Ascent to Mount Boising-Gwarawon on 2015-08-14

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Matthew Holt
Fiona McIntosh
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Friday, August 14, 2015
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Boat
Point Reached:Mount Boising - Gwarawon
    Location:Papua New Guinea
    Elevation:5577 ft / 1699 m
    Remaining Elevation:8038 ft / 2450 m (56% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report

Thanks go to Matthew Holt for setting up this climb, and to Petter Bjørstad for smoothing the way following his first ascent in 2014. Unfortunately we don't summit, due to security issues. The GPX track comprises the boat journey from Madang and the hike to Gwarawon.

We arrive on Fri 7 Aug. I arrive via Hong Kong where I climb the conveniently located Lantau Peak during a 10 hour layover. I meet Matthew and Fiona briefly at Port Moresby airport where we get our Visa on Arrival, PNG Sim cards for our phones, and cash (I use ATM which works ok although am unable to pay for my Sim card with either card, which makes little sense and doesn't bode well for card payments in PNG (but both subsequently work).

The situation regarding visas for PNG seems quite confusing from prior research but turns out to be very easy. Visa on Arrival is available for many nationalities including UK and western European countries, and is free of charge. There is supposedly a need for a passport photo, which I take but don't need. No application form (other than the visitor arrival and ebola forms handed out on the plane); proof of return flight is also not asked for. Just a nice colourful visa stuck into the passport. Yellow fever certificate is also supposedly required, but not asked for, and I read somewhere that it is only a requirement when travelling from a country where YF is endemic.

Sat 8 Waiting for Augustine
Early am we learn the sea's too rough for planned Sunday pickup; hopefully Tuesday. We later learn the other (main?) factor is that there are no other boats on Sundays hence no safety cover in case of difficulties. It would have been helpful to know this before booking our flights. ..

So a day at Madang Resort. I research Mt Giluwe for a contingency plan (along with Mt Wilhelm) but we decide to focus on Mt Boising and stay with Tuesday departure. A few birds around the resort grounds: kite, bulbuls, crows; flying fox fruit bats quite a spectacle.

Sun 9 Trying for Kunugui
With two days spare I decide to investigate this island highpoint ultra a short way up the coast. Not doable in the time available; see detailed report. But an interesting side trip and good to get away from the hotel and see some genuine PNG.

Mon 10 Coastwatchers
Back early from Kubugam, I stay outside the Resort and make short walk to Kalibobo Point with its Coastwatchers Light memorial to WW2; later the three of us lunch in the nearby Coastwatchers Hotel. Augustine our boatman arrives: our adventure starts tomorrow!

Tue 11 To Saidor
We find Augustine down at the waterfront, 23 x 5ft open seatless GRP boat with single 40HP outboard, our bags under tarpaulin and we sitting on the floor with them as our backrest. We depart 0650 after a small diversion to make a delivery to some of Augustine's tribesmen across the channel.
We make it to Saidor, 3h30, uncomfortable at times against a 4ft swell but once across the bay, nice easy coast hugging, with big mountains coming into view to our right, beyond palm and mangrove fringed shore.
We call at Biliau, a village inside a small reef, outrigger canoes, coconut palms - and a telecom mast! Then another half hour or so along coast to Saidor. Met by a tiny ancient truck which takes us 10min ride to the village, old American airbase, Catholic church, YC building S 5.6278, E 146.4587 where we'll stay on the way back. Father Benedict recently in post chats awhile. Wionare arrives with porters (nine!), we need three, the remainder engaged at discount (or so we agreed) as security, bow n arrows, machete (in practice all nine get 100 kina each ie 50 per day).

Leave 12ish, warm, light cloud. Wade across the main Nankina river (upstream of a very dodgy bridge) 50m wide, knee deep, route then follows W (true L) bank, initially semi plantation, higher up forest, some fine buttressed trees, cocoa a cash crop; a few small villages with neat gardened stilted woven houses.

5h40 to tiny village Wesan at a stream confluence, small area of cultivated land, a few steep areas recently cleared for cultivation. 298m S 5.7237, E 146.3933. Half hour before dusk. Relax as vegetable meal prepared.

Wed 12 to Gwarawon
Breakfast much as dinner. We hand over Wionare's new smartphone (we hear his old phone was stolen), unfortunately we put in a Vodafone/Bemobile Sim card but it's Digicel which has the coverage here and in other wilder parts of PNG (He later fits his own Sim card; the phone indicates voice and apparently data service).
Depart 0800. Many ups n downs, a few streams boulder hopped or waded. Many people on trail, all shake our hands. Family of four on way to market in Saidor, quite a long journey. We reach next village Yongem in 1hr. Soon after at 0930 we are ambushed on trail by a second breakfast, pawpaw, peanuts, the usual veg: Gwarawon people staying further down the mountain. Variety of exotic bird songs, the only named is distinctive shriek of 'white cockatoo' (which when eventually seen is a large light brown bird: the species here is Palm Cockatoo). Impressive butterflies, some amusement at my attempts to photograph them (they rarely settle); nice flowers. Hot again, climb to 770m, descend a little to suspension bridge (the only decent bridge on this two day route) then 1000m relentless ascent, oranges en route a refreshing treat brought down from Gwarawon, which we reach at 1730 in 9h30 including several rests. A reception is laid on with prayers and guitar song then we meet Wionare's family, who live at the first buildings beyond the airstrip, S 5.836, E 146.452, 1740m. The pronounced peak of Mt Boising is visible from the airstrip as clouds clear for the evening, windless windsock, afterglow, sea of clouds stretching out towards coast. Chilly. Confusion over guides from here to summit and back: cost, number and when arriving. Hopefully will become clearer tomorrow.

Thu 13 Negotiations
Breakfast 8, Wionare shows us his half built tourist house. 9am our onward porters arrive from next village, quite a gang: we asked for three: however it is partly a deputation. They expect hefty remuneration including 40,000 kina land royalty - £10k!! Several times during the morning it is spelt out that we have only 7000 kina (£2k) to spend in total, based on the information provided before we left home (it's like they think we'd have brought an ATM with us!). We give up and make arrangements to head back for Saidor in the morning. Eventually realisation dawns and the price gradually falls: finally the royalty is 1000 kina; total 6000. Wionare is supposed to handle these negotiations and to do the whole journey with us, but is unwell and seems unable to do so; we're to be handed over to the pastor of the next village who will guide us to the summit.
Steve (also from Gwarawon) seems to have closed the deal; having done so he takes us on the surprisingly long journey down to the small stream that serves as water supply. We wonder how such a large settlement has developed with such poor supply arrangements: perhaps the airstrip: no explanation is forthcoming. Wionare has plans for a piped water supply and has put in a proposal, but funding may be hard to secure.

We impress on them the need to have a sensible pricing and organisational structure: this peak is quite hard to get to and the limited clientele will need this to attract them up here.

By 4pm all seems settled and we have a late lunch: the usual cabbage and sweet potato with some very welcome oranges and passion fruit. We crave coffee, which is grown here but seemingly not drunk here; seemingly it's a cash crop, air freighted out to Madang on a subsidised flight.

It's frustrating to have spent a day here negotiating instead of climbing. But hopefully we can move forward tomorrow.

Fri 14 Retreat to Yongem
Early breakfast of Caucau and cabbage, to be away by 7. Wionare comes to explain the mountain rules: wear nothing red, men and women to sleep apart, white face paint to be worn on summit day. He says a prayer for the success of our trip. A few minutes later he's back. Something has happened. He explains word has come through that someone on the Lae side of the mountain has got together an armed gang who plan to rob us higher up on the route. The news have evidently spread to surrounding villages that there are tourists on their way. Realistically we have no choice but to go back down.
Wionare is sorry: our trip is spoiled, the people higher up the mountain won't get our business, it will be harder to attract more trade for their fledgling ecotourism business in the future.
The nearest policeman is down in Saidor; it's suggested the village will deal with the offender themselves. The local magistrate Buro Fosne (+675 7138 6137) introduces himself and says he will make proper arrangements for future trips: sensible straightforward prices are needed (but we thought this had already been agreed before our trip). Also the security issue needs to be addressed - fixed prices with no need for negotiation, may help visits to keep a lower profile.
We leave at 9, retracing our upward route and are in Yongem before 4, in 6h30. A nice hike although hot and sticky and the small black flies targeting our tear ducts are annoying, as they were on our way up. The place where we wade the river, below the bridged crossing, is an excellent place for butterflies: the most striking large species being a black and white, a black and yellow, a large orange fritillary and an electric blue and black (blue empire?); others resemble monarch and white and red admirals; there's also a small yellow species and a small blue. They hardly ever settle and photo opportunities are meagre. Lovely to see though and the plants are good. Some impressive trees, some with widely buttressed bases; one with weird straight aerial roots running at 60deg from the ground to join the trunk several metres up.

Yongem S 5.742, E 146.397, 460m is a lovely spot, neat houses with neat gardens and neat vegetable plots, at the confluence of the Yongem river with the Nankina. We wash in the river; I try some late pm birding but as usual they are easier to hear than see. A tasty meal of half a dozen different vegetables rounds off the day. The portions are huge: when beaten we pass our plates on to the porters, which is doubtless the intention. Overnight in one of the village houses as is the usual arrangement.

Sat 15 Back to Saidor
Leaving at 8.15 We retrace our upward route. Fiona makes some suggestions regarding eco tourism potential, focusing around village treks to Gwarawon, as this likely has the widest appeal and seems less problematic than reaching the summit. Wionare talks about the flights into Gwarawon: there are two operators with flights on Weds and Thurs weekly, prices 320 or 360 kina including baggage upto 16kg; additional baggage chargeable. On the face of it this seems good value if can be reliably pre booked. Petter's report is quite negative about them; however he may have been trying to charter a flight (5000+ kina).

Making quite a few stops en route we're back in Saidor before 4pm, in 7h30. After wading back across the Nankina river we pay the porters as they don't want to be paid in public in the village. There's a soccer match underway: teams nicely turned out. There's a market (except Sun and Mon) where we buy fruit and veg, and a shop (except Sun am) which has eggs, canned food - and beer! We take a couple of rooms (50k pppn) in the large YC building: a local house cooks the food we've bought.

Augustine the boatman is here and says (as expected) Sunday will be "too windy" but he should be able to take us back to Madang on Monday.

Sun 16 At leisure in Saidor
Sunday not being a good day to sail, we have a leisurely breakfast; much of the village is in church from 9 until about 11; plenty of tuneful hymn singing. Late am we walk down to the beach where we landed. Some sizeable waves breaking over the reef; inside it the water is too shallow to swim but it's good to lie and let the waves wash over us. Then sit in the shade and read. We head back at 3 to catch the shop: provisions and beer for this evening.

There's more soccer. This being Sunday there are lots of folk around. There are also a lot of youngsters hanging around the YC building: it would be nice to have more privacy. The ladies cook us a nice meal again, taking our bought rice and adding some extra veg. We share our beer with them: one at least seems not to have drunk it before, but doesn't refuse a (small) top-up!

During our stay I enjoy birding around the village: a dozen or so species including colourful parrots and bee-eaters. I have no field guide but hope to make something of my notes and a borrowed guide when home.

Augustine drops by and says he thinks it will be ok to sail tomorrow: we'll meet before 6am. Electricity on from 8.20 tonight!

Mon 17 Return to Madang
The aged jeep takes us down to the beach and we leave about 0700. Seems quite rough in the bay but the ride back to Madang is much smoother than our outward journey: apparently we're going with the waves; the usual stop at Biliau after an hour, for fuel; the boat also stops on the water en route while more petrol is siphoned into the tank!

Good to be back at Madang Resort and relax. The crows calls are amusingly human and conversational: Ahhh Oh! Oh! Ha! Ha! Ha!

We make the short walk into town, buy a Digicel Sim card which should work in the Highlands, and visit the Air Niugini office. Their computer system is remarkably slow and inefficient: luckily there is no queue. We arrange to fly to Mt Hagen tomorrow to climb Mt Giluwe and Mt Wilhelm. These are standard packages and hopefully no "raskols" en route.

Note on costs:
Boat from Madang to Saidor: 800 kina each way, Augustine Diru ( +675 717 56 672) can arrange this. Cost apparently subsidised by goods he also carries
Home stay: 50 kina pppn including food, consistent with 2012 Lonely Planet
(As mentioned above, flying in to Gwarawon from Madang seems in theory to be convenient and good value.)
Porters: 100 kina/day for a 20kg load: we paid about half this but porters carried less and some were superfluous and designated as "security". Approx consistent with Lonely Planet.
Guide/fixer. We were expecting to pay 2000 between us for the whole trip, for guiding and negotiations with landowners as required. However our man seemed unable to deal effectively with the tribes higher on the mountain
Land royalty: this seems a big issue for the tribes above Gwarawon. They were beaten down from 40,000 to 1000 kina but had our trip continued this issue may have continued to fester

A properly priced package is required if this ascent is to appeal to anyone other than the most experienced/hardened of travellers. However the trek to Gwarawon seems quite easy to set up and worth doing in its own right.

Around Madang
Voyage to Saidor
Trek to Gwarawon
Gwarawon and retreat to Yongem
Return to Saidor and 'home' to Madang

Birds observed
Willie wagtail
Crested tern
Blackbilled Cuckoodove
Torresian crow
Blyths hornbill (tameish)
?Papuan spinetailed swift
House sparrow (they get everywhere!)
Black kite

Willie wagtail
Collared sparrowhawk
Brush cuckoo (H)
Uniform swiftlet
Pied imperial pigeon (Torres Strait form)
House sparrow
Variable/black pitohui
Papuan harrier
Helmeted friarbird
Redflanked lorikeet
Palm cockatoo (in hills above)
Rainbow bee-eater
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:6200 ft / 1889 m
    Total Elevation Loss:656 ft / 199 m
    Grade/Class:YDS 1
    Quality:5 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Guide, Porters, Hut Camp
    Weather:Hot, Calm, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:6200 ft / 1889 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 5544 ft / 1689 m; Extra: 656 ft / 199m
    Loss on way in:656 ft / 199 m
    Distance:28 mi / 45 km
    Start Trailhead:Saidor  33 ft / 10 m
Descent Statistics
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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