Recently I had a nightmare, featuring me in the leading role (how narcissistic, I know!) and battling a horde of Zombies. My younger sister turned into a zombie (sorry, Jill – probably a result of your insistence on the Walking Dead visit last December!). She was, however, a good one and worked undercover to help us elude all those trying to eat our brains. PvZ, maybe it’s a good thing I stopped playing.
And truthfully, on Day 5 of the trek, I wasn’t much more than a Zombie myself. Another day….another 20+ km. Over hills and mountains, through valleys, past lakes, feeling my feet squish inside my infamous rubber boots.
A couple of hours in, I started getting dizzy and clearly recognized the onset of AMS (acute mountain sickness).
Strange. Usually I don’t feel any symptoms until above 5000m. So why am I feeling like this at around 4000m? Must be a testament to how trying this whole trek has been – my body can’t acclimate as usual. Maybe I should eat something. Ugh. Maybe not. Probably I should drink more…did I treat that water? Steep terrain ahead…am I going to fall off those rocks? Step. Handhold. Step. Pause and breathe. Why do I feel so miserable? Step. Handhold. Push up. Step. Step. Look around. The world is tilting. Step. Why is there a black loafer laying next to the trail? Step. step. Hold on. And now red latex gloves?
Keep going. For hours. Strange.
Turquoise blue lakes below. Descend. Hold on, steep descent. But we’re close. It starts to rain – hood on. Keep going.
As we enter Lake Valley (which is the main base camp), the porters have already spread the news that we’re coming. There is an indonesian TV crew there to film a climb – they’re not interested in us. The Indonesian Army troupe there protecting them – different story. As we walk into the valley (me still in Zombie state, un-showered now for 6 days and with almost 90km of intense trekking behind me), the camp comes alive. The last thing in the world I feel like doing is posing for photos, but all the army guys are so happy to welcome us, I can’t refuse. And one of my favorite photos of the whole trek comes out of it, so now I’m glad I didn’t.
Following the quick photo session, we carry on. Our plan is to stay in Yellow Valley, sort of an advanced base camp that is 45 minutes past Lake Valley and directly at the base of Carstensz. The porters had agreed to go into Yellow Valley – which they don’t generally like to do. Apparently it gets into borderline sacred territory, and it’s an extra 1.5 hours on their day, since they walk back through Lake Valley to head down into Freeport. We are all breathing hard – pressure breathing done consciously by me, seemingly intuitively by the porters – as we climb the last slope and descend into Yellow Valley.
As you see in the video, I am beyond exhausted. And it is cold. It turns out the “dining tent” has been adopted by two other guides, who are spending about 6 weeks in this desolate place and helping 4 or 5 heli-in, heli-out groups to the top. So I sit on a rock with the porters while Lauren goes in search of his stashed duffel bag, which contains another tent, big enough for the two of us to sleep and eat in. It’s cold. Really cold. And windy. I capture the mountain above on video, give my uneaten lunch away to some porter women (sorry, Lauren – kept that a secret from you but I really couldn’t stand to eat and especially not fried eggs after days and days of them!), and rock back and forth on my stone, trying to stay warm. Some time later – and I have no perception of time, it may have been 2 minutes later and may have been 20 – the guides in the yellow tent invite me in for tea. I’m incredibly thankful, although not particularly conversational. It’s interesting to hear about their schedule, gather intel about the incoming groups and weather forecast, and I’m amazed to learn that I’m in the company of the man with the most Carstensz summits: 73!!! Can you imagine climbing the same mountain 73 times?
Finally our tent is set up, so I hustle through the now-falling rain and dive inside. I treat myself to a wet-wipes bath and don my summit clothes before crawling into my sleeping bag. With a group of 10 arriving tomorrow and a deteriorating forecast, we’re now determined to make a summit bid tonight. Eat. Drink. Put together gear. Lauren will do one last check of conditions at 1:00, and assuming it looks good, we’ll be on the trail at 4:00. Hope I’m ready for this.