Tag Archives: Carstensz

The Balance Test: Are You Ready for Carstensz?

I’m going to go out on a slick, mossy jungle limb and suggest that the core skill of improving balance isn’t receiving enough attention in our fitness training programs. I am fully aware that balance training just isn’t very sexy when compared to running, weights, yoga or other more traditional fitness elements. If, however, you want to succeed on Carstensz – whether on the trek in through the muddy jungle, the ascent of pitch after pitch of 4th and low-5th class gullies, or dismounting the Tyrolean traverse at nearly 16,000 feet – get serious with your balance training!

Sara McGahan steps carefully across an airy gap en route to the summit of Carstensz.

Sara McGahan steps carefully across an airy gap en route to the summit of Carstensz.

Did you know that balance is simply a motor fitness skill? I used to watch people walking slack lines and reasoned that they were aliens – I thought I could never do that! Nothing could be further from the truth. Read this now and believe me later, we can improve our balance just like we can improve our strength and flexibility! Wouldn’t you agree that training to improve our balance and stability in advance of an adventure seems a significantly better option than learning that our balance needs help smack dab in the middle of the jungle? And including balance training into our life is ridiculously simple. Just add 5 or 10 minutes of balance work a few times a week to start.

We took advantage of the waves in Bali before heading into the jungles of Papua. Suffice it to say that Mark Tucker was one balanced surfer!

We took advantage of the waves in Bali before heading into the jungles of Papua. Suffice it to say that Mark Tucker was one balanced surfer!

If you want to get technical, you can use the Romberg Test and Stork-Stand Balance Test to get a performance baseline for your balance. Incorporate balance activities into your daily life/workout and watch your improvement over time! Really easy! Here’s how …

Experiment with these challenges:

  • Balance on a single leg.
  • Hop on one foot.
  • Close your eyes while standing on one leg.
  • Walk the edge of a sidewalk for as long as possible without falling off.
  • Move your legs closer together while doing bicep curls.
  • Look up while doing lunges.
  • Raise your arms overhead while walking the edge of a sidewalk.
  • Carry a light weight in one hand while standing on one leg.
  • Walk a log or a downed tree limb. (Challenging ourselves on unstable surfaces fantastically simulates the experiences we will encounter in the jungle.)
This steep, slick bridge, with its flimsy handrail, was still one of the best bridges we crossed this day. These bridges are regarded as as somewhat temporary as heavy rains often destroy them.

This steep, slick bridge, with its flimsy handrail, was still one of the best bridges we crossed this day. These bridges are regarded as somewhat temporary as heavy rains often destroy them.

While it is true that improving our balance also gains us improvements in coordination, stability, athletic skill, strength, and posture, that we will likely suffer fewer injuries and hopefully trip & slip less, and that we can indeed become better runners, skiers and cyclists, I believe that the true benefit for a Carstensz climber centers around the pure enjoyment of movement through a notoriously challenging environment. I hope you’re standing on one leg as you are reading this!

Got balance? Be inspired to challenge yourself!

Got balance? Be inspired to challenge yourself!


Punjak Jaya: Mountain of the Imagination: An account of the first ascent of Carstensz Pyramid by Philip Temple

The first ascent of the Carstensz Pyramid was made on February 13, 1962 by New Zealand mountaineer Philip Temple (22), Austrian Heinrich Harrer (49) of Seven Years in Tibet fame, Australian rock climber Russell Kippax (30), and Dutch patrol officer Bert Huizenga (25).

Being a bit of a budding historian, adventurer and author myself, I was most pleased to encounter Philip this past month (Sept 2013). He graciously agreed to guest write for this blog, sharing his summit experience as documented in The Last True Explorer (2002). He sent some fantastic photos to boot. Thanks so much to Philip for sharing this dynamic account, which ought to be especially engaging for anyone who has struggled to navigate that summit ridge in less than optimal weather. Enjoy, and read more about Philip here.

Philip Temple, adventurer & author, first ascentionist of Puncak Jaya, in his New Zealand office. Photo by Maja Moritz from www.philiptemple.com

Philip Temple, adventurer & author, first ascentionist of Puncak Jaya, in his New Zealand office. Photo by Maja Moritz from http://www.philiptemple.com.

Tuesday, 13 February:

‘When the alarm rang at 3.30 a.m. I got up without wondering whether the sky was clear or not: something seemed to say – today is the day. The preparations of the evening before had been full and complete with an air of finality about them.  As it turned out, the sky was clear with a spread of stars …’ 

Heinrich Harrer surveying the North Face of the Carstensz Pyramid from New Zealand Pass

Heinrich Harrer surveying the North Face of the Carstensz Pyramid from New Zealand Pass.

We left camp at 5 a.m. using headlamps and torches to light our way across the Merendal, Middenkam and Geledal to the foot of the north face. Any feelings of anticipation and excitement were swamped by apprehension. Would I be good enough for this? My skills and experience were mostly on snow and ice in the Southern Alps; I had little technical rock-climbing ability and this was the first big rock face I had attempted.  At the foot of the face it had grown light enough for us to stash our lamps at the 1936 campsite.  Harrer had decided that I would lead the climb, carrying all the hardware of pitons, karabiners, hammer, etrier etc… plus one of the two light ice axes for the snow we might encounter on the ridge. I would take Huizenga on my 100-foot rope and, from the look on his face as he stared up at the wall, I was reassured that at least there was someone in the party more nervous than I.  Kippax, the most skilled rock-climber in the party, would guide Harrer and carry his movie camera and film.

Philip Temple writing a note to leave in a cairn at the then snout of the Carstensz Glacier (now gone).

Philip Temple writing a note to leave in a cairn at the then snout of the Carstensz Glacier (now gone).

The start of our route followed a wide crack in the limestone wall, which laid back about ten degrees from the perpendicular. The first problem was a jammed boulder. Harrer below told Huizenga to watch all my moves carefully so that he could follow them: ‘He will probably come out of the crack now and go round the boulder’. But I somehow managed to pull myself directly over the top of the boulder and haul Huizenga up behind me.  The crack now widened to a gully with vertical side walls which, another rope-length on, was blocked by an overhang.  I was unable to cope with this and, trying to disguise my humiliation, I waited for Kippax to come up. With calm grace he climbed a 15-foot slab to a ledge that led above the overhang. I tossed him a piton and the rest of us hauled ourselves up on the attached rope.  

I was able to cope with the cracks, steps and exposed ribs that lay above and moved rapidly from belay point to belay point to secure Huizenga’s ascent.  A ledge led to the first prominent verschneidung or dièdre with easier, exhilarating climbing: ‘I yodelled happily as the sun warmed me and I swarmed up. There were about two rope-lengths to its top and Huizenga came up quite easily though always out of breath and often exhausted by the time he reached me’. This was probably from nervous tension as much as physical effort. ‘I avoided thinking about it but I was climbing worse than solo’. I had no belay from him, had to give him instruction and ensure his safety and there was ‘always the danger he might pull me off’.  Although Huizenga often needed a tight rope, and a pull to get him over the difficult sections, he did well in nailed boots and ‘slipped only once all day’.

The Last True Explorer, by Philip Temple

The Last True Explorer, by Philip Temple

A horizontal shelf gave relief before a second and more difficult verschneidung and crack gave access to a wide shelf that had once, |centuries before, supported a hanging glacier. I was wearing leather gloves by now to protect my hands from the ‘needle-like, lacerating’ surface of much of the karst-weathered limestone.  From the shelf, we walked into a snow-filled gully and ramp that took us to the crest of the west ridge after three hours of climbing.  There was no view as the first cold mists of the day swirled up to engulf us.  

A six-foot wide gap in the ridge proved our first obstacle; Kippax and Huizenga elected to jump, Harrer and I chose to use the etrier for a more circumspect climb in and out of the jagged fissure. As I retrieved it, Harrer and Kippax moved ahead into the mist and they were well out of sight when Huizenga and I arrived at the second break in the ridge, one so large that we had identified it as one of the cruxes of the climb. The ridge dropped vertically for about 40 feet to a snow shelf and then another 20 to the upper snow limit of the south wall hanging glacier. ‘A yell came out of the fog: “Two short abseils Phil!”  I looked at Huizenga. Hell!’  What a place and time for climbing instruction.  It began to snow.

I threw a sling over a rock outcrop, hammering away the karst spikes that threatened to cut it clean through, passed the climbing rope through it and then demonstrated to Huizenga how to wrap the rope around his body and lower himself down.  Awkward but secure, he somehow slid down behind me and we climbed along an easy shelf to find Harrer and Kippax in a cave, stamping their feet.  Single-pair-of-socks Harrer was no doubt feeling the cold in his frost-sensitive toes and for Kippax this was a long miserable way from the sun-baked sandstone crags of Sydney.  They pointed to icicles that framed a hole through the ridge.

Harrer indicated that I should continue leading the climb. He needed someone to star in his movie (one that I would never get to see), so  I tried to “look skilled and heroic” as I continued to find a way along the snow, scree and rock shelves of the south face, avoiding the massive pinnacle on the west ridge that we had christened ‘Fog Tower’.  I became increasingly anxious about the time; it was now midday and the snow continued to fall. If the temperature dropped any more, we would have great difficulty negotiating a safe descent over a snow-plastered north face.  

There was still nothing to be seen in the dense cloud when I regained the ridge and moved quickly along, only to be brought up short by yet another major gap which lay at the foot of what we judged was probably the summit buttress. A giant rock flake was wedged in the neck of an almost vertical rock couloir that dropped away into the cloud. The opposite wall was layered with a leering tongue of unstable snow. With minimal security from Huizenga, I climbed into the couloir, manouvred under the flake and, after detaching my ice axe from my back pack, stretched out for a footing in the snow. When I drove in the axe, its spike clanged against the rock beneath and I realised that it might break away under my weight. I packed down each step with great care – heart pounding – and half-slid upwards to reduce the pressure. Just as I reached a handhold of rock, half the snow below me collapsed and cascaded down the face.  Understandably, Huizenga would not follow me and, with belays from both sides of the couloir, he crabbed directly over the flake. Harrer followed him and gave me a secure belay from which I could climb a rock slab and then another unstable slope of snow.

Rock, snow, ledge, rib, the ridge seemed endless and, after eight hours of almost continuous climbing, my energy began to fade. But neither fatigue nor diminishing time would stop me now.  The ridge lifted and narrowed into a smooth snow peak but when I reached the top of this, I looked beyond to yet another rock pinnacle, convinced it must be higher.  The others came up and laughed at my anxiety about which was the real summit.  We could see no more than 20 or 30 yards into the cloud but one thing was certain. Beyond here the ridge trended down. We shook hands and I grabbed Harrer’s head in a mixture of exhaustion and exultation.  

At the summit - Bert Huizenga, Philip Temple and Heinrich Harrer.

At the summit – Bert Huizenga, Philip Temple and Heinrich Harrer.

It was ten past two. We had made it just in time, for it would be too dark to climb after the onset of the long tropical night at seven. We carried no bivouac gear and we barely had enough time to get down. Quickly we took photographs sporting all the national flags – of Austria, Australia, New Zealand, Holland and ill-fated West Papua. We built a cairn and I left my small New Zealand pennant in a cigarette tin with names, times, date and the facetious comment, ‘I’m buggered’, echoing the phrase immortalised in New Zealand rugby history when All Black forward Peter Jones was asked how he felt after scoring the try that had won the test and the series against the Springboks six years before.  What else should one leave at the top of a mountain?

The Culture of Tourism in New Guinea: Insights on Porter Services for Carstensz Pyramid

With the savage recent attack on porters and trekkers on Papua New Guinea’s Black Cat Trail, I wanted to offer some insight, as limited as it will be, intended to help protect porters, tourists, and tourism in the future.


I advocate that we (visitors to New Guinea) recognize the high value of porters as team members. I believe this understanding can contribute significantly toward developing a healthy tourism culture. Within the context of tourism & climbing in West Papua, I hope that some of the practices described below help foster stronger porter care & appreciation, which subsequently leads to increasingly cohesive teams of tourists (trekkers & climbers) and support (porters). This subsequently can help to build a culture of unity, which can further culturally-appropriate tourism, rather than a culture of conflict, which can arise whenever one group is under-appreciated, taken for granted or misused.


A brief history of Carstensz Pyramid in West Papua as a tourism enterprise:


For the decade or so following the 1998 stepping down of Indonesia’s second president, Suharto, greater democracy came to Indonesia and West Papua and the concept of developing tourism gained momentum. However, political volatility remained and Indonesia closed Carstensz Pyramid to climbers & tourists from 1995 to 2005. This was due in part to the Free Papua separatist movement of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka, or OPM, which has been fighting for independence from Indonesia since 1965.


After Indonesia re-opened West Papua to tourism in 2006, a steady number of people came to trek through the interior highlands to access the climb of Carstensz Pyramid.


Though no official data exists to track those who have reached the summit of Carstensz Pyramid, between the first ascent in 1962 and 2005, after which access to the peak was again granted, it had only been climbed by approximately 100 people. Now, with its popularity exploding in part due to the demand created by the new “7 Summits” designation, the mountain experiences scores (some cite hundreds) of successful ascents each year. Even so …


Does the jungle never end?


… climbing and travelling in West Papua entails a great deal of uncertainty and requires tremendous flexibility. In addition to the drum of equatorial rain and eventual venture to higher altitudes, political and bureaucratic challenges may exist right from the start to hinder the progress of an adventure. Numerous accounts exist of climbers denied Surat Jalans (local police & government permits) or access through tribal lands, of unexplained, cancelled flights into the interior, and of shady, unscrupulous commercial outfitters. On top of all that, accidents and injuries (usually of tourists & climbers) and fatalities (usually of locals & porters) along the trek are not difficult to uncover.


While the jungle trek is typically completed in just short of a week of arduous work, the jungle is, at least, exceedingly muddy and slick. I have had people tell me that this jungle trek can feel harder than Everest, though not necessarily because it’s physically harder. Rather, there just isn’t the same, developed infrastructure supporting access and climbing as there exists on Everest. People struggle with the endless muddy, rainy, dirty, steamy, way-out-there feeling the jungle can give. A friend was once asked, “Does this jungle never end?”

The jungle trek can be exceedingly challenging, even for the fittest visitor!

The jungle trek can be exceedingly challenging, even for the fittest visitor!

For many, if not most, the adventure becomes the experience of a lifetime. The satisfaction of having completed the trek & climb and returning home safely is hard to beat.

The thrill of climbing Carstensz completes the adventure!

The thrill of climbing Carstensz completes the adventure!

Porters as a vital link to the success of climbers:


Throughout the history of adventures, porters have served as a vital link to the success of climbers. My own personal adventures into the interiors of Tibet, Africa, and New Guinea simply would not have been possible without the efforts of porters who are, I dare say, a universally, under-appreciated group of people.

Porter on Kilimanjaro's Machame Route in Tanzania, Africa

Porter on Kilimanjaro’s Machame Route in Tanzania, Africa.

Porter loads ready to be carried en route to Everest Base Camp, Nepal

Porter loads ready to be carried en route to Everest Base Camp, Nepal.

Crossing the slick logs en route to Carstensz Pyramid didn't seem to challenge our porters at all!

Crossing the slick logs en route to Carstensz Pyramid didn’t seem to challenge our porters at all!

Here are three ways we, as visitors, can make a positive contribution toward porter care & appreciation:


Select a responsible commercial outfitter.

Start by letting the commercial outfitter you choose know that the treatment porters receive is important to you. Bottom line is that porters need fair wages, substantive meals, proper attire or equipment for the adventure, and warm, dry sleeping arrangements. The hallmark of a responsible company is how well they look after their porters on the trek.


Interact with your porters.

Talk to folks! Ask about their traditions and villages; share photos or stories of your family. Initiate the relationship by approaching them with appropriate interest. Even if you don’t share a vocabulary of words, body language (a smile, head nod, hand shake, etc.) can express your sentiments well. If you haven’t heard this before, it is well worth recognizing that porters want to be considered part of the expedition team, they enjoy interacting with visitors, and they want to learn and improve their service. In fact, in the sense that this is their land, they truly are the experts, and visitors who take the time & effort to have meaningful interactions with them can learn much. 

Hiding from the rain at Carstensz Base Camp!

Hiding from the rain at Carstensz Base Camp!

Thank your porter.

Show your porters that you appreciated them. Thank them verbally and leave a tip of money or goods. I discuss tipping guidelines below.


What to discuss with a responsible commercial outfitter or tour operator regarding their porter practices.


Porter Wages

Porters must receive fair wages. When unscrupulous tour operators withhold promised wages, tension builds and chaos can ensue. No one wants to be ripped off! As with insurance, this is difficult to ascertain, but lower fees and a high turn-over rate can indicate compromised practices. In my post entitled, “Polite! Practical! And 1 for Fun!” I mention an usua me (good man) now working to advocate on behalf of porters to protect against non-payment, which has been a not uncommon and tumultuous issue.



In West Papua, in-country tour operators can provide porters with protection paid out to their families in the event that a catastrophe leads to permanent disability or death. This insurance works differently, even among different tribal groups, than it does, for example, in the United States, but they can be covered nonetheless. If a commercial outfitter offers a trip at a substantially lower fee than others, it could be that they are not diligently ensuring coverage for porters.


Weight Limit

The maximum visitor weight that a porter should be given to carry is 15 kg (33 pounds). On top of this, porters also carry personal weight of blankets, clothes and food. Generally speaking, an additional porter should be hired for every three porters in order to carry group equipment and food.


Meals & Sleeping Conditions

Porters are engaged in physically difficult and mentally challenging work. They are leaving the comfort of their villages and families to venture into the remote and inhospitable environment of the high limestone escarpment of Carstensz. You will be tired & hungry at the end of a day, and so will they.  A responsible tour operator ensures that porters are appropriately nourished and accommodated throughout the entire adventure. In general, porters sleep together in groups, whether in huts, shelters, caves, tents or dining tents. However, truly responsible tour operators ensure that their porters have weather-appropriate shelter at higher altitudes. Porters come from the warmer, lower rainforests and, just like any visitor, are not accustomed to sleeping out-of-doors in the cold of the Sudirman Mountains.

A lone porter strolls across the high plateau en route to the rock towers of Polisinagagelagia, West Papua.

A lone porter strolls across the high plateau en route to the rock towers of Polisinagagelagia, West Papua.

Environmental Impact Education

Outfitters have a responsibility to educate porters on the environmental impact of a trip because porters’ futures are directly tied to the future of the land. Latrine construction, cat-holing, trash management, camp clean-up and other such topics must be included in the vocabulary of every team member, visitor or Papuan. Ask specifically how waste – and especially human waste – is managed at villages, on the trek and on the climb of Carstensz.

Carstensz Base Camp in July 2012. Note the large pile of garbage (in the right foreground) left by a previous expedition.

Equip for the Future

Most of the porters look forward to future work opportunities and are also family bread-winners. Tour operators should inspire and equip porters to develop their skill sets. 

We took time to train groups of porters on how to set up & care for our tents. For most, this was the first time such training had been offered.

We took time to train groups of porters on how to set up & care for our tents. For most, this was the first time such training had been offered.

Tipping and gifting

Tipping should be dependent on the quality of the service you received. However, even if the food was terrible and the porters couldn’t communicate very well, they were probably still working hard to carry your equipment through the jungle.


In general, though it varies from tribe to tribe, tips and gifts should be given to the tour operator or lead porter in order that he takes charge to distribute tips and gifts to his team of porters. This honors the Papuan tribal tradition of a providing chief. This is absolutely true of money and even a good idea for gifts.


It is a wonderful truth that Papuans also love ceremony. For a closing ceremony, while tips and gifts should be given to the tour operator for distribution, it would be very kind and meaningful to speak good words to the porter team prior to their returning to their homes.

Our closing ceremony included distributing certificates of completion, something our porters could offer as verification of their experience and skill set.

Our closing ceremony included distributing certificates of completion, something our porters could offer as verification of their experience and skill set.


Climbing the 7 Summits not as easy as 1, 2, 3!

This post is probably simply just more for fun than the scientist’s mind or the adventurer’s heart will likely allow. You judge …

Aconcagua, highpoint of the Americas

Aconcagua, highpoint of the Americas

·        How many continents are there: 5 or 6 or 7?

o   Most students in the United States are taught that there are seven continents: Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.

o   Many European students are taught that there are six continents, with North and South America combined as the single continent of America: Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Asia, Europe, and America. In some parts of the world, students learn that there are just five continents: Eurasia, Australia, Africa, Antarctica, and the Americas. And yet other students are taught that Antarctica, due to its lack of permanent inhabitants, does not meet the traditional definition of a continent.

o   Many refer to six continents, where Europe and Asia are combined as Eurasia (since they’re one solid geologic landmass): Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Eurasia, North America, and South America.

o   See National Geographic’s Geography FAQs for a simple, clear & interesting description.

·        Verdict: No consensus!

Climber’s Base Camp on Mt. Vinson, Antarctica

·        What is included in the definition of the “continent” of Australia?

o Australasia is a landmass description which includes Australia and the island group of Indonesia and New Guinea, and holds weight with the concept that islands located near a continent are considered a part of that continent. 

o   Australia is by convention recognized as a continental mass, not just a big island.

o   As a side note, Oceania is identified as a region centered on the islands of the tropical Pacific Ocean. The term is sometimes used to denote the area of Australasia (most common use), sometimes all the islands between Asia and the Americas, and sometimes all the islands of all the oceans (least common use). I have not seen Oceania described as a physical continent, whether using geography, political boundaries, or cultural groupings, but only as a term of convenience to collect disparate islands.

·        Verdict: No consensus!

Mt. Everest, unquestionably the highest summit of the world!

Mt. Everest, unquestionably the highest summit of the world!

·        Which summits should we include in our pursuits?

o   Mont Blanc or Mount Elbrus?

§  From the perspective of geography, many Europeans recognize Mont Blanc as the highest peak of Europe. From the perspective of political boundaries, Mount Elbrus becomes Europe’s highest peak.

o   Carstensz Pyramid or Kosciuszko?

§  If New Guinea is not considered part of the continent of Australasia and is thus a separate island, Kosciuszko would be the highest point on the continent of Australia. If New Guinea is a part of the Australasian continental mass, then the highest peak becomes Carstensz Pyramid. In my experience, most climbers choose to include the island of New Guinea, though strong opinions & some opposing ideas regarding the science of continents exist.

§  To add to the dialog, many have suggested that Kosciuszko does not belong simply because in its short trek there exists no significant challenge for climbers. Carstensz Pyramid, on the other hand, is a true challenge for the adventurer. Others strongly disagree that such a criterion ought to even be considered.

§  Gerry Roach authored an interesting piece entitled, “In Defense of Kosciuszko,” which is a thought-provoking and enjoyable to read.

·        Verdict: No Consensus!

Mount Elbrus, in Caucasus Mountains of Russia

Mount Elbrus, in Caucasus Mountains of Russia

Maybe Dick Bass’s Seven Summits idea will evolve to “nine continental summits of the world’s five continents!”

A nearly perfect practice testpiece: Shuksan’s Fisher Chimneys

I found it! A nearly perfect practice test piece to compliment my prep for Carstensz; not only to see if my skills are up to snuff, but also as an opportunity to do some team-building! … Mt. Shuksan’s Fisher Chimneys route!

The Challenges: We must proficiently cover lots of terrain (both rock scrambling & climbing), be smooth & efficient on mid-fifth class rock, and know how to execute a Tyrolean traverse and multiple rappels!

The Carstensz Pyramid expedition is for adventurers in excellent physical condition with moderate technical climbing ability. Moving on third-, fourth- and easy fifth-class rock, on fixed ropes, and through multiple rappels shouldn’t cause us to flounder or halt. Certainly, the altitude, length of trip, the remoteness of the area, and the technical nature of the climb all contribute to make this a challenging and demanding adventure. On top of that, the Carstensz area is usually rainy and we expect to spend at least some time travelling and climbing in the rain.

Even for the healthiest and fittest individuals, climbing Carstensz requires a high degree of physical stamina and mental toughness!

With regard to fitness and technical training, RMI Expeditions emphasizes starting sooner than later, intentionally developing both your fitness and your technical skill sets, and the closer you get to departure, the more your training ought to resemble climbing in New Guinea.

The Solution: We must get a healthy dose of rock climbing under our belts, practice the technical climbing skills (the Tyrolean & multi-pitch rappels), and find routes that challenge us both physically and technically (like Fisher Chimneys!)

Carstensz climber, Sara McGahan, doing “homework” at Linville Gorge, North Carolina

Getting multiple “practice” pitches under my belt along the Tieton drainage in Washington

I had a chance to climb Mount Shuksan via the Fisher Chimneys route on the mountain’s northwest side this past weekend. The route offers lots of moderate, enjoyable climbing. The alpine rock and glaciated terrain which make up the climb are not difficult – but there is a lot of it! The climb takes every bit of three full days. Except for the fact that the Chimneys route includes some glacier travel, it gives a taste of the fitness and technical climbing demands rolled into one adventure that makes it a perfect test piece for a future Carstensz climb.


A lengthy approach, which included climbing the actual “Chimneys” (better described as steep, rocky gullies) with a moderately heavy pack felt more like “climbing” than “practice!”

Climbing with packs and in alpine boots is an important component of the adventure, as this is exactly how we move on Carstensz.

The summit (the exact halfway point of our adventure!)

The Carstensz Pyramid adventure throws much more at us than just fitness and rock climbing demands, but practicing diligently heads us in the right direction … and it is downright fun!


Visiting Papua (Part 3: Cultural Sensitivity)

Teju Cole, writer, art historian, street photographer, and contributor to the New York Times, the New Yorker and more, recently tweeted several striking statements that really grabbed my attention:

  • From Sachs to Kristof to Invisible Children to TED, the fastest growth industry in the US is the White Savior Industrial Complex.
  • The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.
  • I deeply respect American sentimentality, the way one respects a wounded hippo. You must keep an eye on it, for you know it is deadly.

And I certainly encourage you to read Mr. Cole’s complete comments in The Atlantic, March 21, 2012, at http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/ for context, but my question here is, “How do I balance our visits with the Papuan’s traditional ways of life?” Whether I come to guide a climb of Carstensz or to involve myself in some sort of ‘community development’ project, can I do so in a way that not only does no harm to the Papuans, but also in a way that is rooted in respect? I admit, I have to learn what this means. I certainly don’t desire to be a part of that White Savior Industrial Complex. Oh yeah, and I was born in Amsterdam. That’s not considered a bonus in Indonesia!

I’ve read or heard statements which just make me wince. I knew these statements were likely borne of cultural ignorance, not maliciousness, but I wondered how they might read if their authors had been more culturally aware and in-tune with their role as visitors:

  • “The Dani are so much nicer than the Moni.”
  • “The exciting thing about Carstensz is that you start the trek from a village … whose people still walk around naked, with bows and arrows and eat spiders.”
  • “There’s also a lack of any sort of facial recognition of closure or agreement. No smiles. No handshakes. No nods of the head.”

One of these statements came from a friend of mine, so don’t mistake me, I’m not lambasting anyone, I’m simply using these examples to caution myself with the understanding that I, too, can share the spotlight with the “culturally insensitive tourist” or even the “white savior industrial complex,” and those attachments I’d like to avoid!

Perhaps I can share a few (admittedly simplistic) cultural sensitivity guidelines which I held to on my first climbing adventure in June-July 2012:

It is important for people not to “lose face.”

“To lose face” means to be embarrassed or to lose respect in the presence of others. For example, if we have some sort of misunderstanding, miscommunication, issue, etc. with one of our local porters, we should bring that issue to the local porter leader rather than taking it up with the individual porter. For example, we had a climber who needed help carrying a backpack, and the porter who carried that pack was not always nearby when it came time to take a rest stop. Regardless of how many times that occurred (or how badly we wanted the porter to stick close by), we remained sure to ask our porter leader to manage the porters. As a result, we didn’t shame an individual porter and our local porter leader retained his lead role without losing the respect of his team.

We may see things that we do not agree with.

For example, several young boys (probably about 10 years of age) accompanied our party and carried supplies for several days. While we might think these young children should be in school (and, of course, we also have strong feelings regarding child labor), in this case, we learned that the boys actually came along as helpers for their dads. They were enjoying being out with their dads during a week-long furlough from grade school! They were just “working” so much harder than any 10-year old we know.

Honestly, there are a number of other things that might cause our eyebrows to lift, practices which are so far removed from our own cultural norms that we naturally can’t help but apply value judgments. Polygamy, cannibalism (though recently this has only been found in cultic ceremonies), animist practices, the role and value of women and children in tribal society, tribal warfare, etc. all fall into this camp. It is important for us to be aware of just how very much Papuan life contrasts our own.


Before heading to Papua, it was explained to me that Papuans love greetings. I came to learn that this was true even with the simplest greetings. Of course, the fun part is recognizing that tribal greetings are different from our own.

A friend who grew up on the island mentioned that to a Western tourist, the tribal people (speaking of the Moni with whom we worked) can seem loud (the Moni speak loudly in clipped, guttural tones) and look mean (their facial and body language is far more reserved than we are accustomed to). She then added that they were likely “the loudest talking, meanest looking … intelligent and friendly people we would ever meet!” And I indeed found them to be unbelievably friendly.

“Amakane” (ah-MAH-kah-nā) is the traditional and most common Moni greeting used by both men and women. It literally means, “Welcome to my bosom.” I have been told that all Moni greetings are offering up a private body part in some way or another. Amakane, (which offers up one’s breasts) is no different. The message is warm and welcoming and lovely, and implies, “I offer to nurture you.”

Another wonderful greeting, a mix between our Western handshake and a finger snap, is a knuckle snap. A lightly held opening handshake is followed by the knuckle snap and then by a closing lightly held handshake.  The knuckle snap itself results in a loud snapping noise, just as if one snapped their fingers really well. The two who greet each other curl their hands in order to intertwine the knuckles of each other’s 2nd and 3rd fingers. Then holding tightly, they quickly pull away from each other causing the snapping noise. What a wonderful greeting! It is rare that this greeting does not bring smiles to faces!

I did find that for all of their reserved nature, flashing a smile and saying “amakane” never failed to produce a similarly friendly smile and greeting in return.


Carstensz Summit July 2012

We just returned from a phenomenal experience in Papua! It was everything we hoped for and a bit more!

Here are a few photos of our time in the jungle, among the people, and on the peak. Scroll over the photos to read a brief description and stay tuned as I continue to contribute short articles of interest each month.