#MentalHealth

Denali – First Portuguese Women to Summit (Part 2)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Day 10

We climb from our 14,000 feet camp up to 17,000 feet.

I can’t lie… it was hard. The fixed lines were surprisingly the easiest to do, but there were high stretches and really thin walking sections along the ridges.

Luckily I felt Jesus had me through this climb. My lead guide had a rope closer to me and brought it in closer on more exposed sections to help me out. Bless him. Made all the difference in the world with my anxiety.

I will have to go back down though, a fact that has not escaped me.

Once we reach the 17,000 feet camp, or camp 4, it’s like a scene from a movie in the wild snowy dessert. There are ice walls everywhere and very few tents.

It’s cold (colder) up here.

There is no kitchen tent here. Ryan and Jason bring us hot water in thermoses to make our food-hydrated meals, noodles and oatmeal.

I have been peeing in my pee bottle and going out to empty it or using the big green bucket.

Summit morning we get up, get ready and are on our way at about 8:30 A.M. The sky is blue with not a cloud in sight.

I am wearing my puffy pants, but I have my parka in my backpack, along with snacks, my thermos of hot water, my inReach, my cell phone in the pocket of my light weight puffy jacket, and of course mittens, goggles, and sunscreen to re-apply constantly.

We set out towards the Autobahn and no, it is not the German highway – it is a steep climb on the side of a mountain, which is slow going. So slow it took us about 2 hours, and my lead guide, Jason was not too happy about it.

I found this section hard. The ingrained steps on the snow, set from the hundreds of climbers throughout the season, were big “risers” in certain sections for my short legs. When I took a higher, longer step, I felt out of breath. I felt we were moving fast, which did not allow me to breath properly during my rest steps. The harder I breathed, the harder it became to climb and thus I became slower.

“Well, let’s continue and re-evaluate at top of Zebra rocks, and we can go from there. We evaluate at every point.” Jason says.

I say nothing and just move. I self talk to myself to pick up my pace, as I do not want to come back here. The huge expense is one thing, but I know mentally I cannot repeat this challenge.

I concentrate on my deep breathing, and keep focus. I beg Jesus to stay with me and push me up, with each step.

When we reach Zebra rocks, Jason announces, “Great push guys. We made great time. Ema, great work. We are back on track.”

I respond with “Ok.”

I know I am the client and I can push back if I wanted to, but I don’t. I hired them to help me and guide me. I am more determined than ever to reach the Summit.

We continue to the next stage, then the next, until we are at the Summit Ridge. Its tall, well obviously – but it is also thin and exposed.

Jason reassures me that Ryan has my rope closer to him and if I feel unsure to let him know and Ryan will guide me. I am not going to sugar coat it – I am anxious. Ryan is a wonderful guide and he constantly reassures me that I am ok and that I am not going to fall. I finally start believing him.

I take a deep breath. I feel as if I am having an out of body experience.

As we are on the summit ridge a couple of other groups are coming down. One is a large group from Alpine Ascents and the other is an RMI group. We stop, and let them pass us on the left hand side. Ryan tries to talk to me about trivial things to distract me as the other climbers pass us.

One of the groups has a female guide among them and she looks at me as she passes, with annoyance and superiority. I don’t care. I am a few feet away from the Summit of Denali and she is inconsequential.

When we reach the summit, the area itself is larger than I anticipated. I take my cell phone out of my pocket to tell the world that I am at the summit. I am so excited and I want it documented. My InReach message is sent with a GPS recorded location. I just became the first Portuguese woman to have summited Denali. I am also the first Portuguese-Canadian woman to have done so.

We have time to take group pictures, individual pictures and with my 6 flags. We are allowed to attempt to call from the satellite phone 3 times, as the call keeps dropping.

Kaylee does a short run and jumps over the summit marker. It’s fun at the Summit!

There is no wind. It’s sunny and so clear you can see all the smaller mountains below you. I was elated. It’s time to descend, as we need to make our way back down.

Jason explains that I am going to be in front, with the 3 of them behind me. His rational and assurance is that if I were to fall, I would have 3 guides holding me and I would not go anywhere. I understand his reasoning and begin to descend.

Ryan is directly behind me and talks to me, “Slowly Ema. Take your time. You got this!” I walk slowly, but somehow confident. I stop when Ryan tells me, so he can secure his share of the rope to the fixed anchors. Then as he shouts back, “Climbing”, we continue.

Before I know it, we are out of the ridge and are making our way down. Amazingly we are going at a pretty good pace. So good in fact, that even with our generous standard breaks, we reach high camp at about 7:00 P.M. This signifies we took about 10.5 hours to summit and back.

I overhear Jason’s delight in his voice, “10.5 hours puts us on the top 30% of top ascents. This is nuts!”

Kaylee giggles, but in a humble voice, says,” Well yeah, but these are abnormal conditions. Usually the weather isn’t this great!”

I think to myself, “Yeah, so?” We did it, regardless of the weather.

The next morning, we start our decent back to basecamp.

We leave early morning to get to 14,000 feet before it’s too hot. We take a long rest at 14,000 feet until the temperature cools down, making easier to walk on the snow.

At camp 2 or 11,000 feet, we put our snowshoes back on replacing our crampons. The descent from here on is not easy. It is about 11:00 P.M. or just passed it.

The snow in some areas is mushy still, even though it’s in the middle of the night. I trip several times. Jason is leading; I am in second position, with Kaylee behind me and Ryan in the back. He has the hardest job, trying to keep all our slides inline.

I keep stumbling, and take a few falls, especially when Jason’s sled pulls me forward. Each stumble I shout. “Stop.” Everyone does. And each time as gracefully as possible, I get up again and we all continue.

Ski Hill is especially hard, as the snow feels slippery. During one of our brief breaks, I ask what time it is, and when Jason says, “It’s 1:30 A.M.” I say to Kaylee, “ It’s your birthday already – Happy Birthday!” The 3 of us make a small attempt to sing Happy Birthday to Kaylee. The sun is rising again behind us, even though it had only set a couple of hours before.

When we finally reach camp one there are several tents set-up, another set of Mountain Trip guides are escorting a group of several Russian climbers.

Jason says, “We are going to take a longer break here, once they retrieved the cache that we had left on the way up.” Ryan asks “Why?” and Jason replies with, “Let’s take our time. We are an hour ahead of schedule.”

I am silently happy we are moving fast, and think that falling so many times is not embarrassing. I actually take it as symbolism of why I am even climbing– you can fall, but you just need to get back up on your feet and keep moving. Is that not what we deal everyday with mental health?

And so we do. The walk out from camp 1 towards basecamp seems endless.
I tried to recall in my memory of walking up 12 days ago, and can’t remember. I know I made it, but with all the snow, I don’t remember the route.

I am careful to keep following Jason’s footsteps, as we walk around crevasses. I pull my trekking poles up, careful not to stab the snow where Jason has just walked over a crevasse wall and move as quickly as a can past it, until the next one.

I kept thinking of Richard Parks, when he was doing a 737 Challenge, and was on Denali in 2011, about the same time of year, when he punched through a crevasse and fell really deep. He had to use his ice axe on the lip of the crevasse to get himself out. So, stabbing the snow was out of the question.

We were back at basecamp at about 5:30 A.M on June 30, hoping to get on a plane to fly out back to Talkheeta, 12 days after we had arrived.

We did it.

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Denali – First Portuguese Women to Summit (Part 1)

Monday, June 17 2019

Day 1 

I arrived in Anchorage in the evening and checked into the hotel. 

I arrived with a very heavy heart. My mother in law, Bonnie, has been diagnosed as ‘failure to thrive’ and moved to a hospice room for the family to say goodbye. I’m not there. I need to be. I want to be.

She passed away Monday June 17th, my day two of this trip; Day 1 of this climb. Heavy sigh.

I feel so conflicted, because I know Steve is dealing with it by himself and I know he is stressed. I pray for him.

In the morning, I met my 3 guides and did my gear check. 

I was feeling a little sick – I ate some vegetarian tacos at the hotel’s restaurant and they did not agree with me at all.  In the middle of the night I managed to throw up, and then start hydrating myself. I can’t be sick for my first day – this is Denali and I feel enough pressure as it is.

 

Tuesday, June 18 2019

Day 2

We fly to basecamp.  This was after an approximately 2 or 3 hour drive from Anchorage to Talkheeta.  Then we take an Air Taxi. It was a short flight, just 20 minutes., with amazing scenery.

Once we arrive, we take all our gear off the runway and set up our first ‘camp’. 

Kaylee gives me my first lesson, with Jason giving his stamp of approval and further suggestions, on how to set-up our tent in our first ‘camp”.   

As we enjoy dinner, sitting on the snow, I marvel on how much snow there is – and take a few deep breaths and silently pray to God that He guide me and ask Him to have my back, because I am scared about what is ahead of me. Every so often you hear avalanches in the distance.  I have butterflies in my stomach, as stories and previous videos I watched in YouTube about climbing Denali weigh heavy in my mind. Not to mentioned the anxiety I am feeling about wanting and needing to Summit, so I can become the first Portuguese/Canadian woman to Summit Denali.

I remind myself – this is Denali. I am on the ‘big leagues’ mountain. I never imagined in my wildest dream I would here. But I am. I am here.

After our tents are made, we take some supplies out to sleep, since we are going to move during the night when the snow is more cold and compact… It’s mushy right now… packing snow.

Then it started snowing.

Hmmmmm……what does that mean …..

 

Wednesday, June 19 2019

Day 3

 We woke up early, 2 am and got ready to start hiking. Kaylee was like a tornado! Within seconds, she had her sleeping bag in its pack and she was ready to head out. All the while I was trying to stuff my mammoth sleeping bag in the compression bag. I step out and she has her harness on.

Yes, she is a supposed to be a guide in training, climbing to make my climb easier, but I am surprised and very impressed. That was fast!

I was thrown off a little by how fast things were moving. I felt agitated. I needed the bathroom and there was someone in the green bucket. I waited.

When we finally got going, pulling the sled was not that challenging, but stepping over a crack (crevasse) that would be wider when we return, was a little unsettling.

We made it to camp one in 4 hours and 30 minutes. Jason our lead guide said it was good time. I am glad.  It was 8:30am local time. 

After tents are up, there was nothing else to do, but lay down and try to sleep or just rest. These forced rests are the not so easy part of climbing. I texted Steve and the kids and felt better.

Steve is making funeral arrangements and it’s hard. 

Part of me wishes I was there to help, but I know I would not be able to in terms of arrangements. Seems they have it covered, even though Steve says everyone seems angry and upset at the moment. I know that’s normal in these difficult circumstances.

Suddenly, the sun came out and we got a great view of Denali.  Wow! It’s a very impressive and majestic mountain. In fact, it’s a giant! 

Then a cloud goes over the sun; the temperature drops considerably. 

As we climb, there is nothing much to do other than count numbers in your head and think. Here life seems surreal, easy. But in the back of my mind is a mild, gnawing tension about what my family is going through without me.

But I’m here to climb the highest mountain in the northern hemisphere.  I need to concentrate. The plan is to move to camp 2 tomorrow, same time – leave around 2 am.

 

Thursday, June 20 2019 

Day 4 

We did not move to camp 2 as we woke up as planned at 2 am, and Kaylee tells us she had been feeling sick all night and had thrown up a couple of times.

I knew it was our dinner from last night – it had been the pre-made salad we had bought at our last grocery/supply stop we made before arriving in Talkheeta – it had mayonnaise -I had passed on mine.

She says we will have to go slowly and well … slow to me is good! She tells her colleagues and the decision was made to stay put and let her sleep and feel better. Reaching a higher camp not feeling well, will drain her and limit her ability to acclimatize and be strong enough to summit. And we may need to turn around.

I hate just waiting around and doing nothing, but there is nothing we can do. I trust Jesus has a reason for it. 

I advise the kids and Steve, even though he has his hands full. Today is his Mom’s viewing and I know it’s taking a toll on him. Tomorrow is the funeral and I wish I could be there to support him.

Again, I make myself concentrate on the mountain. When the sun is out, it’s hot. Sun and snow is like sand and sun. I had to understand how to use the solar panel, since it has a built in battery. it cannot take a lot of heat.

Sebastian and his client, Aparna, the Indian lady that is trying to climb Denali for the 3rd time, arrived in camp.  She has done all the mountains, including Everest and she did the North side. I’m in awe!

 

Friday, June 21 2019

Day 5

This is my official day 5. Seems longer – the climb portion.

I don’t know why. It was a long day. It started with getting up at 1:00am… actually I was up a little earlier. Days and nights are stretched and shortened. It’s difficult …

We packed everything and backpacks and with sleds loaded, about two hours later, we started climbing towards camp 2.

Some teams take caches to about 11,000 feet and then go back to camp one, then the following day go up to camp two with a lesser load. We climbed with our complete loads and honestly I am glad, I was not looking forward to going up and down the steep hill, when it really was unnecessary.

We are doing this tomorrow – moving to the next camp, We plan to take a cache, leave it and then the following day, move up to camp 3 , at 14,000 feet. Then the following day come down to where we cached and pick up the rest of our supplies. Apparently it’s good for acclimatization.

But It’s hard work!

Overall, today was a hard day. It was also Mrs. Beattie’s funeral and I am really sad that I was not there for Steve. I miss him.

Camp 2 is set in a small plateau and we are not allowed to walk very far, because there is a huge crevasse (Crack as they call it). 

It is colder here, even with the sun shining full blast. 

It is very pretty! We are surrounded by smaller peaks with Denali imposing itself in one corner. It’s a breathtaking sight.

The white of the snow and blue skies make it extra magical.

 

Saturday, June 22 2019

Day 6

Ryan, our assistant guide and Kaylee went up to camp 14, which is how everyone refers to it, but really it’s camp 3. They took a cache, which should be called stash instead. It holds some of our supplies and keeps them ‘stashed ‘ so that we don’t have to carry them all at once. I thought I was supposed to go, but then only Kaylee and Ryan went. I stay behind to go over some skills with Jason my lead guide.

After breakfast, I put my crampons on and harness, got my ice axe, and we went through a couple of basics: foot work on crampons, proper ice arrest, how to hold the ice axe, and we were done. The repetition of basic but necessary skills calms me.

So many people here are attempting it for the 2nd and 3rd time.  I really hope I can do this!

I have been silently praying to Jesus, but I need to pray out loud and beg him for his hand holding and good weather!

 

Tuesday, June 25 2019

Day 9

We are at the 14,000 ft. camp and the weather has been ok, but colder.

We had moved Sunday up here and when the inReach froze, I had a panic attack because I could no longer communicate with the kids and Steve. It was hard.

It was a tough push up motorcycle hill, then squirrel hill and on windy corner, we had to put our helmets on, I think this time it did not go sideways. My helmet tends to sit on me sideways. Thank you Lord!

If you are asking yourself what do all these names of the hills mean or who gave the names, I don’t have the answer. I asked a few people and no one really seemed to know. Its not like there are motorcycles or squirrels up here!

Anyways, on windy corner (which this name I can understand), Jason said we could not stop at all, as it is always windy. Hummm, there is a small ledge on the snow to walk on, but I barely thought about it. There was no wind. None. And that was unusual.  Why? My theory is of course that Jesus is next to me holding my hand; is guiding me and taking care of the weather? He Rocks! 

When we finally got to camp 2, or as they call it, 14,000… it was cloudy and the clouds kept rolling by me. To be high in the sky with clouds rolling past you is an experience that is indescribable. You are in the heavens – above the clouds…To my great surprise I meet the Thai lady here that I saw in Vinson. She was climbing with another Mountain Trip team. It was only her and a German male climber. It is a small world.

I am happy I am doing a private trip, since they are sharing a tent. The group that started when we did, Kristen’s, also share a tent with male/female combination. I don’t know if I agree with it. I certainly know I would not feel ok sharing a tent with a stranger of the opposite sex. 

Once the battery from the inReach died, I was able to restart it and charge it. I had BEGGED Jesus during my hike for a couple of hours. I think I got on His nerves and He just gave in.

Yesterday we went to get the cache back after windy corner and came back to camp. Today it was a rest day.  It was nice spending the morning relaxing, since I had time to change clothes and just relax. I learned that relaxing is part of acclimatization, an important mountaineering life lesson. ☺

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Aconcagua, reaching the Summit and more

It’s February 15th, the day after Valentine’s day.

I remember yesterday that the Canuck Matt had a large selection of Toblerone chocolate bars, which I found ironic, since a) they are quite heavy to carry, each bar weighs 360g, and b) the logo is a mountain. Maybe that is why he had them. Anyhow, on Valentine’s Day morning, he went to Sequioa’s tent and said “Happy Valentine’s day” and gave her a large chocolate bar. That was nice I thought

Today we moved to Camp 2, Nido de Condores, which stands at 5560 metres. There are mountains all around us, yet it seems we are above them all.

Unfortunately we are down one team member – Sequoia, reported a bad headache on the way down yesterday after our carry to Nido, and once we reached Plaza Canada again to sleep low again, since her headache was not better, Carole, one of our guides, accompanied her back to basecamp.

But today, our porters once again set-up our tents, and my personal porter brought my stuff up. I thought I had been over my weight but I was not – all my stuff was less then 12 kilos. My allotment is 20kg. I was very proud of myself. I am learning weight management.

When we arrived at camp, with Vern guiding us alone at this point, there was a group coming down with a person on a stretcher. I did not take any pictures; it simply seemed bad taste. The person was clearly in distress and very sick. Shortly after the yellow park helicopter hovered over us, landed and took the individual away. He looked gravely ill.

We learned after that the person had fallen ill the day before at 7:00pm…. And was only rescued today…. About 3:00pm. He had to be brought up from higher than high camp. I guess attempting to Summit. My heart went out to him.

Feb 16th
Today we woke up to cold, frigid cold, until the sun hit the mountain. I regretted that I had not brought my other sleeping bag with me. The plan for today was to do a group carry to the 3rd and final camp, Camp Colera. It was high. We reached an altitude of 19,580 feet and we are planning to move there tomorrow.

I got really cold in the early hours of the morning. So I put my red Canada Goose jacket on. I also used the #coldavenger mask over my face to be able to be breathe more easily. The air is so dry here – feels like a desert, but a cold desert.

Feb 17th
We made the move to Camp Colera, or camp 3. It was a long way up. One of our teammates had diarrhoea and was really slow and tired.

Camp Colera was given the name by the guides because people vomit so much and ‘poop’ so much. An ugly fact, but true.

The camp is on an enclave of a huge rock, with a view of the Aconcagua Summit. Usually people just stay here no more than a couple of nights, but it seems we will spend 3 in total, as we will have a rest day tomorrow and then attempt the Summit on Tuesday the 19th.

Today I had a really hard time sleeping for the first time in the mountain. It’s very high to sleep here; we are at 5851 meters in altitude.

It was not just the cold. Around 1:45am I woke-up as I could not breathe. I was gasping for air. I peed in my pee bottle, drank some hot drink from my Thermos to try and sort myself out. I lay down again and I still could not breathe. My nose was stuffy and I could not catch my breath. I began pressure breathing, and it helped, but I still could not get enough breath. Then I put on my #coldavenger mask and I took another quarter of my Diamox pill. After a little bit, I was finally able to feel some relief.
It was the scariest experience I have had thus far. I did not understand what was going on. I really thought I might suffocate.

Later in the morning I was surprised to receive a text message from Emmanuel, that simply read: “How did you sleep?”. Tears filled my eyes as I responded. “Ok, but I woke up feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I mean really couldn’t breathe. I took more Diamox”.

Emmanuel reassured me when he said, “It’s normal. You are up high. It’s sleep apnea. Try sleeping more upright; put all your clothes’ under your sleeping pad to sleep more upright.”
“Ok.” I typed back. But I felt emotional and scared from remembering I had been gasping for air the night before. I felt so alone.

“It’s the altitude.” “You are doing great!” “And you will be ok,” he responded. He is a man of few words, but surprised me that he knew how I may be feeling – I guess having been there himself several times helped. Thank you Emmanuel; I needed to hear that!

Then, I also decided to lay in my parka inside my sleeping bag – huge difference in warmth!

Feb 18th
We did have the day as a rest day. It is cold. Early this morning we heard another group get up for their summit bid. They were a little noisy. A couple of hours later, I heard a guide bring back one of their clients. I guess she had turned around. I could only imagine her disappointment.

Feb 19th
We start our Summit bid at 6:00am. It is freezing. But we are ready. Lynn, one of our teammates whom is 70 – which is a perfect example that age is only relative of how you feel, is ready and we start our summit bid, when all I hear is something about sunglasses and then he is no longer going up with us. I was confused but just kept moving.

We go up slowly, and it takes us about 9 and a half hours to reach the Summit. The last 30 minutes are hard. Every step I take it seams harder to breathe.
I am puffing my cheeks out (like a chipmunk, live Vern had taught us) and exhaling. I am also straightening my body in combination with my rest step, to allow more air to fill my lungs. But I still struggle.

Vern climbs in front of me and says: “You can do this Ema. We are almost there”. I simply reply. “These rocks are hard; there are so many rocks”. To which Vern says in a very Vern like tone of voice: “No shit, you are climbing a mountain!” It made me laugh.

I had read that to reach the Summit, we had to go through the ‘La Canaleta’ which is a scramble up some rocks. I think that would be more true if we could truly scramble up rock, but since there was enough snow to wear crampons on certain sections, I am not sure if this qualifies as a scramble.

To the base of the so-called “La Canaleta”, there is a rocky, concave-base wall somewhat in the shape of a cave, “La Cueva”. Here we are at 6650m.

We Summited at 3:40pm local time.
It is windy up at the summit, and in my first couple of pictures, my flag is upside down. Then I correct it, but the wind makes it hard. Vern offers to hold the flag on one of the corners. It works – kinda.

Then it is time to come down – just like that. All that effort and strain and it’s over in a few minutes. But I did it. I did it.

It was a long way down. It took us maybe close to 5 hours. I was so tired, that I kept slipping and falling on my behind. There is a ridge right after Independencia Refuge… which is the world’s tallest refuge. One must make it across this ridge to make it to the La Canaleta section and then back.

The wind is generally very high here, since it’s exposed. A slip here could mean you fall thousands of meters down the face of the mountain. It is here that many expeditions turn around on the way to the Summit and do not proceed to the summit when the weather is bad. We were told it is usually very windy and on previous days Carole had even showed us how we should climb and brace ourselves when we came to this point on Summit day. However, we had great weather. Hardly any wind in this section. Unusual. I know Jesus had me.

About an hour left in our descent I started seeing what I thought was a fly, or a flying spider on the right hand side of my eye. Because I was wearing my goggles, I thought there were bugs outside, since the sun was also starting to set. But the site of this ‘bug’ was actually something I was only seeing on my right eye. I continued to see the ‘bug’ until the day after we left the mountain. I know now according to my daughter Nicole, an RN, that they are “floaters”, and I am fortunate that they have since disappeared.

Feb 20th
We make our descent from camp 3 all the way to basecamp. It was a long day.
When we reached basecamp we are treated to hamburgers. I had a veggie burger. The team shared a bottle of champagne, courtesy of Alpine Ascents, and our generous guides Vern, Carole and Diego. It was a much needed celebration!

A couple of our teammates, including our Canuck friend has a few beers. I no longer have of an interest in drinking at high altitude and it still amazes me how some can. But I am me and everyone is different.

Feb 21st
We take the long journey trek from basecamp, to exit the park.
This in itself was a wonderful experience – because how often can one say they trekked on a riverbed?

After we exit the Park, we pick up our stuff we had left in storage, and then proceed to continue by bus to Mendoza.

That evening I took my “first” shower in 3 weeks. I had never been so dirty in my 51 years of my life! Kudos to the Hyatt staff that checked me in and never showed in their expression how dirty my face was – which shocked me when I looked at myself in the mirror in the bathroom. No, I had not looked at my face in the mirror while in the mountain! ☺

Back to hygiene. Back to cleanliness. I’m going home!
Only two (well 3) more to go… 7 (8) Summits for Mental Health.

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Carstensz Pyramid Climb Part 2 – Lots of Mud

Part 2 of 4: Carstensz Pyramid – Lots of mud on the trek to basecamp!
(Click to see previous part 1) (Click to see next post 3)

I had lost track of what day of the week it was – the sense of which only returned a couple of days after I arrived back home.

It was the day after we arrived at Williams’ farm. Even though we got up at 7:00am local time, we only started hiking around 11:00am. It took several hours for the bidding and organization of the porter team to be organized. I am told we have 19 porters – it’s hard to say, because the whole family comes … husband, wife and children.

The head of the Dani tribe, William stood in the middle of his farm, and after having an argument in public with one of his 7 wives, he started selecting porters. Once selected, each was given a blue pouch, which I assume had some information of what they were carrying and whom it belonged to and a bag to carry. The porters each carried one of our duffle bags, our supplies and our tents.

William also put out a ‘work order’, to the villagers that attended this ‘work’ assignment meeting, for those selected members of the tribe to go ahead of us and repair some sections of our trail that had been affected by a recent mudslide. This I was told by Raymond, our local head guide, was to have cost us the equivalent of $400.00 US dollars.

I actually had a two person tent to myself which I had chosen specifically to have more room so that I wouldn’t feel so claustrophobic. It was a luxury to be alone; it gave me the opportunity to journal, to write this! J

Raymond, our local lead guide led a prayer before we left. This would be a daily ritual, which I appreciated. Raymond back home is a non-practicing Pastor. However, his wife is the lead Pastor of their local church.

The trail was demanding, as we had to navigate up and down wet, rocky terrain, tree stumps and even rushing rivers. At one point, as we are walking along the river bank I could hear the raging waters and I started to feel anxious, as the previous crossing had been scary. But then I was presented with a bridge – what a beautiful sight! I was so happy and relieved, I got giddy!

The trail demands your complete attention, one distraction and you fall. I tripped once- the first day! Many more would follow….

One of our fellow climbers decided one day was enough, and would be returning the next morning with one of the guides, Hata. He opted to fly again to Timika and would take the helicopter option to base camp. The cost of this choice was $6,000.00 US, pretty steep! His plan was to meet us at base camp and then attempt to Summit with us. He planned to return to Timika via helicopter as well. I secretly envied him on day ‘One’ of trekking. It was daunting and exhausting. But I was pleased to experience that, because I had trained hard, I was up for the challenge!

I had to keep reminding myself that I was doing this, both to accomplish something very challenging and also, to be the first Portuguese woman to climb Carstensz Pyramid. This climb was primarily for my Mom and to raise money for mental health. These goals kept me going.

Several times, during my hike and when certain sections were scary, I knew Jesus had me in His care, and I felt secure. Thank you!

At the end of the day when I reaching camp and being able to contact my family was an incentive and a huge comfort. I missed them, especially my husband. I was the only woman on the expedition and even though my tent was always erected first and all the guys were great— attentive, helpful and true gentlemen, I still felt at the end of the day that I could have used a hug, the kind of hug only Steve could give.

The next day promised to be an especially hard one. Juan, another one of our local guides who was leading us, kept saying, “Hard.” “Lots of mud!”. He was not kidding.

One never expects to eat gourmet meals while trekking. However, there are several options of freeze dry foods, such as those by Mountain House. And there are other lighter weight options of certain foods that make long expeditions nutrition reasonable.

I am still not certain why, if it was the remoteness of Carstensz Pyramid, the harsh condition of trekking in, or the necessity of using local porters all the way, but nutrition was a HUGE issue, especially for me as a vegetarian. This had not been an issue when I climbed Mt Rainier in July. I feasted with my various Mountain House meals.

Here, the first day of trekking when we set out from the Dani tribe camp, we were handed a box of chocolate cookies and a smaller box of another variety of cookies – I thought it was a joke. But no! It was our lunch. The remaining lunches throughout the expedition would vary from the type of cookie box and then we graduated to a chocolate bar to accompany it. “Are you kidding me?” “We are hard core trekking people!” “We need better nutrition than average, not ridiculously less!”

For breakfast we had a slice of white bread and a one egg omelet. There is a jar of Nutella on the table from one of our expedition members and I offered a jar of dehydrated peanut butter I also had brought, in spite of weight limitations. That was it. Nothing else.

We also warmed ourselves with ready mixes of flavored cappuccinos! Load up on the sugar!

Rice and ramen noodles were our daily staple for dinner. The guys had fried spam with some dinners, canned fish and at base camp chicken wings and one night prawns – I saw an ice box and it was below 0 in temperature there – and the supplies come via helicopter, so it is possible! I had some of the corn and beans that had been bought in Timika – the times when the beans were not mixed in with meat! At base camp I did have steamed green vegetables added to my rice on a couple of occasions, and noodles. A massive treat!

I had packed some granola bars, which I had been advised against because of the extra weight – but I put some in my backpack, since a porter carried the duffle bag to the next camp. I’m so glad I did!

The following morning, which would be our 2nd day of trekking, once again even though we got up for breakfast at 7, we only hit the ‘trail’ at 9 or so. There were more negotiations with the porters some of whom was going to take Philippe back, because of this turning back and taking the helicopter meant the loss of payment for a couple of the porters. Afterwards more arguments on load allocations occurred, so we had to remove some stuff from all our bags, so more porters could carry stuff. It’s all about the money wherever you go in the world folks!

The trail was truly difficult. There were so many roots on the trees that it was similar to rock climbing, but on trees. At one point I got my UGG’s rain boot stuck in the mud and my foot came right out. I knew some days would be hard. This was one of them.

We reached camp late that day. It was about 6:35pm and I was finally in my tent. It was raining – it had been the pattern every evening; cold and tired and just craving to cuddle up in my sleeping bag.

I started to think about taking the helicopter option to return after we summit. I can’t imagine retracing my steps on the return and having to walk on the treacherous terrain. Just thinking about it was a comforting thought!

My stomach started to hurt a little; it seems I am starting to feel the affects of all the sugar I am consuming. Our bodies just aren’t built to survive on cookies and chocolate bars. Duh!

Raymond and Juan, said that today was the hardest part of climbing Carstensz. But warned us that tomorrow would be involve lots of mud. “Really?” “More than today?” I silently ask myself.

Many times today I had shed tears, but mercifully no one saw. About midway we got hit with a storm and climbing in the rain was really hard. My rain boots got completed soaked, so I knew the next day I would start my day with wet feet. Ugh.

There were so many fallen trees and roots, that constantly climbing them felt like rock climbing, but on trees! And twhen you add in the rain, it becomes a really hard trek. I kept thinking about Steve telling me he read online of people crawling to climb through certain jungle areas due to its density and overgrowth – that was an accurate account. There is no graceful way of climbing over and under all the roots!

I had to remind myself several times that Jesus had me in the palm of His hand and that I would display the flag I had made when I went to Mt Rainier. I would take His flag to the Summit, and have a picture with it saying: “Jesus Rocks!”

And with that came the peace and willpower to continue towards reaching the basecamp of Carstensz Pyramid, and then to climb to its summit. With perseverance came the opportunity to also marvel at the beautiful landscape that surrounded us. Along with the rainforest and muddy trails, I had the opportunity to see gold dust that just flows freely from the Freeport mine, sparkling in the rivers. The landscape itself seemed to be basically non-existing of wild life (at least we didn’t run into any)– we saw or heard the occasional bird – which was still impressive.  I do feel privileged and certainly blessed to have seen it and have trekked through it. It was exhausting, and yet, on some level, exhilarating. My excitement was fueled by what was to come.

Ema

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