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Prayer flags above Dingboche. Lhotse and Island Peak in the background.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Carstensz Pyramid trip

I am endeavoring to climb the Seven Summits and for me this means nine climbs. There is the
ongoing dispute on how you define Australia (do you include New Guinea?) and I had a personal
problem viewing Mount Elbrus as being in Europe so I climbed Mont Blanc just to be safe.
Carstensz Pyramid was number 8 of 9 of the Seven Summits for me.

I left Denver on August 10 bound for New Guinea. After briefly being a tourist in Singapore and
Jakarta, I found myself in Timika, New Guinea on the 14th. We then flew in a Cessna to Sugapa
where we spent the balance of the day doing final packing and enjoying a very different culture.
This was my first exposure to penis gourds!


The airport at Sugapa


Hanging out with the locals


I don't think we are in Kansas anymore

Our guided group of four clients, two guides, 17 official porters and 8 "hanger-onners" left on the
morning of the 15th for our six day trek to the base camp of Carstensz Pyramid. We used
motorcycles to cover the first four miles and then walked for only about two hours to a small
village where we were made to stop while our guides sorted out some problems with the local
people. Apparently a previous, unrelated group had stiffed the porters of their fees and we
weren't going anywhere until we paid the bill. Fortunately I'd chosen Adventure Indonesia for
this trip and they fully took care of this with no cost to me.


Negotiating the payment of a prior group's porter bill


A typical hut. I'm not sure about the side-effects of the central heating system.

The next 4 1/2 days were spent slogging through the jungles. Temperatures were surprisingly
cool; we even needed warm coats in the evening, and this was a huge blessing. The trek is billed
as the world's toughest trek and I saw no reason to disagree. The best way to describe it is
relentless. We walked through deep mud and water for hours. The trail was forever going up or
down something very steep and slippery. It seemed like you could hurt yourself on something at
every step. 

The trail through the jungle

Jungle trail

Mud, mud and more mud

We wore rubber boots but they were full of water and mud for most of the time. We crossed
powerful rivers on slimy logs, walked on webs of tree roots 10' off the ground, and at times
even partially climbed up trees as part of the trail. It would rain for hours every day and was
impossible to stay clean or dry. 

River crossing

On the final day we crossed New Zealand Pass at about 14,000' and dropped down to about
13,400' where we set up our base camp by a nice lake. In many ways this was the easiest day
because we were walking on a rocky trail similar to what you would typically find in Colorado.
We'd had small glimpses of the mountain on day four, but this was really the first time we had
a decent look at our objective.

New Zealand Pass

Our first good look at Carstensz Pyramid from New Zealand Pass

The north face of Carstensz Pyramid. The traverse is at the top of the shadowed couloir on the right side.

We arose at 1 am the next morning for a 2 am alpine start and found we had the best weather
of our journey. There were no clouds at all, and it was perhaps 50 degrees with no wind. We
were very pleased! From base camp it is about a 45 minute walk to the start of the actual climb
which has fixed lines of doubtful age and quality. We clipped in and began a 2,000'+ class 4
climb with a few low class 5 sections. 

After perhaps three hours we topped out on the summit ridge just before dawn. It was quite a bit
colder and also windy so we layered up and headed for the first serious bit, the tyrollean
traverse. I'd seen pictures and video but had never actually done this before and I was definitely
out of my comfort zone. Our guide went first, breaking the ice off the rope, followed by the four
clients. I clipped into all four of the faded ropes and also put a safety line onto a steel cable and
hoped for the best as I was bigger than the others.

Closeup of the tyrollean traverse

Ed preparing to cross the traverse

It ended up being less of a problem than I expected, but the thought of all that air under you is
a real cause for concern. The hardest part was unclipping from the lines while standing on a
near-vertical slab of rock in hiking boots.

Cason getting off the ropes after completing the traverse

Tyrollean traverse

The ridge continued for another hour or more with two more small gaps to cross. We all agreed
that they were scarier than the traverse because the only rope was very loose and you had to
maneuver your way across by climbing vs hanging from a rope and tugging hard. There were
several very steep areas we needed to cross that only had tiny ledges to stand on - I kept
telling myself to slow down as every step was important.

One of the two smaller gaps on the summit ridge

No unimportant steps

Equatorial sunrise over a glacier

We topped out at about 7:30 am, a little over five hours after we left base camp and it was
amazing. We still had pretty clear skies and could see the ocean 50 miles away. The surrounding
peaks and valleys were beautiful and we could also see the infamous Freeport Mine. 

Proof we made it to the top

We retraced our steps down the ridge, rappelled our way down much of the north face and
were back in our camp almost exactly ten hours later. 

Our guide descending

Rappel lines


We put in longer days on the way out and were back in Sugapa after four very hard days of

Back in Sugapa with the two head porters

We flew out the next morning to Timika and then on to Bali where an Adventure Indonesia
staffer met us at the airport, took us to our hotel and then out for a beautiful seafood dinner
on the beach. 

Eating on the beach in Bali

We required several showers and repeated washings of our clothing and equipment before all
the stink of sweat, mud and smoke was gone. I've hiked to Everest Base Camp twice and there
is no doubt in my mind that this is a more difficult ordeal. The jungle is beautiful and interesting,
but wow, is it ever hard to walk through!

Our porters were nothing but good to us which is not what you typically hear from other groups.
They were also amazingly tough. Most of them did the entire trip barefoot and they sleep in a
smoke-filled shelter under a tarp. We had two fine guides and two amazing cooks who produced
some very impressive meals.

This is where the porters slept. They kept two fires going all night to stay warm.

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