Last month First Ascent Guide David Morton helped lead a climbing team from the Heroes Project, an organization that provides an adventure outlet—among other things—for injured veterans, to Carstensz Pyramid, a 16,000-plus-foot peak on the Indonesian side of the island of New Guinea. This is the second part of a three-part story. – EB Editor
Story and photos by David Morton
Thirty-five dollar rubber boots don’t make the best footwear if you’re going to walk nine to 13 hours a day for eight days. But if your walk takes you through mud and marsh that is often knee high, they fit the bill. The tricky part is pulling your boot out of the mud without it staying stuck. A prosthetic leg has the same problem.
As I came around a corner during the first few hours of that first day, I saw Noah shin deep in mud trying to engage his left leg. He wanted it to move; it didn’t. After much effort Noah ended up lying in the mud while his leg remained upright and proud. So began a quick learning curve as to how to finesse a prosthetic out of the mud without losing important pieces that keep the leg on the leg. A hint: duct tape is helpful.
The first few days through the jungle involved many river crossings on makeshift bridges as well as steep climbs. And mud. Always the mud. It ranged from thin and almost soup-like to a thick consistency that set up like concrete. All tastes in mud were represented.
I’m convinced Noah spent close to one-half of the time on his knees, belly or combination of the above. Pulling, pushing, levering, sliding. His was a Herculean full-body attack. It was truly impressive to witness. It was multiple times the amount of work we did.
We stopped nearly every hour to dry off Noah’s stump. One of the big concerns on a trip like this was that blisters and irritations may develop on the stump and turn into an infection or wound that would be nearly impossible to continue with or treat. So this became our standard routine: take a break, get the leg off quickly, dry it off, eat, drink, get the leg back on and continue. We started to function like clockwork and had a great time doing it despite how long and difficult the days were.
Once we figured out how to keep Noah’s leg and body in working order despite the pounding, the crux became how to deal with the porters. Every other evening or morning there was a problem. We got good at picking up the signals that something was up. A bit of chatter… porters voices slowly elevating… walking back and forth from their makeshift shelter to the cook tent… discussions with the cook… then, eventually, shouting among themselves. One porter, whom we nicknamed Groucho, would often take the lead. But often he had a sidekick that looked like a good-cop/bad-cop routine. After much back and forth, wasted time and satellite phone calls we’d eventually be on our way. It was incredibly frustrating.
Despite truly enjoying the interactions with the Papuans, this consistent tension always kept a bit of a wedge in things.
As we neared our base camp on the last couple of days, we broke from the jungle, entered the highlands and were treated to some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever experienced. The terrain at times even gave us a few hours of relatively easy walking. It was quite a treat. The clouds broke each morning and gave us glimpses of the massive limestone formations that form the range.
After eight days of walking from dawn to well after dusk, we crested New Zealand pass, ambled through the ancient limestone bedrock once covered by glacier and dropped down to our base camp.
Once again, it was pitch black, our headlamps were on and it was pouring rain.
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