Mountaineering :: Trekking :: Ski touring


All four climbers reached the 4884m summit of Carstensz at 09.45 on Aug 13th, completing a very successful expedition to the most elusive of the 'seven summits'. We were very lucky to enjoy perfect weather for the entire trip, including summit day. Most groups visiting Carstensz endure rain for much of the trek and consider themselves fortunate to get a dry day for the summit climb. Luckily we had an entirely 'dry' expedition with only two short afternoon showers on days 3 & 4 of the trek to Base Camp.

The good weather made conditions underfoot much dryer than usual, but the team still found the trek tougher than expected. On each of the 9 trekking days (5 in and 4 out) we traveled for 7-9 hrs covering approx 15km daily. The total trek distance for the round trip from Swangama village to Base Camp was 140km, which is quite a distance to walk in 'welly boots'. The hardest days were the 4 jungle days when we followed narrow paths through thick forests, squelching in mud and clambering over slippery tree roots. Above 3200m the terrain was more open with fewer trees and more grassy heathland. The final day of the trek to BC would be a great trekking day anywhere in the world through a landscape of mountain lakes, limestone cliffs, rocky scrambles and a high mountain pass at 4430m. Apart from our team of local guides and porters we did not see another person along the trail.

Base Camp at 4270m was located by a small lake in a valley running parallel to the 'yellow valley' where the climb starts. On our single rest day the team made the one hour hike over to the foot of the rock wall to look at the climb, where the start of the fixed ropes is marked by a large pile of discarded gloves. The following morning, under a clear starlit sky we left BC at 03.00 and headed for the start of the climb. Our local guide 'Poxi' led the way (making his 55th ascent of the peak) followed by Charlie. I climbed behind (only my 3rd ascent) with Kevin and Matt. The climbing is not difficult and the fixed ropes make route finding easy, but the climb to join the ridge is long. The height gain to the ridge is about 600m following a series of ledges and corners, but there is more than 1000m of rope making the climb seem like a giant 'via ferrata'.

Dawn arrived when we were half way to the ridge and cloudless skies promised another day of fine weather. By 07.30 we had completed the steepest part of the climb, the final 50m section leading to the narrow summit ridge. From here we could see clearly into the huge crater of the Freeport open cast mine that lies a few km west of the mountain. A short walk led to the famous gap in the ridge that is the crux of the ascent. The local guides have evolved a quick and efficient way of getting people past this obstacle using fixed ropes, and despite the huge feeling of exposure we all crossed the gap safely. No one lingered to look at the huge drop down the mountain's North Face. The route continued along the ridge passing two small gaps and several short steep sections. It took more than hour to progress from the Tyrolean traverse to the true summit.

We spent more than half an hour on top taking pictures and enjoying the spectacular views over the surrounding country. We were surprised to be 'buzzed' by one of the Freeport mine helicopters which circled closely overhead while we were on the summit. We later learned that this was a rehearsal for filming an Indonesian team who aimed to make a televised ascent of the peak on Independence Day. A long, hot descent of the fixed lines and an even hotter hike to BC saw us back at our starting point after a 12 hrs, 15mins day.

Everyone enjoyed the trip and all were pleased to have climbed the peak in such good conditions. Carstensz is often misrepresented as 'a long hike in the jungle followed by a short, easy rock climb'. We found it to be long and hard hike with only 40% being jungle. The rest of the hike passes through an interesting and varied landscape, and the enjoyment is definitely proportionate to the rainfall experienced. The climb itself is an arduous 12hr day, all above 4000m, requiring an ability to move quickly and confidently on steep, rocky terrain.

Between them the team had been on expeditions to all of the 'seven summits' plus North and South poles. Their consensus was that climbing Carstensz via the Sugapa trek route is the third hardest of the seven, after Everest and Denali, in terms of sheer physical effort required. Perhaps not the conventional view, but a good topic for future pub conversations.

David Hamilton, Jayapura, Indonesia , 20th Aug 2015.

This is a copy of the report posted on the Jagged Globe website.

David Hamilton
High Adventure
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