Clim­bers and kayak­ers ex­plore In­done­sia’s po­ten­tial as the next big ad­ven­ture des­ti­na­tion.

Af­ter the in­dige­nous peo­ple of In­done­sia’s West Ti­mor pre­vented min­ers from de­stroy­ing their sa­cred moun­tains, they sought sus­tain­able forms of rev­enue. A team of kayak­ers and clim­bers trav­eled here with one ques­tion: Can climb­ing and ad­ven­ture tourism he

Climbing - - CONTENTS - By Julie El­li­son

MON­DAY, JUNE 19, 2017 West Ti­mor, In­done­sia

Mid­day rain rolls off my shell and onto my pants in rivulets as I walk down a muddy jun­gle road. I’m near the vil­lage of Naususu-Mollo on West Ti­mor, an is­land of nearly 12,000 square miles that’s split down the mid­dle. This half is part of In­done­sia, a coun­try in South­east Asia com­prised of thou­sands of is­lands, and the other half is the sov­er­eign state of East Ti­mor. Rocky peaks shoot up through the blan­ket of jun­gle. The oc­ca­sional footpath cuts through a wall of green on ei­ther side of me, and I glance up ev­ery few min­utes, hop­ing to see more of the lime­stone that tempted us here. We are a team of 11 Western clim­bers and kayak­ers, on an ex­ploratory mis­sion to an is­land with no his­tory of de­vel­oped climb­ing. Rain­drops pum­mel my face, and the thick mist makes it im­pos­si­ble to see. And this is In­done­sia’s dry sea­son.

I round a cor­ner and stop. Teth­ered just off the road, a bull stares at me. I take a few more steps. My eyes drift up­ward. I al­most trip over the rocks jut­ting out of the road. Be­hind the bull is 300 ver­ti­cal feet of lime­stone.

At first glance, the smooth wall looks like just an­other one of the quar­ried faces that’s al­ready fooled us on this trip. Min­ing has had a pres­ence here for more than three decades, and we’ve seen the im­pact at a hand­ful of sites, one of which had 90 per­cent of the peak re­moved, leav­ing a flat stump of stone. These quar­ries present strik­ing walls that upon closer in­spec­tion yield stone that’s clean—too clean. But what sits in front of me is no mined stone. Frac­tured with ir­reg­u­lar, shal­low cracks, it’s a lime­stone wall of char­ac­ter­is­tic blue, yel­low, and white streaks. My head spins with its po­ten­tial: four- and five-pitch bolted routes up the mid­dle, harder sin­gle pitches on the pe­riph­ery, shorter lines fill­ing in the gaps.

The bull stares blankly as I fum­ble for my camera. Our team has barely climbed over the past 10 days of ex­plor­ing the two is­lands of East Sumba and West Ti­mor; I need to bring back proof of my find. With a group split down the mid­dle, half kayak­ers and half clim­bers, we’ve spent most of the trip thus far on the coast of East Sumba, and the lat­ter group is rest­less. Ev­ery­thing I brought has been some vari­a­tion of damp, moist, soak­ing, sop­ping, wa­ter­logged, soggy, and drip­ping for the seven days we’ve been here. But it’s all worth it for this right here.

As I snap a few more shots, the fog clears to re­veal a mas­sive dome, with the clean ver­ti­cal sec­tion mark­ing its left side. Three tiers of rocky faces com­prise the dome, sep­a­rated by tan­gled green jun­gle, with small caves dot­ting each tier. I fol­low the road down the curve of the moun­tain, stop­ping at each crag, snap­ping pic­tures. There’s the 100-foot cave that has a per­fect, five-foot-long tufa, the blobby tu­fas dot­ting a 20de­gree-over­hang­ing wall, the lime­stone sad­dles jut­ting out of a tri­an­gu­lar patch. Then there’s all the rock I can’t see.

We came here to find climb­ing po­ten­tial, and here it is. A mini Thai­landVer­don-Ka­lym­nos-Céüse hy­brid with a few hun­dred pos­si­ble routes. I am proud to have made the dis­cov­ery my­self, how­ever ac­ci­den­tal. I walk twice as fast back to the huts to show the oth­ers what might be South­east Asia’s next great climb­ing area.

MON­DAY, FE­BRU­ARY 27, 2017 Bishop, Cal­i­for­nia

The dream email for a free­lance climb­ing writer lands in my in­box: Do I want to go to In­done­sia to ex­plore climb­ing and kayak­ing po­ten­tial?

Andy Cochrane, the then-mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor of Oru Kayak, and Roberto “Berto” Gu­tier­rez, founder/cur­rent CCO of Oru Kayak, were or­ga­niz­ing a trip. Their San Fran­cisco–based com­pany makes fold­able kayaks that can be car­ried in a back­pack and eas­ily checked for in­ter­na­tional flights, of­fer­ing a unique way to ac­cess water­front ar­eas. Andy and Berto had an idea: By us­ing the pow­ers of con­tent mar­ket­ing and so­cial me­dia, could a pub­li­cized trip be the cat­a­lyst for a de­vel­op­ing na­tion’s ad­ven­ture-tourism in­dus­try? They de­cided to in­clude climb­ing be­cause Oru has found a lot of cross­over be­tween clim­bers and kayak­ers. “Both groups are known to travel great lengths to climb on good rock or pad­dle beau­ti­ful wa­ter­scapes,” Berto says. They needed a des­ti­na­tion with all the right in­gre­di­ents: some in­fra­struc­ture, le­git­i­mate po­ten­tial for climb­ing and kayak­ing, and most im­por­tantly, a de­sire from the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties for Western vis­i­tors who’d bring ad­ven­ture tourism.

In De­cem­ber 2016, a non-gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion (NGO) in Thai­land con­nected them with info about the Mama Aleta Fund. Aleta Baun, known af­fec­tion­ately as Mama Aleta, is an en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist in In­done­sia and a mem­ber of the Mollo tribe, the peo­ple who in­habit the moun­tains of West Ti­mor and vil­lage of Naususu-Mollo.

In the 1980s, with­out con­sult­ing vil­lagers, the dis­trict gov­ern­ment gave per­mits to min­ing com­pa­nies to quarry the moun­tains of West Ti­mor for mar­ble. As farm­ers and weavers, the Mollo peo­ple rely on the land to gather and grow food, find medicine, and har­vest plants to make dyes for yarn. They con­sider the land, wa­ter, trees, and stone sa­cred; for the Mollo and other tribes, these things rep­re­sent the skin, blood, hair, and bones of a hu­man body. Ac­cord­ing to Mama Aleta, the Mollo peo­ple need the rock and stone like chil­dren need to breast­feed; the Mollo peo­ple call their home moun­tain Naususu: “breast.” For years, Mama Aleta watched trucks haul away stone, all while wa­ter pol­lu­tion, land­slides, and de­for­esta­tion from min­ing in­creased.

She and three other women started walk­ing from vil­lage to vil­lage, re­mind­ing lo­cals how in­ter­twined their lives are with the land. Her move­ment grew to in­clude hun­dreds of

peo­ple, and even­tu­ally she was at­tacked in an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt. She per­se­vered, and her ef­forts cul­mi­nated in 2006 with a three-year sit-in at the base of a ma­jor min­ing site. More than 150 lo­cal women gath­ered on the mar­ble blocks and weaved their tra­di­tional cloths. Even­tu­ally, the In­done­sian gov­ern­ment took no­tice, and the min­ing com­pa­nies ceased op­er­a­tions in 2010.

In 2013, Mama Aleta won the Gold­man En­vi­ron­men­tal Prize. Now she is a leg­is­la­tor fight­ing for in­dige­nous land rights, in­clud­ing pro­tect­ing places on West Ti­mor from com­mer­cial agri­cul­tural, oil, gas, and min­ing de­vel­op­ment. Part of her goal is to help com­mu­ni­ties man­age their nat­u­ral re­sources, as well as de­velop sus­tain­able in­come. When the Mama Aleta Fund ex­tended an in­vi­ta­tion to Oru to visit West Ti­mor, Berto, a life­long climber, scoured Google Earth for rock, while Andy started looked for pad­dling.

THURS­DAY, JUNE 15, 2017 East Sumba, In­done­sia

Af­ter 50-plus hours of travel, in­clud­ing four flights and more than a dozen car, bus, shut­tle, and train rides, our group of Oru folks, jour­nal­ists, and one pro climber, Sasha DiGiulian, is fi­nally in In­done­sia. I’m float­ing in a kayak off the north­west coast of East Sumba, watch­ing DiGiulian climb. She takes on a ver­ti­cal lime­stone wall above the Savu Sea. Hold­ing lock­offs, high­steps, and awk­ward po­si­tions for 60 sec­onds or more, she tests nub­bins, look­ing for solid holds, climb­ing on­sight. As the holds crum­ble and plink off, she doesn’t make a sound or lose com­po­sure; she just keeps hold­ing on.

When she reaches the fi­nal move, the crux, I stop what I’m do­ing—us­ing my two climb­ing shoes to bail out Berto’s boat af­ter it filled with wa­ter when he re­trieved me from the drink dur­ing my short-lived at­tempt on the route. She tops out the 45-foot line, which she would later grade 5.12+, then jumps off with a holler.

Berto found this clif­fline, a point called Tan­jung Sasar, while look­ing at satel­lite im­ages; an NGO then con­nected Oru with our guide, the Aus­tralian ex­pat Sarah Hob­gen. She and her hus­band, Uman, run Praika­marru Guest House, a small lodge in his an­ces­tral vil­lage of Prailiu Vil­lage. She had come to In­done­sia al­most a decade be­fore to work on her PhD, study­ing ero­sion and sed­i­men­ta­tion in the Kam­baniru River Catch­ment, a main-vein wa­ter­way of Sumba. With in­cred­i­ble pad­dling po­ten­tial all along the coast, this spot on East Sumba seemed like the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to ful­fill Oru’s orig­i­nal mis­sion to use kayaks to ac­cess new climb­ing ar­eas.

The sun, the wa­ter, the rock—it all feels like quin­tes­sen­tial In­done­sia, ex­actly what we came here for. Even the air­port’s con­fis­ca­tion of the glue Lee brought for in­stalling gluein bolts in this wet, ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment is a dis­tant mem­ory. We are ea­ger to ex­plore.

FRI­DAY, JUNE 16, 2017 East Sumba

East Sumba starts out promis­ing, with miles of sea cliffs, but then fiz­zles. As we soon learn af­ter pad­dling far­ther down the clif­fline, most of the po­ten­tial routes would re­quire full bolt­ing be­cause of ledges at the base, or at least a few bolts to put up a hand line. And with­out our glue, we can’t use the ti­ta­nium glue-ins Lee brought. This leaves us with just two dozen ex­pan­sion bolts, which Lee won’t use in the cor­ro­sive ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment.

The next day, we leave camp on the “four-hour drive” to our next stop, Danau We’ekuri La­goon, a hang­ing lake be­side the ocean. Twelve hours af­ter pulling out of camp, we ar­rive. Mul­ti­ple con­struc­tion zones forced us to re-route, and in that part of Sumba where there are only four roads, you take what you can get. We drove through dozens of small vil­lages where tra­di­tional Sum­banese peaked-roof houses lined the roads, and chil­dren played in the yards and waved en­thu­si­as­ti­cally.

In In­done­sia, roads barely fit two cars across, and there are long stretches where they don’t. So when our driver, Marvel, speeds up, honks, and passes, bar­rel­ing straight to­ward on­com­ing traf­fic, my heart pounds. Mean­while, the roads teem with fam­i­lies driv­ing scoot­ers—as in, the whole fam­ily is on one scooter: dad driv­ing, tod­dler be­hind him, mom (some­times car­ry­ing an in­fant), and old­est kid be­hind her. For one curvy

stretch, we fol­low a speed­ing bus with goats lashed to the roof. A teenage boy wear­ing flip-flops hops be­tween them, se­cur­ing the tie-down rope. Once, when a scooter pulls out in front of us, Marvel, who has gelled hair and di­a­mond ear­rings, gets right next to the scooter, close enough that the truck’s side-view mir­ror brushes the guy’s sleeve. Marvel rolls down the win­dow, spit rights in his face, and speeds off. Then he re­turns to tap­ping his fin­ger and humming along with the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.”

We do more driv­ing than climb­ing in In­done­sia. Half­way through the trip, the ro­mance of travel evap­o­rates, leav­ing me with the raw­ness of this place. Trash every­where, three gen­er­a­tions of fam­i­lies liv­ing in one room, kids play­ing in muddy yards, adults hang­ing around all day, pal­try in­comes only suit­able for sub­sis­tence liv­ing. By US stan­dards, these peo­ple are poor, but what does that mean when you have food, shel­ter, fam­ily, and your health? Our group is here for what we think is a no­ble cause—de­vel­op­ing the lo­cal econ­omy via ad­ven­ture tourism—but it’s hard to jus­tify that when it might be lit­tle more than the white-sav­ior trope. Af­ter all, who will ben­e­fit more? Lo­cals who, with lim­ited in­fra­struc­ture, may or may not find ad­ven­ture tourism a vi­able source of in­come, or us, the priv­i­leged Amer­i­cans who get to come here, have this amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with all of our high-tech gear, then re­turn to the land of $5 cof­fees, In­sta­gram a few pho­tos, and pat our­selves on the back? Phi­lan­thropy can never be com­pletely self­less, be­cause ul­ti­mately you feel bet­ter about your­self when you do it.

SUN­DAY, JUNE 18, 2017 West Ti­mor

We flew to West Ti­mor this morning. From Ku­pang, the point on the coast where we landed, we spot­ted a rock but­tress where the Mollo peo­ple live, our des­ti­na­tion. As we drive, we gain al­ti­tude, wind­ing up through ev­er­green forests and into cooler temps. It feels like the moun­tains, and my mood bright­ens. Berto and I see rock in the dis­tance and bounce in our seats. I com­ment on the change, and Berto re­sponds, “That’s be­cause we’re hill peo­ple.”

Fel­low hill peo­ple greet us when we pull up to the Naususu-Mollo vil­lage. Mama Aleta, in her mid-50s and stoic, wears col­or­ful ikats as a skirt and a head­dress and stands amongst two dozen kids and adults un­der­neath an arch­way of rough-cut trees. The other kids and adults wear flip-flops and also have ikats wrapped around their heads and waists. These tra­di­tional cloths are the main source of in­come for peo­ple on Sumba and West Ti­mor. It takes sev­eral months for

a fam­ily to make a half-dozen ikat scarves, which af­ford them just enough money to sur­vive. They sell them at lo­cal mar­kets and to tourists. We walk for­ward as the troupe sings and walks back­ward to greet us.

The group stops in front of the com­mu­nal hut. We line up to shake ev­ery sin­gle per­son’s hand. They call us for­ward. Berto and Andy step up first, and a young girl places an ikat scarf around each of their necks. The rest of us fol­low suit, un­til ikats adorn all 11 of us. That night, we have a big din­ner with ev­ery­one, at which Mama Aleta and lo­cal el­ders speak about the is­sues plagu­ing their home. We eat rice and home­made tem­peh, with a spicy tomato salsa, bits of chicken, and cooked greens. Via trans­la­tors, the el­ders de­tail how min­ing has dis­rupted their nat­u­ral re­sources, ones they’ve re­lied on for gen­er­a­tions. The Mollo peo­ple are ex­cited to show us their home. They end the cer­e­mony by ask­ing us to help tell their story to the world.

I wake up early the next morning and open the door to our (hut). I can’t see more than a few feet be­cause of a thick fog and spray­ing mist. Dammit. At the com­mu­nal hut, we eat break­fast and spend the next few hours wast­ing time with games like hacky sack and Pass the Pigs, and YouTube videos of Ninja War­rior Brazil. Around lunchtime, we head out for a walk; if noth­ing else, we can move our bod­ies and ex­plore. The group splin­ters off in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, and I head off on my own, soon to make my epic dis­cov­ery.

MON­DAY, JUNE 19, 2017 West Ti­mor

Af­ter I show my pho­tos of the lime­stone mini-mecca to the group, we head for the cave with the five-foot tufa. It’s the crag most likely to be “dry,” an­other rel­a­tive term in In­done­sia. Lee bolts his way out the path of least re­sis­tance, which climbs huge tu­fas; he drills an­chors about half­way up the cave, 50 feet off the ground. Sasha then heads off on the three-di­men­sional route, mov­ing be­tween tu­fas and ex­claim­ing about how cool the holds and move­ment are. Af­ter break­ing a hand­hold and catch­ing the full-body swing with one arm, she pauses 35 feet up. The holds and tu­fas dis­ap­pear, leav­ing a fea­ture­less chalky-white face with a few seep­ing fis­sures. She spends three min­utes in­verted, shak­ing out and clean­ing the smegma off the holds, be­fore fig­ur­ing out the moves and con­tin­u­ing to the top. She grades the route 5.12b. The rest of us take turns on the line, play­ing on the tu­fas and get­ting stumped by the crux. It’s a bril­liant line, more than

enough to make this whole trip worth it. We walk out in the dark, go­ing the long way around to check out an­other crag Lee spot­ted the day be­fore, a ver­ti­cal face a quar­ter mile away. Mon­keys screech in the trees, and I can’t help but won­der if they’re laugh­ing at our silly ef­forts to climb.

The next morning, we wake up to sun­shine. The group heads to the cave where they will toprope the ex­ist­ing line, Sasha will climb it for pic­tures and video, and Lee will bolt a sec­ond line on the far-left side of the grotto that’s sep­a­rated by a hump of rock. A few hours in, Lee is ready to climb his new line, and he’s gear­ing up for it with me on be­lay duty when we hear what sounds like thun­der com­bined with gun­shots. “Is ev­ery­one OK?!” Lee yells. “Yeah, the huge tufa broke off,” some­one re­sponds. “The en­tire thing is gone!” For­tu­nately, no one was hurt, in­clud­ing the vil­lage kids who were scam­per­ing around on rocky slabs be­low. The dan­ger­ous re­al­ity of estab­lish­ing FAs in a re­mote area like this, which sees mas­sive amounts of rain, hits me. Look­ing at the numer­ous tu­fas Lee is about to yard on, I step to the side to be­lay.

Lee grades his route 5.12a, and it’s short but sweet, with the fi­nal moves in­clud­ing a cross-through off a per­fect hand-sized ice-cream-cone tufa to an­other ice­cream cone, and then wedg­ing a hip be­tween two other tu­fas. An­other Lee Cu­jes mas­ter­piece. We climb the rest of the day, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween the two routes. Sasha climbs the orig­i­nal route about five times. Once, a vil­lager whom we call Keanu be­cause his hat says “Keanu,” climbs 5.10 ter­rain to meet Sasha at the sec­ond bolt. They share a laugh and a high-five be­fore Sasha con­tin­ues and Keanu chills on the ledge. It’s clear that he’s been up here be­fore. Maybe this idea of estab­lish­ing climb­ing on this ran­dom chunk of rock in the In­dian Ocean isn’t so crazy af­ter all.

WED­NES­DAY, JUNE 21, 2017 West Ti­mor

All in all, we es­tab­lished two bolted lines (and re­moved the bolts since they weren’t ma­rine-friendly glue-ins), two deep-wa­ter-so­los, and a bit of beach boul­der­ing. We also dis­cov­ered an in­sane amount of kayak­ing both in the ocean and in­land lakes.

We leave In­done­sia with big dreams of this next great climb­ing area, but the re­al­ity is that West Ti­mor will never be Ka­lym­nos. There isn’t enough climb­ing, it’s too hard to get to, and it rains. A lot. But for ad­ven­tur­ous clim­bers, Naususu-Mollo will of­fer an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity. Af­ter get­ting the go-ahead from Mama Aleta and other lo­cal lead­ers, a group of us will re­turn in July 2018. We will build trails, cre­ate maps, equip routes, and help the Mollo peo­ple ex­pand their in­fra­struc­ture to wel­come vis­i­tors.

“It will be messy, and it will take time,” Berto says, “but I be­lieve we have planted the seeds for sus­tain­able and pos­i­tive eco­nomic growth that will help these com­mu­ni­ties pre­serve their lands.”


THIS PAGE, FROM TOP: The climb­ing po­ten­tial near Naususu-Mollo vil­lage, West Ti­mor; kayak­ers re­treive a climber dur­ing a deep-wa­ter solo mis­sion on East Sumba.



THIS PAGE, FROM TOP: A per­fect beach sun­set on East Sumba; the wel­come dance of the Mollo peo­ple; some of the mined/quar­ried peaks of West Ti­mor.

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