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An Ascent of Mt. Albert Edward

An Ascent of Mt. Albert Edward

Richard Archbold

WE arrived at Port Moresby, the capital of Papua, in the beginning of February, 1933. Papua is the southeast section of New Guinea, being owned by Australia. We spent a couple of months getting house-boys and carriers which would be necessary for the final ascent. Ours was the 1933 New Guinea Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History. Mt. Albert Edward attains an elevation of 13,057 ft. (3980 m.), being with Mt. Victoria the highest peaks in Papua, and undoubtedly the loftiest in the eastern half of the island. In the western half, however, Carstenz and Wilhelmina both reach 5000 m.

Any mountain climbing in Papua depends for its success upon the organization and preparation before one starts. There are as yet no villages with European inhabitants from which one can begin the direct ascent of a mountain. Consequently this island, lying but a few miles to the north of Australia, has been only scratched along the coast by white people ; and very few prospectors have worked inland, with the exception of the region east of Mt. Chapman and the gold mining area in what is now the Mandated Territory of New Guinea or the old German New Guinea, Kaiser Wilhelmland.

The organization of any trip in Papua is always made more difficult by the fact that one has to carry all his supplies, for one can never count on native food. Although from time to time one finds considerable amounts, native food should be relied upon only for a change in diet.

This uncertainty of obtaining native food necessitates considerable double banking wherever mules or carriers are used. A native carrying nothing but food for himself can travel only ten days inland on his supply before having to return to the coast. Mules, of course, are not dependent upon food transported inland ; consequently, they are not subject to this evil. But they do have a disadvantage in not being able to go off constructed trails. There is also a disadvantage in that the available paddocks hold only fifteen to twenty and a number of stops have to be made where there is no food at all.

The ascent of Mt. Albert Edward was made primarily for the purpose of studying the fauna of the alpine regions of New Guinea. Our expedition consisted of three men : Dr. A. L. Rand, who collected birds ; Mr. L. J. Brass, collector of plants ; and myself, the mammal collector. As it was necessary to give all our time to collecting, we obtained Mr. C. J. Adamson to run the transport for us and also to supply us with mules. He was the only person in the Territory of Papua able to supply these animals.

In order to establish our first base camp at Baroka it was necessary to go to Yule Island, 60 miles west of Port Moresby, and then travel by launch up the Bioto River. This camp belonged to Mr. Adamson and was located on a hill overlooking an immense swamp about an hour’s walk from the head of navigation.

Mr. Brass preceded us two days inland to a place called Diene to wait until the second trip of the mules to go farther. Dr. Rand and I did not start until the 28th of April, having been delayed a month through lack of carriers. And when we did start, we had only two house boys and six carriers besides the ten pack animals.

The first half of the first day was over open savanna country until it joined the automobile road between Kubuna and the mission base station of Aropokina. The trail, as is usual in Papua, followed the ridge crests. For the last two hours the road cut through heavy rain forests where the air was like that of a furnace as the thick woods cut out any breeze and the humid atmosphere made travel very disagreeable. This stage was undoubtedly the most tiring because we were either exhausted from the long trip into the mountains or out of training at the start. The deep river at Kubuna, however, afforded a pleasant and refreshing swim.

From here the mission road continued for an hour to a station called Ikaki. As yet, this is the farthest inland one can reach by automobile.

From this point the trail was the narrowest kind of channel bordered by heavy brush. The ground was corduroyed by the mules always keeping in step. This made walking here very unpleasant as the moment the mules stopped one slipped off these ridges into the mud holes which were sometimes half way up to one’s knees.

This time we had no houses to sleep in and had to erect flies and tents for our boys. But the weather was good and we were not inconvenienced.

The next day a mishap occurred after an hour of fairly lively travelling. One of our horses slipped off the trail. He descended about 100 ft. and landed on his back. Fortunately he was carrying only bedding and had a soft fall.

On this day we had our first mild test of Papua’s ups and downs. It was when we arrived at the edge of the valley above Iakaruna. From this point we could see the mission station of Dilava. We could not have been more than two or at the most three miles away, as we could plainly see and hear the children running about in the yard, but still it took an hour and three-quarters before even the first of our party arrived there. We were well received and continued another hour to Matsika which is the government rest house.

The next day, after a slight rise along a very precipitous slope, we descended to Deva Deva. The following day we crossed the Kea River and climbed up to Mafulu where we stopped to deliver mail and talk with the mission. From there we went on to the government rest house at Bella Vista.

The next day was very fine and we had fairly level going over a good trail. We passed the mission station of Fane from which we obtained a fine view of Mondo and also a nice view down the valley. At Mondo we were taken in by the patrol officer whom we found to be most hospitable. He made our stay exceedingly pleasant.

We rested next day as our carriers had straggled in very footsore. One of our horses was also too lame to go any farther that trip. Our day of rest was spent playing cricket, quite strenuous at 6000 ft.

The next day we continued with extra carriers for Mt. Tafa, the highest camp on the route. This was a very long day, seven hours, and we were caught in the rain an hour and a half short of camp. Consequently, all arrived very cold and very miserable. Also the rest house here was a mission station intended for only one person and we were five Europeans.

The last day was the most pleasant for me. Up to this time I had helped with the mules. Now I went ahead with the carriers. And as this was their final day, they travelled much faster than usual.

We arrived at Ononge just as church was coming out and were met by hordes of natives, most of whom were singing. Father Dubuy, in charge of the mission station, kindly offered to put us up. The offer was accepted as it gave our boys a complete rest. We found Father Dubuy’s company extremely enjoyable.

We returned about an hour back towards Mt. Tafa and built a camp. Here six weeks were spent during which time the mules returned to the coast and Mr. Brass succeeded in getting carriers and joining us.

On June 5th Mr. Adamson arrived from the coast. It was decided that we had enough supplies to make a try for Mt. Albert Edward. Accordingly, we all descended to Ononge on the 6th. Mr. Adamson and I left Ononge on the 7th with mountain carriers, while Messrs. Brass and Rand waited in order to give our sixteen signed-on carriers a needed rest.

At Urunu, where we were to change carriers, we found a grand circus as both the carriers that had accompanied us and the new carriers were all clamoring at the same time for food and pay.

Eventually we got them paid and fed but this did not entirely satisfy them. About 4 o’clock most of them cleared out and by the following morning we had only twelve left. They were probably worried about the cold at the high altitudes and the unpromising look of the weather.

With the remaining twelve we succeeded in moving in three hours to the edge of the heavy forest. At this camp we had quite a striking example of the portability of the natives’ wardrobe. As a particular favor I had given a native an empty match box of the metal type and a loin cloth. The latter he promptly folded and tucked into the match box. When worn, the loin cloth was his sole raiment.

Contrary to expectations, we obtained a lot of food here. The next day was spent in buying and in waiting for Rand, who got in about noon.

The next day we started up the main range with our carriers. The trail, after making two steep descents, continued up very steeply; in fact, none of the trail was much flatter than 30 degrees except in very few spots. This stage and possibly the next were undoubtedly the worst on our whole trip as one slipped continually on steep wet clay.

Finally, at about 12.30, we reached the top and made camp in the tree-fern country approaching Murray Pass. The last of our carriers, however, did not get in until 1.30. These were shortly followed by mountain boys who had come to camp soon after we had left and were sent on to us. I started down again with the carriers about 3 o’clock and did not get in until one hour after dark.

The last hour was extremely arduous as it was over fallen logs. The correct trail followed the tops of these logs and it was impossible for even the natives to walk over them in the dark. Consequently we had to walk alongside them.

The next day everything appeared to be all right at our bottom camp and our head boy could easily manage the remaining loads. I went up to our top camp where I found we had some fifty carriers that had come up from the Kuamu village in the opposite valley.

This required that one of us return immediately to our bottom camp in order to inform our head boy to bring up as much food as he could instead of leaving it down there.

The next day Mr. Brass and I started for our highest camp with our mountain carriers. It was a arduous day travelling at absolute top speed for an hour, resting an hour, travelling for another hour, resting for an hour, and then travelling for a third hour.

The next day I went out with the chief of the Kuamu village, whose tribe was carrying for us, and tried to get a pig but was unsuccessful. We made camp at the same place that had been occupied by a patrol officer who had made the ascent of the mountain a short while previously.

This camp was situated, altitude 12,073 ft., in a pocket surrounded by the low scrubby forest of the top of the range. We found the top of the range to be a rolling plateau supported here and there with remnants of forest which was extremely stunted and heavily moss-covered. There were a few crevices and small grottoes. The rock of the country was schist with occasional quartz veins.

During this time we made two ascents of Mt. Albert Edward, once during the first part of our stay and a second time just before we left. Neither time were we able to get any sort of a view. The actual top is rock, steeply inclined.

Once or twice towards evening we had a fine view of the north coast from our camp which was very inspiring. One got a wonderful idea of the up-and-down character of the country and the steep valleys.

Our next camp was back at Murray Pass where we gained the top of the main range. We could see the police at the station of Mondo very easily from here with a pair of glasses. But the trip to Mondo was a very strenuous one. The trip could be made in the forced marches, as used by the government, in four days but for the average traveller it would be more likely a week’s travelling. From the Murray Pass camp we worked slowly back out towards the coast, collecting at various camps on the way, and did not get out to the coast until Christmas. In fact, we wound up this trip the day before Christmas.

If one is looking for a good climb, I would suggest Mount Yule. This is a very precipitous rock mountain, the base of which can be approached with mules, therefore relieving the necessity of using carriers more than one day. And I am sure that after the route up the mountain were found, it could be done in one day from the base camp.

It has been attempted twice, both times by men inexperienced in mountain climbing. (They were active men used to walking but not to difficult rock work.) The mountain would not be an easy climb but I think it a possible one. Especially from the northeast, although this looks to be the most difficult.

The southeast, which is the longest, would be too long to make in one day from the highest point at which one could get natives. There is great superstition about this mountain and the natives will not go very high on it. Therefore one would have to count on carrying his own food. This would not be very pleasant at elevations 6000 ft. as the weather would be too hot.

1Iakaruna, pronounced “Yak-a-roo-na.”