mental health

Climbing Aconcagua in Argentina

Climbing Aconcagua in Argentina

(Part 1 of 2 – Part 2)

After the Air Canada fiasco, and those of you that follow me on Instagram know about the ordeal and the inconvenience caused by Air Canada when they only decided to turn around a flight after 3 and a half hours into the flight, all the way back to Toronto – when we were already over the Bahamas. REALLY?!? Getting myself to Penitentes , Argentina, after more than 24 hours delay was not easy, especially when you have a 10 hour flight and then a connecting flight which I had missed. The next connecting flight would have delayed me yet another day. Such a frustrating start. On February 5th I was finally able to get to Argentina, after driving from Santiago, Chile and crossing the border by car. I felt somewhat flustered, as I had missed gear check scheduled the day before in Mendonza, and of course, I had missed valuable information on the expected climb, schedules, etc.

The Alyen hotel in Penitentes, had a room which was pretty dismal, but maybe it was intentional to get us used to the tent and dirt in Aconcagua. It worked! The green carpet in the room was worn and underneath the radiator, it was down to its last fibres. The bed was only a mattress against the wall on a cheap metal frame. Thin sheets.  In short, it was one of the worst hotels I have ever stayed in.

Penitentes is an old ski resort town, that now is only open for the short season that the Aconcagua National Park is open, and welcomes climbers, or the occasional person that is passing through and needs a room. It doesn’t even have WIFI and from the reviews on Expedia, it has not had WIFI for a long time – even though every guest is simply told that the antenna is broken, as if it just happened.

But the next day, thankfully, on Wednesday, Feb 6th, we make our way to the entrance of the Aconcagua National Park, to climb the normal route of the mountain. We stop at the park ranger’s office and our guides pick up our park permits that cost each of us $610.00US. Was that $61.00US? No, it was $610.00US. Whoa! Then we are required to show our passports as ID, before gaining entrance.

The trek from the beginning of the trail to the Confluência Camp was about 3 hours. Our group gear was being carried by mules, who on this particular day were very slow. I know. I know. Mules are supposed to be slow. But these ones were sedated slow. We only got our duffle bags around 9 pm!

While we waited, we had dinner. Some of us went for a short walk to the top of the hill to see the whole camp, from “above”, and Vern and Carole our guides, taught us how to build a tent “Aconcagua” style. So that our tents would have the best chance to resist the high winds and not blow away. This training would come in very handy!

CONFLÊNCIA CAMP- is at 3,421 metres

The camp has a medical office, staffed with a doctor employed by the park and whom we all have to go see the following day on Thursday, Feb 7th, to get the ‘green light’ to move up the mountain to basecamp the following day, Friday, February 8th. This would be one of two visits with the park’s doctor. The park authorities want to ensure climbers are not experiencing altitude related illness, which cuts down on emergency rescues.

Our tents for this expedition are a 3 person tent, but really only 2 people fit, and in very close quarters. My tent mate is Jenny, a young lady from Chicago in her mid 20’s.

There are only 3 women on the team, and I had been asked the previous day before we left for the trail, whom I preferred to share a tent with. Two male teammates were given to me as my choices; I said no to both. I was utterly surprised this was an option – pair teammates with teammates of the opposite sex!? When I expressed my displeasure, I was assured they would find a solution. They did. Yesterday during our tent building lesson, the guides asked one of the other females if she would mind sharing a tent with one of the other males. She said no. And so the situation was resolved. I still find this presumption uncomfortable and somewhat surprising.

Thursday the 7th, we went for a 7 hour acclimatization hike towards Camp Francia, for a view of the south face of the mountain. The colours of all the rock faces on our way there were spectacular!

First it was hot, and then got very windy and much colder when we reach about 14,000 feet, which is about 4,000 metres.

Friday, Feb 8th, we made our way to Plaza de Las Mulas, Basecamp for the Normal Route. It took us “8 hours plus 1”, as Vern said. For a long period of time we hiked on flat terrain and then slowly we gained altitude. The mules carried our group gear. Slowly …

What can I say about Plaza de Las Mulas? It’s a tent city on a plateau of the mountains. We had to select our campsite and build our tent and that’s ALL that was interesting. 

Alpine Ascents local contractors are Aconcagua Mountain Guides, which is actually a subsidiary of Alpine Ascents. Inca, another outfitter at the camp, is clearly the prominent provider here. Their tents and facilities are at the entrance of the camp. I couldn’t help but notice they are shinier and seem new.

Our campsite was on the opposite end of basecamp, and it had its benefits.  It was closer to the trail to go up the mountain, and after all, that was the goal – to go up the mountain. Plus it was quieter.

It was a long day.  I don’t get cell service even though many people seem to – but I was able to buy WIFI for the days we are here, so I can talk to my husband Steve, my daughters Nicole and Patricia and of course, my grandchildren Ethan and Julia. My family. My lifeline.

Feb 9th, we tried our crampons on, and went for a short exercise wearing them on some dirty snow. Afterwards, we went for a short 90 minute hike, over lots of rock, to ice sticking out of the mountain like icicles, which are called penitents.  It was pretty cool.  But also, I never realized that so much dirt can be on top of an actual glacier – the primary reason why it’s so dusty and a little disgusting here.

This outing was followed by a group meeting, to discuss the game plan for the next few days.  Acclimatization is an important part of climbing, especially at this height, to have the best chance of success. The following day it was decided we would do a carry up to Camp Canada, and the next day it  would be the repeat of the same.

A ‘carry’ is done to carry a small amount of supplies to a higher camp, and leave them there to be used once we move up to that camp. This exercise serves to acclimatize and also to lessen the weight of carrying the supplies we need, in our backpacks. 

Porters are now available on the mountain and I have taken advantage of them. So I will not do a ‘carry’ of group gear or supplies, but only take my daypack and simply enjoy the acclimatization climb. The porters will carry my portion of the group gear and my own personal supplies, on ‘move’ day. The plan is to do the same the next day and then move up the following day. The theory is to climb high, sleep low.

On the second carry day the winds are extremely high and we get hit with a snowstorm.  The snow is small round ice pellets, not beautiful snowflakes. This is jarring and difficult.

We were offered a free shower because the mules had been late when we came into Confluencia, the previous camp and we all take advantage of it here at basecamp. But the word ‘shower’ is used loosely. The water only served to rinse the dust off and it was cold! Unfortunately no one shared a vital piece of information – I only had to move the lever a very short space to get warm water!

Camp Canada is at 4947 metres but surprisingly, my Sunto watch showed 5001 metres as a measurement. Feb 12th was a rest day. We did nothing, just ate and stayed in our tents actually. Pretty boring. One of the other female teammates went for a swim in one of the lakes nearby, apparently skinny dipping. I passed.

Feb 13th, we moved up to Camp Canada. The camp sits on a hill, and if you take a wrong step, you might just fall off, but the view is amazing. “Ahhhhhh” had two meanings!

The porter assigned to me moved everything, I just kept my emergency gear in my back pack and also a bottle of water and my personal documents like passport, insurance and money. That was very nice.

At camp Canada the group had all opted to use the services of the porters to set-up our tents. It was so much easier to reach camp and have a place to get comfortable in, sheltered from the cold and wind.

Once again, my tent mate and I, have a tent that has something wrong with it. Ugh.

The tents are NorthFace and spacious, but they are beaten up or they just don’t hold up. This time we are stuck with a vestibule zipper that is broken, so we literally crawl in and out of our tent.

Feb 14th, we do a carry to what will be our second camp, Nido de Condores. It was a 3 hour hike up and then we left some personal gear there.  It is a huge camp and the 360 degree views are just amazing! Mountainous peaks and vast sky as far as the eye can see. Spectacular. There is also a rangers’ station here and a helipad.

Coming down it took us only an hour.

One of our teammates, Sequoia reported a headache and Diego, one of the guides raced down the mountain with her. The rest of us followed.  My feet were sweating with the socks I had chosen and I got two blisters. Not much to complain about in the grand scheme.

When we got back to camp Canada, there was hardly walking space between tents. There are tents everywhere around us. Seems everyone at basecamp is moving up. There are climbers galore.

Sequoia is not feeling well. She is the 3rd female of our team. She is still reporting headaches and Carole accompanies her down to Basecamp to see the doctor.

Tomorrow we move up.

(Read Part 2)

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Reaching the Summit of Vinson Massif and back

It’s Wednesday morning – Summit day – and the sun is out! I have gotten used to it being daylight 24 hours a day, but somehow the sun shining over high camp is particularly special.

Getting ready to go to the Summit, was the same as with all other climbs: our guides wake us up early – well, in Vinson its 8:30am and bright daylight – so no need for a headlamp! We get ready, have breakfast and start moving.

Tre-C suggested we put hand warmers inside our mittens, accessible in our backpacks, ready to be used as it gets cold on the Summit Ridge. I do as she suggested.

We continue our climb roped in our teams of 4, and we gain another 1000m by the time we reached the Summit.

Unlike Elbrus where we dropped our backpacks for the last Summit push, here we keep our backpacks and I am happy we did, as it ensured I had all my flags!

Just before the Summit, for about 15-20 minutes we had to walk on a thin ridge, snow iced and snow covered, with rocks, and a few boulders thrown into the path. This was daunting, but the excitement inside was mounting.

Because we are roped together, each team, the fellow climber that is in front of me keeps pulling me forward, no doubt in his own anxiety. But that increased my anxiety and I am surprised to find the thin ridge, where I find I have to ‘self talk’ myself to, “Keep moving Ema!” “Don’t look down.” I kept thinking that the Summit of Vinson Massif was just in front of mw. Just in front of me.

And then we are there! When we reach the Summit, it is clear. It’s beautiful!

There is a larger area, like a small plateau. It’s wider than I ever imagined and we are allowed to unclip from each other, and take our backpacks off.

I am elated. I feel like I am on top of the world. Wait a sec, I AM on top of the world! Or some will argue the bottom of the World! Its Antartica!

Lakpa Sherpa and his rope team are still there, as they were just ahead of us, and he graciously becomes my photographer for all my flags.

Sebastian mentions to me that this is the first Summit ever for him to have anyone wear such thin gloves, as he gestures to me just wearing my liner gloves. I don’t need my mittens and hand warmers inside my backpack today. Our parkas are also accessible in our backpacks, but there is no need for them at the top of the Summit on this particular day. I can’t believe I am at the Summit of Vinson Massif.

Then it’s time to leave and make our way back, so we can make room for other climbers that are making their way as well to the Summit.

It’s a long way back to high camp and we don’t arrive until 8:30pm. We are tired. I welcome the comfort of my sleeping bag in a way I can’t describe. We are planning to get an early start down the next day as the weather is promising to turn.

The next morning, the plan was to descend from high camp, with a quick stop at low camp, all the way to basecamp – it was going to be a long day.

The next day it was not the hiking on the snow, or the wind that had picked up exactly as our ALE guides had read the weather, that fazed me or scared me, it is was getting on and coming down the fixed lines.

My fear of heights got the best of me, for the first 2 to 3 ropes. I was scared as I saw a chocolate bar fall from David’s’, one of our fellow climber’s pockets or backpack into the abyss as he was getting on the fixed ropes.

The first rope is so tight, with tension that it is hard to clip in.

At the first rope, Emmanuel was going backwards and told me to go backwards, while our guide told me to turn around and face forward. And I listened to Sebastian of course, he was our guide, but turning around in an upright angle, in such a small space of snow only served to increase my anxiety. I know Emmanuel was trying to get me not to see how high we were – but my mind knew!

I have a mini panic attack in the second line, as I need to transfer from one rope to another, and as I see my feet needing to be precise in their positioning, or I fall. I know I am tied in and our guide has the line secure on his prusik, but I also know if I fall it will be a big deal for me mentally to get up again. I panic and it is hard to breathe. I feel my airways suffocating me.

Emmanuel tells me to focus and relax, and breathe and that I can do it and that I am ok and I am not going to fall. It was kind of him to say so. He knew I needed help in that moment.

I relax after a few breaths and we continue down, slowly, line after line.

I know I need to calm myself down and moving forward to other mountains, believe more in myself. I got this. And Jesus has me!

Once at basecamp a celebratory dinner awaits us, with 3 bottles of champagne to celebrate our successful summit the day before. I have a glass, but somehow alcohol does not taste the same in the mountains, its kind of anti-climatic.

We were hoping the next day we could fly to Union Glacier and get on the scheduled flight back to Punta Arenas, so we can fly home as planned on December 10th.

But the weather does not cooperate and we wait. The next day is the same thing, more waiting.

But unlike in Carstensz Pyramide I am not ill, the food is amazing and the pure silence and beauty that surrounds us, relaxes me and fills me with awe.

On December 9th we finally had a break in the weather and we fly back to Union Glacier. As ALE clients we are on the first flight from base camp to Union Glacier.

It is disappointing we missed the Ilyushin, even though it had not flown into Union as scheduled. Its delay was not enough for us to catch it. At this point, we get scheduled to leave Union back to Punta Arenas on the 12th.

 

When we arrive back at Union Glacier, we line up for a shower! Ahhhhh …. clean again. I am reminded of life’s simple blessings.

Afterwards we get a behind the scenes tour of Union Glacier.

We also meet Richard Parks, who was the first person to do a grand slam – complete the 7 summits and ski the North and South Poles – in less than 1 year. Is that humanly possible? Apparently so!

He was trying to beat his solo record from the Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, a distance of 1140 km. He had been trying to do it in 25 days. However, due to illness, his solo attempt ended prematurely, early in the New Year.

We spoke for a bit during the couple of days we were waiting, and in one of our conversations he commented: “Courage is how you act and face your fears and learn from it”.

My fear of heights is still present. I need to learn how to control it more. I am learning.

Not only am I meeting amazing people on these climbs, I am facing things and growing in ways that surprise and delight me. I am becoming a climber!

Four down; three (well hour) to go – after all the 7 Summits are 8!

Aconcagua, next…..

Ema Dantas

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It’s not easy.

Stigma or discrimination attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier, not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community. *

This is a fact, and coupled with the holidays where people can feel more stress and anxiety, it is perhaps the reason I personally came home from climbing Vinson Massif about 2 weeks ago, to feelings of confusion that if what I am doing will matter at all and even to some resentment.

7 Summits for Mental Health, is a hard task at hand and just like anything in life, there are moments of doubt.

When I started this endeavour for Peaks for Change, I had hope to make an impact, but I did not anticipate that it could be hard on my personal life or me.

However I have come to believe that Jesus put me in this path and he keeps me there for a reason. There are little signs. Just as I was feeling overwhelmed on the morning of Christmas Eve, I receive a personal note on our Facebook messenger, which I have permission to share it here in its entirety, in hope that it can help someone else, and also further ‘our’ goals to end the stigma on mental health.

December 23,

2018 The Trillium Trauma.

On December 12th, 2018 I found myself at the back of a Peel Police car as people stared with curiosity at the Family Services of Peel. Not that I had committed any crime, but the Officers were there to support and service and transport me to the Trillium Hospital. After consulting with a Clinician, 911 was called for assistance.

I do not recall three of the first ten days of this cruel crisis! However, for whatever reason in-comprehensive to me, I recall the main Police Officer’s number, 2482. I might be mistaking during my crisis, but I will have to follow up with Division 11 and send the four officers my genuine appreciation.

During the transit, admittance and those three disoriented days of my life, I felt absolutely nothing! I had no feelings, no lucidity. I was a blank canvass for the further infliction I was to combat. Every single personal item was taken from me, I was left with my underclothing on and locked up in a room at Emergency for my own safety. The Police officers remained outside the restraint until the Doctor was available to attend me with the Hospital Security.

And so, I was a formalized as a Mental Patient in Crisis. I simply cannot account the frightful sorrow I experienced at this place that exists to help people. I also have to remember the utmost challenging employed Nurses and other individuals that handle multiple unwell people every day. My admiration for them as I could never endure an environment such as the one I experienced.

I had a many breakdowns during this period. More often than not, with my Peer Patients and we nourished and supported each other regardless of gender, age or race. People of all walks of life share one thing in common, Mental illness.

Under this umbrella within, they have various levels or a different diagnosis. When I was able to actually convey a reasonable conversation, I spoke to staff and patients of a friend, Emma Dantas. She climbs tall mountains around the world to change the ‘stigma’ about Mental Health.

I am in some ways distressed by Governments, society, and companies such as the one that triggered my PTS. Lack of awareness and education. Personally, I feel it is simply ignorance.

I requested to be discharged earlier. I could not manage my emotions watching my roommate undergoing his own horrible crisis, a handsome, early 20’s year old male having horrifying episodes.

Returning home and to the welcoming of my Cat, Ronaldo, I have not been able to stop weeping. He also went through this trauma with me.

I am uncertain if I made the appropriate decision. At present, I am doubtful what the future brings. With PTS, the many years of Panic Attacks, Depression and now I also have Social Anxiety.

This is a soul who performed on stage, TV, Radio and loved music, now long foregone, as it has for years. I feel that the place to heal my trauma, has brought me other traumas and I still break down in weeping for not only me, but others. The different individuals and the sadness I lived through would altogether destroy me further.

I was coached by the Staff that my empathy for others was not healthy, but how can One not feel.? Fortunately I am blessed with the support of my sister, nephews, and nieces.

It has only been about 10 hours since I arrived home and some would think that now am fully cured. That would be a miracle, but not even on Christmas that will materialize for me and others suffering and being stigmatized.

John Neves “I read this several times and wept. It brought me to a place when I could hear my own mothers’ turmoil of feelings. It brought me to a time, I just did not want to deal with it. It spoke to my own present thoughts of tiredness and emotional ache. Climbing mountains may be difficult, but way easier than living with any form of Mental Illness. Easier than feeling lost, broken and hopeless.

As we come to a close of 2018, please join us in our commitment to raise funds for CAMH’s new Acute Care Center, to open its doors soon, with your one time donation of $5.00. Lets together build a future without at least the Stigma on Mental health.

With gratitude, wishing you a Happy New Year,

Ema Dantas
Chairwoman of the Board
Peaks for Change Foundation




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Create a World in which everyone believes life is worth living.

Create a World in which everyone believes life is worth living.

These powerful words where part of the last sentence Mr Chown, the Director of Events for CAMH wrote in a thank you letter addressed to Peaks for Change in reference to our fundraising gala event we had on April 27 2018.

As I prepare to leave to Russia to climb Mt Elbrus, these words are hitting hard at home : ‘ A world in which everyone believes life is worth living.’ As I think of my Mom, Susan’s son Reid, and all those that just recently did not believe their life was worth living.

Yesterday, I had been speaking to my insurance advisor for our company benefits at Language Marketplace, and she mentioned that insurance companies have seen a rise in claims for anti-depression medications.

Are we as a society becoming more hopeless as we isolate ourselves more and more behind our social media profiles?

How can we tell if our friend, family member or neighbor is debating if ‘life is worth living’?

Openness. Understanding . Speaking out. Listening. Seeking help. That is what we all have to do when we feel or someone else is feeling that life is not worth living.

And this is the aspiration I will take with me as I try to summit Mt Elbrus in a few days. One step at a time. Together, we can ‘create a World in which everyone believes life is worth living’.

Ema Dantas

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Carstensz Pyramid Climb Part 5 –The Waiting Game!

(Click here to read previous Part 4) (Click here to read Part 1)

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!

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Carstensz Pyramid Climb Part 4 – Reaching the Summit!

Part 4 of 4 –  Reaching the Summit!!!
(Click here to read previous Part 3) (Click here to read Part 5)

(Le français suit)

“A summit is a point on a surface that is higher in elevation than all points immediately adjacent to it. “

The night is clear and we take off again from our basecamp and trek to the first rope. My stomach is nervous and my body is fighting back – and like an angry child, it chooses the worst time possible to throw a tantrum. I had to make two stops during the trek to urgently relieve myself. Some things you would rather not do while tied into the rope with a gentleman, at close quarters, on Carstensz’s rock face – but I will skip the details.

The climb is hard, but more than hard, it is long. We climb up aided by our jumars clipped into fixed ropes that have been put in place – There are two sets of ropes on some sections; one its integrity is questionable so a second was added. Each member of our group has a dedicated guide. One member, Adam, is an expert and strong rock climber; he has climbed several several rock faces with a 5.12 grade difficulty. He is assigned to Raymond, our head local guide. Raymond has climbed Carstensz more than forty times. They are the fastest duo and will be in front. Philippe is climbing with Hata, and they had started before us, since they were already at a closer basecamp. However, once Adam and Raymond catch up to them, they went ahead and took the lead as planned.  JP has been partnered with Juan and then Manu, our guide from Terra Ultima took on the challenge of guiding me up. Manu, short for Emmanuel, is my friend and colleague on our Board of Directors for the Peaks for Change Foundation. He was our expedition leader.  In his role, I must say, he was very patient and helped me diligently, as needed.  A couple of times he offered his leg as a prop for me to climb over a rock face – being short has its pitfalls! We are a team today – tied to the same rope and our safety and success requires we work as a team. I listened closely to him, as I know he was not doing this selfishly for himself to summit Carstensz, but to ensure I had the best chance of succeeding myself, as his client. He encourages me several times during our climb, stating how great I am doing and that we were making excellent time. I don’t quite believe him, but I needed to hear this and appreciated his kinds words. So I move on.

I later learned, as he was telling Adam about our climb, that he had doubts that we would summit – because of my fear of heights. Manu had a great poker face on the mountain!

During the hike up using the jumar, he had me reciting – “jumar”, “step up”, “jumar”, “step up”, “jumar”, “step up”.  Oh yeah, and he reminded me several times to breath!

When we approached the Tyrolean Traverse, I was literally terrified. Walking on a steel cable suspended thousands of feet in the air and only held by two security lines from my harness, each attached to a carabiner, I started to have a panic attack. I had promised to “communicate” this climb since breaking my three ribs during training at Mount Tremblant and climbing all day back in May without saying a word… remember? So I told Emmanuel I was having a panic attack and I could feel my throat tighten. He quickly helped me by responding with a calming tone of voice – sure helps having a Toronto Paramedic for a guide! We stopped for a moment, then he instructed me to slow down my breathing. Once I accomplished that, he gently explained how to walk on the rope and where to focus my attention and emphasized the magic words that I would not fall. He assured me I was secure on the ropes and then finally firmly told me I could do it! I wanted and needed to cross this and summit. With my heart stuck in my throat, I followed his instructions and started self talking to myself- ‘duck feet, duck feet’, and I moved one foot at a time on the steel cable. Suddenly I had completed the whole traverse!  As happy as I was, and even though I heard Emmanuel’s praises on the other end, I realized I would have to repeat it on the way back. Somehow, I cleared my mind enough to focus on the rocks and narrow path ahead.

We did stop at some point in time, I can’t quite remember exactly where, and looked around us – the view was incredible! At 16,000 feet up in the air, the sunrise was amazing and the clean crispness of the various rock faces was breathtaking. It’s amazing what God creates for us. Even through my anxiety, I could see and finally understood why mountaineers climb! It was surreal in it’s beauty…

Walking, secured on the rope, but without the jumar was easier and faster, and we were able to do this in some sections. There are two literal ‘leaps of faith’ that we are required to jump before reaching the summit – meaning you need to jump from one rock point to another with open air below. Yes, you hook a carabiner from your lanyard attached to your harness as a security onto a few fixed ropes, but let’s be honest, the rock is hard and sharp. If you miss the jump, you may not fall to the bottom, but it is going to hurt hitting your body against either rock!  I could imagine my face getting cut – and it’s not like I am not accident-prone! I am the one that broke 3 ribs on a bathtub just before a training day in Canada a few months ago! AND I have short legs and jumps are a greater challenge for me! I really, really didn’t think I could do it.

Again, my anxiety was so high, all I can remember is Emmanuel telling me to breathe. “Calm down Ema!”. He went first. He explained to me what I needed to do, how I had my back-up line, and then he added that he would be there to catch me if I needed it. Even though he was working as our guide, this was his first time in Carstensz as well. I did not want to be responsible for him not reaching the summit because he got assigned to me. This thought motivated me. So, I followed his instructions that he was repeating from the other side, and just when my hand was falling short of reaching the last handhold on the rock, he grabbed my hand, and pulled me up. Phew – he caught me! Ditto for the second gap. Talk about feeling like your life is in someone else’s hands!

Suddenly came music to our ears… our colleagues’ ecstatic screams of happiness at reaching the top of Carstensz Pyramid!  We cheered with them! They were at the summit point. The sky was blue, but clouds were moving fast towards the mountain. This is a daily occurrence and predictable weather pattern; its why we start so early. The summit point still seemed far for us. But a few minutes later, as Adam and Raymond start descending, Adam assures us we are only minutes away! Climbing and descending Carstensz is rope dependant and only one person can pass on a rope at each point, and we were eight in our group, therefore Raymond did not want to waste time hanging around the Summit point.

We continued excitedly and as we see Filipe waiting for the others, just a few feet down from the summit point, we pushed up and reached the Summit ourselves. I cried. Emmanuel screamed in happiness, and laughed – and Hata and Juan still on the summit point, helped us take many pictures. Juan captured our arrival to the summit point on video, which he sent to me. And the reason I am so glad he did is because in all honesty, it was all quite a blur. All I remember is being there. And being elated.  It was real; I had climbed my first mountain.

I fumbled with my InReach GSP device. I had it programmed with an automatic message, that would tell everyone we were on top of Carstensz. I couldn’t find it.  AHHHHHH! Emmanuel told me to breathe, relax and take 5 minutes and look. We had time. But I was shaking and I was only able to share our location, and hoped anyone following us could see we were on top of Carstensz Payramid, the highest point in Oceania. We were at the summit. We were actually at the summit. Then it was time to come down. Same route, same way. JP, guided by Juan and Philippe, guided by Hata were in front of us.

Again I listened to Emmanuel’s instructions on the two leaps of faith, because when I saw JP having difficulty with one of them, I panicked a little, but then Emmanuel said I had it! And with his help I did.

We had about 600 feet of rappels to do. We were using our ACT’s, as we normally do in Canada, even though our Indonesian guides use a figure 8 device even though it may not be so foolproof, for the type of ropes on Carstensz, it was supposedly easier. However, the ropes get so wet and therefore harden, I don’t know if it mattered. Trust me, the descent was hard.

Then it started to snow. Yup!  Snow. After the snow and I guess because we were descending in altitude, it began to rain. And I started thinking about hyperthermia, as just a few days prior to us reaching base-camp, a climber had died. The blue tarp was still in the side of the mountain, where his body had been found. “Try to think positively Ema.”  “It’s okay.” “You’ll be okay.” I try to manage my thoughts.

The rope was hard to insert into our ACT’s. Emmanuel helped me with many of mine. He would secure himself at each transfer point, get the rope on his ACT, then I would secure my line, on the transfer point, and we would secure the same rope on my ACT device. This allowed us to be faster; as soon as he was done with that rope, I would be ready to go. He always double checked our set-up. Safety was a priority.

I was getting cold and wet. We had JP and Philippe in front of us, so at each new rope section I would start to get cold as we stood still, waiting for the line to be free. I felt my body was unreasonably chilly and when I checked why, I realized my Gortex pants were not secured properly. The only thing holding them from falling down my waist was my harness. I had not secured them properly when I had needed a bathroom break earlier on the mountain and I had not realized it. I tried to secure them properly, however, it was too late – I was already wet. Ugh.

After a few rappels, I started to feel short of breath. Each time I leaned back on my harness while on the line, I felt like the air was being sucked out of me. My left side hurt. It was like someone had punched me. After trying to adjust myself on each new rappel to see if the pain would ease and breathing would be better, I finally told Emmanuel, and he immediately requested my backpack. I did not think that was the problem, but I gave it to him and he put it inside his.

Removing my backpack changed nothing. My left side continued to constrict my breathing with each rappel. But I knew I needed to move and to move fast when the rope was free. Waiting for the rope allowed me to breathe, even though I just wanted to move and get down, I suppressed my urge to ask Manu for us to go ahead of Philippe. However, he was ‘our’ guide as a group, and he was instructing and encouraging Philippe at the same time. We were a team after all, and teams work together and are there for each other. Emmanuel’s leadership impressed me. I realized Francois-Xavier had sent Terra Ultima’s best guide, for their first expedition to Carstensz Pyramid.

Finally we were on the very last rope. Emmanuel secured himself, then called out to me to come secure myself on the line next to his as we would repel side by side and get off the mountain at the same time. I was a little puzzled, but he said – “Let’s have some fun!” Then once I was ready on the second line, which we had determined was solid, we started rappelling in parallel on the rock. Wet, tired – we had been on the mountain for more than 12 hours – my friend Emmanuel said, “Ready?” I signaled yes and we did a last jump and landed off the mountain at the same time.

My first summit. I was grateful to our team, and I am indebted to my guide, Manu, as he is known at Terra Ultima.

I have become the first Portuguese woman to climb Carstensz Pyramid and summit! And yes, I did this to try to bring awareness that stigma on mental health needs to end.

I look now at the summit pictures and my face is puffy. I don’t look like myself.

We summited without a lunch break but just sipped water. We ascended and descending the mountain for 12 hours straight.

I know I became dehydrated. We had been expecting a celebratory meal when we reached the tents at Yellow Valley (the base camp close to the first rope on Carstensz), but when we arrived, we only rested briefly and made our way to our base camp. It was another 90-minute trek to my tent. I was exhausted, but was happy to be able to change into dry clothes. It was my last pair of everything. My teammates were looking concerned as they gazed at my swollen face and squinting eyes.  Something was wrong.

But we were leaving the next morning to Timika, as the helicopter was picking us up – that had been the plan.

It was not what happened.

 

« Un sommet est un point sur une surface, plus élevé que tous les points se trouvant dans son voisinage immédiat. »

La nuit est claire lorsque nous quittons encore une fois notre camp de base en direction de la première corde. Je suis stressée et mon organisme se défend, et comme un enfant énervé, c’est au pire moment qu’il pique une colère. Au cours de la marche, j’ai dû m’arrêter deux fois en urgence pour me soulager. Des choses que vous ne préféreriez pas faire encordée avec un homme sur la face rocheuse de Carstensz. Mais je vous épargnerai les détails.

Si l’ascension est difficile, elle est également longue. Nous montons aidés de nos jumars attachés aux cordes fixes qui ont été installées. Certaines portions sont équipées de deux cordes, la fiabilité de l’une étant douteuse. Chacun des membres de notre groupe a son propre guide. Adam est un grimpeur expérimenté en rocher. Il a fait l’ascension de plusieurs faces rocheuses cotées 5.12. Il appuie Raymond, notre guide chef local. Raymond a fait l’ascension de la pyramide de Carstensz plus de quarante fois. Ce sont les plus rapides, ils seront devant. Philippe grimpe avec Hata. Ils sont partis avant nous, car ils étaient déjà à un camp de base avancé. Cependant, une fois qu’Adam et Raymond les ont rattrapés, ils sont passés devant et ont donné le rythme comme prévu. JP a été associé à Juan. Enfin, Manu, notre guide de Terra Ultima, a relevé le défi de me guider jusqu’au sommet. Manu, diminutif d’Emmanuel, est mon ami et collaborateur au conseil d’administration de la Fondation Peaks for Change. Il a été notre chef d’expédition. Je dois dire qu’il a été très patient et m’a constamment aidée, quand c’était nécessaire. Plusieurs fois, il m’a aidée à l’aide de sa jambe pour franchir un passage rocheux – ne pas être grande a des inconvénients! Aujourd’hui, nous formons une équipe. Encordés ensemble, nous savons que notre sécurité et notre réussite exigent un travail d’équipe. Je l’écoute, car je sais qu’il ne fait pas l’ascension de la pyramide de Carstensz que pour lui, égoïstement, mais pour s’assurer que j’ai toutes les chances de réussir, comme cliente. Au cours de l’ascension, il m’encourage plusieurs fois en me disant que je me débrouille très bien et que nous progressons rapidement. Je ne le crois pas vraiment, mais j’ai besoin d’entendre cela et je suis reconnaissante de ses paroles réconfortantes. Je continue donc à avancer.

Plus tard, alors qu’il discute de notre ascension avec Adam, j’apprends qu’il doutait que nous irions au sommet, en raison de ma peur du vide. En montagne, Manu est vraiment impassible!

Pendant la montée au jumar, il me demande de répéter « jumar », « un pas en avant », « jumar », « un pas en avant », « jumar », « un pas en avant ». Parfaitement, et plusieurs fois, il me rappelle que je dois respirer!

Lorsque nous arrivons au passage que nous devons traverser en tyrolienne, je suis littéralement terrifiée. À l’idée de marcher sur un câble en acier, d’être suspendue à des milliers de pieds dans les airs et seulement retenue par deux longes de sécurité attachées à mon baudrier et reliées à un mousqueton, je commence à faire une crise de panique. J’avais promis de communiquer depuis que je m’étais cassée trois cotes et avais continué de grimper toute la journée en mai sans dire un mot. Tu t’en souviens? Je dis donc à Emmanuel que je fais une crise de panique et que je sens ma gorge se serrer. Il m’aide rapidement en me répondant d’une voix calme. Nous nous arrêtons un moment, puis il me dit de respirer plus lentement. Cela fait, il m’explique tranquillement comment marcher sur la corde, où porter mon attention, et me dit que je dois me répéter que je ne tomberai pas. Il m’assure que les cordes sont sécuritaires puis me dit fermement que je peux le faire! Je veux et dois traverser pour parvenir au sommet. Le cœur battant fort, je suis ses instructions et commence à me parler – « marche en canard », « marche en canard ». Je mets un pied devant l’autre sur le câble en acier. Et puis tout à coup, j’ai fait toute la traversée! Comme je suis heureuse. J’entends même Emmanuel me féliciter de l’autre côté. Je me rends alors compte que je devrai le refaire au retour. Curieusement, je parviens à me concentrer sur les rochers et les passages étroits qui nous attendent.

De temps à autre, nous nous arrêtons – je ne me souviens pas vraiment où – et je regarde autour de nous. La vue est incroyable. À 16 000 pieds dans les airs, le lever de soleil est extraordinaire et la netteté des différentes faces rocheuses est à couper le souffle. Ce que dieu a créé pour nous est extraordinaire. Même si je suis nerveuse, je comprends enfin pourquoi les alpinistes grimpent! Cette beauté est irréelle…

Marcher encordé sans jumar est plus facile et rapide; nous avons pu le faire dans certains passages. Il y a littéralement deux « sauts courageux » à effectuer avant d’atteindre le sommet, ce qui signifie que vous devez sauter d’un rocher à l’autre dans les airs. Oui, vous fixez un mousqueton de votre longe de sécurité attachée à votre baudrier sur quelques cordes présentes, mais soyons honnête, la roche est dure et tranchante. Si vous manquez votre saut, vous ne tomberez pas forcément dans le vide, mais vous vous blesserez en frappant ces rochers! Je n’imagine pas mon visage coupé, et croyez-moi, j’ai eu ma part d’accidents! Je me suis cassée trois cotes dans une baignoire! En plus, je n’ai pas de grandes jambes et sauter représente un grand défi pour moi! Je ne pense vraiment pas, mais vraiment pas pouvoir le faire.

Encore une fois, je suis très nerveuse, et tout ce dont je me souviens est qu’Emmanuel me dit de respirer. « Calme-toi, Ema! ». Il passe le premier. Il m’explique ce que je dois faire et que j’ai ma longe de sécurité, avant d’ajouter qu’il me rattrapera s’il le faut. Même s’il est notre guide, c’est également la première fois qu’il gravit ce sommet. Je ne voulais pas qu’il n’atteigne pas le sommet à cause de moi, parce qu’il était mon guide. Cela m’a motivée. Je suis donc ses instructions qu’il me répétait de l’autre côté. Et juste quand j’ai failli ne pas attraper la dernière prise sur le rocher, il a saisi ma main et m’a arrêtée. Ouf! Il m’a rattrapée! Même chose pour le second saut. C’est cela le sentiment que votre vie est entre les mains de quelqu’un!

Et puis de la musique parvient à nos oreilles. Ce sont les cris de joie de nos compagnons qui viennent d’atteindre le sommet de la pyramide de Carstensz! Nous les applaudissons. Ils sont au sommet. Le ciel est bleu, même si des nuages approchent rapidement de la montagne. Cela se produit tous les jours et est une situation météorologique prévisible; c’est pourquoi nous sommes partis tôt. Le sommet nous semble encore loin. Mais quelques minutes plus tard, alors qu’Adam et Raymond redescendent, Adam nous assure que nous ne sommes qu’à quelques minutes du sommet! Ce n’est qu’à l’aide d’une corde que l’on atteint le sommet et que l’on en redescend. Et seule une personne à la fois peut être sur la corde. Nous formons un groupe de huit. Par conséquent, comme Raymond ne voulait pas perdre de temps au sommet, lui et Adam ont commencé à redescendre.

Nous continuons tout excités et quand nous voyons Filipe attendre les autres, juste à quelques pieds sous le sommet, nous poursuivons jusqu’au sommet. Je pleure et crie. Emmanuel crie de bonheur et rit. Hata et Juan toujours au sommet nous aident à prendre de nombreuses photos. Juan immortalise notre arrivée au sommet sur vidéo qu’il m’a envoyée. Voilà pourquoi je suis si contente qu’il l’ai fait, car en toute honnêteté, c’est passé en un éclair. Tout ce dont je me souviens est d’avoir été là. Et d’avoir été remplie de joie. C’est réel, j’ai gravi mon premier sommet.

Je tiens maladroitement mon appareil InReach GSP. J’avais programmé un message automatique pour annoncer à tout le monde que nous avions atteint le sommet de la pyramide de Carstensz. Je ne le retrouve pas. AHHHHHH! Emmanuel me dit de respirer et de prendre cinq minutes pour chercher. Nous avons le temps. Mais je tremble et partage simplement l’instant. J’espère que ceux qui suivent peuvent voir que nous sommes au sommet de la pyramide de Carstensz, le plus haut sommet de l’Océanie. Nous sommes au sommet. Nous sommes bien au sommet. Puis il est temps de redescendre. Même itinéraire, mêmes mouvements. JP, guidé par Juan, et Philippe, guidé par Hata, sont devant nous.

J’écoute encore une fois les instructions d’Emmanuel au moment d’effectuer les deux sauts, car quand je vois la difficulté qu’éprouve JP lors de l’un d’eux, je panique un peu. Mais Emmanuel me dit que je l’ai fait! Et grâce à lui, j’y arrive.

Nous devons descendre environ 600 pieds en rappel. Nous utilisons nos assureurs ATC, comme cela se fait normalement au Canada, même si nos guides indonésiens utilisent un descendeur 8. Même s’il n’existe pas de méthode infaillible, pour ce type de cordes sur la pyramide de Carstensz, cela est censé être plus simple. Cependant, comme les cordes deviennent si humides et rigides, je ne sais pas si cela importe. Croyez-moi, la descente est difficile.

Puis il commence à neiger. Génial! La neige. À mesure que nous perdons de l’altitude, la neige se transforme en pluie. Je commence à penser à l’hypothermie, car seulement quelques jours avant notre arrivée au camp de base, un grimpeur est mort. La bâche bleue se trouve toujours sur la montagne, là où son corps a été trouvé. « Essaie de penser positif, Ema. C’est bon. Tout va bien se passer. » J’essaie de gérer mes émotions.

Il est difficile d’insérer la corde dans nos ATC. Emmanuel m’aide souvent. Il doit se sécuriser à chaque point de transfert, mettre la corde sur son ATC, puis je m’assure sur le point de transfert, et nous mettons la même corde sur mon ATC. Cela nous permet d’être plus rapides. Dès qu’il en aura fini avec cette corde, je serai prête à partir. Il revérifie toujours notre encordement. Priorité à la sécurité.

J’ai froid et je suis mouillée. JP et Philippe sont devant nous, donc à chaque nouveau passage de corde, j’ai froid, car nous attendons debout que la corde se libère. Je sens que j’ai excessivement froid et lorsqu’à un moment je vérifie pourquoi, je m’aperçois que mon pantalon Gortex est mal mis. La seule chose qui le retient de tomber de ma taille est mon baudrier. Je n’ai pas remarqué que je ne l’avais pas fixé correctement lors de ma pause urgente plus tôt sur la montagne. J’essaie de bien le fixer, mais trop tard, je suis déjà mouillée. Quelle horreur!

Après quelques rappels, je suis essoufflée. Sur la corde, chaque fois que je me penche en arrière dans mon baudrier, c’est comme si l’air de mes poumons est aspiré. Mon côté gauche me fait mal, comme si quelqu’un m’avait donnée un coup. Après avoir essayé de me repositionner à chaque nouveau rappel pour voir si la douleur se calmait et si je respirais mieux, je finis par le signaler à Emmanuel qui me demande immédiatement de lui donner mon sac à dos. Je ne pense pas que c’est le problème, mais je lui donne et il le met dans le sien.

Avoir retiré mon sac à dos ne change rien. Mon côté gauche continue à gêner ma respiration à chaque rappel. Mais je sais que je dois avancer et que nous devons descendre rapidement lorsque la corde est libre. Attendre que la corde se libère me permet de respirer, même si je veux simplement avancer et descendre. Je résiste à l’envie de demander à Manu que nous passions devant Philippe. Toutefois, c’est le guide de notre groupe, et il guide et encourage Philippe en même temps. Nous formons une équipe après tout, et les membres d’une équipe travaillent ensemble et sont là pour les autres. La capacité de guide d’Emmanuel m’impressionne. Je prends conscience que Francois-Xavier a envoyé le meilleur guide de Terra Ultima pour la première expédition sur la pyramide de Carstensz.

Nous atteignons finalement la toute dernière corde. Emmanuel s’assure puis me demande de venir m’assurer sur la corde à côté de la sienne, car nous descendrons en rappel côte à côte pour quitter la montagne en même temps. Je suis un peu déconcertée, mais il me dit : « Amusons-nous un peu! » Alors, dès que je suis prête sur la seconde corde, dont nous avions vérifié la résistance, nous commençons le rappel côte à côte sur le rocher. Mouillé, fatigué – nous sommes sur la montagne depuis plus de 12 heures – mon ami Emmanuel me dit : « Prête? » Je lui fais signe que oui et nous faisons un dernier saut pour quitter la montagne, en même temps.

Mon premier sommet. Je suis reconnaissante envers notre équipe et suis redevable à mon guide, Manu, connu ainsi à Terra Ultima.

Je suis devenue la première portugaise à gravir la pyramide de Carstensz et à avoir atteint le sommet! Oui, je l’ai fait pour essayer de faire prendre conscience qu’il faut arrêter cette stigmatisation de la santé mentale.

En regardant maintenant les images du sommet, je vois que mon visage est bouffi. Ce n’est pas moi.

Nous sommes parvenus au sommet sans pause casse-croûte. Nous avons bu de l’eau. Nous avons réalisé l’ascension et la descente en 12 heures.

Je sais que je me suis déshydratée. Nous nous attendons à un repas de célébration en arrivant aux tentes de Yellow Valley (le camp de base proche de la première corde sur la pyramide de Carstensz), mais une fois aux tentes, nous nous reposons brièvement avant de poursuivre en direction de notre camp de base. Une autre marche de 90 minute pour gagner ma tente. Je suis épuisée, mais contente de pouvoir mettre des habits secs. C’est ma dernière paire de tous mes vêtements. Mes compagnons sont inquiets en observant mon visage gonflé et mes yeux plissés. Quelque chose ne va pas.

Seulement, nous partons le lendemain matin vers Timika, l’hélicoptère vient nous chercher. C’est ce qui est prévu.

Ça ne se passera pas ainsi.

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Carstensz Pyramid Climb Part 3 – Not Swiss Chocolate!

Part 3 of 4 –  Carstensz is not Swiss Chocolate!  
(Click here to read previous Part 2) (Click here to read Part 4)

(Le français suit)

When I announced I wanted to take the helicopter back after our summit, JP said he wanted to as well.

At this point, I am tired of stepping in mud. And I am tired that the 5 day trek has become 6 days. “I just want to get there people!”

In fact, I’m uncomfortably hungry and my body is showing signs of rejecting the rice, noodles and cookies, which are the only things I am feeding it. The countless sugary cappuccino mixes I drench it with, are also starting to shows signs of threatening to be expelled. “Uh oh!”

At the end of day five, we camp at Nasidome. The view is incredible, as we can see Puncak Jaya, and Carstensz just behind it. It’s a wow moment. The morning sunrise greeted us teasingly, to entice us to continue over the New Zealand pass that awaited us, and then we would finally arrive at basecamp. We are now at 3,734 metres (about 12,250 feet above sea level).

Only a few porters will proceed with us to take our supplies to basecamp. The rest will remain here and wait. Three of our young porters pose for a picture with a perfect backdrop!

This will be our first introduction to alot of rock! The New Zealand pass stands at approximately 4,500 metres (approximately 14, 700 feet above sea level).

Our next big challenge – we had to scramble up a rock face, free style. THAT is not easy folks! We are getting tired as we have to trek on rocks and rocky pathways up and down, up and down, for hours. “Argh”.

 

We have to be careful with loose rock, both as a courtesy and potential danger for those behind us. And so the pace is slower than I’d like, but necessary. It truly was a team effort keeping tabs of what’s up ahead and what’s going on behind you.

 

We arrive at what is supposed to be basecamp, as you can see in the pictures and on YouTube. But aside from the aquamarine small lake, which is stunning to behold, basecamp is filled with garbage. God’s beautiful creation was a bit of a muck heap! And it’s cold. Brrrrrr. We find out that there is another camp set at the base of Carstensz called Yellow Valley, and involves another 90 minutes of hiking, on rocky ground of course! 

The seventh day in the mountain is our much planned for and awaited day. At last … we get to attempt to climb Carstensz Pyramid. “Yay!”

 

 

We get up at about midnight and start trekking, wearing our summit day clothes. We head towards the other basecamp, next to the first rope for Carstensz. Unfortunately, it is raining. And it’s steady.

 

 

Once we arrive, Raymond guides us into a large common tent to wait out the rain. We are met by Philippe, who had arrived via helicopter the previous day, along with Hata, the 3rd local guide. Raymond says we will wait until about 6 or 7 am to see if the rain stops.

It does not. And Manu, our Terra Ultima guide and Raymond, make the decision to return to our basecamp and try again the next day, as they said it was too dangerous to climb in the rain. I am very disappointed by this news. We trekked back. (I won’t share my inner dialogue.)

 

It rained all day and I spent the whole day alone in my tent. I was able to watch “The Choice” that I had downloaded in my IPad, before the battery died, which helped pass the time. Because of the lack of sun, my solar charger didn’t work very well and all charges were conserved for my iPhone and InReach devices, so I could communicate with my family. They were my lifeline through this whole adventure..

 

It was as we walked back from a non-summit day that Manu decided that he too would take the helicopter back along with Adam. Myself, JP and Philippe were already onboard. It was a relief to know that once we summited, we wouldn’t be facing that long muddy trek back to civilization. Manu called Terra Ultima on the sat phone and informed them, so that arrangements could be made.

I think the rain, dampness, coldness and lack of food choices and proper nutrition was taking a toll on all of us. I know it was for me. “Ugh… cookies and rice again!?”

Raymond then proceeded to advise William’s brother who had stay with us, as a point of contact between us and the porters, and arrangements were made to have the porters dismissed.

We had provided Manu with our share of the tips and he gave them to the porters. All this happened while I was inside my tent, as the rain never stopped.

At dinner time we realized the porters had taken JP’s boots and Adam’s umbrella. It was raining; we needed that umbrella! Manu was annoyed. But Raymond said nothing could be done, as the porters had already left.

I remember feeling that I was exhausted and I didn’t care much. I wanted to go climb the rock face, summit and go home as quickly as possible! I was so close to accomplishing my goal, but I still needed to finish what I came to do.

My internal voice was saying, “Come on Ema, you are almost there.” “Let’s do this!

 

 French Translation, courtesy of Language Marketplace Inc.

Carstensz, ce n’est pas du chocolat suisse!

Lorsque j’ai dit que je voulais rentrer en hélicoptère après le sommet, JP a dit qu’il voulait aussi faire de même.

Pour le moment, je suis fatiguée d’avancer dans la boue. Je n’apprécie pas non plus que la randonnée de cinq jours se soit transformée en randonnée de six jours. « Je veux simplement arriver au sommet. »

En fait, j’ai faim jusqu’à en être malade et mon organisme présente des signes de rejet du riz, des pâtes et des biscuits, seuls aliments que je mange. Les innombrables mélanges de cappuccino sucré que je bois pour m’hydrater menacent également d’être rejetés. Prudence!

À la fin du cinquième jour, nous campons à Nasidome. La vue est incroyable, nous apercevons Puncak Jaya et la pyramide de Carstensz juste derrière. C’est un moment extraordinaire. Au matin, le lever du soleil semble nous provoquer, nous persuader de poursuivre vers le col New Zealand qui nous attend. Et puis nous arriverons enfin au camp de base. Nous sommes maintenant à 3 734 mètres d’altitude (environ 12 250 pieds au-dessus du niveau de la mer).

Seuls quelques porteurs nous accompagneront pour transporter notre équipement au camp de base. Les autres nous attendront ici. Trois de nos jeunes porteurs prennent la pause pour une photo dans un décor magnifique.

Nous rencontrerons beaucoup de rocher pour la première fois! Le col New Zealand se situe à environ 4 500 mètres d’altitude (environ 14 700 pieds au-dessus du niveau de la mer).

Notre prochain grand défi – nous devons escalader une paroi rocheuse en libre. Croyez-moi, ce n’est pas facile! Marcher sur les rochers et emprunter des sentiers rocheux qui montent et descendent pendant des heures est fatigant. « Argh. »

Nous devons faire attention aux rochers instables, par politesse et pour éviter un danger possible pour les personnes qui suivent. Je marche donc plus lentement que je ne le voudrais, mais c’est nécessaire. C’est vraiment un travail d’équipe pour rester concentré sur ce qui nous attend et sur ce qui se passe derrière.

Nous arrivons à ce qui est censé être le camp de base, comme vous pouvez le voir sur les photos et sur YouTube. Mais à part le petit lac bleu vert éblouissant, des détritus recouvrent le camp de base. La magnifique œuvre de Dieu était un tas de déchets! Et il fait froid. Brrr. Nous découvrons qu’un autre camp est installé au pied de la pyramide Carstensz, la Vallée jaune, à 90 minutes de marche, sur un terrain rocheux bien entendu!

Le septième jour sur la montagne est notre journée de planification et d’attente. Enfin… nous allons tenter l’ascension de la pyramide de Carstensz. « Super! »

Nous nous levons vers minuit et commençons à marcher, habillés pour le sommet. Nous nous dirigeons vers l’autre camp de base, à proximité de la première corde pour la pyramide. Malheureusement, il pleut constamment.

Une fois arrivé, Raymond nous guide sous une grande tente commune pour attendre la fin de la pluie. Philippe nous rejoint. Il est arrivé par hélicoptère la veille, accompagné d’Hata, le troisième guide local. Raymond nous dit que nous attendrons jusqu’à six ou sept heures du matin pour voir si la pluie s’arrête.

Il pleut toujours. Manu, notre guide et compagnon de cordée de Terra Ultima, et Raymond prennent la décision de retourner à notre camp de base et de retenter le lendemain. Selon eux, il était trop dangereux de grimper sous la pluie. Je suis très déçue de cette nouvelle. Nous revenons sur nos pas. (Je ne vous dirai pas ce que j’en ai pensé.)

Il a plu toute la journée que j’ai passée seule dans ma tente. J’ai pu regarder « Un choix » que j’avais téléchargé sur mon IPad, avant que la batterie soit déchargée, ce qui m’a permis de passer le temps. En raison du manque de soleil, mon chargeur solaire n’a pas bien fonctionné et j’ai conservé toute l’énergie pour mon iPhone et mon appareil InReach pour pouvoir communiquer avec ma famille. Ils ont été ma corde de sauvetage tout au long de cette aventure.

C’est en rentrant d’une journée sans sommet que Manu a décidé qu’il redescendrait aussi en hélicoptère, avec moi, JP et Adam. Nous étions soulagés de savoir qu’une fois après avoir atteint le sommet, nous n’aurions pas à refaire le long chemin boueux pour retrouver la civilisation. Manu a appelé Terra Ultima sur son téléphone satellite pour les informer afin que des dispositions soient prises.

Je pense que la pluie, l’humidité, le froid, l’absence de choix de nourriture et une alimentation convenable avaient de lourdes conséquences sur chacun de nous. Je sais que c’était le cas pour moi. « Argh… encore des biscuits et du riz! »

Raymond a ensuite averti le frère de William, qui était resté avec nous à titre de personne intermédiaire entre nous et les porteurs, et des dispositions ont été prises pour congédier les porteurs.

Nous avons donné notre part des pourboires à Manu qui les a remis aux porteurs. Tout cela s’est passé pendant que j’étais dans ma tente, la pluie n’ayant jamais cessé.

Au moment du souper, nous nous sommes aperçus que les porteurs avaient pris les bottes de JP et le parapluie d’Adam. Il pleuvait; nous avions besoin du parapluie. Manu était énervé. Mais Raymond a dit que nous ne pouvions rien faire puisque les porteurs étaient déjà partis.

Je me souviens m’être sentie fatiguée, mais je ne m’en souciais pas vraiment. Je voulais escalader la paroi rocheuse, atteindre le sommet et rentrer chez moi aussi vite que possible! J’étais si près du but que je m’étais fixé. Je devais pourtant terminer ce pour quoi j’étais venu.

J’entendais ma voix intérieure me dire « Allez, Ema, tu y es presque, fais-le! »

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Training Session of May 8, 2017

May 8, 2017

I now train 7 days a week. I am training based on “Fit to Climb”, by RMI, so I am ready for my upcoming Denali Prep course with RMI’s Expedition Skills Seminar – Emmons, which is a six day instructional mountaineering course with a summit attempt on Mt. Rainier via the Emmons Glacier route.

At the same time, I am learning to rock climb and I have a personal trainer to help me build more of my upper body strength to tackle the Carstensz Pyramid.

Today, it was a particular tough day. I had hiked 3 hours yesterday, as per this weeks schedule from RMI’s weekly program, and it was to be followed by 7 hours of hiking today, with a weighted backpack.

I currently have 37 pounds on my pack.

When you are running a marathon your mind plays games with you. At least mine does!!! First you are excited to start the race and usually about around 10 km you start regretting having signed up for the full marathon. Then just around the split, you are resigned to run the whole thing. And when you are on your last 4-5 km, you question your sanity.

That was me today. At about 4 km away from home, and at about 6 hours of hiking time. I pondered using my cell phone and asking my family to come pick me up. I contemplated sitting and leaving my backpack on the side of the road and going later to pick it up. I worried not being able to climb.

Then I reach the steps of my side door and I knew that tomorrow morning I would lace up my running shoes and do the training session on the schedule.

Because like running, hiking is peaceful, challenging and I am doing it because I enjoy it.

And like when I was training for a marathon, I filled a bath and I let my body indulge for 20 minutes with the Jacuzzi jets at full capacity, and yes, I am aware this is a luxury that will not be available to me in my tent. But I am still home, so no harm in taking advantage of it!

Training is hard physically, but also mentally. Today my brain was more tired than my body, and thus they fought.

Ema

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Carstensz Pyramid – Puncak Jaya

Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian Mountaineer, athlete and author whom was born 6 July 1912.

“In 1962, he was the leader of the team of four climbers who made the first ascent of the Puncak Jaya (Carstensz Pyramid) (4,884 m, 16,024 ft) in Papua Indonesia, the highest peak in Oceania.” *

It is believed that after his many adventures, that he said these words in Papua. “„On Aigera I wanted to test my skills, in Himalayas I got to know loneliness, in Tibet unusual people. On the New Guinea Island I found everything altogether.“ 

Skills, loneliness and meeting unusual people – to me it simple sounds like three important ingredients for a wonderful adventure.

I have been reading and watching YouTube video experiences from others whom have climbed the Carstensz Pyramid. Some accounts make me laugh, some make me anxious to get there and some scare me a bit – especially those that say it is harder than Everest.

Carstensz will be my first official summit climb. I am training for the ‘skill’ aspect. The ‘loneliness’ part, I will keep in mind all the people that I am doing this with, even if they are not physically present. I am climbing with colleagues and with friends, my family will be in my mind and heart, my friends at home in my thoughts and my motivation will not falter because of those we can help by raising awareness to help #endstigma about Mental Health. Therefore by meeting “unusual people”,  this will allow me, I believe to fit right in…. 🙂

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_Harrer

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Why CAMH?

Recently as I was telling a friend that our Foundation is going to raise money for CAMH (Center for Addiction and Mental Health), her reaction was a very common one, ” Why?”

The question is also mixed with fear and confusion and I find that all the excitement I had instilled on them about attempting to climb the 7 Summits, is gone.

When I explain, among other things, I want to do it in memory of my mother, that causes even a bigger confusion and I get asked, “Why your mother? She was not crazy?”

Sometimes I am left taken aback, sometimes hurt, but now I am learning to say: ” Of course not. My Mom suffered from severe depression, that went untreated.”

Mental Health continues to have a huge stigma in our society. And if you add a cultural aspect to it, the stigma is even greater.

The words “mental health” continue to be associated with people in asylums and psychiatric hospitals and people have a hard time dealing with it. It scares them.

A person can be diagnosed with Cancer and it will illicit sympathy. If a person is diagnosed with depression, suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar, anxiety, etc,  people pull away from them. And they are left to feel even more alone and isolated.

Its time for “Change”.

Ema

 

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