Tag Archives: rock climbing

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?


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!


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.


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).


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