October 15th,2017 around 6:00 pm and checked again into the Ramada, our groups’ hotel and had a celebratory dinner. It all felt surreal.
I left Bali on October 16th, 2017, on KLM, at 8:40 pm local time, headed for home, anxious to see my family and be in my own bed, next to my husband.
As I sat on the plane headed for home, my feet were pounding. I feel the pressure in my legs. I can actually feel the swelling. My hands are no longer swollen or my face, but my legs are. I need to figure this out, and see if this is due to altitude because Kilimanjaro is higher…
But, I will be with Steve, and no matter what happens, he will be with me – help me figure things out or just be there to hold me in his arms. And after that, only five more mountains to go!