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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?

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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!”

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.

Enjoy!

Our Connection with Carstensz

About Alex’s Carstensz Connection

In the early 1990s, while guiding on Mt. Rainier in Washington State, I met Amy Meredith. Amy had grown up as a missionary kid in the jungle highlands village of Hitadipa, very near to Carstensz Pyramid, in what we know today as West Papua. The friendship between our families grew over the years and she has been an unbelievable resource in the development of this adventure.

As we collaborated to build this adventure, it was important to all of us (me, Amy, our Papuan friends) that we create a program with high regard for the indigenous peoples, their ways of life, and their native lands. Our program truly does this. The many programs where foreigners come in only to grab a summit, seemingly without those regards, were viewed in less than endearing terms by the Papuans. We wanted no part of that!

Our decision to utilize a Moni tribesman as tour operator highlights our value to highly regard the indigenous culture. Masmus, as he is affectionately known, is currently the only indigenous Papuan tour operator and we are his only client from the Western Hemisphere. According to Masmus, I am “Amy’s little brother from the same net as she,” and as Masmus honors me through his service on this trip, he also honors Amy, whom he has known since childhood. This is a significant relationship which has taken years and years to foster.

About RMI’s Carstensz connection

RMI has been setting the standard in mountain guiding excellence since 1969 and getting safely up and down mountains is just the beginning of our story. RMI has built a four-decade long legacy of safe, successful, and enjoyable mountaineering adventures and now we bring our standard of excellence to Papua.  From the beginning, we have desired to build long-term relationships with local indigenous peoples, relationships which would respectfully balance our visit with the Papuan’s traditional ways of life.

Masmus is the perfect choice as a commercial liaison. He is soft-spoken; a peace-maker, not a warrior. He has a good heart for the Ugimba Moni people. As a young boy, Masmus began working at the Grasberg copper and gold mine. He worked his way up from watering the gardens of ex-pats, to operating super-heavy equipment, and later to serving on the operational safety and education teams. He has both the capacity to connect with local tribes-peoples as we trek through Papuan villages and at the same time be in-tune with the ways of the visiting tourist.

We are in the best hands possible, hands that welcome us in the most traditional Moni greeting, “Amakane!”

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 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukarno], 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!

Welcome!

Ever toyed with the idea of climbing Carstensz Pyramid?

Reading Sacred Summits (Peter Boardman, 1982) years ago kindled my curiosity regarding Carstensz Pyramid in New Guinea. At that time, the “Seven Summits” idea hadn’t caught yet on as Dick Bass hadn’t completed his quest to stand on top of the seven continental high points. He finally reached the summit of Everest on April 30, 1985 and wrote his now classic Seven Summits in 1986, thereby inspiring many others to follow his footsteps. (Many now include Carstensz as the seventh summit rather than Australia’s Mt. Kosciusko, as Bass had, but Bass can be credited with putting the whole Seven Summits idea into the climber’s playbook.)

It was Geoff Tabin’s Blind Corners (2002) that fired my interest again. Actually, it was Geoff’s striking stories and affable personality that really charged me up. The guy has a lot of good energy! However, I was training for other climbs at the time and Carstensz slipped out of my mind again.

It wasn’t until I was climbing Mt. Rainier in Washington State and met a woman who grew up in western New Guinea that I first entertained any serious ideas of climbing Carstensz. Sure, I feel a little intimidated by all the stories. Boardman and Tabin were far more adventurous than I sought to be. And my friend Amy LOVES and knows this land of jungles and rain and remote tribal peoples as her home.

Over the past year, and quite excitedly, I’ve spent significant time delving into and discovering this land and its peoples, communicating with folks who live there, and coming to the decision to visit and attempt to climb Carstensz Pyramid.

I’ve set this blog up to share some of what I’ve learned as I prepare, to serve as a resource, whether to excite the armchair mountaineer or the individual who also one day hopes to plant their feet on this amazing piece of our planet.

Enjoy!