by Rob D'Eon
July 2018
to CONTACT me: rdeon@alumni.ubc.ca

Trekking in the Baliem Valley: What we did (very specifically)



A cautionary tale: Before we start with the detailed route description, one caveat (admission actually). On Day 4, we found ourselves alone on the trail, with no one to ask directions, and trail decisions to make (recall the “no signage” thing). With no real map, we had been relying on locals to point the way. We hadn’t seen a human in hours. As if scripted by Hollywood, the clouds rolled in, it started to rain, and fog made seeing more than our feet below us, impossible. Cutting to the chase, several hours later we found ourselves, well, not entirely sure, but pretty sure, not on the right trail. It was late in the afternoon, pouring rain, zero visibility, and somewhere on the side of a mountain in Papua.

By what can only be called luck, we happened upon a small grass lean-to, presumably set up as a temporary day shelter for someone out in the mountains, tending to sweet potatoes. It was a gift, and we took it. We spent the night in our little grass lean-to (after all, we had everything we needed and were quite comfy). The morning was, as the saying goes, “another day”. We arose to good weather, waited for the fog to lift, found the main trail, and returned to our original schedule. While “all is well that ends well”, it was a stressful 24 hours, and a reminder that things do not always go as planned, and you need to be ready for an emergency overnight.

Now, the reason I am describing all of that, is because the route description I will be recommending below, does not include our little diversion to the grass lean-to. The route description, GPS route, and map below IS the main route that you want to follow (I edited out our little diversion).

The Route

Alrighty then, the Coles notes version of the route is (see map in previous section):

Day
Summary
1
From Wamena accom, drive to Sogokmo Trailhead, hike to Hitugi, overnight in Hitugi
2
From Hitugi, hike to Yogosen, overnight in Yogosen
3
From Yogosen, hike to Syokosimo, overnight in Syokosimo
4
From Syokosimo, hike to Wesagalep, overnight in Wesagalep
5
From Weagalep, hike to Tangma, overnight in Tangma.
6
From Tangma, hike to Kurima or Sugokmo Trailhead, back to Wamena via vehicle



Day 1: this is a nice, straight-forward, gradual ascending hike along mostly good, open, obvious trails. From the trailhead, go down the trail to the bridge, cross the bridge, turn right on the other side, then follow the trail to Hitugi. It is a good intro to the trip and gets you up and into the heart of the Baliem. Just ask people for “Hitugi” and they will point you in the right direction. Can’t go wrong.

Day 2: From Hitugi, the trail descends down to the Mugi River and the village of Yuarima. Go through Yuarima, about 10 minutes after Yuarima, there is a footbridge across the Mugi (can’t miss it). Cross the bridge, then go straight up the steep trail/hill, on the other side, to Upper Yuarima. From Upper Yuarima, there is a good, obvious trail going up the valley to Yogosen. Again, just ask people for “Yogosen”. It’s a big climb to Yogosen, but the trail is obvious and the scenery is stunning. There is a good water system in Upper Yuarima just before starting the trail to Yogosen. Fill up on water there.

Day 3: Coming back down from Yogosen takes a fraction of the time it took going up. At Upper Yuarima, look for a trail going off/up to the left. It’s not obvious, and is rough in spots. Ask someone for “Seikama”, and they will point you in the right direction. The trail goes up steeply, then contours along the side of the valley for a while (a bit rough of a trail), eventually coming back down to the river and the village of Syokosimo, which is right on a beautiful stretch of the river. Very nice. Just before Syokosimo, you will pass a “traditional” foot bridge (i.e., made from vines and other natural materials – but looked doable) that crosses the Mugi. That provides an alternative crossing point to go back to the north side of the Mugi.

Day 4: OK, this is crux day. After Syokosimo, things get a tad more challenging in terms of route finding until Wesagalep – mostly because it’s more remote and there are no people around (it’s the boonies). When we did it, the trail to Huerema was washed out, and we gave a local guy a snickers bar to show us the way to Huerema, which he did. We then made our own way to Wuserem on a good trail, no problem. Beyond Wuserem, we literally saw no people until Wesagalep, and took a wrong turn at one point – hence our emergency overnight (see cautionary tale above). Therefore, I would strongly recommend for Wuserem (or even Syokosimo) to Wesagalep: (1) find/pay a guy to guide you to Wesagalep (which would be very easy to arrange on the fly), or (2) have the GPS track on your GPS unit and know how to follow it (email me if you want the track file). The trails are generally decent, but it is a long, hilly, tiring trek between these 2 villages, and there are several critical trail intersections, which are not signed or obvious, and therefore give you little/no indication of which trail to take. The area though, is beautiful and worth the effort. Go for it!

Day 5: From Wesagalep, the trail is insanely steep down to the Baliem River to the footbridge (can’t miss it, it’s huge – also a bit “sketchy” in that the wooden planks look dodgy – use caution when crossing). Cross the bridge, turn right, then head back up a decent trail to Wamerek, a nice little village with beautiful views. Wamerek to Tangma is a ‘walk in the park”, or so it feels. Big, obvious, gentle trail. Beautiful area.

Day 6: Tangma to Upper Ibiroma is a steep, rough climb, but more/less obvious. Once you top out and see your first honai in Upper Ibiroma (nice views!), it’s easy sailing from there on big, wide, open trails with stunning views all the way down to Kurima. Can’t go wrong.

The Stats

The following table is a detailed breakdown of each day of our route from point to point. i.e., if you want to do the route we did, this is the schedule I would recommend, more or less.

For “Trail Difficulty” as in the table below, the following apply:

1 = good/decent, obvious trail; generally flat or gentle up/down

2 = varied conditions with challenging sections

3 = steep and/or rough trail; generally physically challenging

This is a listing of day by day hiking stats for key locations along the route. Important footnotes are below:

Day1
From
To
Length
(km)
Time2
(hrs:mins)
Trail Difficulty
Comments
1
Sogokmo Trailhead3
Bridge over Baliem4
0.9
0:15
1
Easy down
1
Bridge
Seima
4.7
1:45
1
Mostly flat, some mud
1
Seima
Ikinim
3.4
1:15
1
Gradual climb, good obvious trail
1
Ikinim
Ugem
 0.9
0:30
1
Gradual climb, good obvious trail
1
Ugem
Hitugi
4.5
1:45
1
Gradual climb, good obvious trail
Totals
14.4
5:30


2
Hitugi
Yuarima
3.8
1:15
1
Easy, mostly down
2
Yuarima
Yogosem
6.5
4:00
2
BIG climb, but trail is decent and obvious
Totals
10.3
5:15


3
Yogosem
Upper Yuarima
5.7
1:45
2
BIG descent, but trail is decent and obvious
3
Upper Yuarima
Seikama
3.4
2:00
2/3
Mostly a high contour, but rough trail with initial climb
3
Seikama
Syokosimo
3.3
2:00
1
Down, nice trail
Totals
12.4
5:45


4
Syokosimo
Wuserum5
3.6
1:45
2
Washouts; difficult route finding
4
Wuserum
Wesagalep6
8.7
4:00
2/3
Good trail for most of it, but has demanding climbs and descents, and river crossings; also has critical, unmarked turn-offs6
Totals
12.3
5:45


5
Wesagalep
Wamerek6
4.3
3:30
3
Very steep descent to sketchy bridge over Baliem River, then steep ascent on rough trail
5
Wamerek
Tangma
3.1
1:30
1
Easy, gentle climb
Totals
7.4
5:00


6
Tangma
Ibiroma
3.9
2:30
3
Big climb on rough trail
6
Ibiroma
Kilise
1.9
0:30
1
Nice open trail
6
Kilise
Kurima7
2.4
1:00
1
Nice open trail
Totals
8.2
4:00



1The day indications are a guideline based on our trek.

2Times are actual hiking times, i.e., does not include break times during the day. We were generally on the trails for 6 hours a day +/-. Basic schedule was leaving around 9 am, arriving at destination village around 3 pm, with little breaks here and there.

3The “Sogokmo Trailhead” is a non-descript, side-of-the-road situation. There is nothing there. It is literally a trail going off from a pull-out in the road. If you ask someone if it goes to Seima and/or Hitugi, and they say yes, that’s it! For some reason, people call this location “Sogokmo”, but there is no town/buildings where the trail starts.

4This is a good walking bridge over the Baliem River. Not to be confused with the bridge over the Baliem that is located at Kurima (see footnote 6).

5As of June 2018, the trail between Syokosimo and Huerema disappears due to massive washouts along the river, requiring non-obvious walk-arounds. We ended up having a guy show us the way to the next village.

6As mentioned in the “cautionary tale” above, this is where we took a wrong turn, and ended up in the jungle between Wuserem and Wesagalep for the night. Getting to Wesagalep for the night is therefore the recommendation.

7We ended our trek where the pavement starts/ends in Kurima. Because we didn’t realize that the road to Sogokmo/Wamena is washed out, we erroneously ended our hike here, and had to take multiple motorcycle taxis, combined with walking across a very sketchy log bridge, to get back to Sogokmo, to finally arrange a ride back to Wamena. If we had known that, we would have continued hiking by crossing the foot bridge in Kurima, and then hiking back to Sogokmo via Seima on the east side of the Baliem River – this would be a good option to avoid the road washout issues between Kurima and Sogokmo (unless they actually fix the road on day). In other words: start and finish your trek at the Sogokmo Trailhead, where there are usually vehicles waiting to transport people back and forth to Wamena.


GPS Locations

The following is a listing of GPS locations and elevations of villages and other major features along our route. Be sure to read the footnotes below.

Location1
GPS coordinate  in decimal degrees (datum = WGS 84)
Elevation
(m)
Latitude
Longitude
Sugokmo Trailhead
S4.18939
E139.00439
1728
Bridge over Baliem-12
S4.18838
E139.01117
1623
Seima
S4.21245
E139.03810
1640
Ikinim
S4.22757
E139.06171
1881
Hitugi
S4.22300
E139.09948
2021
Yuarima
S4.22202
E139.13020
1857
Bridge over Mugi-13
S4.22074
E139.13432
1828
Yogosen
S4.24678
E139.16904
2464
Seikama
S4.22937
E139.11080
2071
Seseg
S4.23321
E139.10245
1879
Bridge over Mugi-24
S4.23646
E139.09611
1653
Syokosimo
S4.23934
E139.08858
1630
Huerema
S4.24583
E139.07398
1687
Wuserem
S4.25464
E139.07290
1743
River crossing5
S4.28808
E139.08798
2000
Wesagalep
S4.29847
E139.07003
1963
Bridge over Baliem-26
S4.28675
E139.06385
1270
Wamerek
S4.27973
E139.06046
1512
Lower Tangma
S4.26738
E139.05228
1677
Tangma
S4.26015
E139.04706
1771
Upper Ibiroma
S4.26202
E139.05817
2019
Ibiroma
S4.24732
E139.05682
1940
Kilise
S4.23515
E139.04850
1854
Kurima
S4.21885
E139.03771
1576

1locations listed in order as you would encounter then, if you are doing the route as we did.

2Nice big footbridge, no worries.

3Nice big footbridge, no worries.

4We didn’t use this bridge, we passed by it on the trail. It is a traditional footbridge made out of local materials, but looks useable if you wanted to cross the Mugi at this location.

5A tributary to the Baliem, no bridge, but feasible to cross, if you are willing to get your feet wet.

6This is a big bridge, across a substantial stretch of the Baliem. Interestingly, the wooden planks in the bridge are somewhat sketchy. Caution advised – but doable.


(click on "older posts" for more)


No comments: