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  Carstensz Pyramid Seven Summit Expedition - October 2003

Oct 25, 2003

“Hi Jamie, I’m on top of Carstensz Pyramid”

I had called my wife using a satellite phone, her voice sounded as if she was next to me. We had just climbed to the top, reaching the summit at 1pm. We climbed through surprisingly good weather; sunny and warm throughout the morning with rising mist and cloud having started to envelope us periodically from 10.00 am on. I had fully expected the early afternoon rain to fall upon us, this seemed to be part of the everyday weather pattern, it was a nice surprise it hadn’t happened yet.

My phone call played out almost the same as it did when I spoke to my wife and son from the top of Mount Everest in May 2000. My voice cracked with emotion as I spoke, thanking them for allowing me to seek out and complete my personal goals.

Well, it seems that again, climbing the mountain was the easy part. Getting there was a whole different matter. This played out like a clandestine war movie. We had been transported (most people would say smuggled if they were in our shoes) under cover day and night, hidden under jackets, clothing and equipment, posed as Army soldiers (Kostrad) and Freeport mine security wearing their hats, jackets, security vests and hard hats, being snuck through security check points, held in safe houses, transferred from vehicle to vehicle. We had been minutes from the trail head and basecamp when suddenly we were sent back down to Timika from the top of the mine site, made to stay out of sight for days, in cramped unclean rooms, had plans change at the last minute on numerous occasions where we thought is this ever going to happen. But ahhhh, we lived through the experience and it had all been worth it.

This is how it all began. (no names of anyone will be used)

Where is Carstensz Pyramid?

Carstensz Pyramid is one of the Seven Summits, which are the highest mountains on each continent, this one being the most remote and located on continent of Australasia. It sits in the heart of a mountain range called Jayawijaya located in Irian Jaya (West Papua New Guinea) the eastern most part of Indonesia. It is in the Gunung Lorentz National Park this just happens to be the second largest Island in the world. Carstensz stands at 4884 meters / 16023 feet above sea level and what makes this mountain unique within the Seven Summit group is it’s the only technical rock climb.

One of the interesting aspects of the region is that it lies just two degrees below the equator and is one of only three tropical mountain ranges with glaciers in the world, not one but three of them. It was first climbed by Heinrich Harrer whose fame reaches far and wide, having been part of the first climbing team to scale the North Face of the Eiger, most people know of him by his Seven Years in Tibet adventure.

Irian Jaya has over 250 tribal languages and over 800 dialects. It comprises 21% of the total landmass of Indonesia, but is home to only 1% of its population. It forms one of the last real wilderness areas on earth with 60% of its territory covered with hardly accessible forests. Its jungle and rainforest is second in size only to the Amazon, but vast tracks have not been explored.  It has a very diverse landscape in some of the most rugged terrain on earth ranging from snow-capped mountains to mangrove swamps. Its main resources are Oil, Gas, Copper, Gold and wood, unfortunately very little of the wealth is shared with the Papuan people.

It is set in an amazing landscape where you trek back through time, or as some have said, back to the Stone Age. Stories of Head Hunters, Cannibals, Stone–age tribes, who have only really been exposed to Westerners since the 60’s. In 1968 that a pair of missionaries were eaten by one of the local tribes. Although this was the last recorded case, it is widely known that similar things have happened since. Our agent told me as we sat at basecamp how the boulder we were facing had become a memorial to the two people who had been killed and eaten as recent as a decade ago.

Now this was all mixed in with the corruption and beaurocratic red tape you’d expect to find in a country steeped with strong military force and political instability. Since 1963 the native Papuans have been at odds with the Indonesian government as this was when they were annexed into Indonesia, the discontent is prevalent with outbreaks of armed violence and resistance every since.

Killing, torture, hostage taking, ethnic cleansing, transmigration, strife, displacement, all in this remote exotic part of the world. Why would anyone want to travel to this country?

Well, it is remote and exotic, less than 200 people have had the privilege to climb on its water worn limestone rock. I wanted to be one who had.

January 2003

I received an email from an agency asking if I would like to go climb Carstensz Pyramid this upcoming February. I got a sudden adrenalin rush spiking through my veins. I thought about how busy I was at work, I’d been putting in some hellish hours and couldn’t see how I could pull myself away. I mentioned the email to my wife about a week later and to my surprise she said, “I think you should go, the opportunity is now”. I thought about it for a few days and emailed the agency to get more specific information, all the time thinking that it just isn’t good timing for me. But the dreaded seed had been planted.

I have had a goal to complete the Seven Summits every since I climbed Mount Everest on May 21, 2000. I had put no firm time-line in place other than I wanted to have the other five (Having also Mount Aconcagua in Argentina in 1997) completed in three to five years.  My time-line had been loose on purpose, I wasn’t looking to tick them off to say I’d climbed the Seven Summits, but more so because it would allow me to see different parts of the world, parts of the world my wife and son didn’t want to visit, like where I was now. I had to try and balance the time away from family on climbing expeditions which are, let’s face it, very selfish, with  traveling to places my wife and son want to visit and experience.

February 2003

Carstensz Pyramid Expedition was cancelled but re-scheduled for early August 2003. As this is the most remote and politically unstable of the seven continents, it really is no surprise to hear of the cancellation. It has been an ongoing saga for many climbers, as the area has been closed for years at a time to climb.

May 2003

I signed on for the first week of August, paid my deposit and filled out the required paperwork so the agency could get the climbing permit. It was now off to the travel clinic to make sure all my foreign shots were up to date. The biggest question I had was do I really want to take anti-malarial pills?

After repeated emailing and phone calls, I was assured that the expedition would proceed without any problems or chance of another cancellation.  I cleared off my August calendar, foregoing my Speaking engagement business as well as time with my family over summer holidays. One consolation was that I would meet my wife and son in Bali after the climb.

July 18, 2003 Two weeks before departure.

Email: Subject The Carstensz Curse, expedition again cancelled/ postponed, please read.

This was not the email I had been expecting when I signed onto my computer this morning. In a nutshell it had been cancelled following a recent shooting and subsequent death. The Indonesian Army Intelligence had found the central highland and mountain area of Irian Jaya not safe for tourist/ foreigner to climb. Jakarta would not be granting climbing permits for any mountaineer.

Now what! I had paid a hefty fee, cancelled business and booked flights and arranged to meet my family In Bali for August, and I am now being told it might happen as early as October! Not acceptable

Damage control

I immediately got on the phone to hear what transpired and delved into what my options really were, what are the realistic chances of this expedition-taking place in October. I didn’t like what I was being told, vague information with uncertainty being the answer, at least not the answer I wanted.

Well I wasn’t going to let this setback screw up holidays for the family. After much finagling we rebooked flights and accommodation for the last three weeks of August to be in Maui.

I started making phone calls and inquiring with different organizations in Indonesia how I could get into Irian Jaya in October or possibly even September to climb. Everyone I spoke to said the same thing, it won’t happen. I repeatedly called the same people over and over again pushing them to think out of the box, to come up with a solution to get me there. The same answer kept coming back, it can’t be done, and there is no way to get the permit. Well I know everything is possible, I wasn’t going to take no for an answer, I was going to find a way to make it happen. I thrive on people telling me it can’t be done, it was just the challenge I needed.

July 21 2003

I sent an email to my contact:

“Is there a way of getting into Irian Jaya and Climbing Carstensz without a permit? “

I had been working with an agent in Jakarta who I kept calling, pushing, prodding, and giving suggestions on how we could get this expedition off the ground. Repeated correspondence was starting to show some light. I had said to him that there is a way to make it happen, he told me there is no way to get a climbing permit. I continued to press the issue on how could we do this climb without a permit? Is there not another way? I certainly know with my experiences in Third World countries that anything is possible if you know the right people.  

I continued to search out and contact other agencies seeing what their take was on the possibility of getting in and climbing with or without a permit, and would get the same reply: Until the situation in Indonesia clears up a permit will not be granted.

August 2003

I had ongoing dialogue with my contact and various agencies trying to confirm if an expedition will run in September, October or November or at all.  They indicated it wouldn’t happen anytime soon, in fact the word was it could be years before we could get a permit.

August 28 2003

I again called my contact in Jakarta pressing him, during this conversation he seemed to have a different tone, one that started to seem encouraging, he said there just might be a way to do this. This was music to my ears. He told me how in the past when he could get permission he had gone through the Freeport Mine, which stood between the town of Timika and Carstensz; it was the shortest and quickest way to the mountain. The difference this time is that due to problems in the past there was no way to get permission, we would have to be smuggled through the heavily secured Freeport mine site. It was the only possible option if he could pull off the logistics.

The agent started making the required calls to his contacts. After some time he was making progress.

A tentative date was set for an arrival in Jakarta Sept 28 leaving for Timika on 29th or 30th.

A climbing itinerary was sent along with two maps, one which showed how we’d get through the mine site and the other showing the proposed trek to base camp.

My contact had many clients who wanted to climb Carstensz but he was unsure if they would be prepared to take this adventure to another level. He new I was prepared but it would be cost prohibitive for only one person. He only wanted to take four climbers into the area, as the logistics required to smuggle white foreigners through the mine would be difficult.

He had been making arrangements with his contact in Timika, Irian Jaya; he would then have to pay off the Indonesian Army, Military Police, Airport Security, and Freeport Mine security. This would take a lot of planning and preparation, but it was now starting to take shape.

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