Trip Report Puncak Jaya- Summit Number 5 and Highest in Australia/Oceana


This climb involved “a lot of moving parts that could kill you.” In other words, I boarded no fewer than 3 planes and a helicopter to climb the mountain, and the same number to return, all of which could have failed. This was the first time I fully used a guided service, and I went directly to the source in Indonesia, to avoid significant costs associated with using Western Providers. This tactic comes with consequences, but it was what I expected.

Los Angeles to Bali-

The first leg was to Hong Kong. A 16 hour flight, next to a broad shouldered man who wouldn’t politely share the arm rests. Thank God for sleep aids, face masks, and earplugs. I found Cathay Pacific to be adequate, and the food was good. I had a 3 hour layover in Hong Kong, then flew to Denespar, Bali. My airport pick up, Tofi, was great. He made himself very visible through the hundreds of signs welcoming arrivals.


Busy city.  Crazy infrastructure,  looks like it could explode at any moment.  Unfortunately, it's very dirty, with no garbage collection services.  They burn the trash.  This is why garbage is ending up in the oceans, and Indonesia, as the fourth most populated countries in the world, is a main contributor to ocean plastic. It’s sad, as simple infrastructure and tax systems could fix it. 

The climate is warm, around 30C, breezy. The people are loud, they talk loud and they seem to have a complete disregard for the impact of their noise on others. It took a bit of getting used to.

My airport pick up guy was waiting for another client, who I met later named Quesra.   He kept me waiting for a while.  His name is Tofi.  Eventually he got me in a cab and off we went to my hotel.  I checked in, went to the pool, took a shower, walked down the street to get some money, and returned and had a pretty decent meal and bingtan, the local pilsner.

I packed the remainder of my gear and went to the front area to wait for the next transport.   

I met Quesra, a cardiovascular surgeon from NJ, born and raised in NorCal, but at 18 went to Pakistan with her dad, and studied medicine there.  She is 47 with two kids, and prefers the option of paying her way through as much of the hassle of the mountains as possible.  She is interesting and talkative.  Thrilled to know her.

I met Merv, a Chinese man from Beijing who keeps to himself.  He is a financial hedge fund guy now living in Phillipines.

Andrew Barnard, a business man from Australia who owns a couple of factories and sells eco friendly fish lures and makes a living capitalizing on ecological advancements. 

Jelle and his girlfriend, a solo paddler and 7 summits approach guy from Belgium.  He lived on the streets after his parents divorced, then began his endeavor to summit the 7 via paddling, bike, and human power.  A very interesting guy, definitely the top of the pyramid of fitness in our group.

Abdul, an IT independent man from Pakistan, who lives in Switzerland, who has 5 kids, and had just come from Antarctica via a ridiculously long itinerary.   He was very patient and enjoyable to speak with.  

Ilina, a female climber from Macedonia who has done a lot of climbing, a few 8000m peaks, is a national hero, a supporter of women empowerment, an environmental activist, and lives life on the edge of comfort.  She had an exceptional amount of success and she and I became fast friends.  She is also a talented artist and I am going to procure one of her paintings.  

Bali to Timika, December 30-

We left around 0100 on a sparsely full plane, flew a bumpy 4 hour flight to Western Papua.  I was able to stretch out and get a bit of sleep.  I woke up to pristine untouched jungle and winding rivers emptying into the sea.  It was beautiful and balancing and settling.  

We landed, a guy riding his moped almost crashed into our transport.  Timika is big, and unfortunately also dirty.  There is no trash collection services and so there is litter all over and they burn garbage, which has an acrid smell.  

We checked into our hotel, which is quaint and is a series of rooms with tin roofs.  There is a decent pool, and I had a swim.  I was positioned next to the pool, and the kids were going crazy playing around in it.  I had lunch and dinner and we were given a briefing on what to expect.  We bedded down at around 2200 but obnoxious loud bass and karaoke sound kept us awake until midnight.

I woke at 0500 on 12/30.  I was the second group to go, along with Abdul and Kesra.  Andrew went first.  We waited quite a while.  The mountain has to have sufficient cloud clearing and no wind to be entered.  We received word we would go, and excitedly jumped in the transport. 

We arrived at the airport, and as we were preparing for the helicopter to arrive, we were told it had turned around.  This is the dreaded RTB, which cost Andrew $1200.00.  We all agreed to and accepted this risk.  We returned to the hotel, disappointed.  Andrew did not show signs he was upset, which I admire.  I would have been upset.

I worked out for about an hour, in my pants because I had no shorts.  I then took a swim.  I found that my left knee was likely bothering me because it hadn’t been properly exercised,  and I took care of that.  I did some leg drops and moved some weight around.  

We then went out to get some clothes, and that was a fun cultural experience.   I picked up some good swim trunks and a decent button down shirt.  I went out with Kesra and Andrew.  There are a lot of mopeds here and people drive like maniacs.

I tried unsuccessfully to rest, but the kids, then some very loud music, prevented that from happening.  We all went out to a different restaurant, and I ate a lot of very spicy food. 

Timika, December 31-

We woke up and began our routine.  They transported Andrew and Josh guide and Poxi guide to the airport.  They were able to get Andrew to base camp.  As of 0911, they had not yet been able to get us on the helicopter. 

We turned around at about 0930.  Too much wind.  Spending NYE in Timika, try again tomorrow.   Andrew was able to get in to base camp.  

We returned to our hotel, the one that I had been upset about with noise from kids and noise from karaoke and very obnoxious loud music otherwise.  Had I known we were going to relocate I would never have complained.

We relocated to a hovel.  The room I was placed in had a window that opened into the hallway, a corridor with a toilet.  It was also very hot and the air conditioning system didn’t remain on when you left.  That didn’t matter because it worked miserably when it was on.

We went to lunch and the food at the restaurant on the premises was actually really good.  I had a bowl of curry soup, a fried fish, and a couple of cokes.  We didn’t drink much alcohol while we were here which was a really good thing.

Ilina and I ended up playing cards for quite a while and getting to know one another.  Eventually, about the time the mosquitoes joined us, we changed to get together to go to a dinner celebration for New Years Eve.

We all went as a group and the setting was well done. There was a stage with live music, mostly in Indonesian.  There was a buffet. Again, an absence of alcohol, and again, a good thing.  We stayed until about 2130, then left, and me, Ilina, and Quesra aka The Fish Doctor, all played cards and drank a couple of beers.

We rendezvous back at the dinner celebration at 2345, and watched in awe as a multitude of illegal fireworks were volleyed off the roof.  At midnight, the calendar year changed.  Just before we went to sleep, Ilina knocked on my door to show me the massive cockroach that she found on her bed.  She did this I think to mess with my head.  

I slept incredibly poorly that night.  I sent out a number of text messages and finally put my head on the pillow at 0100.  The stifling heat prohibited the sand man dance.  I woke up at 0430, assembled my gear again, and went to the lobby.  Maybe 2 hours of sleep.

Timika to Base Camp and Summit, and Back to Base Camp January 1-

Myself, Quesra, and Abdul boarded the helicopter at about 0630.  It was a very calm clear day.  We flew over the landscape, which was breathtaking and somewhat unspoiled.  The lush jungle is flat at first. It then becomes very hilly, sharp, steep faces, but the vegetation remains.  This eventually gives way to the mountains that contain the summit peak.

To ascend PJ, you travel directly towards the Freeport Mine.  Words cannot describe how vast this pit goes into the mountain.   With no regulation,  the enterprise simply digs deeper and deeper into the mountain.  I am told it is also running horizontal now, and its progress is simply unstoppable.   It represents so much of what Indonesia seems to me, what humanity seems to me.  Unstoppable unmanaged environment degradation.  I am a pragmatist and accept the consequences of our actions on the planet.  At the same time, taking from the land should be done respectfully and thoughtfully.  Unfortunately,  so long as there is human greed, and where there is deregulation, there will be blight.  The mine also represents unchecked and unregulated land mismanagement.  I was told it is the most productive copper mine in the world.

You fly over the mine and then take a turn directly east.  This creates a natural wind tunnel and is where Andrew was forced to turn back.  We landed about 0730, and I felt the altitude immediately.  We had agreed that we would make the summit push that day, as opposed to an acclamation day.  So we would push from sea level to 16024 feet in a matter of hours.  Now that I think about it, we did that in 7 hours.

I got off the helicopter and started picking up trash.  I figured it was a good way to move around a bit and a good thing to do.  There is less trash in the area than expected but it is present.  

The second team, Ilina, Jelle, and Merv arrived.  We assembled our gear and than began our assault at 0940.  

The climbing was all up fixed ropes, so it was quick.  Immediately, myself, Jelle, and Irina took lead.  Irina led for a while, then I took lead, and then Jelle.  The rock is incredible coarse. It is very sharp and could rip your skin.  At the same time its bomb proof and would support rock protection without question.  The area is unique, unlike any I've seen prior.  

We made good time.  I took a caffeine pill and it gave me energy to sing a ton of songs, to the delight and dismay of my fellow climbers.  We crossed the main gap, which was a bit heady because it was raining and snowing.  I found the other two gaps to be harder, however, as they required reverse down climbing into an abyss and a cross over step onto another rock.

Jelle arrived first at the summit, and then Ilina and I.  It was not too cold, but I was glad to stop.  We had not had any food or water all day, even though we had it.  We snapped many pictures, I deposited Mom and Dad ashes on the summit, and we began our descent. 

My knees are both bothering me so much the first thing I am going to do is see my primary doctor.  They were especially troublesome on the way down.  I was leading a bit of the descent, then Jelle took over.  

We stopped for a quick rest at just above the camp, had a bit of water and food, and Ilina and I shared a cigarette, my first in a very long time.

We hung about the mess tent waiting for the others.  The mess tent was very difficult to be comfortable, though it was warm, because of the propane tank usage. The others were slow to come down, arriving about 1930 were Andrew and Quesra.  Merv, Abdul, and guide Poxi were high up, and Merv, who had no rappel experience, no true mountain experience, decided to slide down the mountain on his rear end.  This caused rock fall and threatened Abdul. 

Base Camp to Timika to Denespar, Bali: January 2-

I slept ok after our climb.  Its difficult to sleep at that altitude and I needed water.  I started to wake up around 0530.  By 0605, we were told to be ready to leave in 25 minutes.  We assembled our gear, and by 0730 we were back in Timika.  

We showered and relaxed a couple of hours.  Jelle’s girlfriend had made a summit party for everyone and got sweets and beer and blew up balloons.  This was very sweet of her.  

We left the hotel, and went to the airport.  I took it upon myself to assemble a tip for the guides and for Meldi, who had done a great job for us. 

I returned to Bali, shortened my departure, and spent a few days on a moped having fun and relaxing.

Anthony McClaren