A mountain that is straddle on the Bismarck mountain range. It is said to be the tallest mountain in Papua New Guinea rising 4509 meters above sea level. There is some accounts disputing that this mountain is belong to Seven Summits (seven highest mountain on each continent) representing Ocenia Continent. This is due to Carzten Pyramid (4800+ masl) lies on west Papua under territory of Indonesia which is part of Asia. West Papua and Papua New Guinea(PNG) mainland are lying on the same landmass however it is politically divided.
It is located between the boundary of Madang province which is mainly facing the coast line and the other side is the rugged terrain of Chimbu Province. The common route used is Chimbu path and it will take you 2days and 1 night on the mountain while Madang path which is rarely used will take more than 4 days. Summit can be reached with 9-15 hours depending on the physical strength. All in all it is a 36km back and forth. Up to the lake is relatively easy hike but across the ridge is moderate to difficult and close to summit will need skill to scramble , rope should be in place but they don’t do that and good thing is the rock is rough enough to hold your shoes. The summit can offer a 360 view, you can see the high mountains like Mt Giluwe etc and the Kalibobo lighthouse and coast of Madang.
A. Narration of the Climb
I’ve been working here in PNG for a 3 years contract so I have the opportunity to climb mountain and don’t want to miss it. PNG have a very rugged terrain and plenty of high mountains rising above 3000 MASL and mostly unexplored. It takes me 1 year and 8months before I was able to organize my trip.
Organizing the DIY (do-it yourself) climb is quite challenging from itinerary, budget, logistic, security, local guide and contact person. There are several tours that offering to Mt Wilhelm but it is quite expensive. I did several research and interview people who climbed this mountain. Being an organizer back in my country, I am familiar on how I’m going to start and I climbed several mountains so this is not new to me. I came across with Benjamin (one of our company staff) and he had done 13 times to climb this mountain when he was still young. We offered him that all expense will be shouldered by us, lead us going to the top and be reunited on the mountain. Unfortunately, his contact person is unreachable so we have to look for alternative contact. Again, we find one of our staff who has contact with Betty which her name was written on the blog and even on article. She is a landowner who owns Guest House at the base of Mt Wilhelm. Benjamin contacted her and doing the negotiation to reduce the cost of our trip. Arrangement of the accommodation is a must, there are two landowner; one is Betty that is living at the base and the other one which I forgot is the owner of accommodation at the Lake. Two accommodation will be paid separately.
With Benjamin at Betty’s Lodge
Joining with me is my co-manager and colleague Kevin who also aspire to reach the top of Mt Wilhelm. He came all the way from Lae (2nd Developed city in PNG) which is almost at sea level. The date was set on April of 2017. Prior to that, me and Kevin having conversation on what he need and don’t need to bring up the mountain. All the information was provided to him and budgeting. The challenge he is facing is the acclimatization on short period of time.
Prior to our Mt Wilhelm climb, 5 days ago I went to Mt Giluwe (Volcanic Seven Summit) to climb it but in the end I decided to abort. It is the least popular mountain and the forest is too dense. I was 4 hours away from getting to the top but I think about the safety of my 5 guides and mine too because we did the crisscrossing on the river for almost 6 hours. The month we climbed is end of rainy season but mountain is a mountain, it is very unpredictable. One big rain will cause a flash flood and there is no way that we can survive as both side are big wall of rock. Although unsuccessful, the total time we spent on trekking was 21hours (12hours up on first day and 9hours down on second day). I oath to myself that I have to make it on 3 days trip). My body was already battered but the show must go on.
Back to Mt Wilhelm narration, all has been set however the plane departure was delayed so as Kevin. He missed the chance to acclimatize unlike me who is already staying at Hagen with an elevation of 1765 meters above sea level. My body is more adapt than him. Kevin arrived on the day we are going to climb. I felt sorry for Kevin as we don’t have time to drop his thing at my accommodation house instead after picking him up, we go straight to Mt Wilhelm and we need to catch up on time to get at the jump off before night fall. Security wise, never travel at night for two reason; Avoid rascal (criminals) and road is very dangerous because beside the road is deep ravine. Kevin arrived at past 11AM. From Hagen to small town of Kundiawa (capital of Chimbu) will take 3hours. Before reaching Kundiawa, we picked up two friends and brother of Benjamin that will serve as a guide. One of our guide is native there and have climbed it in the past. We bought our supplies that will be bringing up in the mountain although we already brought some. After 30minutes, we resumed the driving to the base of Mt Wilhelm. From Kundiawa to Mt Wilhelm base (Kegsugl) will take almost 3hrs because of the poor road and portion of the road has a landslide. The population is very sparse. The view on the side of the road is very scenic however but mind you on the side of a road is a deep cliff. You need to have a skilful driver or a person who used to be driving that road before to avoid any problem. We are just 15 minutes away from the lodging house where we going to stay the night when we do stop-over just to buy vegetable. I am boasting to Kevin that here in Highland, my most favorite vegetable is water cress which is also available in my country too but different species and very rare to see in my country.
Night falls and we are close too then unexpectedly the vehicle stopped and having an engine radiator overheat. Luckily it is just a walking distance to the accommodation. Betty personally greet us and led us to the lounge and also show to us the room that we are going to use. Indeed, Betty’s Lodge is a very very nice place surrounded by lush vegetation and high trees. Vegetables are available on her garden and she is culturing “rainbow trout” that she serve on the guest when they ordered on Menu. Because we were hungry, I was in-charged to do the cooking of chicken we brought. I asked Benjamin to help me on preparing the ingredient. Although Kevin offer his help but I told him to sit and relax. Thanks to Betty, she allowed us to use the kitchen cooking stove, plates and utensils. That night, I cooked two Chicken soup meal but I served the Tinola (chicken soup in papaya) for our dinner and on breakfast will be re-heat Sinigang (chicken soup in tamarind with water cress). I am flattered when everybody enjoyed the meal I prepared meaning I am good chef hehehe!
Next day, at 6AM we took our breakfast then told to my team to prepare. We don’t hire a porter. At 7:30AM, we commence our hike together with the other fellow hiker. The trail path from Betty’s Place up to the main trail is so refreshing, the sun is not too hot and under the cover of the trees. It is well established and there is some certain point on the trail which has a resting place. There are four resting place. Whenever Kevin is too exhausted or need some rest, we make a stop-over and give him time to acclimatize his body.
Me, Benjamin and Kevin at Mt Wilhelm 1st rest stop
The trail is too gradual from Betty’s Place up to Cambridge Country which is tropical rain forest, though there is some steep part that is short cut to the main trail but they made a separate one which is crisscrossing to reduce the quick ascend but take longer distance. How I am going to describe this short is similar to the ascending trail part of Mt Cristobal in my country. After 2hours, you will finally reached the fresh clean water source. I don’t mind drinking it as my stomach has very strong resistance but other westerner will be thinking twice. I told to Kevin that in the mountain you don’t have to be choosy, in the mountain, survival is the game. As long as the water is not disturbed like murky and the water is free running, you don’t have to worry. This is not different from mineral water.
Water Source on the main trail
Mt Wilhelm 3rd rest stop
After sometime on the jungle, we emerged on the Cambridge Country. It is the picture on one popular cigarette brand which has similar view. This place is an open savannah with portion of fern like tree. This is the last stop over resting area then it will to ascending part going to Lake Piunde.
Mt Wilhelm’s Cambridge Country
The trail path should be taken cautiously as your feet will submerged on the mud. It is constantly wet due to the water coming down from the Lake. It is quite slippery. This is quite steep ascend. As you are getting close to the Lake, you will reach a falls.
Ascending to the Lake
Mt Wilhelm Falls. What a fantastic view at the Falls!!
After 30 minutes passing the falls, you will finally reached a swampy place which huts are erected for the guest to sleep. In front of the hut is the open view of the green lake which is sparkling and glittering whenever the light the strike it. Occasionally, mist and fog are hovering above the water because of the reaction of the cold water and dry noon time. I was not able to capture the mesmerizing view of the lake because I was too busy preparing the food.
As the sleeping quarter is sorted out, I immediately prepare the food for the lunch and early dinner as we have to depart early on the next day to reach the summit before sunrise. If you get late, chance of having a view will be missed out as the cloud will cover the summit. The elevation at the Lake is already at 3600MASL+. Before I fell asleep, I instructed that the call time will be 12MN to have a sip of coffee and 12:30MN we started to hike. We were the first group to depart and the next group followed after 30minutes.
Everybody were fully geared up and our headlights illuminating the way. The first part is quite easy passing through the side of the river then enter to the forest again. We are on the middle of the slope of the forest and take a rest when we looked back, we noticed the 2nd group already started to leave the campsite. I remind everybody to keep their moral high and have to push in order to avoid bottleneck as some part can be crossed only, one at a time especially above the “crash site” all the way to summit. Also, we have to keep moving so that your body will be in constant heat and nullifying the cold sensation from the environment. The 3rd group is trailing behind the 2nd group but later before reaching the Crash Site, they abort as they are struggling to climb up.
Kevin already started to feel the effect of High Altitude Sickness, having a difficulty of breathing then afterwards asking for constant rest. Fatigue is taking toll to his body thus slowing him down. Although he is physically fit running daily but the muscle on his leg is not adapt on uphill. Climbing up to the second Lake Yaunde is more challenging, it is inclined and very muddy. Second group is also catching with us in close proximity. If we keep on allowing the people to overtake then it will be a real struggle because the summit is too small and you have to wait your chance before you can step your foot up there. We were at the start of so-called Crash Site wherein a plane collided on the mountain in the past and remnants were strewn along the slopes. The trees are sparsely on this area and now slowly changing from muddy to rocky terrain.
The Crash Site
Past 1:30AM feeling not comfortable and one of the strongest guy on the second group overtake us. I advised Kevin to climb which will make him comfortable and leave with him with 2 hired guide. Benjamin, I and with his brother left them to catch the sunrise. Close to the end part of the Crash site, now we are coming to a ridge and Benjamin warned me take extra precaution as the wind might blow us. It is an open ridge for which both side are cliff. (Should I called it Knife-Edge?) The ridge is the start of the rocky journey to the summit. Ahead of us is the glimpse of the headlight from the person together with his guide who overtakes us earlier on the upper slope.
The ridge is a series of up and down, sometimes you have to do some scrambling. Occasionally I will ask for a rest and the distance between me and Kevin is already far, perhaps more than kilometer. Dealing with the ridge is not quite easy and you have to look for support to grip or put your weight opposite where the cliff is. Darkness is your enemy, although you have headlight your vision is very limited, added to that is the fog dispersing the light so you cannot see clearly the trail. There is some portion that is made of scree and slipping is a quite scary thing to happen. After 3 hours I’m running out of water and the only option I have is to fetch it on the water flowing on the fissure. From time to time, I have to keep asking Benjamin if we are close or not yet but he cannot give a conclusive answer because it is very long time since he is there. So to motivate me, I have to check my ViewRanger apps on how much elevation do I need to ascend. The three of us agreed that once we reach a “O Donnel Memorial” we will have a quick breakfast to replenish our energy. Although we were on the verge of exhaustion, our spirit and determination still pushing us. At exact 5AM when we reached this memorial, it is an open flat space. This is the point that I’m shivering uncontrollably, I want to move but my knees already asking me to rest. Winds are pounding in all direction. A shallow rain with strong wind peppered my clothes so I have to double it with raincoat but still the cold penetrating my body specially my hand which need the cover. My hand gloves is completely wet. This memorial was name to this guy who were last seen at this place and never found his body. In the past, there are already several fatalities recorded. Most of this occurred from Crash Site up to Summit which the hypothermia and altitude sickness is inevitable.
Our breakfast are the packet of mixed nuts which was given to me by Kevin. We have loaves of bread plus a butter (completely solid) together with canned Tuna. I ate few because I don’t want to feel very heavy. We stayed there for 30 minutes and resumed the hike. Nobody is closeby after finishing the breakfast.
From O Donnel Memorial (4350masl+) which is registered on my ViewRanger app, I am motivated that a little more push will get me on summit and projected in 30 minutes I will make it. I am wrong, the path is more dangerous and scree are everywhere. White paint are marked on the rock so as not to get lost or by mistake get the wrong route, as I said it is quite dangerous. We are climbing on the boulders of rocks and passing through a trail beside the ravine. At 6AM, it is very rewarding view. The sun started to rise and I can appreciate the beauty of surrounding. Madang province and coastline is on our eyesight.
Mt Wilhelm Sunrise. Right on time
Finally, the true summit shown up but I am disappointed that still I have a long way to travel.
Mt Wilhelm summit in front of us
At 6:20AM, this is the most challenging part. You have to use all your limbs and strength to scramble way up. At last 6:30AM, just in time I reached the summit. Summit is marked by a post supported by guyed wire.
Close to Mt Wilhelm Summit
I am the 4th person (guide is included) to reach the summit that day, the first is the person who overtake us earlier. I am chilling but I just ignore it. Being a mountaineer, it is not always what rewarding view but being triumphant for overcoming the difficulties you encounter. Benjamin is cheering and congratulating me for the successful journey. I told him, summit is just halfway to our journey. We can declare that we are successful when we return home safe and sound. We cannot withstand the wind so we have to descend and going down is quite perilous. I stayed for 20 minutes but still Kevin yet to come. We saw some fellow hiker on the trail but he is not there but lagging trailing behind them.
7AM, when I finished descending on the boulders and arrived on the safe part. Then at 7:15AM, these person is a companion of this foreigner who arrived on the summit first. I greeted him and tell him that he is one step closer now to the summit. I asked him on where is my companion and he said, Kevin is behind them but he overtook him when he is resting a O’Donnel Memorial. Well I’m glad. At 7:30AM, at last I saw Kevin escorted by his two guides with him. I cheered him and hand-over the extra trail food he gave to me, as what I saw him is very exhausted and yet he doesn’t want to give. I admired his tenacity. I gave him instruction that I will wait him at the Lake camp. Descending is giving me the appreciation of the full view what we passed through the dawn.
My stomach was crumbling as I ate a little breakfast. Past 9:00AM, I encounter the 4th group of Japanese elders were still on their way up. Despite of their age, this is not hindrance to them. I tried my best to get at the campsite by 10AM but due to several obstacle and the muddy section descending the Lake Yaunde I was delayed for an hour.
The lake Yaunde which looks like crater
The muddy section causes me to have 4×4 trekking but still I suffered from several slide. At 11AM, I finally arrived at the Hut.
At 12PM, Benjamin decided to descend straight to jump-off and inspect the vehicle to go back in Hagen. I decided to stay back and wait a little bit for my buddy Kevin to return. I know he is exhausted but I am patiently waiting and thinking that he will arrived at 1PM. Time passed-by, all the 2nd group were reunited and decided to head back at Betty’s Lodge. I kept on waiting but there is no shadow of Kevin.
2:30PM, the first person on the Japanese arrived and we asked on have he seen my buddy by describing him. What they told us is they last spotted him somewhere close to the memorial of a student who died in the past. With that information, they still far behind and definitely come late. Adding to the factor that the slopes are shrouded with fog and slight rainshower therefore this will slow them down. It is a make or break decision if I have to wait, my headlight ran out of power so battling the night all the way down will be a big problem for me. I have no guide with me so the only option for me is to join with the landowner of the hut who will come down too and cope up with her pace.
At 3:30PM, I gave up and leave an instruction to the guardian of the hut that when my buddy arrived, tell them to stay and leave early in the morning. They have to stay for a night because I know that they are worn-out. I left them with a food and pay an extra for their stay.
I was left alone when the landowner waited for somebody. I did the trail running and managed to get at lodge by 5PM. At 9PM, Kevin safely returned to the accommodation. I learned that he took his time, enjoying the view and plenty of rest.
The next day, the vehicle struggling to start up even trying to push. Kevin need to catch up with his return flight and luckily Betty will be returning to Hagen. We pay extra to bring up and Benjamin said he will stay behind and have to fix the vehicle. Heading back is another bumpy ride.
Truly, Mt Wilhelm is a worthy journey.
Plane ticket (POM to HAGEN V.V or POM TO GOROKA)
Hire vehicle from Hagen to Mt Wilhelm (6-7hrs)
Guide Ratio – 1:1, 150 Kina per day
Lake Piunde Hut
Camping and registration
All in all, Kevin and I spent 1400K each, 500USD each on the trip coming from Hagen. Plane was not considered.
- From jump off to Lake Piunde, is like walk in a park. Although it is cold but still tolerable
- From Lake Piunde to Summit. Safety precaution must be carry out
- Always bring an extra money with you in case of any contingency
- The best month to climb is June – September. October to March is rainy season, the road is prone to landslide therefore have to turn back
- Make sure your vehicle is in good condition, it is very difficult to find parts and tool due to remoteness of the place.
- There is no place that you can buy some stuff, if you have chance buy it in Hagen or Goroka whatever you prefer staging point. You can buy some supplies at Kundiawa but it is very limited.
- Mountaineering gear is very hard to find in PNG
- Headlight is a must have, you will start an early assault
- Raincoat is a must have, weather is unpredictable
- Three layers of clothing plus gloves, it is very very cold up there
Jump off to Lake Camp
Lake Yaunde to Summit