Back in 2001 a group from Sydney University Bushwalking Club went on trip to PNG. We didn't know about the Confluence project at that time, but looking back at the maps and a spurious picture of GPS coordinates we realized that we happened to be pretty close to one.
Our party of six started out from Mt. Hagen on Sunday in our host's Range Rover. Bob drove so we had a cramped three hour trip along rough dirt roads to a town called Tambul. A little further on at a place called Melke, we stopped where a group of nationals were gathered. They were busy constructing the grave for one of the university students that was killed during the demonstrations in Moresby two weeks before. They were making a big deal of it and building it close to the road to make some sort of political statement. Bob recognised someone that had accompanied him on a previous trip and this guy organised three guides for our trip.
We piled back into the Range Rover, with the three guides (and a freeloader) riding on the tailgate. This situation only became precarious when we came across a very flimsy looking log bridge. The guides got off and walked and we heard the bridge cracking slightly as we drove across. But safely at our destination, we set off south through tall grass towards Mt Giluwe. The grass soon gave way to a forested path. However, the forested path soon gave way to just forest. Our guides Willie, Thompson, and Nigil assured us that the path had just overgrown a little, but eventually conceded that they were lost.
Our choices were to retreat the way we'd come and find the correct path, or cut our way east through the jungle until we picked up the track. We chose this option and found the track on the other side of a small river as Michael guessed we would. The guides managed to find a couple of wild dog puppies on the way and kept them for the rest of the trip. But the delays had lost us over two hours walking time and our intended campsite was still a long way off.
The jungle gave way to alpine grassland at an altitude of 3200m and we slogged our way up a really long grassy valley until 6:30pm (picture 5). The headwaters of the valley contain excellent campsites with views up to the three great peaks of Giluwe. The temperature dropped below freezing just as we retreated to our tents for dinner. The guides retreated to small hut across the valley and again kept themselves warm with a hut fire.
Monday began as another cloudless day and we were keen to bag our first peak. Giluwe's centre peak is lower than the other two. We started up the western peak, which is only 20m higher than the eastern one and a good 2km away. This is where the GPS shot was taken (picture #2). Looking west we could see the second summit of Giluwe and the peak of Mt. Wilhelm on the horizon -- the highest point of PNG (4509m).
After elevenses on the top, we descended back to the tents, packed them, and climbed to the ridge below the eastern peak. We camped on the ridge as a light rain began and settled in for the night.
We woke to a light rain on our third day, donned Goretex, and began the ascent to the eastern peak. We expected our guides to be huddled in their little hut for the morning, but heard Thompson's cry soon after beginning the climb. He caught up and we continued upwards. Towards the summit, the rain gave way to snow! (picture 4) Of course, this removed our desire to spend much time up there and we descended quickly, passing a young group of nationals on the way. We packed up and followed a northerly ridge system for 10km to the end of the grasslands (picture 6). I thought this part of the walk was reminiscent of the Tasmanian Central Plateau, with lots of tarns. Our chosen camp overlooked the villages in the valley below, while the guides stayed in a tiny cave nearby.
We just missed a great sunrise and made our way down through the forest to the villages below. Here we were surprised to find a horse grazing. They're not a common sight in PNG. Bob had driven in from Mt Hagen that morning and was only a few minutes away. The road back to Mt Hagen was even worse than on the way in. Bob had winched three PMVs out of a muddy bog on his way to get us. An entrepeneurial local had decided the road needed fixing and organised a few kids to reinforce the bogs with rocks. But he wanted 30 kina ($20) as a toll! Bob planted his foot and escaped.