Fransiska Dimitri Inkiriwang and Mathilda Dwi Lestari are setting their sites high. The friends, who go by the nicknames Deedee and Hilda, set off for Nepal with plans to conquer Mount Everest, the highest summit on Earth. It will take these two university students at least 57 days to reach the mountain's peak, as long as everything goes according to plan.
But on a mountain like Everest, it rarely does. Nearly 300 people have died trying to reach the summit, and plenty of those climbers were parts of mountaineering teams with plenty of funding and support.
Things were never easy for Deedee and Hilda—not that climbing one of the deadliest mountains on Earth ever is. But then there's the added issue of costs. Deedee and Hilda hadn't bought their return ticket yet when VICE spoke to them, mainly because they couldn't afford it. Their support team also cancelled, due to financial difficulties of their own. But the two 20 year olds decided to go anyway.
If they manage to get to the top of Mount Everest, they will be the first and second Indonesian woman to do so with proof. Years ago, a Yogyakarta-based woman named Clara Sumarwati claimed that she had reached the peak of Mount Everest in 1996. The problem is that she couldn’t prove it, so no one's really sure how to figure out who gets the title.
A month before they took off, VICE sat down with Deedee and Hilda to figure out what it's like to scale some of the tallest peaks in the world.
VICE: You're leaving less than a month from now. How have you prepared yourselves?
Deedee: We've started preparing ourselves since the beginning of expedition. As Indonesians, we don’t have the luxury of trying out icebergs, so we used our previous missions as a practice for the next one. When we were climbing Carstenz mountain, we were preparing ourselves for Elbrus mountain. And when we were going up Elbrus, we were preparing ourselves for Kilimanjaro. That’s pretty much the strategy. So our preparation started in 2014.
What sort of training do you do?
Deedee: There are three aspects that we need to prepare for: physical, mental, and gear. Physically, we practice six days a week with one day to rest. It’s like a simulation of a mountain climb.
One of it is going up Gedung 9, our university's eight-floor building. We'll bring a 25-29 kg carrier—around a third of our body weight plus 10 kg—and go up and down the building 10 times. When we’re actually up on a mountain, we won't carry as much stuff. We do it because we don’t have the luxury to experience glaciers and situations where the oxygen is thin. So instead we purposely made it harder on ourselves. We also run around Puncak Ciumbuleuit, hit the gym, and swim for relaxation. On the weekends, we go hiking.
What kind of gear are you bringing up to Mount Everest?
Hilda: The gear required for tropical and glaciers environments is clearly different. We’ll have a down jacket to keep us warm. It won't make sense to wear that here. We're going to bring crampons to help us walk on ice. And an ice axe. It can be used as a safety tool when we hike up the mountain. None of these things can be found in Indonesia. It’s hard for us to get these tools. It’s expensive since we have to buy it from other countries. The tax itself can be as expensive as the gear.
Does it scare you when you think about what you’re going to do?
Hilda: Our fear makes us more cautious. I’m afraid we'll fail and die. May luck be on our side. [laughs]
Deedee: Same. That’s what scares me the most. I hope we don’t die. Even if we do, we won’t feel anything, I think. Sometimes, I think about what will happen if we see corpses up there. We won't have a choice but to just walk away from them.
What are the difficulties and challenges in you've faced in the past?
We've faced many challenges. The Carstensz Pyramid (or Puncak Jaya in Papua) was a rocky cliff so we had to master the "fix rope" skill. The rocks were sharp that our hands were injured. The rocks ripped everything we had, like our raincoats and pants. In Carstensz, we practiced the Tyrolean traverse. It’s a method people use when they have to cross between two high points using a rope. We crossed everything that needed to be crossed, and below us a ravine about 700 meters deep.
Elbrus in Russia was our first glacier. It was our first time and we didn’t know how to conquer it.
Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, was the best. Their government policy required us to be assisted by a porter. Anyone who wants to climb the mountain must work with their porter and guide. The point is to empower the locals there.
Aconcagua, in Argentina, was a huge challenge because it's the second highest mountain before Mount Everest in the series of Seven Summits. We had to put up our own tents, and cook our own food. It’s what real a expedition is like. When we were in Kilimanjaro, we had a porter to help us. There were people who put up our tents and cooked our food. In Elbrus, there was a basecamp before we climb. So we didn’t have to cook.
In Aconcagua, the weather was very extreme too. Caro, the third member of our team, fell ill. It (the mountain) was very high. Maybe Caro didn’t know how to acclimatize well. We had to stop because of the weather—the winds reached 50 km per hour. We were stuck in the basecamp for five days.
So far, what’s the hardest mountain to climb?
Deedee: Aconcagua did the most severe damage to us, but the one that gave us the most adrenaline was Denali in Alaska.
Did you ever come close to tripping and falling?
Hilda: Yes, in Denali. It was the two of us, three Indonesian guides, and one Denali guide. The four of them almost fell there. We’re very lucky. Once, I almost fell from a glacier. Because the snow was powdery, so it's more fragile. So we had to wear snowshoes that looked like rackets so our feet wouldn’t get buried.
We almost fell when we were about to walk through a crevasse. There’s a gap, and when I was about to take a step, the back of my snowshoe was stuck so my feet spread and I couldn’t pull myself back to the other side. Below me was a chasm. I said, “What do I do?” but thank God we were connected to a wire. So after panicking for a split second, I was pulled up with the wire and made it across.
To climb Mount Everest, how much money do you need? Do you still use your personal money or are you sponsored?
Deedee: Mount Everest will be the last one and the longest hike. We will be on that mountain for 57 days. We’re planning to bring a support team from Bandung. In total, it costs around Rp 4.9 billion ($343,000 USD).
Hilda: We have been sponsored all along. To climb Carstenz we were sponsored by the Parahyangan Catholic University and Freeport. For Aconcagua, the university funded the entire trip. Vinson Massif and Denali hikes were sponsored by the bank BRI because Vinson cost Rp 1.4 billion ($98,000 USD). It’s a big budget, we had to look for sponsors and we got BRI.
Which is harder—hiking the Seven Summits or graduating from college?
Hilda: Definitely climbing the Seven Summits.
Deedee: But we haven’t graduated. The Seven Summits takes a lot of time and energy. Everyone can graduate from college, but not everyone can hike the Seven Summits. Now we’re trying to finish our final thesis but I’m sure it won’t be as hard as the Seven Summits. Right, Hil?
Hilda: It’s hard because we want to hike the Seven Summits but at the same time we have to go to classes. It’s hard to do both.
When you reach the peak of Mount Everest, what do you plan on doing in order to support and encourage fellow hikers?
Hilda: Women can do anything. We can do things even when some people think we can’t. Mount climbers are still mostly men. We want to show that women can do what men can, too. We’re all equal.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.