A modern day Kartini: Conquering Aconcagua and the Grand Slam

Putri Handayani raises the Red and the White on the summit of Mt. Ama Damblam, the Himalayas, Nepal, November 2016 (photo: IO/Putri)

IO – Diansyah Putri Hadayani may not be the first Indonesian woman to have climbed Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America but she is the first to have stood on its heights and performed a beautiful dance swirling a silk batik around her and she is the first Indonesian woman to attempt the Grand Slam. If anyone wants to know how much Indonesians love their batik they need only look at the video of Putri with the batik on Aconcagua: even on the highest mountains Indonesians bring and show off their batik! (https://youtu.be/KCH7Y6Eq16w ). Hilmar Farid, the Director General for Culture of the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture has said that he is looking into the possibility of giving Putri some form of recognition for her feat in promoting batik.

Putri who is 35 years old was born in Perbaungan, North Sumatra. She went to school at Akbar and Feisal Tanjung’s military school, Matauli in Tapanuli, North Sumatra where her love of mountain climbing expanded. Afterwards she studied civil engineering at the University of Indonesia – and yes that was the University of Indonesia alumni association batik she brought up Aconcagua. On finishing her studies Putri began working for Schlumberger, the leading oilfield services company in the world and spent five years working on rigs in the Persian Gulf. Then she was stationed in the United States where Putri continued her studies to obtain an MBA degree. Upon graduation she became an auditor for Schlumberger and now Putri is back in Indonesia working as a Schlumberger consultant while focusing on finishing the Grand Slam.

What is the Grand Slam? It means climbing the highest mountain on seven continents and then the North Pole and the South Pole. So far Putri has climbed the highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro, the highest in Australasia – Oceania, Mount Carstanz Pyramide, the highest in Europe, Elbrus – and this year Putri climbed the highest mountain in South America, Aconcagua. Last year, she tried to climb the highest mountain in North America, Denali but failed. “I decided to turn back not because our guide told me to stop but because of the weather conditions and my performance in those conditions was not good. On top of that the weather forecast was that the storms would continue. I think it was the right decision because those on the team who chose to remain were trapped on the mountain for 10 days due to the very bad weather conditions.”

At the end of this year Putri will be going to the South Pole in an attempt to climb Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica. She will of course, also have to re-climb Denali and then the North Pole and Mount Everest. At present there are two Indonesian women from Hasanuddin University in Makasar, Sulawesi preparing to climb Mount Everest. “I sincerely hope that they make it safely to the top and back,” says Putri seriously. “They are not doing the Grand Slam, however. I am the only Indonesian woman doing that and I hope I make it!”

To prepare for her mountain climbing Putri follows a grueling fitness schedule which includes getting up at 4 am to train with the Kopassus (special forces) at 5 am. Her training includes running and climbing stairs with 30 kilogram backpacks to increase her stamina. It also includes a very restricted diet of mostly vegetables and fruit with some protein like salmon and egg whites. She needs enough carbohydrates in order to have the energy to climb but must keep her weight to a certain level. “My trainer at Kopassus says that I need to loose another two kilos,” remarks the slim and fit Putri with a sigh.

Putri is just back from a trip to Semarang where the sports management company Eiger held a three day adventure camp for 85 young women to commemorate Earth day and Kartini day by holding a one day workshop about expeditions, zero waste etc, climbing Mount Ungaran and staying over-night and then the next day all the ladies changed into sarong and kebaya on top of Mount Ungaran, planted a tree and conducted a Kartini day ceremony. Putri spoke to them about her experiences to inspire more women to climb mountains.

Putri arrived in Mendoza, Argentina on the 29th of January of this year and began climbing Mount Vallejita (5460 m) the next day as part of their acclimatization process before climbing Aconcagua. She went with an Argentinian guide, Pablo Guerrieri and two British climbers whom she had not met before, a freshly graduated student named Kyran Bell and an electrical engineer named Henry Ross.

The team reached the summit of Mount Vallejitos on the 4th of February. They then rested at the town of Penitentas until the 7th of February. In Penitentas there is a climber’s cemetery called Andrinistas with 30 to 50 graves of climbers who did not make it up Aconcagua. It is in fact a barren hill of rocks as few plants grow there. At some of the graves the friends and families of fallen climbers have left their ice axes, trekking shoes and other climbing equipment.

Indonesian climbers and travel writers Norman Edwin and Didiek Syamsu died trying to climb Aconcagua in 1992. Edwin’s body was flown back to Jakarta but there is a plaque for him at Andrinitas Cemetry.  Putri looked at the many graves and realized how young most of them. Didiek Syamsu for example was only 28 years old. “The sad thing is that when you see how young they were when they died you think of course: that could be me.”

Putri said a prayer at Norman Edwin’s memorial for Edwin and Syamsu and also that the climbers going up would be safe. On the 7th of February they commenced their climb up Aconcagua. After 3000m there are no more plants and mules carry their supplies up to the base camp. They could often hear small avalanches far away but at Camp I one day there was a rock slide which hit the kitchen tent, only five meters away from Putri’s sleeping tent. She could have been killed or seriously hurt.

It took the team 10 days to climb Aconcagua and two days to climb down. This is a good speed but the weather was fine and so they could skip some of the rest days normally needed. On the final day of their ascent known as “summit day” the weather was the coldest unti then, dropping to -100C. Still that is not considered not too cold and quite manageable. On most days they would climb from 6 to 7 hours per day but on summit day they climbed for 13 hours.

On two separate occasions the guide asked Putri to turn back saying that he did not think that she could make it safely to the summit but each time Putri refused to turn back. Putri was always from 5 to 15 minutes slower than the men but in Putri’s opinion this was not too far behind and the weather was very good so she continued.

The last post is called the Cave and there they left their loads and had a meal then continued to the summit. The main difficulty so high up is the altitude which leaves the air very thin. In such altitudes climbers are only able to take one step for every four breaths that they take. Putri has never suffered from altitude sickness but the guide threw up and Ross who was usually the lead climber began to suffer from altitude sickness in the form of headaches. He made it up with the encouragement of the others. It was in fact after the Cave in the high altitude that Putri came into her own. From the Cave till the summit Putri was in the lead most of the time. Reaching the summit was highly emotional for all of them. “It was awesome reaching the top and as usual I cried,” admitted Putri. “It’s so emotional looking from the top and especially for me because in the past I always paid for myself but this time I was sponsored by ILUNI UI (University of Indonesia Alumni Association). We all hugged each other in relief and joy!”

However Putri’s life is not just all mountains and oil rigs. Putri is also involved in two educational projects in Indonesia. One, is the “Sekolah Alam” or Nature School in the mountainous region of Central Papua which provides nature backed learning based on the “School of the Universe” of Lendo Novo, an ITB (Bandung Insitute of Technology) graduate. It answers the very real need that people from remote areas who receive higher have. They frequently complain, “I could not return to my village much as I wanted to, because my education did not prepare me for what to do there that could provide me with a living.” It is about how to manage the resources and earn a living in a place far from the towns.

The second is called STEAM or Science Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths. Putri goes to remote villages and teaches these subjects at “discovery camps”. She is trying to raise Rp 1 billion to create 7 “discovery camps” and Rp23,5 billion for 7 to create Nature Schools. It is a project close to her heart and what with preparing for the Grand Slam and building up her educational programs she is one very busy lady! (Tamalia Alisjahbana)