11.11.2008

... when the landing gear touched down on the runway tarmac heated up to 40 degrees Celsius, our tiny 12-seat Cessna went into a slight skid. The plane banked to the side and continued to brake using a single landing gear until the pilots managed to straighten it, and just minutes later we were already taxiing to the terminal entrance. Two white pilots, one of them a slight resemblance of Tom Cruise, turned to face the passenger cabin simultaneously and, smiles beaming, said "Sorry" in chorus. As the color in our faces returned to its normal pre-flight shade, we descended the stairs to the airfield of the Biak Island. My watch said 12 a.m. sharp. Roughly at the same time yesterday Vladimir, Denny and I were already hanging on ropes somewhere near the entrance to the pre-summit ridge of Carstensz Pyramid.

The idea of assaulting the summit immediately after landing at the base camp, without additional acclimatization days occurred to me as soon as Alexei Novoselov announced his decision not to climb the mountain. As a result we had a small mobile team of alpinists – Vladimir, Denny and I. Denny had been already acclimatized, as he accompanied Grigory and Olga to the summit three days ago. I had no worries about Vladimir, as I knew from experience that he could handle heights fairly well and was well-prepared technically.

On the morning of the flight (November 9) to the base camp, we all woke up at the customary 4 a.m. and left for the airport of Nabire at 5 a.m. At 5:30 a.m. I got a call from Grigory from the base camp, who said they had non-flying weather with clouds shrouding all passes, but expressed his hope that everything will clear up in an hour and a half more. We agreed to stay in touch. Meanwhile, we started active preparations for the departure – the pilots were requesting weather forecasts from Enarotali, while we were trying to fit into our 285-kilo limit. The situation was made easier by the fact that Alexei was leaving for the base camp virtually without luggage. He only planned to land there and immediately flight back to Nabire accompanied by Grigory and Olga. Five minutes before takeoff, I called Grigory again – he confirmed that the clouds have descended and that visibility is satisfactory above the passes. We took off. About 30 minutes later the helicopter landed in Enarotali, and an hour after that we found ourselves in the base camp where we swapped with the guys who had been waiting for us for two days. With an hour of time for packing, we set off at 8:30 a.m. About an hour later we already approached the first parapet ropes and this was the time a downpour started, which lasted well in the night.

I will omit the technical details of the climb, which I will obviously describe in a separate article. Omit the technical details of the ascent, which I apparently will describe in a separate article, I should only say that we found ourselves on the summit 6 hours after leaving the base camp, which is not bad for two completely un-acclimatized men who had been living at sea level only 10 days ago. In fact, in the space of 8 hours we climbed 5,000 vertical meters. According to local guides, they could not recall ever hearing of such rapid ascents to Carstensz Pyramid.

We returned to the base camp late in the evening, exhausted by the lengthy descent. We did not feel like eating at all, so we immediately crashed in our tents. We woke up early, at 5 a.m. I called Bob to inquire about the preparations of the helicopter for departure. Bob said everything was fine and that the helicopter would be ready to leave in an hour and a half, and that he expected a weather forecast from us. At that moment there had been hardly any clouds and we had a flying weather. An hour later I confirmed for Bob that the passes were still open and gave him clearance to take off. Fifteen minutes after the helicopter took off from Nabire, the weather at base camp started to change abruptly. A shroud of dense fog covered us in a matter of two or three minutes. I called Bob again, telling him that base camp had zero visibility. At that time the helicopter was approaching Enarotali. We agreed that unless anything changed over the following 15 minutes, the helicopter would return to Nabire and repeat the attempt the following day. Fifteen minutes later I called Bob again, telling him there had been no change in weather and that the helicopter would not be able to land at base camp that day. To this Bob replied that the helicopter was already on its way and that he can only pray the passes would open for at least five minutes. Whether he prayed or not, there was a miracle. About ten minutes before we heard the unmistakable whoop-whoop-whoop of helicopter blades, gusts of wind chased the dense clouds away and the tiny BELL carried us back to Nabire in 40 degree heat and 100 percent humidity. Two hours later we were already registering for our flight to Biak, and two white pilots, one of them a resemblance of Tom Cruise, all smiles, explained how to behave in case of emergency.

Thereupon I should stop the lifestory during this complex and eventful expedition that started and ended for us in the airport of the small island of Biak. To be more exact, it did not end there, but started a gradual transition to a new period in our life – tomorrow we are leaving Biak for the Sulawesi Islands and from there – wherever the map takes us...

Reporting from Papua, Sergey Kofanov