re-sized Carstenz Pyramid

I Found Another Mountain!

I found another mountain that I should have included in my ‘Mountains of the World’ article. Have you heard of the CARSTENSZ PYRAMID? It certainly sounds as though it fits in the extreme mountain bracket…

“Anyone who has once seen Carstensz Pyramid longs for it like it was a beautiful woman. It seduces you while remaining mysterious. Once in a while it shows you all of its beauty, only to be covered in the veil of mist a minute later. It is provocative but unattainable. It makes you tormented and restless, as it does us…“

Petr Jahoda – climber, Papua & Carstensz guide

This is she. The Carstensz Pyramid, 4884m. Otherwise known as Puncak Jaya, it is in the western central highlands of Papua, Indonesia. It is the highest mountain in Indonesia and the highest mountain in New Guinea. It is the highest on the Australia-New Guinea continent and the highest in Oceania. It is also the highest point between the Himalayas and the Andes and the highest island peak in the world.

That is quite a few ‘highest’s’.

Carstensz was first spotted in 1623 by the Dutch navigator Jan Carstensz. Way back then, Jan Carstensz was ridiculed for claiming to have seen a snow-capped mountain only four degrees south of the equator. His sighting wasn’t confirmed for several centuries, and it was only climbed in 1962, when a four man team led by Heinrich Harrer (best known for the first ascent of the Eiger’s North Face and for spending seven years in Tibet) bagged most of the peaks in the area.

Today, Carstensz has still only been summitted by a couple of hundred people.

“Some climbers lucky on Carstensz and some unlucky,” says ‘Two Fone’ Franky, formerly the leading guide on the peak, with 38 summits to his name.

One of the challenges to Carstensz is actually getting there.

Access to the peak requires a government permit. The mountain was closed to tourists and climbers between 1995 and 2005. As of 2006, access is possible through various adventure tourism agencies.

There are three main routes. The traditional way is hiking in through a jungle populated with leeches that stick like velcro and ex-cannibals wearing only penis gourds. It is a serious hike – about 100kms from the nearest town with airport, Timika, to the base camp and it takes about 4-5 days. The simplest way is to drive within spitting distance of Carstensz via the adjacent Grasberg gold and copper mine. However, the American owners of this mine are extremely sensitive to the political climate surrounding them that permission is not often granted. Remember this region is still full of strife – terrorist bombings, local uprisings and tribal wars to name just a few! The third route, and probably the most appealing to all but the most extreme of you adventurers out there, is to fly in to base camp in a helicopter. Although this certainly sounds the easiest this is not necessarily the case – it has been known for the pilot to ‘neglect’ to appear.

Puncak Jaya is one of the more demanding climbs in one version of the Seven Summits Peak bagging list. It is held to have the highest technical rating, though not the greatest physical demands of that list’s ascents. Base camp is located at 4,000m next to a large mirror lake. It is a few kilometres from Carstenz itself. It takes about an hour to reach the base of the peak where the dark silhouette of the vast rock wall leans over you. There are twelve pitches of easy scrambling leading to the ridge along which you then traverse for a kilometre to the summit itself.

There are a few surprises on the ridge – one is a gaping abyss. Twenty metres wide. 30 metres down a wafer-thin gangway spans the divide, but on either side of this the mountain falls away for hundreds of metres, all the way back to its base! Several ropes hang across the gap by which you are supposed to haul yourself over in what is called a Tyrolean traverse. Beyond this yawning adrenaline-pumping gap are two more notches that are both awkward and highly exposed. The ridge takes about an hour to traverse.

Although this mountain is really nothing more than a short rock scramble (!) it will test your patience, your climbing skills and your courage.

The summit is marked with a small rock dais complete with a plaque and a log book. The view is a spectacular panorama of peaks, glaciers, forests and lakes.

The price of climbing this peak will set you back about $15,000. However, for obsessive collectors that’s not an option – it is one of the seven prized continental summits, although, to some, this is debatable – there are 2 versions of the Seven Summits… I will clarify this at a later stage…



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