Tag Archives: tyrolean traverse

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!

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!

 Enjoy!

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!

On the Rocks

Carstensz as a whole is an incredible adventure from beginning to end. It is unique in its own right. There is nothing quite like it. It is neither terribly high nor too cold but our approach through the Papuan rainforest is likely different than anything you’ve done before.

In addition to getting prepared physically for this adventure, mentally preparing for an adventure of this enormity must not be overlooked! Mental readiness is just as important for success. Having travelled abroad many times, my advice is … make this unique adventure fun! This is a long haul adventure, so good preparation and an ever-positive, ever-flexible outlook helps make for a successful expedition.  Carstensz is an elusive summit that only opens its top to those with patience and endurance, so work your way up the mountain steadily and carefully, beginning well before ever landing in Papua!

It is useful to know precisely what to expect with regards to the technical climbing. Because the climb includes a substantial amount of rock climbing, a healthy dose of rock climbing should be included in your preparation. While the climbing covers mostly low-fifth class terrain, there is lots of it, some is quite exposed, some of it traverses, and rain/snow (!) may bring an entirely new element to the adventure.

Definitely get out and spend time climbing. Climbing gyms can be a great place to start, but nothing beats time at a local crag.

The skill set you wish to acquire includes:

  • Comfort climbing at 5.3 to 5.5 for multiple pitches (8-10)
  • Capable of climbing shorter steps (60 feet) at 5.6-5.7
  • Belaying with gloves on
  • Multiple rappels with gloves on
  • Comfort executing a Tyrolean traverse
  • Some comfort climbing and rappelling in the rain!

Here are a few more pics to inspire you to get your skill set mastered …

The Carstensz massif

 

The upper ridge toward the summit.

The upper ridge toward the summit.

Snow is not uncommon. Here climbers leave the upper face to access the summit ridge proper.

Snow is not uncommon. Here climbers leave the upper face to access the summit ridge proper.

Small but exposed gaps present an additional challenge on the summit ridge.

Small but exposed gaps present an additional challenge on the summit ridge.

The infamous Tyrolean traverse. Though the cable spanning the gap doesn't sag as much as ropes might, the crossing is still a physically demanding.

The infamous Tyrolean traverse. Though the cable spanning the gap doesn’t sag as much as ropes might, the crossing is still a physically demanding.

Lots of snow on the summit ridge!

Lots of snow on the summit ridge!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy!

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).

Enjoy!