One of the goals of our round-the-world trip as adventure travel fellows is to trek some of the earth’s most remote mountains. And Papua trekking is all that: remote, challenging, and with a part of mystical aura attached to it.
Papua is a rough diamond waiting to be explored by the experienced travelers and offers endless trekking opportunities. Baliem Valley is the better-known trail to this day, but the jungle and the mountains are there for the adventurous spirits.
The Baliem Valley offers many hiking day trips as well as overnight trekking options. Extending into the Yalimo country adds to these options, with Angurruk the prime destination. Even Wamena to Angurruk can be hiked choosing between at least four different routes, the shortest covered in 3 days, the longest up to 8 to 10 days depending on how fast you walk and how many days you spend in villages. Because the 3-day version entailed going down four hours down dangerous makeshift ladders, and because I don’t do well with heights, we decided to take a longer route with the added benefits of going through several villages.
Day 1: Wamena to Hitugi
The first day of our trek started by taking a local bus from Wamena to a small makeshift stop, an hour away, where we crossed a small bridge on foot. Another small bus took us to the actual “trailhead.” This is basically where the dirt road stops, especially as the main road has been washed out by flash floods after heavy rains. About one hour into the hike, we stopped at a military post where they inspected our passports and kept one copy of the Surat Jalan permit. Another 30 minutes and we reached Kurima.
As we checked at to the police checkpoint, the local policeman asked about our route, our guide, and kept the second copy of travel permit. From there, the trail took us over our first hanging bridge through the Baliem River. An impressive and somewhat well-maintained bridge over rushing yellow waters! The mostly flat trail continued through small villages and cultivated fields. About an hour from Kurima was the first and only water source of the day, a small waterfall where we refilled our empty water bottles. We learned to use every opportunity to do so as water is not necessarily available everywhere.
The trail ascended steeply, gaining about 500 meters over 1 kilometer. A tiny trail barely used, that reached one of the major roads used by the locals. Bruno and I carried our full backpacks, and while Bruno had no issue with the steep incline, I felt the heavy pack pulled me down. Papua women carried heavy packs with a simple lanyard on their heads trailed behind me, giving me the motivation to push through. Once we arrived at the main road, we stopped for a much-needed lunch break. At the time, Martinus started to suggest a porter for me. His point was that the trail would only increase in difficulty from there.
This gently rolling and rather wide dirt road took us to Hitugi, where we spent our first night. The large village has a few guest houses available for tourists, with a toilet & shower hut where we took a welcome “shower”. Our room was simply four walls and a wooden floor, where we slept that night like all the others. Having walls was an upgraded campsite!
Our guide Martinus asked our host for dinner, and we bought rice and vegetables for them to cook. As a customary gesture, coffee and sugar we brought from Wamena were offered to our hosting family. During our dinner, Martinus stressed several times it might be a good idea to hire a porter for me, given the challenging trails ahead. That gave us food for thoughts, and Bruno and I discussed this as a strong option.
- Distance: 27 km (about 12.7 km via bus, and 13.3 km hike)
17 miles (about 7.9 miles bus and 8.2 miles hike)
- Time: 7 hours
- Elevation: 1,016 m – from 1,529 m to 2,050 m (3,333 feet – from 5,016 feet to 6,725 feet)
- Trail: small and narrow trail first, then large dirt road rolling up and down
Day 2: Hitugi to Yogosem
After a good night rest and a breakfast composed of oatmeal and coffee, we started our second day with a descend along the Baliem River. An hour down the trail stood the village of Yoharima, where Martinus mentioned we could find a porter. Given that it had taken me about 50% longer to hike the distances than the initial duration mentioned by Martinus, I agreed to get a porter. We stopped for a while Martinus negotiated with two local porters. They wanted us to hire them both, but we finally managed to settle on one, Seth, though the second porter Siam, followed us.
At this point, it was noon when we continued. The trail changed dramatically from a well-worn gently path to a steep, narrow and rocky one. A short section of mostly flat terrain lasted about one hour, but the remaining of the distance to Yogosem was rocky and unmaintained. Some areas were so steep we had to use our hands to grab hold on the rocks. The path was so narrow at a time we had to stay close to the mountain side to avoid falling.
We finally came upon the last corner before going down into the high plateau where Yogosem was. Welcoming kids come running towards us, shouting “Sore, sore,” the traditional afternoon greeting. After meeting our hosts for the night and left our pack in our room, we wandered for a couple of hours in the village. Kids followed us through, pointing us to their houses and explaining with a few words of English what we saw: the fields, a few tombs, the shop… Several of the younger kids showed their skills shooting arrows, a much-needed skill to hunt birds and small animals into their adult life.
That night, Martinus informed us that he had to return to Wamena for health reason. Our porter Seth was to take over our trek, and we reviewed the itinerary with him, agreeing again on the route and fees. Martinus seemed to have a cold. Whether he was genuinely unable to continue the trek was debatable. What is sure though is that he refused to reimburse us for the overpaid deposit since he was leaving us after only two days into the trek. We also realized he did not carry any cooking pot, or kettle, or machete – all items he said he would bring for the trek, and were much needed for the jungle sections.
This made us question whether he had planned to take us along the trail to start with, hence wondering whether he was indeed sick. Indeed, as we would learn and notice along our trail is that a Papua man is seldom without a machete – this is a survival tool and the extension of Papua men. However, getting Seth to be our new “guide” was the best decision!
Our accommodation for the evening was a prefabricated house, sleeping again on the wooden floor. During our night fleas attacked us – whether from the house itself or from the hay covering the main hut where we dined. In any case, fierce scratching continued with and on us for the rest of the trek.
- Distance: 13.5 km (8.4 miles)
- Time: 7+ hours
- Elevation: 1,867 m – from 1,797 m to 2,588 m (6,125 feet – from 5,896 feet to 8,4981 feet)
- Trail: narrow trail sloping down first then relatively flat, before going up steeply over rocks
Day 3: Yogosem to Jungle Shelter
Before we left that morning, we shopped for more noodles, sugar, and coffee for the small local store. The last two staples are consumed all day and night long, and we made sure to get a bigger supply this time.
The trail from Yogosem started easily enough. Not very large in most instances, but large enough to feel safe. And not too steep to be tiring. However, that changed quite rapidly, and before lunch, we started to hike face up through a dense forest area.
Our lunch spot was set high on the mountain, with sweeping views of the Mugi Valley. We continued over a volley of horizontal logs, a giant ladder where we felt like dwarfs. This section took us onto a high plateau at 3,400 meters (11,155 feet). The route snaked through the rainforest; the ground soaked and trees with dangling moss.
Late in the afternoon, we reached the cave for the night. However, due to the lack of water, it was best to push further up. Seth and Siam took off and disappeared from our sights. We followed as best as we could, guessing our way most of the time.
After another hour, we arrived at a muddy plateau and heard that sound of the machete on wood. The weather had changed dramatically, the fog thick at a time that we could not see much of the landscape. Our steps followed the continuous sounds of the machete. The first drops of water arrived as we found Seth sticking poles in the ground, building a temporary shelter for the night. Sinking almost knee deep into the mud, choosing our steps carefully, climbing on logs rather than grounds, we slowly made our way to the camp.
Together with Siam, Seth quickly put an impressive shelter, using our large tarp, and insulating the sides with brushes. We did not like the fact trees and bushes were cut for that, but we obviously needed a shelter for the night and against the downpour the rain had turnt into. Water was available though, as the camp stood by a stagnant pond. Not ideal and certainly not appealing, but the water was there. Seth was drenched and cold, his lack of gear and shoes more apparent than ever. Siam faired better since he wore a sweater and rain boots. Bruno gave a fleece to Seth, and we took an emergency blanket out for him and Siam to keep warm.
Seth set aside brushes for a campfire and somehow managed to light it. More smoke than heat came out for about one hour, but fire slowly appeared. Flames warmed soon and were strong enough for boiling the water needed for a much-needed coffee. Dinner followed quickly, the hot meal of noodles and rice much appreciated. The night was humid and smoky. Thanks to our sleeping bags, Bruno and I had a somewhat warm and restful night.
Seth and Siam, on the other hand, had a least restive night, though the spare cloth and blanket helped them a lot. We got to talk that night about what they would do with the money they make as porters. To our surprise, getting proper hiking gear was not high on their mind, but rather buying more pigs seemed to be their priority. We learned how active the pig culture still was, a legacy of Papua animism still holding deep even as Christianism is the main religion in the region.
- Distance: 10.2 km (6.3 miles)
- Time: 7,30+ hours
- Elevation: 1,381 m – from 2,432 m to 3,407 m (4,531 feet – from 7,979 feet to 11,178 feet)
- Trail: narrow trail sloping down first then going up steeply over wood logs like ladder
Day 4: Jungle Shelter to Cliff Overhang
A blue sky raised our moods in the morning, and we continued trekking on the high plateau. There was no trail to follow but rather logs to step on as we strived to avoid the mud pools. More than once my poles went down almost to the tilts. More than once I almost lost my shoe as I lost my footing over slippery wood. We did see a few lost shoes on the way, including a nice pair of open-toe high-heel pump more fitting to a ballroom than a hiking trail. Of note was that we found the first shoe early in the morning, the second one late in the afternoon. How the two shoes got lost several hours apart, and what happened to the hiker during that time is a mystery…
The nice morning weather turned foggy and wet again in the afternoon, as we reached a ridge and crossed into another valley. Drizzles and wind accompanied us in the last hours of the day, and we were wet as we arrived at our shelter for the night. The “shelter” came with big expectation but that did not materialize as we saw the small encroachment barely a few meter long and one meter wide. Steep cliff behind our back, a steep cliff in front of us. Seth kept cautioning us not to move too close to the edge. The first order was to get a fire going, and Bruno took over the smoky fire, spending over an hour blowing the nascent flames to keep them from dying. During that time Seth and Siam cut new trees to build poles around the edge where we would eventually hang the tarp.
The view was astonishing, and clouds enshrined the top of each mountain surrounding us. The falling lights gave an eerie feel to the whole scene; it was magical!
By night fall we had another shelter against the wind, though the rain kept on dripping down the overhang. The small encampment was thick with smoke which made breathing very hard. Bruno had puffy eyes by then, and we had to leave the camp a few times during the night because we could not breathe, our lungs burning. The night was even tougher on Seth and Siam, the cold and wet conditions keeping them awake most of the time. Coffee and sugar helped them through, and we understood how these two were the porters’ favorites.
- Distance: 8.5 km (5.3 miles)
- Time: 5,30+ hours
- Elevation: 428 m – from 3,326 m to 3,628 m (1,404 feet – from 10,912 feet to 11,903 feet)
- Trail: some rainforest, mostly high plateau trail with mud and bogs
Day 5: Cliff Overhang to Beligama
Waking up to a cloudy morning, and after a quick breakfast, we continued for the fifth day of tough conditions. Following another steep ridge, the slippery rocks required a slow advance as a wrong step could send us over the cliff. Everything was wet and slippery. The grass. The clay soil. The rocks. Many times Seth came to my help to go over a rather tricky portion. The fog, the low clouds put an aura of mystery to the landscape, even more beautiful than the days prior.
As we reached the top of the ridge, Seth showed us our next destination in the distance. Far away laid Beligama. Between us and the village stood a thick forest, with several up and down along the way. According to Seth, we would need five hours to reach our next lodging. In reality, it would take us ten hours of steep descent. The most challenging of the whole trek. Wet logs following the direction of the trail, the webs of roots and holes covered with moss, ankle-breaking holes hidden every two steps, sharp rocks, slippery clay turned to be a dangerous path that required full attention every step of the way, making as much a mentally challenging trek than physically.
We also faced a lack of water since we could not find any spring and the ponds we came across were too thick to use. No water, no food either – since we would have cooked noodles. And we kept on going, munching on only a few nuts. We were exhausted but had no choice than continue. By late afternoon, we reached the river, which required to cross yet another log. This log bridge was rather large, but given the height and the rushing water underneath, this was still a challenging crossing where Seth helped me out.
The river provided the much-needed water, and we finally prepared our coffee. Not a full lunch but a welcome hot drink! We could not spend too much time on this break as we still had to reach the village. When we asked Seth how the trail was, his answer “Bagus,” meaning good in Indonesia Bahasa, was reassuring. We should have known better. The trail skirted the edge of the river, sometimes in the river bed when the trail was washed out. Or hanging by the side and the rocks, and most of it now by the light of our headlamp since the night had fallen.
We reached the village exhausted, a good 10 hours after starting that morning. Many times I thought I would cry, frozen in fear I would fall down the river. That night we stayed in the men’s house since the village had no dedicated guesthouse.
Upon arrival, we learned that the trail from Sobaham to Angurruk which would be our final stretch was unpractical. The words “Tidak Bagus” Tidak Bisa” kept coming in discussion with Seth and the villagers. We could not continue our road and had to fly back. We tried to discuss other routes and options, but it seems we were at a dead-end. Given the types of trails we had just experienced, when local Papuan tell you a trail is not feasible, you don’t even try to push through.
- Distance: 12.1 km (7.5 miles)
- Time: 10 hours
- Elevation: 501 meters – from 2,115 m to 3,281 m (1,643 feet – from 6,939 feet to 10,764 feet)
- Trail: mostly down over slippery wood logs and moss-covered holes and roots
Day 6: Plan: Day Rest at Beligama
With our initial plan on hold and with the physical demands of the previous day, we decided to take a rest and spend the day in the village. This gave us time to think about our plans. The owner of the village radio contacted the different airstrips around Beligama to see whether we could fly from their to Anguruk, without luck. Our next step was then to figure where the next flight back to Wamena would depart. There is no fixed schedule for these bush planes and not every airstrip sees planes every day, or even every week. We learned that Sobaham had a plane for two days from there, so we decided we would leave the next morning, to give us a day in that village before flying back to Wamena.
We spent the rest of the day cleaning up in the river, doing much-needed laundry. This leisurely morning was more than welcome, as we took the time to rest and feel the sun as we laid on the large stones by the river. A few people from the village stayed with us the entire time. Either they were afraid we might get ourselves into trouble, or simply curious about what we were doing. I am not sure.
In the afternoon we explored Beligama and its surroundings, hiking the different small trails around the village. On the slopes of other mountains stood the village of Nina in the distance. Papua women carrying heavy loads and packages from the lanyard on the heads came and went.
Two women stopped to “chat” with us, and we had a good laugh mimicking where we were staying and exchanging comical expressions. When not traveling, the women and men worked in their fields of sweet potatoes and greens, a daily concern as these are their main staples. Many of the fields stood on very steep slopes, so steep it was hard to stand. It was an impressive sight.
At night kids chanted and danced. The rhythms were enthralling, and we shortly joined them, though our singing let a lot to desire!
Day 7: Beligama to Sobaham
We left Beligama mid-morning for what would be our last trek of the trip. Though our next destination, Sobaham, was visible from Beligama. In theory just the nearby valley, it took us over three hours to reach it. The trail went steeply down to the river where we crossed again over small wood logs. Once again I relied on Seth and Syam to help me pass, as usual, I froze before such crossing. A woman came right us, carrying a heavy pack and going across to the other side of the river in no time. What a contrast it was, and how frustrated it felt again not being able to cross easily.
The second part of the trail headed up the mountains again, and we soon reached Sobaham. The outskirt of the village showed signs of expansion with the narrow trail enlarged by bulldozer marks. Following our surprise how such a huge machine could be there, Seth mentioned a Russian army helicopter flew it over. He also added that the project to widen the road was on hold since it had been damaged and not functioning anymore.
We reached the top of the plateau which was, in fact, the airstrip. A few buildings stood by the sides, a few children playing around. Seth headed to a hut we might spend the night. Our plan was to spend the night waiting for our plane the next day. But as we walked in the hut’s direction, a lady came running after us.
She shouted a long speech to Seth who turned back and motioned a plane to us, pointed his finger to the sky. Using Google Translate, we learned that the aircraft was arriving today. In fact, it would come within the next thirty minutes!
We rushed to the airfield office and tried to organize our flight back. Since these are small bush Cessna-like planes, the officers weighed our packs and us. Price discussion was the next steps, and luckily we had an idea on how much tickets costs since we checked them in Wamena.
Watching the airplane landing was like watching an action movie! The plane landed on the sloped strip, and given the short runway, the plane run up to the last second and turned within centimeters of the wall. I was impressed with the pilot’s skills! The plane was quickly unloaded, mostly of construction materials for a new church. A few bags of rice, sugar, and coffee. Our bags secured in the cargo, we stepped on the plane together with Seth and Syam who followed us to Wamena.
Our pilot chatted with us a few minutes and told us he was born in a village nearby. The son of missionaries, he grew up with the local kids and spoke Bahasa as his first language, together with English as his parents were Canadian. While talking he set the plane for take-off, increasing the speed while breaking? The plane finally ready at full throttle, and we flew within seconds. The bird view was fantastic, as we flew over the trails and mountains we hiked in the last couple of days. Within 30 minutes we were back in Wamena. It was surreal to think it took us six days to trek in, and just half-an-hour to return!
- Distance: 4.7 km (2.9 miles)
- Time: 2 hours
- Elevation: 583 m – from 1,529 m to 2,530 m (1,913 feet – from 5,016 feet to 8,300 feet)
- Trail: down to the river, and up to Sobaham on a mostly narrow trail
Sobaham to Ungurruk
So close, yet so far…
Should the trail to Ungurruk have been open, the trek would have taken us three more days. This would be two more nights in the jungle, with the third-day reaching Angurruk. We were disappointed that we did not make it to the village in Yalimo county. We tried to find a plane to take us from Sobaham, or Nina, to Angurruk, no luck. The only option was to fly from Wamena, but these were too expensive. Airlines tend to charge more from Wamena to the villages as this is the high demand direction. Planes usually fly back to Wamena empty and hence tickets are more affordable.
Papua Trekking: Baliem Valley Trail Summary
A very challenging, both physical and mentally, trek through Papua, we loved every second of it. The conditions of the trail, as well as the living conditions, are rough, but the welcome from all the Papuan was naturally warming and heartfelt. The fact we did not reach Angurruk is painful and left a feeling of incompleteness. Would we do it again? Yes! Will we try to reach Angurruk at some point? You bet!
See below the entire trip, including the road bus trip, the actual trekking, and the flight back to Wamena.
- Distance: 62.3 km (38.7 miles)
- Time: 10 hours
- Elevation: lowest: 2,115 m (6,939 feet) / highest: 3,628 m (11,903 feet)
- Trail: lots of up and down, river crossing to high plateaux, mud, wet logs, rocks, cliffs, and sweeping views!
Map generated from the GPS data captured during the trek. The KMZ file can be downloaded here: KML file for Baliem Valley Trek
Further posts on how to prepare your Baliem Trek as well as lodging in Wamena are coming shortly. Sign-up to our newsletter to receive the new posts on our adventures in Papua, or to follow us on our round-the-world trip!