Mount Carstensz Pyramid
It has been an 8 year project – climbing the Seven Summits – highest mountain on every continent – but I reached that goal on the 19th March 2014. Carstensz Pyramid, 4884m, is in the western Indonesian half of the 2nd largest island in the world Papua New Guinea but simply called Papua. The other half is known as Irian Jaya or Papua New Guinea, an independent country. I left Montreal on the 7th March and flew to Bali with stopover in Doha. On the night of the 11th, I met my team of 2 Indian twin sisters, a Pakistani brother and sister, an Australian, 2 guys from United Arab Emirates, 2 other Quebecers and myself a Quebecer. All team members, as I would soon realize, are solid strong mountaineers. A rather large team but the diversity of us as it turned out worked beautifully. We caught a flight after midnight from Bali to Timika in Papua. In Timika we again flew on 2 eight passenger prop planes to Sugapa where we landed on a high mountain airstrip. Motorcycles were waiting to transport us to the local village nearby.
A short lunch later and we were off bouncing down a really rough dirt rocky road on the motorcycles occasionally encountering roadblocks manned by locals demanding passage money. A big negotiation would then pursue until finally something was reached and we pushed on.
We finally arrived at the end of the road and then a short walk to a tiny village at the edge of the jungle. We stayed the night in a wood shelter surrounded by round straw huts and a native population awed by our presence. We felt a bit like being in a zoo – watched by all the curious.
Next morning we started hiking through the jungle and for the next 2 days we were prodding through mud at times almost knee deep. Rarely the terrain was flat, usually climbing or descending and mostly gaining altitude. Jumping rocks or balancing across fallen trees to cross over raging rivers. The first 2 days were 9 sweaty very hot humid hours.
Day 2 it poured rain in the dense very primitive forest until we arrived at camp 2 drenched and cold but out of the deep jungle.Day 3 we climbed up to a ridge and crossed over multiple connected hills until we at last saw those spectacular white-capped mountains – our objective in the distant horizon. A short descent brought us to camp 3.
Several long days followed winding ever up, down, or around valley or hilltop constantly dealing with slippery mud, rain, steep ascents or descents until we spotted our serene Base Camp bordering a turquoise moraine lake. We had arrived into such natural beauty surrounded by towering peaks. Carstensz was now partially in view and the magnitude of the technical climb became apparent. These mountains recently formed by geological standards and are straight up very sharp rock, great for hand and foot holds but bad for slicing ropes.
The 18th March we rested at Base Camp enjoying such phenomenal beauty.
Next morning at 3 am on the nineteenth we hiked to the foot of Carstensz and literally began climbing 60° to 90° walls. By 10am we were high on the ridge preparing for the Tyrolean Traverse (crossing a 30m huge gap in the rock leading to the summit. Upside down but roped into our harnesses, we pulled ourselves across with our hearts pounding furiously. Next followed a few more committed suicidal jumps across gaps and around ledges until we finally reached a rocky steep pinnacle and climbed to the absolute summit.
It was a ‘slice.’ Photos, hugs and glory for a while but the obvious was still awaiting us. Down climbing factually is the most dangerous. Back over all the same obstacles, and then rappelling down +80% of this steep mountain. Some 12 hours later exhausted but relieved we rejoiced our success in Base Camp.
Next day began the long return back out through the mud, rain and tough terrain.
At about 3:30 pm the following day (day 9), I reached the top of the ridge I earlier mentioned (day 3), had a snack and drank most of my water, expecting to make the long traverse over the ridge and descent to our next camp at the edge of the jungle in about 1 ½ hours. It didn’t go that way. Unknown to me, there was a 2nd older trail leading off in another direction that unfortunately I followed. I was exhausted after a very long day yet happily visualizing dinner and my warm sleeping bag.
By about 5 pm I came to realize I was off-track. I also realized I did not have enough time left in the day to retrace my steps back up the ridge to my last absolute reference point. My best gamble I decided was to continue climbing down the mountain and hope this trail would merge with the correct one before or near the valley river below. I decided I had nothing to lose following this strategy provided I went slowly and did not hurt myself. Evidently, a twisted ancle or broken leg could end up fatal since I would unlikely ever be found.
At 6:30 pm the game was over. Darkness had set in, and I knew I was spending the night out alone without shelter, food or water. After a couple of expletives, I was resolved to my fate. Essentially, I had been preparing myself for years for such an event. Often back home in Quebec in winter, I would go out snowshoeing or back-country skiing and purposely get myself lost, and then about an hour or two before dark I would sit down and calmly evaluate all the signs using my compass, shadow of the sun, etc. to decide on a strategy to find my way back out of the woods before dark. I have spent a huge amount of time alone in nature hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowshoeing so I was not afraid. In fact I was pretty psychologically positive about this new experience. I put on my Gore-Tex jacket and pants, emptied my pack so I could lie on it, opened my umbrella and got under it. Of course, the rain started immediately.
It became very clear to me what plan of action I needed to put in place at dawn. I must stop descending into the unknown and re-climb up to the ridge and over to the last known reference point. I figured it would take about 2 ½ hours which would also coincide with any rescue effort by my team starting at dawn. I would properly place myself in view and/or return to the correct path.
The night was long but the sweet amazing sounds of the alpine / jungle were an amazing delightful symphony to my ears. It rained off and on but I managed to keep relatively dry.
At first light I was marching back-up to the ridge according to plan. It was sunny, I was in good spirits. I was convinced I would be found or find the right trail.
Not far below the ridge I heard human voices. I immediately yelled out. Poxi, our guide and some of the porters had been in shifts during the night and early morning searching for me. Some had tears in their eyes when they saw me. Not only was I relieved but deeply moved by these people. They may live a simple life but peoples values and emotions are the same the world over – people are people, regardless where they live or what education they have. It touched me deeply.
The balance of the trip was mostly uneventful save for the constant mud and rain and long days.
More photos and a video will follow when I get home.
Team: Francois Houde, Catherine Dupasquier, Tashi & Nungshi Malik, Mirza Ali, Samina Khayal, Dan Bull, Saeed Almemari, Hamad Almazronic, and myself Theodore Fairhurst. Guides: Poxi Dainga, Meds Pesak, Pegi Landah.
April 10, 2014
As mentioned above, there is some controversy whether Mount Kosciusko 2,228 meters (7,310 ft.) in the Australian Mainland or Mount Carstensz Pyramid 4,884 m (16,024 ft.) in the Australian Continent on the island of New Guinea which lies on the Australian Continental Shelf is really the 7th Summit. Most serious climbers will now climb both mountains.
I summitted Kosciuszko April 10, 2014 with my partner in life Rosanna Grande. It was a miserable cold, rainy, windy April day with very little visibility. We were soaked to the bone and only descended the mountain after dark.