|Height|| ||1877 metres (6158 feet)|
|Vertical Elevation|| ||1877 metres (sea to summit)|
|Location|| ||West coast Espiritu Santo|
|Nearest town|| ||Tasariki|
|Climbing time|| ||3-4 days|
|Grade|| ||4/5 Climb|
|Other peaks|| ||None|
Tabwemasana is located on the isolated west coast of Espiritu Santo, and at 1877 metres (6,158 feet) is one of the highest mountains in the Pacific. In local language, Tabwemasana means mountain of two peaks and folk lore believes that the two peaks (male and female) come together in an embrace at night.
Vanuatu has pretty consistent temperatures throughout the entire year. However, the best time to climb are during the cooler months, June to August. During the wet season, November to April, the rivers will be impassable and the track up the mountain virtually impossible.
Climbing Tabwemasana involves organising a truck/4WD from Luganville to Tasariki, and a boat ride from Tasariki up the coast to Kerepua.
Organising a truck to Tasariki is a little tricky. Trucks/4WD come into the Luganville most mornings to sell goods at the fruit market. You can try to organise catching one of these trucks back to Tasariki for the evening. We opted for the easier alternative and organised a truck to take us straight to Tasariki (10,000VUV 3 hours rough driving).
There is little food once you leave Luganville (although Tasariki does have a tiny store), so any provisions you may need should be bought in Luganville. We also bought some additional food items (salt, suger etc)) for the villagers in Kerepua (they were very appreciative).
We had organised a boat to take us up the coast the following morning at 5am (13,000VUV one-way), however there are boats which run up and down the coast delivering supplies, so you maybe able to catch a ride.The road actually ends at Tasariki, so the entire west coast of Santo is serviced by speedboats. There are no roads and little if any infrastructure at any of the villages along the coast (eg electricity, running water, phone coverage).
At Kerepua we were warmly welcomed by the village spokesman, Eldar, who greeted us with food and mangoes. He also organised two guides to take us up the mountain (one being his son Wilson). The cost for the guides was 1,500VUV per guide per day + 1,000VUV fee to reach the summit (if you don't get to the summit, they won't charge you). I must admit I was somewhat amazed when the guides arrived. They wore nothing more than a pair of shorts and each carryied a machete. No shoes, no water, no food. Infact had someone told me that they were simply the first two guys walking past our hut and hence were selected, I would have believed them.
Kerepua to Campsite
Distance: 5 hours
Cost: 1,500VUV per guide per day
By 8.30am we were ready to go. The first 2.5 hours is spent walking up a wide rocky river valley. Without warning, the guides led us off the track and into the scrub. A track which is not visable from the river valley marked the beginning of the climb up into the mountains. For the next three hours we did nothing but climb up and up and up. The path was steep, rocky and undefined. After another 2.5 hours (ie 5 walking in total) we reached our campsite for the night, a small clearing with a creek running nearby.
Distance: 5.5 hours
At 5am we were up again and by 5.30am, we were on our way. I had left my large pack, and instead carried a daypack with little more than a few chocolate bars and a two litre bottle of water (this was not enough).
We followed the creek upstream for a short while before crossing over. We were soon climbing through thick razor grass. Over two metres high, it was hard going as we cut and slashed a track through the almost impenetrable barrier. Occasionally I could see through the grass to a sudden and long drop on either side of the trail.
Finally we broke through the grass and for the first time the entire trip, we were in a clearing. At the apex of small hill, I could see the valley from which we had ascended. Before me stood another ridge which we were to scale, and behind this, still along way in the distance, I spotted Tabwemasana for the first time. It was a short respite, as we were quickly on the move again.
After several more hours of climbing we dropped back down into the valley following a number of small (dry) water courses. As we were pushing our way through yet another clump of ferns, my guide Wilson suddenly stopped. "Our old village" he said as he pointed toward a few bamboo poles lashed together hidden in the undergrowth. The entire village of Kerepua used to be up in the mountains. It was only in 1978 that the entire village moved down from the mountain and onto the coast. Most of the other mountain villages had done the same.
The next few hours consisted of more of the same. Unbelievably steep climbing mixed with areas of relative flat, as well as the occasional descent. But generally everything was just up and getting steeper and steeper. We passed a few more creeks in which I could refill my water bottle.
Climbing the final ridge becomes incredibly steep as you work your way up the knife edge ridgeline . I was now using my hands in many places to help pull myself up the wet and muddy track. As we climbed higher I could finally see through and over the trees to surrounding mountains and far away through a haze I could see the ocean. Our path, no more than a metre wide, was somewhat protected by an array of ferns, scrubs and small trees. However through the gaps in the foliage, I could see the mountain dropping away several hundred metres.
For a brief moment the clouds cleared and I could see the sister peak of Tabwemasana. While I could still not see my own goal, I could now judge how much further I had to go by looking at how high we were compared against the second peak. It seemed forever we climbed onward, yet felt we had gained no height. But finally, after my fear had long since drained away, the track suddenly flattened out and as we rounded a small tree, I could see we could climb no higher. My guid Wilson sat down against this small tree, while I slumped down next to him. "Tabwemasana" he announced. We had climbed to the highest point in Vanuatu. The clouds blocked out any view, a gentle breeze providing some respite to my steaming body.
After a few minutes, as we'd arrived, we stood and were off again. I had given everything I had just to get up the mountain. Now, as we climbed down, it just seemed to go on forever. By the time we reached the clearing on which I'd first spotted Tabwemasana, I was completely spent. The climb back through the razor grass was terrible. My cuts were now stinging as sweat covered my entire body. Finally we made it. Eleven hours after setting off that morning, we (or at least) I stumbled back into camp. The following morning we completed the walk out of the jungle and back into civilization.
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