Mountaineering :: Trekking :: Ski touring


Giluwe (4368m) and Mt Wilhelm (4509m)

For most of the mountains that I have attempted to climb, getting to the peak has been the easy part, and getting to the top has been the hard part. However it seems that the challenges of my two most recent projects have been the opposite, with the access being more challenging than the climbing. This was certainly true on Carstensz where a round trip of 9 days tough trekking, covering 140km, is needed for a single day of climbing.

Getting to and from the peaks of the Central Highlands in Papua New Guinea presented an entirely  different challenge. During the early part of August 2015 I led an expedition for Jagged Globe to climb Carstensz Pyramid in the Indonesian province of Papua, which comprises the western part of the island of New Guinea. I had an interest to climb some peaks in the eastern part of the island, in the independent country of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and thought that it would be a good idea to attempt this as part of the same trip. This proved possible but far from simple.

There are no direct flights from Indonesian Papua to PNG. There is however a single and rarely used crossing point on the land border. But before I got there there was the issue of visas. If I had simply flown in and out of Indonesia I would have been eligible for a free 30 day visa issued on arrival. Similarly if I had flown in and out of PNG I could have got a free 30 day visa on arrival. However in order to leave Indonesia by the land border one must have a 'full' 60 day visa issued in advance, and in order to enter PNG by the land border one must have a visa issued in advance. Getting both these visas required me to make 3 return train trips to London spread over 10 days and I only received my passport on Friday afternoon when I was due to leave to UK on Monday morning.

After this, all my detailed research and planning seemed to work out. I flew from Timika on the southern coast of Indonesian Papua to Jayapura on the north coast. I then spent two unexciting days locked in my hotel room writing reports for Jagged Globe about the Carstensz expedition. On the morning of Aug 5th I took a taxi for the one hour ride to the Indonesian border at Batas. The buildings on both sides of the border look quite smart, but are largely deserted. Little trade or traffic seems to come this way. The officials on either side of the border were friendly and after a leisurely hour of slow formalities I entered PNG.

I was prepared to either take a public bus or rent a taxi to Vanimo, but a local highway engineer with a private 4WD vehicle offered me a lift and fixed me up with an inexpensive homestay in town for 2 nights while I waited for my onward flight. On the morning of the 7th I took my prearranged flight with Air Niugini to Madang and was met at the airport by the van of Madang Lodge where I had made an email reservation. A reasonable internet connection enabled me to catch up with news from the outside world, and the meals were very pleasant.

The next day was my first chance to experience public transport in PNG when I took the local bus to Goroka in the Highlands. The hotel driver took me to the bus station and handed me over to the care of a 'Coaster' driver in a smooth and efficient manner. I was on the bus at 08.00 along with most of the other passengers, but all sorts of strange things happened during the next 3 hrs and the bus did not actually leave until 11.00. The passengers adopted me and were very helpful during the journey, explaining a number of baffling events, such as the 30 min stop by the coconut inspection police. The road left the busy coastal strip and crossed the sparsely populated Finisterre mountains before dropping into the Ramu river valley and then climbing into the rich farmlands of the Highlands. After 7 hrs travel we reached Goroka as darkness fell and the bus crew delivered me to rather gloomy Lutheran Guest House (supposedly the best place to stay) where I was lucky to obtain some cold food. I had committed the sin of arriving a few minutes after the official dinner time!

Next morning was time for my second PMV (public motor vehicle) experience, and the guesthouse manager summoned a bus bound for Mt Hagan town. I would have been quite happy to walk down to bus station and look for one, but everyone that I met was reluctant to let me do this and assured me that it was best that I did not walk around in the streets. On arrival at Hagan after a 4hr trip Pym Mamindi of Piaya Tours met me at the bus station and we went for lunch at a fake KFC. I had realised by this point that no one comes to PNG for the fine dining. We drove to Magic Mountain lodge, owned by Pym, located in a quiet forest setting a few miles outside town.

That is the story of how I got from the Sudirman mountains of Indonesian Papua to the Central Highlands of PNG in 9 days.  And now the mountains:

Mt Hagan, the peak after which PNG's third largest town is named, is a complex mountain with many ridges and many summits. Maps show the highest point to be 3834m. One of the many paths to the high ground starts in the gardens of MM lodge at 2490m. The trail climbs through forest to a height of 3300m where the trees end and open grasslands begin. The path to the top follows an easy ridge line leading to an obvious summit at 3815m with a radio transmitter tower. The highest point is about an hour further to the west. Round trip time from MM lodge, 6-8 hrs, depending which summit is climbed.

Giluwe (4368m), is the highest volcano in Oceania. It is one of the 'Volcanic Seven Summits'. It is not yet a popular peak with climbers and gets far fewer visitors than PNG's highest peak, Mt Wilhelm. If the challenge of climbing all of the 'seven volcanoes' becomes popular then it is certain that Giluwe will get many more ascents. It is possible to climb Giluwe in either 2 or 3 days from Malke, a village southwest of Tambul. Those wishing a slower ascent could spread the climb over 3 days, taking perhaps 6-7 hrs each day, and camping for two nights at the spot known locally as 'the cave'. For fitter climbers and those with no problems acclimatising to 4000m a two day ascent can be easily achieved. The first day hike climbs through the forest from Malke (2600m) to leave the trees at 3400m, in approx 3hrs.The rest of the hike is through grassland mostly following a ridge line. A high point of 3900m is reached shortly before camp. A short descent leads to a good campsite in a small stand of trees at 3720m. Allow 8-9 hrs from the roadhead. The climb to the summit should take 2-3 hrs and it is normal to start around 05.00. The final 100m is a little steep, mostly on grass with some small rock outcrops. In the dry season (Aug / Sept) these should not present any problems. In the wet season this might get quite slippery. There are 4-5 bolts in place and those of a nervous disposition may wish to protect this section by bringing a few carabiners plus a very light, short rope (eg 25m of 6mm cord). The descent to camp should not take more than hour where a decent breakfast can be taken before the 7 hr hike back to Malke, giving a 10-12 hr day.

Mt Wilhelm (4509m) is the highest point in PNG and has seen a steadily increasing flow of climbers in recent decades. There are 3 adequate lodges in Kegsugl village catering for visitors and several local men are happy to work as guides and porters. Some people travel to PNG specifically to climb the peak, but most ascents are made by those visiting the country for other reasons, or by people living and working in PNG. It is normal to climb the peak in two days from Kegsugl (2800m). The first day's hike to the ANU huts (3575m) located by the lower of two lakes is short and easy. A well maintained trail leaves the village and climbs through the forest to 3200m where the landscape changes into open moorland. Allow 2-3 hrs for the 5.75km hike to reach the huts. There is a 10Kina track fee and an 80Kina hut use fee that will collected by your lodge owner or guide. The hut is basic, but had new (clean!) mattresses and pillows when I visited. There is a twin burner gas ring and pots, as well as cups and plates. First light on the summit is a little before 06.00, and it not uncommon for the clouds to start building by 07.00. Plan your start time accordingly: a fast party can summit in 3hrs, an average party in 4hrs, and a slow party could take 5-6 hrs. Local guides will tend to assume that you are on a 5hr programme and will aim to start at 01.30. If you anticipate being faster choose your start time accordingly (it can be cold on top standing around in the dark waiting for daybreak). The trail from the huts to the summit is fairly obvious in daylight, however can be harder to follow in the dark or in misty conditions. Leave the hut and go round the Left side of the first lake, at the far end climb for 100m to reach the level of the second lake. The trail turns Left (SouthWest) and climbs until approx 4000m. It is mostly a stoney path up a grassy hillside. Around 4000m the trail turns to the right (North) and traverses the hillside. This rightwards traverse line continues for some distance and goes almost as far as the summit. At 4100m a small Coll is reached. This is not crossed, the rightwards traverse continues. Several false summits can be seen looming out of the dark on your left. Ignore them all and keep following the obvious traverse line. In the last few hundred metres before the summit there are several white paint marks on the rocks to show the way. There is a transmitter tower on the final 'false' summit. Ignore this, the route does not go near it. Finally, 100m horizontal distance and 50m vertical distance before the true top the path reaches the ridge crest and crosses to the other side. The route to the top is obvious and involves a little rock scrambling, which is perhaps best done in daylight. From the hut to the top is 6.07km. Allow 75% of your ascent time for the return to the hut. Most parties will return to Kegsugl the same day.

The trek from the Highlands to the coastal lowlands: from Simbu Province to Madang Province. This is straightforward trek from Kegsugl to Bramin. It is logical to do this in 3 days although the first day is a bit long. The road from Kegsugl to Snow Pass has recently been improved. This makes this section less interesting to walk, but opens the possibility of completing the route in 2 days by using a morning PMV for the section to Snow Pass and continuing on foot to Bundi the same day. The road leaves the bridge Kegsugl (2650m) and climbs to a pass at 2950m. This marks the border between the two provinces. From here the road passes two small settlements as it descends to Snow Pass (2130m), a distance of 26km from Kegsugl. Allow 7-8 hrs.There is a one room guesthouse on the outskirts of town called Mari Mari. Snow Pass to Bundi is about 16km and can be walked in 4-5 hrs. The 'new' road ends soon after Snow Pass and the trail becomes narrower, but is still passable by jeeps. At the start of Bundi (1420m) the road splits. The 'new' jeep road takes the left fork and loses height quickly. The old road on the right passes through the market area and becomes a single track walking trail which offers a more challenging 6hr /20km route to Bramin (250m) in the broad valley of the Ramu river. It is a 2-3 drive from Bramin to the junction with the Madang - Lae highway, and a further 2hrs to Madang.

David Hamilton 5th September 2015. Complied at various points during the trip and completed at Madang Lodge.

David Hamilton
High Adventure
67 Castle Road
CV10 0SG


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