West Papuan Highlands

The Papuan Highlands are breathtaking.  I'll never forget our first ride up to Tembagapura with Al Edwards.  As is typical, we were socked in with thick fog for most of the drive up from the lowlands.  We passed through a long tunnel and hit a clear patch on the other side.  We couldn't see far, but we could suddenly see that the ridge dropped off precipitously on either side.  As we encountered more clear patches, the intensity of the land began repeatedly sucking involuntary, "Ahh"s out of all three of us.
The Highlands area is very steep, yet plants miraculously cling to the sides.  The soil can't be that thick, but the wet conditions must break down rock at a rate that keeps up with erosion.  The geologists who do the exploration in the Papuan Highlands are some truly rugged individuals.
The jungle highlands reach up to elevations near 13,000 feet.  With increasing elevation, though, the tree cover gives way to rocky high peaks.
Fog clouds obscure the view like clockwork.  Morning's are commonly clear up until about 10:30 or 11:00 when the clouds begin materializing.  Unlike fog in the San Francisco Bay area where the fog comes rolling in like a wave off the ocean, fog clouds in New Guinea appear to form in place, grow, and merge into one big blanket.
The steep flanks make landslides common.  Sediment naturally erodes off the mountains and chokes the streams, forming braided rivers.

Waterfalls cascade off the steep mountain flanks.  Some waterfalls appear to end in a mist as the water falls 10's of meters.

The scenery is even more striking above the mill level at elevations over 12,000 ft.  Here, the tree-covered slopes give way to rocky peaks with a glacier - a glacier only 4° south of the equator! 

The photo on the left is a color photograph!  The rocky dolomite rock weathers to form virtually no soil at all, so plants cannot take root.  The terrain is very difficult to climb across, but seeing country like this makes me daydream of making geologic maps in a land where all the rocks are exposed with 100% continuity.  Yeah, mapping in such a place would lose the mystery of what lies between outcrops, but the abundance of constraints on the geology would create at least as many new puzzles!
Working in the mine area is certainly easy on the eyes.  The Yellow Valley Syncline in the carbonate rocks was exposed by glacial erosion (note the broad U-shaped valley and patternoster lakes).
The large scale geology is beautiful to behold from a helicopter - giant folds, thrust faults, and blocky igeous intrusions.  One of natures real jewels, however, was yet to come on this trip - Grasberg!

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