28.10.2008

All expedition participants gathered in Nabire today. Interestingly enough, upon switching flights at the airport on Biak Island, the guys saw the Kamov helicopter being taken onto the airfield for refueling and engine warm-up. According to them, the helicopter was marked with hieroglyphics, most likely Korean, since the helicopter pilot was a Korean. After lunch we contacted our intermediary in Biak, who reported that the Kamov helicopter made a successful trial flight today. They promised to let us know on Thursday or Friday if we would be able to use this helicopter. Incidentally, the Korean pilot has no experience of landing the Kamov helicopter at the Carstensz base camp. They say he has impressive flying experience over the mountains at altitudes over 5,000 meters.

Today I managed to speak on the phone directly to the BELL helicopter pilots, who are in Jakarta now. Both pilots agreed to cooperate, but only starting from November 2 in the best-case scenario. The captain was not tempted by the bribe we offered him provided he returned from Jakarta not on November 3, but sooner. Thus the captain will be able to leave with us no sooner than November 5.

Thus, starting from November 5 we have a choice of three helicopters - Kamov, BELL with the captain, and BELL with the co-pilot. There is a high probability that at least one of these scenarios will work.

The guys do not wish sit on one's hands in Nabire even till November 2. In principle, their position is clear - our flight to the base camp still can fail if we have all pieces of the puzzle in place except flying weather.

Given the situation with the helicopters, we made the decision to continue working out these scenarios while simultaneously exploring the option of a trekking expedition to the base camp from Ilaga.

For the time being the plan is following: on October 30 we are leaving for Ilaga on a chartered plane. From there we set off on our trekking expedition on October 31. If they keep telling us the helicopter is ready up till November 1, we’ll cancel the trekking expedition, return to Ilaga or Nabire (depending on where the helicopter can airlift us) and fly to the base camp. If there is no helicopter, we walk to the base camp. In this case we will reach the base camp on November 7 and will attempt the assault on November 6 or 7. Then we hope the helicopter can airlift us from the base camp on November 7 or 8, respectively.

If no plane is forthcoming, we will start trekking back to Ilaga, and if the plane can airlift us on any day while we are on our return trip, we will use the chance. In this case we will fit within the expedition timeframe and will be ready to leave Biak on November 10 as planned. If any of the BELL helicopters can airlift us on the way back, we also find this scenario acceptable. If the helicopter scenario does not materialize in any case, we will return to Ilaga on foot on November 12 and will be ready to leave Biak on November 14, shifting the date of our departure.

This is how things stand.

Reporting from the scene

Sergey Kofanov

P.S. On a detailed examination of the southern ascent of Carstensz, we found out that the runway in the community of Sinya was not ready yet, and could be completed by the year's end. Speaking of the scenario under which we fly to Sinya on a chartered plane and then trek top the classic base camp on the north, according to preliminary information this would take close to four days - a two days' trek under the southern wall, and then two more days over the New Zealand Pass to the classic base camp on the north. It adds up to pretty much the same as a trekking expedition from Ilaga - two days less, but with a pass crossing along the way. So it is not worth it to consider this option as an alternative to the trekking expedition from Ilaga. It would make sense only if we follow a new route from the south.