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Ascent of Mount Wilhelm on 2018-12-26

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Wednesday, December 26, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Wilhelm
    Location:Papua New Guinea
    Elevation:14793 ft / 4508 m

Ascent Trip Report

Eric Gilbertson

Dec 22 – Dec 28, 2019

Dec 22 I flew out of apia at 4pm on a delayed air new zealand flight. I think this is the first international flight I’ve been on that didn’t have complimentary food, only food for purchase. So I went hungry. 4 hours later we arrived in Auckland, and despite me running through the terminal I just missed my connection to Sydney. Air new zealand said they would get me on the next flight, but that wasn’t until 7am the next morning. This was a problem since I had to catch a flight to port moresby at 7am the next morning, which I would now miss.

It appeared a cascasding failure event was unfolding in my itinerary and I wasn’t sure how I would still get to Papua New guinea in time to climb mt wilhelm. The customer service lady escorted me out through customs and security, but then biosecurity needed to inspect my gear. They looked at my hiking boots, which i had just used bushwhacking through the jungle in Samoa, and said they were too dirty to clean and had to be destroyed. The agent was actually very rude about it. The customer service lady asked if he could store them for the night until I flew out, but he said that was only for important items and my boots didn’t count. Then he said the boots looked beat up anyways and I should just buy new ones.

I almost wanted to slug him but restrained myself. My boots were fully functional and I needed them for hiking through the muddy jungle and possible snow on mt wilhelm in Papua New guinea. I did not have time to buy a new pair, and hadn’t even planned on needing to go through biosecurity in nz. It was supposed to just be a connection.

He wouldn’t relent so I had to let him destroy my boots. Outside security I think the customer service lady felt bad for me and worked it out that I could get on an earlier Qantas flight to Brisbane instead. Then i bought a last minute air niugini flight to port moresby. It looked like it might work out afterall, though it would now be very tight to catch my last flight to mt Hagen.

Air nz set me up in the holiday inn that night, which had a complimentary buffet dinner. I filled up, went to sleep at 11pm, then was up at 330am and caught my Brisbane flight.

Dec 23 I arrived at 730am and went to the international flight area, and noticed there was an earlier Qantas flight to port moresby leaving at 9am. In fact, that was actually the second leg of the Sydney to port moresby flight I thought I had missed! I went over to that gate and they gave me a ticket for the flight when I explained my situation. I then called up expedia and cancelled the air niugini flight i had purchased the previous night. It looked like things were going to work out.

I made the flight to port moresby, then checked in at the separate domestic terminal. It was extremely crowded with locals travelling for Christmas, but I made the flight to mt Hagen. In mt Hagen I took a shuttle to the highlander hotel and spent the night.

Dec 24 From what i had read mt wilhelm is very difficult to do without logistics help from somebody local. Roads in png are too rough to reliably be able to rent a vehicle and drive to the trailhead. Highway robberies are not unheard of and police won’t necessarily help unless paid a good bribe. Also it appears a guide is required by law, or at the very least permission must be acquired from the village at the trailhead. I went with Betty from Bettys Lodge to help with logistics. She can arrange a hotel in mt Hagen, transport to and from the trailhead, nights at her lodge at the trailhead, permission from the local village, a guide, and porters. I usually like to do things on my own but in this case it seemed like having Betty arrange logistics gave the best chance of successfully reaching the summit.

In the morning on Dec 24 I checked out of the hotel and betty and her husband Peter met me to give me a ride. I
needed to withdraw cash to pay them, and had exchanged some us dollars for png kina at port moresby, but didn’t take out quite enough. I don’t like travelling with too much cash at once in case I get robbed. The atm at the hotel was out of cash, as was every other atm in town except one. That one had 20 people in line outside it though. Betty said we needed to get to her lodge fast before afternoon rain hit which might make the road impassable. It was a 4hr drive and we couldn’t waste too much time. She said she had a credit card machine at the lodge anyways.

We stopped at betty and Peters apartment in town to pick up some bags of sand to load down the bed of the landcruiser so the rear wheels could get traction on the drive. We then stopped to pick up some groceries in town, and it was funny to see icicle lights and a huge fake Christmas tree outside the store. I don’t think mt Hagen actually ever had real ice form.

We were soon back on the road. There were no cars on that road. All vehicles were either trucks or landcruisers. Most vehicles had metal grates over the windows to prevent breakins. There was a lot of construction in town, and apparently China is investing in improving roads throughout png. Chinese men were operating all the heavy machinery while png men were doing work with shovels.

Out of town the road was about half paved and half very rough dirt. It was surprising that this was the main highway in png. All goods coming onto the highlands are brought on trucks from the port city of lae up this road. In kindiawa we stopped at hungry jacks to eat some fried chicken and French fries for lunch, then left the main road to head up toward keglsugl. There was more construction on this road, and we got held up when big backhoes were moving dirt in the rain.

Whenever we passed a group of png workers betty would open the back door and throw them some bettle nuts. They
were always very happy. Betty said she wants to create good will with all the locals so they will be on her side if there are ever any security problems in the area. By 3pm we ascended up the final rocky and muddy stretch of road into the village of keglsugl. There’s an airstrip here which would be very convenient, but it’s not currently operational. Betty said pilots are trying to get it fixed up soon so tourists can fly there instead of mt Hagen.

We drove through the village and then up to Bettys Lodge just above town It was raining hard then, so it was nice to be off the road. The rainy season in tho area is roughly October to April, and it generally rains every day in the highlands between noon and sunset. I unloaded in the lodge and was the only guest that night. I think it gets pretty crowded in the dry season though. One of the workers built a fire in the stove and I relaxed on a sofa in front of the fire. That night I had an excellent dinner of trout caught in Bettys fish farm, and went to bed early to catch up on lost sleep.

Dec 25 On Christmas morning i started hiking up at 830am with guide Peter. Peter has been guiding wilhelm since 1987, so is quite experienced. I hiked in my sneakers with plastic bags inside so my socks wouldnt get soaked. The trail started at the lodge and was less muddy than I’d feared. By 11am we reached the first lake, where there is an old Australia national university hut. It was locked, but two women porters from the lodge soon hiked up and unlocked it. The hut is pretty big, with 4 mattresses, a large floor area, and a kitchen with table and stove. I ate lunch, then hiked up to a higher lake to enjoy the view. I could see most of the rest of the route, but the summit was still in the clouds. The lake was at 12000ft and the summit not too much higher. I felt like just hiking up then, but with a near certainty of rain all afternoon decided against it. The plan instead was to start at 1am the next morning, hit the summit at sunrise, then get back down before the afternoon rain started.

We hiked back to the hut and I chatted with a few other hikers. They were young local guys from villages near keglsugl who were home on break from university in lae. They were in a group of 12 also planning to summit the next morning. At 7pm I had dinner of chicken and rice then went to bed.

Dec 26 Surprisingly it had only briefly sprinkled all day, but at 1130pm I was awoken by thunder and lightning. Then it started to rain hard. This didn’t bode well for our summit bid. We planned to leave at 1am to hit the summit at sunrise. The weather tends to be driest between midnight and noon during the wet season, so generally these are the hours one tries to hike.

The rain let up a bit and we left at 115am in a light drizzle. I put plastic bags in my sneakers to try to keep them dry. We soon passed an upper lake, then turned left following a steep and muddy trail. The trail climbed past an old ww2 era plane wreck then traversed high above the lake. The drizzle ended and we could see lights far below from the group of 12. They must have slept in a bit later.

The trail passed a few steep dropoffs on wet rock that required care but was generally good. By 5am we reached the base of the summit scramble and then a few fun 3rd class moved brought us to the top. The first hints of sunrise were starting and we waited on the sheltered side of the summit as the sun fully rose by 6am. The view was spectacular with clear skies above and partial undercast all around making for a very colorful sunrise. Shortly after 6am we started down.

We soon passed 8 hikers on their way up. Four others from the group had turned around. It looked like clouds were building so we hustled down and reached the hut at 8am. After packing up and eating a quick snack we left at 845am and made it back to Bettys Lodge shortly after 10am as a light rain set in. I was feeling a sore throat start and I suspect it was something I picked up on the plane that was exacerbated by the altitude. So I rested at the lodge the rest of the day. In the morning betty and Peter drove me down to mt Hagen where I caught an afternoon flight out to port moresby.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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