Strongpela Meri

“Rule Nambawan,” one of our New Guinean guides called over his shoulder as we trudged up a mountain, “Never look up. Longwe tumas. You lose strength.” He spoke a mixture of Tok Pisin and English, and I understood him perfectly: this trail was hard. It was the steepest trail I had ever seen. Barely wide enough for two hiking boots, it was surrounded by thick jungle and it went straight up. Leaning hard on my trekking poles, I wondered if the Papua New Guineans who used the trail to hunt and take their betel nut, peanuts, coffee beans, and cucumbers to the Port Moresby markets had ever heard of switchbacks. My dad and I had trained in Colorado and Montana, but we’d never seen a trail this rugged.

LRG_DSC01030After two hours of tiresome climbing, we made it to the top of a high peak, and were rewarded with a view of the Kemp Welch River valley, green and dense. We enjoyed it for a while and soon began our descent – again straight down. All the roots and rocks that I had used for footholds on the way up were now my enemies. One slippery misstep and I’d be tumbling into the valley, possibly all the way to Goreba, our first village stop.


It wasn’t until day 6 that I developed what I called my “ jungle feet.” I learned instinctively to place my feet between the slick roots and rocks rather than on them, and I learned how to navigate the stretches of wet clay. I grew fast and efficient at climbing up and down the hills and peaks, and soon I was keeping up with our guides.  I felt agile, strong, and exhilarated. Cresting a hill, I would hear our guides exclaim, There’s our lead girl!” I had earned their respect and a new nickname, “Strongpela Meri.”

Elevation Profile:


Rule Nambawan- Rule #1

Longwe Tumas- Long way to go

Strongpela Meri- Strong girl


In High Mnts

I will not be able to post any blogs while my dad and I are in the jungle. Our only means of communication is via a satellite phone and our coverage is very spotty. So far our messages to home have been “All Well,” “Killer Hike Today,” “In High Mtns,” and “All Good”.

This is a photograph of village boys in PNG taken when my dad hiked this same trail over a decade ago when writing his book The Ghost Mountain Boys. If you are interested in seeing video footage of Papua New Guinea, you can follow this link to his Ghost Mountain Boys site and watch an 8-minute trailer about his book:

PNG Boys

Into the Jungles of Papua New Guinea

jim and rachel pre pngWhen I was three years old my father set out to the jungles of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to research his book The Ghost Mountain Boys. He had been there a number of times before, with my uncle in 1989 and later with my mom on their honeymoon (!). They all loved the country even with the threat of malaria (which my mother contracted) snakes, and overwhelming heat. So, naturally, I have been hearing stories about Papua New Guinea for a long time. Not just about the bad and the dangerous times, but about the wonderful people, the rare birds of paradise, and the beautiful jungles, mountains, and beaches. Now, I  get to experience it for myself.

This Friday, July 20th, my dad and I are leaving for PNG to do a 22-day trek across the Papuan Peninsula. PNG is shaped like a bird with long tail feathers, the tail being the Papuan Peninsula. kokodamap2
We will walk from south to north across the Peninsula, from a village on the coast called Gabagaba to Buna on the north coast. Along the way, we will cross savannah, jungles, and the peaks of the Owen Stanley Mountains, just like the U.S. soldiers, whom my dad wrote about in his book, did in 1942. Training for this trip has been a long process. Although we trained most of the time in Wisconsin, we took a 3-week trip to Colorado and Montana to train and adapt to altitude. We later returned to the green hills and heat and humidity of Wisconsin, saying goodbye to the Flatirons of Colorado and Yellowstone National Park.

As hard as training had been, packing was almost as hard. In an effort to keep our backpacks as light as we could, we had to keep packing and unpacking, winnowing down what we would need to the bare essentials. In preparation for this trek I made countless trips to Target for pharmaceutical supplies, browsed through thousands of outdoor clothing companies online, took a Wilderness First Aid course in case anything went wrong, and worked out hard so that I could climb the mountains with energy.

Here’s is a partial list of the essentials:

  • Gloves for holding onto trees and roots on the steep hills and for protection against salat, a plant like stinging nettles
  • Smartwool socks to keep the feet dry
  • Silk and Smartwool underwear
  • Moisture wicking shirts and a lightweight rain shell from Outdoor Research
  • Knee-high gaiters to keep out leeches and keep mud and debris out of the boots
  • Trekking poles for the steep inclines and declines
  • Lots of electrolytes to prevent dehydration
  • Garmin Oregon 600 GPS
  • A Garmin watch (Forerunner 735XT) to record details of trip (provided by Garmin)
  • Mosquito net for sleeping
  • Malaria Medication (Malarone)
  • Immunizations against Japanese Encephalitis, Typhoid, and Rabies, too (a bit overkill)

In addition, we will be carrying lots of moleskin, topical antibiotics, antiseptic pads, and ointments, especially ointments that prevent rubbing and chafing. But we are also bringing along stronger medications for more serious circumstances such as cephalexin for skin infections, cipro for UTIs, fever, and nausea, azithromycin for sinus issues, bronchitis, pneumonia, and a cough and fever, prednisone for rashes, and allergic reactions, benadryl for allergic reactions, and finally, eye antibiotics and anesthetic.

Finally, my dad and I have also been studying the language of PNG: Tok Pisin/Pidgin. Pisin is a old trade language that uses a mixture of French, Spanish, German, and English, but most of the words resemble English. Here’s a quick sample of some of the words and phrases we’ve been learning:

  • Liklik raunwara- Small lake
  • Nem bilong mi- My name is…
  • Biknait- Night (11 p.m.-4 a.m.)
  • Mi gat liklik wari bilong mi- I have a little problem
  • Inap mi malolo liklik- Can I take a rest here?
  • Food- Kai kai
  • Breakfast- Kai kai bilong moningtaim


Lukim yu (see you later)!