Monthly Archives: December 2011

Determining equipment needs

Preparing for a climb of Carstensz Pyramid proves fun in many respects, gathering the right gear is no exception.

I investigated some 20 websites, comparing one list against another, and learned a few important considerations to bear in mind:

1)      Your list might look a little different based on whether you are trekking into base camp or using a helicopter to fly in. Helicopters have been used to bypass the arduous trek but have also been notoriously unreliable for a variety of reasons (no fuel available, no pilots available, or lengthy weather delays stymie the trip). Trekking all the way in presents its own adventure (physically quite strenuous, lots of mud and rain along the way as you move through rainforest onto the highlands, some sketchy log crossings over creeks/rivers).

2)      West Papua is a land of great geographic diversity (huge swamps, thick forests, high mountains), but one thing we can count on is the rain! As I’ve been told, “The rain is part of the rainforest.” While December through March are considered the rainiest months, it can rain every day, all day, any day! During the trek in, we’ll encounter boggy terrain that never dries (an early video of a trek across Papua was entitled “Sky Above, Mud Below”!) If it rains during the climb, we get hosed (literally), because the gullies of the climbing route work as “gutters” on the mountain! Regardless, we count on the rain and build our equipment list accordingly. This is definitely a rubber boots & umbrellas adventure!

3)      Trekking through the jungle and attempting Carstensz is a HUGE adventure on MULTIPLE fronts. This trip will likely redefine your concept of “remote.” This is a land so rugged that many of the indigenous tribal peoples have essentially remained isolated from one another. New Guinea is one of just a few areas left on planet Earth where “uncontacted” peoples may still exist. That is fascinating, and it speaks loudly to the difficult terrain and remoteness of this adventure, as well as the importance of our self-sufficiency. A well thought out equipment list might include such items as travel and evacuation insurance, an excellent medical kit, and satellite phone communications.

4)      Once on the climb of Carstensz, fixed lines and Tyrolean traverses require some specialized technical equipment (and skill). A friend of mine who has climbed Carstensz Pyramid twice commented regarding climbers using those lines, “Some blindly trust the fixed lines, and are up and down in half a day. Others pitch everything out, making the ascent/descent a 14-hour day.” Some good judgment and prudence must also be added to our bag of tricks!

Here is an example of a good Carstensz equipment list that (1) clearly lists out exactly what is needed, (2) includes a brief, relevant description addressing why the item is needed or how the item is needed used, and (3) offers a “Guides’ Pick” as a good example of a quality item (and there are certainly many great products from which to choose).



What do we call this place?

Indonesia, New Guinea, Papua, West Papua?

The name Papua was used well before contact with western peoples, but its etymology remains a matter of hypothesis. One theory suggests that the name comes from the language of the eastern Indonesian island of Tidore, whose sultanate controlled parts of the Papua’s coastal region. The name derives from papo (to unite) and ua (negation), which mean not united or territory that is geographically far away and thus not united. Another theory suggests that the word derives from the Malay word papua or pua-pua (frizzly-haired), referring to the curly hair of the area’s inhabitants. Yet another possibility suggests that the name comes from the Biak phrase sup i papaw (land below the sunset), referring to island groups to the west. Whatever the origin, Papua was the name known to the Portuguese during their colonization in this part of the world.

With the arrival of the Spanish explorer Yñigo Ortiz de Retez in 1545, the name New Guinea became used, referring to the similarities of the indigenous people’s appearance with the natives of the Guinea region of Africa.

The Dutch who first arrived called it Schouten Island, but later this name became used only to describe islands along the north coast of Papua. It was when the Dutch colonized the area as part of Netherlands East Indies that they called it New Guinea.

Indonesians referred the island as West Irian and the Indonesian province as Irian Jaya. The name Irian is taken from the Biak language, meaning to rise, or rising spirit, and was used until 2001 when the name Papua became favored. The name Irian, though originally favored by ethnic Papuans, became considered a name imposed by authority of Jakarta.

Ethnic Papuans refer to the area as West Papua, though that name has not been officially recognized. In a conciliatory effort with the Papuans, the Indonesian government agreed to rename the province Papua in 2002. Adding some confusion, in 2007, the western third of the province – the “Bird’s Head” peninsula of New Guinea – was officially designated West Papua to distinguish it from the rest of the western half of the island. Officials now refer to the province when they say West Papua; ethnic Papuans mean the whole of western New Guinea.

Many of the native peoples who live in the region and who seek distinction from Indonesia, currently refer to the region as West Papua. This is noteworthy considering that there are several hundred indigenous groups living on the island. Most contemporary mountaineers and missionaries also use West Papua.

Historically, the naming of peaks and places around the world has always been a charged topic, and not so simple at all. No different here with “Carstensz Pyramid” in “West Papua.” Very understandable considering the rich history, diverse cultures, and myriad of people groups and interests in the area. Grappling with these type issues should be an important and enjoyable part of any visitor’s preparation. After all, if we want to visit, we also want to be culturally sensitive and respectful. I welcome your insights as I continue to comment on the physical and cultural topography of this amazing region.

As an intro to the physical topography, check out the gallery for a few interesting maps of the area.

As an intro to the cultural and ethnic diversity, check out the following two websites.

Check out the Dani warrior at Bugboy Travel Guides. Enter “Dani” in the search box for great photos of the Dani people.

And visit the amazing photography of George Steinmetz as he captures some of the lives of the Korowai and Kombai people.


What do we call this peak?

Carstensz Pyramid, Puncak Jaya, Victory Peak, Forbidden Egg?

I call it Carstensz Pyramid as that is the name which has stuck in mountaineering circles.

Carstensz lies in the Sudirman range of the Maoke Mountains (a translation of the name “Sneeuwgebergte” or “Snowy Mountains”), a limestone escarpment running the width of the western half of the island of New Guinea. As with other mountains around the world, the original peoples had their own names for the mountains, but it was an explorer’s first sighting that often inspired a name to stick; in this case, Carstensz Pyramid was named after Dutch explorer Jan Carstenszoon [], who first sighted this snow-covered equatorial peak in 1623. When the Indonesians took control of the province in 1963, the peak was renamed Puncak Sukarno, after the first President of Indonesia [], and later changed to Puncak Jaya, meaning “Victory Peak.”

One of the biggest tribes of original peoples in the highlands surrounding Carstensz is the Moni Tribe. The Moni (Mō-nē) people named Carstensz, Mbai Ngele (M-bah-ē Ng-el-ah), meaning “Forbidden Egg.”

My friend Amy, who grew up with the Moni people, shared the interesting story surrounding the name:

“In years gone by, when the mountain was snow covered, it resembled an egg, and the fore-fathers forbade their people from going there because it was the hunting grounds of evil spirits and those spirits always killed those who ventured there. Even today, villagers have a very difficult time understanding the science of hypothermia and often will point to and tell of places along the way where the spirits have killed a poor wayfarer! Not many even know this story other than a few thousand Moni … and now you!

Setting Fitness Goals, by John Colver

John’s ideas on outdoor fitness training keep the hard work of fitness training fun & manageable! He sports a long history of athletic endeavors, including a very recent bike ride across the country and past employment as a professional mountain guide! In addition to a strong fitness background, he presents fitness information in an articulate and thoughtful manner. He has recently completed “Fit By Nature,” a guide which encourages fitness through practice & training out of doors. Enjoy John’s contribution to this blog!

“I enjoy training and coaching for mountaineering more than any other sport. Why? It’s a very serious business up there and mistakes can be costly. Here are some thoughts which I hope will help with creating a successful plan.

We’ll do many sports and activities in our lives. I’ve run marathons, competed in Ironman triathlons, played rugby & soccer. I’ve fenced, I’ve played tennis, I even rode my bike across the country this year. So what’s different about mountaineering? It’s one of few times in my life where I have to keep going, because when as tired as a person could get, there are no aid stations and no medical tent. You can’t bail out even if you want to! If I don’t train to the level required; there could be some negative consequences for me and my teammates.

How to decide the type of training

So how do I know I’ll be ready? I replicate as close as possible the type of effort that I’ll be required to do on the expedition. And I keep things simple by creating two training goals — a primary and a secondary goal.

In mountain climbing the primary requirement is to be able to walk, hike and climb for a long time. Rarely is an effort shorter than five hours and rarely does it go longer than 14 hours.

The second fitness requirement is to have the necessary strength to do things like pick up and carry my rucksack all day, to shovel snow, put up a tent, get someone out of a crevasse, and climb steep terrain using both legs and arms/hands. So I don’t want to be left short in this area.

Planning the primary goal

The first thing I do in training is to plan my primary goal activity. I’ve trained before for mountain climbing and I know it takes me about *10 long hikes to be ready for a big climb. And I train progressively. I might start with an 8-mile or 4-hour hike and build up to a 14-mile or 8-hour hike. So I’ll block that time out. It could be one long hike per week or two per week but I will find a way to do that number because I know it will work for me. I’ll also do shorter hikes or even stair climbing in the middle of the week – however I will not sacrifice my primary goal activity. In other words – doubling up on the shorter sessions won’t take the place of my long hike.

Because an expedition requires hiking on multiple days, I will plan two or three ‘mini expeditions’, perhaps at month intervals before the trip – this could be a weekend backpacking trip or it could be a decision to do long hikes for three or four consecutive days. However, I will not do this every week because if I do I’ll risk overtraining. I want to know I’ll be ready but I don’t want to be injured or exhausted before the expedition. I have a friend who walked around Lake Washington for preparation for a Kilimanjaro climb. 70 miles in four days. She stayed in motels and ate at restaurants. It’s different from backpacking, but my friend didn’t feel that she had the experience to go backpacking alone. I admire the creative approach. It achieved the primary goal and it was an adventure in itself!

* I’ve trained over 300 people to climb Mount Rainier and many other people to climb the seven summits. Assuming proper self care and a good overall training plan, I have never seen anyone fail who did 10 long hikes in a 90 day period before the climb. Could I get by with less? I could, but why take the chance? I want to know that I have what it takes to climb up and down the mountain so for me and my climbing team, I make sure I get those 10 hikes on the calendar.

Planning the secondary goal

For my secondary goal, I will build strength in two ways. First, I’ll do stair climbing, stair-master or uphill walking two or three times per week. Second, I’ll do cross training either every day for 20 minutes or two longer sessions such as a circuit training class. I’ve also observed many people successfully build the necessary strength for expedition climbing by doing activities such as yoga, kick boxing, body pump, cross-fit, or by working out with a personal coach. Given the technical nature of the Carstensz climb, it would be appropriate to plan some visits to the local climbing gym to build rock-climbing-specific strength and skill.

My weekly breakdown will look like this.

  • Saturday – Long hike
  • Sunday – Rest
  • Monday – 45 – 90 minutes stair workout and 20 minutes strength workout
  • Tuesday – Shorter hike or other activity (cycling, running) and 20 minutes strength workout
  • Wednesday – Circuit training or 45 minutes stair workout.
  • Thursday – Rest
  • Friday – Cross training or circuit training workout.


I live in Seattle today. We have hills and hikes everywhere for training. However, I used this program to train for an Aconcagua Climb while living in London. My Sunday hike was downtown through parks and streets, taking a break for lunch, meeting friends for coffee and walking home. All with a small pack with a 20 lb. weight. I wore my jeans and street clothes. For my mid-week workouts, I’d use stairs and hills in parks. One time when the weather was foul, I walked up and down the stairs at a tube station for five hours, listening to an audio book and taking breaks at Starbucks. Was it fun? It was OK – but it was my primary goal and nothing was going to stop me from completing it. One exception to changing my hike goal has been to occasionally substitute a long hike for a long bike ride. Bike riding is a good form of cross training because it trains the aerobic system and it builds the lower core muscles that are used in expedition climbing

Three biggest mistakes I see in training:

  1. Primary goal doesn’t get done.
  2. Secondary goal doesn’t get enough attention.
  3. Too much attention is paid to tertiary details.

My experience is that time flies when an expedition is looming. It is easy to let things slide. To ensure success, keep it simple. Make the most important training, the most important thing, and you’ll be well on your way towards a successful expedition.”

Developing a personal fitness training program

Part 2: Developing a personal fitness training program

There’s too much information and too many opinions regarding fitness training to make easy sense of it all. Still, developing a personal fitness training program doesn’t have to send us into a tailspin. While each one of us has different starting points, fitness levels, goals, etc., we know enough to do this right. It might be personal, but there are definitely right ways and wrong ways to go about it.

A good start might be to check out what’s available in your local area. Do a resource check. Here are examples of the types of mountaineering-specific programs that exist, from loose collections of information to professional coaching. Spend an evening browsing the web to find out what’s available in your area.

The second part of a sensible start includes evaluating your current fitness level. Depending on your health and fitness, this might include a medical check-up with your physician and an initial discussion with a physical fitness trainer.

  • If you are healthy and fit, plan on 3 to 6 months of sport-specific fitness training. Consider a medical check-up and the guidance of a fitness trainer a solid move for focusing your training.
  • If you are healthy but unfit, plan on 6 to 18 months of fitness training. Consider a medical check-up and the guidance of a fitness trainer a wise option.
  • If you are unhealthy and unfit, plan on 12 to 24 months for fitness training. Consider a medical check-up and the guidance of a fitness trainer mandatory.

Next, you’re ready to set your goals and develop a timeline for accomplishing them. While this may seem rather tedious (and perhaps initially overwhelming), a simple systematic approach is all that is needed. The good news is that you are expected to make adjustments and update your goals along the way, so don’t get too bogged down in the details. In part 3 of this fitness series, fitness coach John Colver offers simple advice on how to set your goals.

Physical fitness training in preparation to climb Carstensz Pyramid

Part 1: What to expect in Indonesia

Climbing and traveling in New Guinea requires physical strength, stamina, endurance, balance and agility! A core fitness program is a key component to enjoy the adventure of traveling & climbing. Tackling Carstensz in anything less than your absolute best fitness is tantamount to running the Leadville 100 without shoes: possible, but silly! The approach trek travels through rain forest (emphasis on rain!) and boggy terrain, and the climb ascends to high altitudes (the summit is 16,023 ft/ 4,884 m), with the actual ascent of Carstensz being a moderately difficult and challenging rock climb. On top of that, though Carstensz lies along the equator, the weather is fickle. It is common to be rained upon throughout the adventure, and it is not uncommon to see snow on summit day. Here are a few pics to help inspire the athlete in you to get started …


Understanding what to expect once our feet are on the ground in Indonesia helps us focus our fitness training.

The altitude, length of trip, the remoteness of the area, the multi-day trek to base camp, and the technical nature of the climb, all contribute to make this a challenging and demanding trip.

What to expect:

  • Steep hiking with 40 lb. loads
  • 12-14+ hour summit day
  • Exposed fourth-class climbing
  • Several hundred feet of low fifth-class rock
  • Several Tyrolean traverses
  • 15-20 rappels

Here’s a clear example of qualifications requested for joining a guided party as well as some basic fitness guidelines.

Part 2: Developing a personal fitness training program