Month: May 2011

Ski Descent of Mt. Everest’s Lhotse Face

“…we would look at each other with these ‘holy shit’ grins…”

It is summit season on Everest and Aspen skiers Chris Davenport and Neal Beidleman are climbing the south side of Mt. Everest as guides. The mountain gods blessed them with good weather so they took advantage of some free time to ski the Lhotse Face from just above Camp III, something that has only been done a handful of times in the past. Steve Casimiro had this to say about it along with some great shots:

So some dude tweeted and made a phone call from the summit of Mt. Everest. Whoop-de-do. Technology is like the Blob, it will be everywhere eventually, and that’s not even remotely interesting. On the other hand, Chris Davenport and Neal Beidleman just ripped it up on the Lhotse Face, the 40- to 50-degree pitch that serves as part of the classic Everest route, and that’s rad: legs, lungs, and lack of oxygen woven together in sets up perfect turns.

Ever skied a long run where your legs are burning and you are gasping for air?  Well, take that, multiply it times a million.  These guys carving tracks down the Lhotse Face at 23,000 ft must have set their legs and lungs on fire more so than if they drank a flaming bottle of kerosene.

Oh, and there was still the tallest mountain the in the world left to climb afterward.


12 Fascinating Wreck Dives

At the bottom of Davy Jones’ locker is a silent eerie graveyard of ships and planes that have been taken over by the sea and are waiting to be explored by curious divers. Each one has its own fascinating story to tell and with wrecks scattered all over the world’s oceans, the mysteries of the deep will challenge and satisfy the adventurer inside every diver.

1. RMS Rhone (1865-1867): Salt Island, British Virgin Islands
The story of the Rhone is a tragic tale that involved a Category 5 hurricane, the routine decision to have about 120 passengers tied to their bunks and locked in their cabins to prevent injuries and a captain who was swept overboard by a huge wave, never to be seen again. The violent storm tossed the ship against the rocks, filling the full steam boiler room with seawater causing an explosion. The ship broke in half with the stern and its restrained passengers sinking very quickly. The stern now sits at a depth of 35 feet while the bow is resting at 80 feet and the entire ship is covered with multi-colored corals and sponges.

2. SS Yongala (1903-1911): the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Known as Australia’s “Titanic”, the Yongala was a steel steamer ship that sunk in a cyclone off the shore of Townsville near Cape Bowling Green, taking with it over 120 passengers, a prize bull and a race horse. At the depth of 328 feet the aft, engine room, steam room, toilets and even human bones can be seen at this artificial reef.

3. The German World War I High Seas Fleet (1913-1919)- SMS Köln, SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm, SMS Markgraf, SMS König: Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands
The Germans were ordered to surrender all U-Boats and surface warships to the Allies at the end of World War I. Over 74 warships were interned at Scapa Flow waiting for the end of peace negotiations. When the Treaty of Versailles was ready the German Admiral was concerned Great Britain would take the fleet for its own. When a window of opportunity opened the Admiral ordered his fleet to be scuttled and within an hour over 400,000 tons of steel was sent to the bottom of the sea. The Köln lies on its starboard side at 114 feet, while the Kronprinz Wilhelm, the Markgraf and the König all sit virtually upside down between the depths of 98 to 131 feet.

4. Umbria (1911-1940): Red Sea, near Ras Muhammad
Although Italy was not yet in World War II the 500 foot long Italian cargo ship, the Umbria, was loaded with Fiat cars, wine, lifeboats, over 300,000 bombs, 60 boxes of detonators and other war commodities totaling 8,600 tons. The Royal Navy feared that the cargo would end up in enemy hands, but could only delay the ship at Port Said for so long before it was allowed to proceed on its way. The British forced the Umbria to anchor once more as they searched it. The captain of the Umbria happened to be listening to his radio the morning that Italy joined the war and then proceeded to scuttle his ship so the British could not have it. The Umbria’s cargo is still in tact at a depth of 118 feet.

5. SS Thistlegorm (1940-1941): Gulf of Suez, Sharm-El-Sheikh
The British merchant navy ship, the Thistlegorm, was carrying a full load of wartime cargo such as Bedford trucks, rifles, motorbikes and tank ammunition when it came under attack. It was this tank ammunition that exploded during World War II German bombing subsequently ripping open its roof and exposing its entire contents for divers to investigate. The depth range is between 42 and 98 feet making it a very popular dive destination.

6. SS President Coolidge (1931-1942): Vanuatu
A must for any wreck diver is the accessible President Coolidge. It has its origins as a 654 foot long luxury liner, but it sunk as a World War II troop ship when it ran into an American minefield. It now rests on its port side with the bow at 49 feet and the stern at 82 feet. It would take several dives to see all this massive wreck has in the way of cannons, a 10-wheel GM truck and jeeps.

7. B17 Bomber “Black Jack” (1942-1943): Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea
Another casualty of wartime is the Boeing B17 military bomber aircraft known as Black Jack. It lies in Papua New Guinea’s clear waters at a depth of 175 feet. It went down during a bombing mission in Japan, but is still intact and quietly waiting for divers to check out its turret guns and cockpit.

8. Fujikawa Maru (1938-1944): Truk Lagoon, Micronesia
One of the best wrecks to see of the 60 ships and planes of the Japanese “ghost fleet” is the Fujikawa Maru. This 7,000-ton freighter’s hold was loaded with Zero fighter planes when it was torpedoed during World War II. The ship sits upright at a depth of 437 feet making it easy for divers to get to and explore.

9. USS Saratoga (1927-1946): Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands
The Saratoga was the second aircraft carrier of the United States Navy and the fifth ship to bear her name. With 8 decks and an 888-foot flight deck it was 6 ft longer than the Titanic. It had a grand history during World War II of being very prominent in the Pacific, with the part it played in Iwo Jima being the pinnacle of its career. Once retired from duty, the Saratoga was brought to Bikini Atoll to be used as a target during the A-bomb tests. It went down with ammunition, 4 planes, dive-bombers, a torpedo bomber, 500 pounds of bombs and an assortment of anti-aircraft guns. At a depth of 40 feet the bridge can be seen, the flight deck appears around 90 feet and the hanger around 130 feet with its deepest depth being 190 feet.

10. SS Andrea Doria (1951-1956): Nantucket, North Atlantic
The Andrea Doria’s existence was cut short when it collided with the Stockholm, a Swedish freighter, in thick fog. Although the Stockholm suffered a blow to its bow it was able to stay afloat. The Andrea Doria was not so lucky, filled with water and sank 11 hours after the collision. The 700-foot luxury liner has been considered “the Mt. Everest” of scuba diving with only the most experienced technical divers being able to maneuver around the continually collapsing hull at 240 feet below sea level. It is also known as a “noisy wreck” due to the sounds of hall deterioration and metal being moved around inside by the currents.

11. MS Zenobia (1979-1980): Larnaca, Cyprus
The story goes that the Zenobia, a Swedish roll-on-roll-off ferry fully loaded with 104 articulated trucks with trailers, sunk on its maiden voyage due to a faulty computerized ballasting system. A maintenance crew was called in to fix the list from port to starboard side to 5%, were then prematurely dismissed, and then 9 hours later the ship capsized and sank. She now rests on her port side at 141 feet, with her starboard side at 52 feet.

12. USS Oriskany (1944-2006): Florida
The “Mighty O” was a 911-foot long US Army Essex-class aircraft carrier that had its first deployment in the Mediterranean and then the Korean War. After that the ship and its crew starred in 2 Hollywood films, The Bridges at Toko Ri and Men of the Fighting Lady. The Vietnam War was the last war for the Oriskany. It was decommissioned and 30 years later was purposely sunk to create the world’s largest reef at a depth between 65 and 147 feet.

Take a dive through history at any one of these underwater cemeteries and experience the sense of loss as well as the thrill of discovery.


Carstensz Pyramid

I was in between guiding gigs in Argentina when I learned the news.  The helicopter we were planning to use for our fly in/out approach of 16,024ft Carstensz Pyramid had been canceled indefinitely until further notice.  I had a total of two days to notify my clients that all of our preparations thus far were in jeopardy of coming apart at the seams.  The reason for the setback was due to contract negotiations between the Australian pilot and the massive Grasberg Mine.  The Grasberg mine is the largest gold mine on the planet and is situated in direct proximity to Carstensz Pyramid.   The mine prohibits climbers from passing through their premises, but are understanding of their helicopter pilots being able to subcontract out their services to accommodate climbers.  Therefore, the Aussie pilot was forced to abstain from all of his helicopter taxi service commitments until a contract could be forged with the mine.  This completely through a curve ball to any expedition that had been in planning stages and were now well on the road to executing this trip into reality.  One of those expeditions just happened to be us!

The first order of business was if I could resurrect a workable trip itinerary with the ground logistics company we had hired in Indonesia.  They already had our deposit and we felt a bit uncertain about our chances, but in the end they came through and were able to parlay our commitment into a trekking expedition.

There is a reason why most people fly in/out of Carstensz Pyramid Base Camp, the trek can be a logistical nightmare!  Not to say that the helicopter option has eliminated all probable hiccups in climbing the highest mountain on the Oceanic Continent, since I have heard of many tales of misfortune of weather delays on that front.  Although the 6 day trek in and 4 day trek out to Carstensz Pyramid absolutely trumps any notion of the many variables that most vivid imagination could conjure up, and therefore we were in for an adventure of a lifetime.

The international arrival for our trip was on the Indonesian island of Bali, which is nestled in the chain of islands that make up the  southern reaches of Southeast Asia.  The international flight from Seattle, USA to Denpasar, Indonesia was a 30+ hour multiple leg flight experience that will cause you to lose a day when crossing the international dateline.  When making your flight reservations, allow for adequate layover time between legs of your journey.  This will give you a buffer should any of your departures be delayed and assure that your luggage is transferred between flights.  As a precautionary measure, make sure you check with the agent (you will need your luggage tags for this) at the gate to see that your luggage actually did make the connecting flight.  This will give you a leg up should any of your bags become delayed in transit.

My flight that departed out of Vancouver, BC was delayed about 2 hours and unfortunately our Boeing 747 couldn’t make up the time in the air due to the headwinds of the jet stream.  Therefore my late arrival into Hong Kong resulted in me having about an hour to spare for the transit.  I thought that this would be enough, but upon my arrival into Denpassar I found that my luggage had not made the switch in time.  Omen for things to come? I try my best not to project such tidings into the universe, but I have yet to tap into a higher level of transcendence when it comes to traveling internationally.  Losing your luggage just sucks.

First and foremost I had to pay for my 30 day visa which cost $25 usd and then make my way through immigration.  Your maximum stay in Indonesia is 60 days and you will also need to have a passport that is valid for 6 months and plenty of free visa pages to be allowed into the country.

After the unfortunate procedure of filing my claim with the fine folks at the Cathy Pacific luggage desk, they had been able to locate my bags in Hong Kong and gave me assurance that they would be on the following days flight to Denpasar.  I made my way through customs and out through the arrival gate and located my driver that had been sent by the hotel.  In the event that you are unable to locate your driver, the key beta is to go directly to the taxi kiosk which is located outside of the arrival entrance.  You will want to prepay with Bluebird taxi (100,000 rupees = $10 usd) and just have them take you to the hotel which is about 3 kms from the airport.

Our initial rally point for our group was at the Ramada Bali Bingtang Resort.  This is the larger of two Ramada Hotels that is located in the popular, high paced Kuta Beach scene.  The resort itself was set up as a starting and stopping point for tour groups and it was a welcome oasis to the spring break party scene that managed to sprawl throughout Kuta Beach area.  I am either getting older or my pallet for the path of least resistance is beginning to manifest itself in my life.

Our Indonesian logistics company we used paid for the 1st and last night of our lodging while in Bali.  Our last day in Bali did allow us to take care of some logistical must do’s…

1. Pack trekking backpack with everything you plan to be carrying on the trail. This will also act as your carry on bag for the domestic commercial flight from Denpasar to Timika. This cannot weigh more then 7 Kilos (15 lbs).

2. Pack duffel for the trek that will be carried by porters. This bag cannot weigh more then 20 Kilos (44 lbs), make sure to have a TSA lock on this duffel. This will also be your only check in bag for the flight from Denpasar to Timika.

3. Pack a duffel with all of the gear you will not be bringing and leave tagged and locked at the Ramada Hotel in Bali.

4. Relax and enjoy Bali. You can rent surf boards on Kuta beach and the hotel has a nice spa.

Our Indonesian logistics team paid for our lunch and dinner during our stay in Bali.  The lunch we had was at the hotel and dinner we had at a restaurant in the Kuta beach area (that gave you upper back massages while you waited for your meal).  After dinner we retired to the hotel and we only had about 4 hours of rest since we had to check out of our hotel room at 1 am on the morning of the 26th in order to catch our 3 am departure from Denpasar to Timika.  Our meeting time was at 1 am sharp in the early morning.  We needed to bring all of our luggage with us. Our day pack and checking in duffel was loaded into the van. While our duffel to be stored at the hotel was taken at this time by the hotel staff.

We were transported as a group to the airport in the transportation provided by the Ramada Hotel.  Our flight departed Denpasar on Garuda Airlines (Indonesian airline) at 3 am and arrived into Timika, Papua at 6 am.  We flew on a Boeing 737. and our logistics people had organized this flight and facilitated the check in process while we were in Denpasar.

There seemed to be no way around this early flight departure. The Garuda flight we were on originated from Jakarta then stopped in Bali and then continued onto Timika. Therefore, you can start your trip from either Jakarta or Bali. In my opinion, Bali is a nicer place to depart from and arrive back to after a long trip on Carstensz Pyramid.

There were two independents that were on our expedition and shared our permit. They originated from Jakarta and were on our flight from Denpasar to Timika.

Early this morning we arrived into Timika and we were picked up by our divers which our Indonesian staff had arranged ahead of time for us. We were transferred to our hotel and checked in. We were then able to have breakfast at the hotel.  During this afternoon we had to weigh our duffel for the chartered flight to Ilaga.  We weighed our gear, we weighed ourselves, and we left all of this gear at the airline office. We also brought our daypacks to be weighed, but we brought these back to the hotel. Make sure your duffel has a lock on it since you will not be seeing this duffel until you arrive in Ilaga.  Therefore you will need to make sure that you have everything you need with you and packed in your daypack.

Later this afternoon and evening our Indonesian staff organized the Lunch and Dinner and we used our hired drivers for the transport.
It was during our free time on this day that our Indonesian staff informed us that we were going to be delayed a day in Timika. This was not good news since we only had two contingency days figured into our schedule and this setback would use up our final contingency day. The reason for the delay was that the pilot of our chartered flight decided that he did not want to fly. It wasn’t weather related since we had clear skies.  Most of Papua was settled by Christian Missionaries and the Indonesian’s whether Christian, Muslim, or Hindu are super religious. We would have been flying on a Sunday, so we deduced that this was the reason why we didn’t fly. This was a domino effect from our delay in Bali as a result of the independent having a difficult time with his entry into Indonesia in Jakarta.
Our Indonesian staff planned some activities for this extra day we had in Timika. We had a driver take us around to a community out along the coastal tidal flats and we visited a community center that was created as a good will gesture by the Grasburg mine (of the Freeport Company, Louisiana). The center had some good restaurants and we had lunch there. They also had a really nice Olympic size pool which we spent the latter part of the afternoon.
The morning of our flight from Timika to Ilaga had us rallying at the hotel dining hall for our 5 am breakfast.  We needed to be at the airport in Timika early (around 6 am) and our flight departed around 6:30 am. We did not need to go through security, so there was no need to worry about pocket knives, liquids, etc.  Although we were told to wait in our vehicle until summoned by the flight crew. The reason being was that people from the Papua separatists movement (or OPM) were protesting for their provincial separation outside of the airport and they do not like climbers going into climb Carstensz Pyramid.

We flew on a Twin engine Otter. Similar to ones flown into the Khumbu in Nepal. The airstrip we flew into was also reminiscent of Lukla and the elevation is around 2100m/7000ft. Once we landed at Ilaga (Sugapu) we were met by some of the local Dani people. They carried our gear for us from the airstrip to the Village of Panapa. The walk took about 45min and we wore our Wellington (Rubber) boots for this section since it is very muddy.

We spent this day at the Chiefs house in Panapa Village. The chief is very gracious to open up his home to visiting climbers and tried our best to be as respectful as possible. The meals were prepared for us by our Indonesian cook staff and we ate our meals in the Chiefs house. We had a good deal of free time on this day. Nice time to connect with the locals or play a hand of hearts (I have now dominated at hearts on 6 of the 7 continents thus far). There are two rooms on the second floor of the house which we were able to lay out our bags and sleep.

This would be a great time to sit down and talk with your Indonesian staff and lay out your expectations of them.
Things to cover in debrief. 1) Firm breakfast and dinner times. 2) High standard of cleanliness with cook staff. 3) Departure times from camp on trekking days, earlier the better, have your Indonesian staff talk with the chief and head porter before the chief does his briefing with the porter staff,  and be present as well for this discussion to represent the westerners.

You will want to make sure that your Indonesian staff is bringing these items and adhering to your expectations you are establishing with them: 1) A separate dining tent and a separate cook tent, do not allow your staff to cook in the dining tent. 2) A dining table is brought to keep food elevated off of the ground.
3) That the fastest porter is in charge of carrying the members tents and that these are all together and are first to arrive into camp. Preferably when the team members arrive into camp.

You will also most likely cross paths with the Papua Separatists Group (OPM) while on the trek (the same folks protesting at the airport). They are Dani in their appearance and can be armed and dangerous (ours we encountered were not). Your Indonesian staff have budgeted donation (bribe) money for this situation. Ours gave about 1 million rupees, which comes to about $1,000 USD.
Our first activity of the trip was trekking from Panapa Village our first camp,  Jungle Camp I.  This was a long day and took us about 9 hrs. We ascended about 3500ft through thick and steep jungle terrain and it was very muddy, lots of slick roots, logs to step over/under, and log bridges to cross. We departed Panapa Village around 8:30am and arrived at our camp 1 at 5:30pm.  The elevation pinpoints that marked our journey began at Panapa Village (2100m/7000ft) and ended at Jungle Camp 1 (3200m/10500ft).
Most teams do the trek from Panapa Village to Carstensz Pyramid in 6 days on the way in. We had to do the trek in 5 days do to us losing the days in Bali and Timika. Therefore some teams will camp at 2300m and then camp at the camp at 3200m respectively.  Overall there are many camps along the trek from Panapa to CP Base accommodating many itinerary options.
You will have a difficult time getting early departure starts to your day. Even if you get up early, motivate your Indonesian cook staff to rally, break down your tents and pack your duffel for the porters. The local Dani people who will act as your porters will be adamant that you wait for them to eat and finish their morning routine. Then they will want you to be apart of their morning prayer that is usually facilitated by the head porter. This is all fine and good, but on average we would be departing at 8:30am in the morning as a result and lays down the gauntlet when it comes to cover 15+ miles each day.
This day marked a developing and ultimately chronic issue we had to face throughout our journey. Our head Indonesian guide who was also the primary owner/operator of the trekking company we hired, had thought it would be alright to allow his office manager (who also happened to be his wife’s sister) to accompany the team on the trek to climb Carstensz Pyramid. This decision was completely unknown to us prior to our arrival into Indonesia. The clincher was that this person was not in good shape and on this day we noticed her struggling right out of the gate.
As a result of the slower pace of this person, our head Indonesian guide (47 summits of Carstensz) found it was his obligation to walk with her (obviously she did require extra assistance), although his services were greatly needed by us in the capacity of him being at the front of the group. The role of your head Indonesian guide is to be the general liaison between the western customers and the Dani porter staff throughout the trip. We consulted with him many times to be up front, but to no avail, and therefore he (and the slower one) would often arrive into camp anywhere from 3-5 hrs. after we had arrived.
This was a real bummer, he was a decent guide, but just lacked the common sense or foresight and had just made a really poor decision with allowing this person onto the trip. We ultimately did put an end to this person actually going to the summit (she was actually really relieved) and therefore stayed with the Dani staff at Camp 4 and waited for us to return from our summit bid. Although we still needed to do the 4 day trek back out (a story for another time).
Therefore, you will want to make sure that if you have been given the assurance from your logistics company that you are receiving services for a pvt. trip, that you maintain that communication and keep the channels open religiously . To top it off, our Indonesian staff also allowed two independents to join our trip as well, and again with no forewarning. Ultimately it all worked out since one of them was super fit and experienced. While the other (was fit) but lacked any technical skills for the summit attempt. He ended up doing fine, but I had to take him under my wing on several occasions whilst guiding my three clients on our summit day (all good).
The second day of our trek marked the activity of going from Jungle Camp 1 to River Camp 2.  These pinpoints were Jungle Camp 1 (3200m/10500ft) and River Camp 2 (3200m/10500ft).

Our departure was at 8am and we begin the day hiking up a steep slope to reach our first high pass which brought us to the first (of many) highlands marsh plateaus. We were happy to have our Wellington boots for this entire day since their was a lot of wallowing through the mud.  The terrain eventually does open up into rolling terrain through many really cool outcrops of limestone pinnacles. This is pretty and cruiser and the end of the day will bring you down off of the plateau into a lower valley. You will then have to negotiate your first major river crossing and then continue up the adjacent valley for another 45 minutes until you reach the camp which is located on the bank of another river.

You will know that you are getting close to the first river crossing when you see this pertinent landmark, a large limestone cave, with carvings on the inside. After you cross the first major river, which is at the bottom of the valley, you will then parallel a different river as you make your way up the adjacent valley. Make sure you stay on the uphill side of the river, this will allow you to only have to cross the river once as opposed to three times.

This day could result in people getting spread out due to the cruiser terrain once you get to the limestone pinnacle region. The trail is pretty well defined although I would recommend that you have people constantly regroup at the many passes you will be going over.

We actually had a minor situation with two of my clients who were moving faster then the rest of the group,  I had stayed back with one of my slower clients and the two continued ahead. Initially I was fine with it since they were following one of our Indonesian staff who knew the way, but the problem resulted when they got so far ahead that I lost my visual on them. They had taken the liberty to cross the river on their own and continued to follow the Indonesian staff member all the way to camp 2.  I was far behind with my client that was moving much slower. We got to the big limestone cave and waited for the rest of our Indonesian staff and Dani porters to arrive. The porters arrived first and decided then and there that they were going to all camp in the cave. They directed us to head down to the river and camp, although we still had another 45 minutes to get to the real camp 2 further up the valley.  Meanwhile, my two clients and the Indonesian staff member were at the real camp 2. We tried our best to convince our porters to go the extra 45 minutes, but no dice, and we then had to send a porter to retrieve my two clients and the Indonesian staff member.
Since we were not at the traditional camp 2, we needed to create tent platforms. Our Dani staff were helpful and used their machetes to cut down bushes and grasses to create the platforms. Most of the campsites are uneven marshes and moors, therefore we had to use some care to pick out some good tent locations. You may even need to consolidate space and pitch all the tents side by side.

On day three of our trek in we left at around 8 am and made our our destination for the day would be camp 3 located in the highlands marsh.We begin the day with 2 big river crossings and then begin ascending up the valley through steepening terrain. We wore our Wellington boots for this entire day.  As we gained the plateau that marked the start of the highlands marsh region, our trail was mainly full of up/down, rolling and wet terrain until we reached our camp at 11,800ft.  Today was chock full of river and stream crossings, about 12 in total, and careful steps were needed to avoid having our boots fill  up with water.

Everyday we would experience the classic Papuan afternoon downpour. Like clockwork, it would begin between 12pm and carry on/off until around 3pm. You will want to have your rain gear and umbrella accessible at all times.  I found that my rain pants (even with full side zips open) were just too much for active trekking and would result in overheating, so I would often just use my parka and umbrella to keep the magnitude of the rain at bay.

One thing is for certain, the Dani porter staff do not like walking in the rain. Once the afternoon rains begin, your staff will stop dead in their tracks and build a big fire to warm themselves and cook their sweet potatoes by. They will also want to have you stop and wait out the weather with them, I guess misery likes company.  Even when we attempted to continue on ahead, the Dani would all get really upset and yell at you to stop and wait with them. We were in their lands and we did not want to upset our hosts, s0 we often waited with them a majority of the time on our trek in. Eventually though it just became too much and we would continue on despite their demands, especially when we trekking out after the climb.

Camping in the highlands marsh can be a challenge and we would instruct our Dani staff to prep the tent sites for us by cutting down the tall grass (that is available in the vicinity) and then laying the grass down like stable hay in the tent site locations. This would make our tent sites much more flat, comfortable, and dry amongst the uneven hummocks of wetness that are indicative of this area.

As we continued our epic slog filled adventure through the highlands marshes, our final camp of the trek was to be the fabled camp 4 (12,200ft), near the foot of New Zealand Pass.  This was ultimately our longest day of the trek.  It begins by crossing more of the highlands marshes until you are presented with more stream and river crossings.  Again, we took our time to find the best possible place to cross the rivers. There are places to hop from boulder to boulder to avoid getting wet, although you will most likely be fording the rivers and streams. We often would take our socks and insoles out of your Wellington boots for the crossings, but this would be a bit time consuming.  Looking back, it would have been a good idea to bring some Teva style sandals along since most of the crossings were over our knees. Our trekking poles provided plenty of aid to our balance in the turbid waters.

For us, this day kicked our butts! We stayed consistent with our normal late departure out of camp as a result of our porters wanting us to wait for them. In hindsight, and if it is at all possible, I would have really pushed the staff early on make 7am departures a mainstay to our daily routine.  Most of our time was taken up by the river crossings (ringing out wet socks) and the afternoon downpours forced us to stop multiple times to sit with our inherently ombrophobic Dani staff.  Again, in hindsight, I would not make this apart of our daily repertoire, best to keep the team moving forward.

After one of our last river crossings of the day we were witness to one of our Dani staff instigating a coup with some of the Papuan porter staff. They wanted to stop and not continue onto our camp which was resulting in us having to camp early and setting us further behind schedule.  We were still about 2-3 hours away from our camp 4 and we did not want to adhere to their demands for many reasons. The main one was that we needed to get to our camp 4 since the following day would be our move to base camp and the second was that the site they were choosing was horribly marshy, uneven, and very wet.
Our Indonesian staff members, tried their best to communicate with the porters and motivate them to continue.   Struggling with the language barrier is a common occurrence in the land of the Dani and was a issue at times.  Even though they are super hardworking, the Dani, can become very lazy and stubborn at times.  So after almost 2 hrs. of trying to convince the Dani staff to continue on, one of the Indonesian staff members brought out a bag of candies and offered one to each of the Dani porters. The porter who had been the instigator, then motioned to the rest of the porters and said it was alright to continue and we all then began to move again. Go figure that a bag of candies would be the bargaining chip we needed to motivate our team.
As a result of this delay, we all ended up arriving into camp 4 in the dark and in a classic Papuan downpour of rain.  Headlamps were needed, but the Dani staff did not have any at their disposal. Therefore after we had gotten all of the group members to camp, both myself and the other guide had to go back down and help assist the porters back to camp with our headlamps.
In light of our late and sporadic arrival of our group, most of the member tents were all spread out amongst the porters and we only had a few of the tents available to set up. We were all soaking wet and some of the group members were without their duffel bags as well. I ultimately had to head back down a third time to locate the remainder of our porter staff and found a group of the porters hanging out around a fire in a cave. With them were the missing tents and duffel bags, so I rallied them to depart the warmth of the fire and led them back up to the camp with my headlamp.  Leading a group up through razor sharp fins of limestone in the pouring rain is no picnic and by the time we all finally arrived into camp it was 11pm.  We were soaking wet, starving, and mentally and physically exhausted. To add insult to injury, our Indonesian cook staff did not make dinner for due to the dyer conditions.  Everyone was tired and just wanted to sleep, although our staff of Dani porters had other intentions since they ended up chanting, singing and screaming at the tops of their lungs until 3am.  Normally I like the Dani’s singing and chanting, but we were all not happy with it this evening.
After an exhausting 3 hours of rest, we needed to put on our game faces and begin the day of our final push to Carstensz Pyramid base camp.  Lucky for us that this was one of the shorts days in respect to time duration, but it did not take away from the fact that we needed to ascend/descend notorious New Zealand Pass.
We departed our camp (12,200ft) at the foot of New Zealand Pass at 8:30 am.

The beginning of our day had us walking through more of the muddy marsh lands, but then transitioned into a climb of a steep muddy face to a our first pass.  From here we descended down to Larson Lake, a good sized lake that was named after one of the early missionaries that visited with the Dani of this area.  From here we made our way around the lake and to the upper reaches of New Zealand Pass.  This area transitions into a pure alpine zone as you make your way to New Zealand Pass and continues as you then drop down into the valley where Carstensz Pyramid  base camp is located.  We arrived into base camp around 2 pm and this was early enough to allow us to have plenty of rest before our summit bid.

We found the water is marginal at base camp. Our camp was beautifully situated on the shore of a lake, but the lake has a lot of harsh minerals in it and is not fit to drink. What worked well for us was to continuously fill up our water bottles along the varies side streams we encountered along our trek prior to our arrival into base camp.  Most of the streams are very clear and the water tasted really good, although we still treated our water with iodine (we were in Papua).

We found plenty of really nice flat tent platforms down by the lake, although the ground is too hard for tent stakes. We were lucky to have long guidelines on all of our tents in order to utilize the many available rocks as anchors here. The water our staff  collected is above the lake and toward the hill in the direction of Carstensz Pyramid. This was decent water and far from the toilet that is adjacent to the tent sites on the shore of the lake.  It was a  bit of a trash heap here and I recommend packing out your human waste in a blue bag or WAG bag product.
We were c

Solite 150 Headlamp

“… looking to shave weight off your pack, the Solite is a great choice…”

Over at The Adventure Blog they recently reviewed the Solite 150 headlamp. It is made by Light & Motion, a company known for its high-powered cycling lamps, but is now entering the outdoors market with their first headlamp. The lamp was created after Light & Motion got wind that skiers in Norway and Austria, faced with limited winter daylight, were using Light & Motion’s biking lights to ski at night.

It weighs about 5.3 ounces, designed with LED technology and due to its own circuit designs packs a powerful 150 lumens for illuminating any outdoor play. It can be used any time of the year in practically any outdoor situation and can be recharged using many cell phone charges.


Nuun- Electrolyte Enhanced Drink Tabs

Nuun is a portable Alka-Seltzer type tablet that is dissolved in water to replenish the body of important electrolytes. Nuun contains zero sugar and produces a hypotonic solution so your body absorbs it faster than water alone or sports drinks. This allows it to restore optimal water and electrolyte balance quickly and efficiently. It was designed just for hydration, not energy. Each tube contains 12 tablets, there are over 10 flavors to choose from and is easy to use. Just drop a tablet into 16 oz of water, let it dissolve then drink it.

Since being introduced to Nuun I now pass up the sugar-filled Gatorade and grab these tablets after a physical workout or to fill my Camelback for an outdoor activity.


Exhilarating Rio: Going Beyond Beaches & Bars

When people hear the word Rio most envision the infamous Samba-infused festival that is Carnival. But Rio also brings to mind long stretches of glistening white sands of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches packed with scantily-clad sun worshippers and a diverse Latin nightlife that lasts into the wee hours of the morning. Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and majestic mountain ranges it is no wonder that Brazil’s “marvelous city” also offers plenty of exhilarating activities that go beyond the beautiful beaches and music pumping bars and nightclubs.

Tijuca Forest is an 8,000-acre urban jungle that sits in the middle of Rio. It is home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World (Christ the Redeemer statue), has 30 waterfalls and a multitude of outdoor thrills to entice the novice as well as the expert.  Besides being amongst 100 different species of animals, there are plentiful opportunities to go spelunking in limestone caves like Caverna dos Morcegos, Luis Fernandes or Bernardo de Oliveira. For those who prefer to have their feet high off the ground, Pedra Bonita Mountain has a launching ramp at 1,700 ft making it the ideal spot to start a scenic hang gliding or paragliding experience.

A different twist to seeing this lush rainforest is with a bird’s eye view while zip-lining from the tops of the trees.  Lagoa Aventuras circuit is a 393 ft long zip-line that is 246 ft across, 19 ft off the ground.

The summits of Tijuca Peak (3,353 ft), Pedra Bonita (2,283 ft) and Sugarloaf (1,299 ft) reward ambitious hikers with breathtaking views of Rio with the challenging Pedra da Gavea offering the most experienced hikers the best never-ending views from its 2,763 ft summit. For rock climbers, impressive mountains like Sugarloaf, Urca, Corcovado, Pedra da Gávea and Serra dos Orgäos collectively have over 400 routes with difficulty ratings from 5.4 to 5.13a making Rio a dream destination for climbers.

The ocean around Rio is inviting with its brilliant turquoise hue and average temperature hovering around the mid 70s. For thrill-seekers who are happiest when wet, Rio has every type of water sport from surfing and sailing to paddleboarding. An abundant marine life reserve is only a 2 hour drive away in Arraial do Cabo where scuba divers go to swim with turtles and moray eels or explore the Dona Paula shipwreck. Kayaking the coast gives one a different perspective of the city, but kayaking on Macaé River steps up the excitement with rapids ranging from Class 1 to Class 5. Kayakers share the 15 rapids of Macaé River with white water rafters, but rafting can also be done on the 25 rapids of Paraibuna River.

With so much going on in this exotic location it is easy to have an exciting land, water or air experience by day and engage in the city’s culture by night. Rio de Janeiro is definitely an adventurers playground.


Microadventure: Hiking and Camping Death Valley

With only a weekend to play with, where could a couple of San Francisco cube-dwellers find an exotic microadventure and be back to work on Monday AM?

Death Valley. The name alone does not sound like an exciting must-see destination. It sounds more like a place to avoid. I once was a believer of that concept until I actually spent a long weekend there. I discovered that Death Valley is a remarkable place with all the attributes a desert should have: undisturbed wilderness, rare wildlife, complex geology, historical interest and spectacular scenery.

It is only a 6-hour drive from Los Angeles and, for me, just a 9-hour drive from San Francisco, making it a good destination for a weekend getaway. This desert is home to the dry powder white Badwater Basin Salt Flats, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere that sits 282 feet below sea level. It is the largest national park outside of Alaska and although I was there in optimal Spring conditions, it boasts Summer temperatures that have reached as high as 134 degrees. It is a place where cacti and succulent plants defy the dryness, extreme heat and soil salinity and grow here anyway. I was lucky to see some of this defiance in action in the way of cacti in full bloom. Besides offering some great terrain for hiking it also has mountain biking, horseback riding, golf and 8 ghost towns. My goal on this trip was hiking, but the biking and ghost towns could easily lure me back for more exploration.

Preparation for a weekend in Death Valley is simple. To start you need to choose the people who you want to share this unique adventure with and set a date. Next you need to make your campsite reservations depending on how many people are in the group. There were only 2 in my party so deciding to set up camp close to the car was easy. Trying to pitch the tent in gale force winds and bending the frame rods, was not. But, in the end it was all part of the adventure.

From here it is just a matter of coordinating with everyone in the group to see who has what type of camping gear, i.e. tents, stoves, sleeping bags, headlamps, etc. My camping gear consisted of two lone items, a therm-a-rest and a daypack, so it was quite fortunate that I went with an experienced camper who had all the necessary gear. Packing for hiking is as easy as throwing the essentials like shorts, t-shirts, sunscreen, socks, hat, Camelback, first aid kit, hiking boots and a toothbrush into a bag. I made a point to restrict myself to one bag plus a daypack for hiking. Traveling light is the beauty of a Microadventure.

With today’s gas prices only going up, carpooling seems the optimal way to cut down on expenses. Find the participant with the biggest vehicle and try to get everyone and the gear in it. Limited groceries may be purchased in the park or outside the park in the communities of Beatty, Nevada and Shoshone, California. A good idea is to stock the cooler with ice and food before entering the park.

There are plenty of hiking opportunities in this desert. Most of the hiking routes are either along rocky ridges, cross-country or up polished marble slot canyons and go through multi-colored badlands, past colorful mosaics of dolomite, and through the salt flats and sand dunes of the open desert. Easy to moderate trails like Gower Gulch Loop, Desolation Canyon and Dante’s Ridge exists to get a feel for the terrain. We started off on Gower Gulch Loop that brought us past the Artist’s Palette, volcanic hills that have been colored by various mineral pigments like iron salts, mica and manganese. More strenuous trail-less hikes like Telescope Peak Trail, Wildrose Peak Trail and Little Bridge Canyon are there to challenge you and let you go off and explore. At some point we found ourselves scrambling on shale for some time until I reached my level of shale scrambling expertise and had to turn back.

Dante’s View atop the Black Mountains should not be missed because of its amazing panoramic view of the Badwater and across the valley to the barely visible Mt. Whitney. But trust me when I say to not underestimate the wind factor up here. There are full force winds to contend with that almost made me have to crawl across the ground for fear of getting blown off the ledge. Not a comfortable feeling, but it was quite exciting as well.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is 1 of 5 dunes in Death Valley, are the most accessible and look like something right out of the Namibia Desert. Walking along the ridge and running down these dunes are worth the half-mile trek in sand. I found it to be the perfect spot to watch the sun setting.

We could not help but come across abandoned, hazardous mines while hiking. They are over 140 years old, dilapidated and have fallen into ruin. There are somewhere between 6,000 to 10,000 mines, almost a 1,000 tunnels and holes scattered about and tracks leading away from the mines that seem to just dead end. Of course curiosity took over and we did go just inside the entrance framed by rickety wood beams and as we stepped into the past we tried to imagine what it must have been like mining here back in the Gold Rush era.

With 9 campground sites there is bound to be a great spot to sit by the campfire, relax in the cool air and enjoy the night sky over Death Valley. A blanket of shimmering lights and a great chance to see several shooting stars in one evening awaits anyone who comes. I am ready to be wrapped in that blanket once more.

So, without having to get on a plane, go on a Microadventure and embrace the rugged beauty that is Death Valley.