Two of the Seven Summits scare me. The first is Denali. Denali frightens me because of the weather—it’s totally out of one’s control and can be incredibly unpredictable. Every year, people die in accidents unrelated to any mistake they have made. An example of this would be the four Japanese climbers who died in an avalanche while descending Motorcycle Hill. Sometimes, shit happens and the weather causes unfortunate incidents.
The other mountain that makes me nervous is Carstensz Pyramid…but not because of the weather. There are several political and cultural anomalies that make Carstensz Pyramid one of the most dangerous summits in my opinion. I’ll break it down for you:
- Independence Movement: The province in which Carstensz Pyramid is located is currently trying to gain its independence from Indonesia. In the past months, they have killed a foreign journalist, shot at incoming planes, and conducted other dangerous stunts to further their movement. Separatist groups/independence movements are notoriously unpredictable and impassioned…you definitely don’t want to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Considering our expedition begins the day of Indonesia’s independence, we might be doing exactly that…flying into a dangerous place at a very bad time.
- Exotic Location: The first issue is heightened by the fact that—of all the Seven Summits, even Everest—Carstensz Pyramid is the most difficult to get to. Just reaching the base of the mountain requires an arduous 5-10 day jungle hike through dense rainforest. There isn’t another option (helicopters no longer fly to Base Camp with any regularity). And getting out can’t be expedited…you’re stuck walking the 100 or so km to the nearest village whether you want to or not. This makes medical or safety evacuations difficult if not impossible. Not the most encouraging of situations.
- Freeport Mine: The other nuance about the location is the Freeport Mine at the base of the mountain. I guess I lied…technically it is possible to get to the mountain quickly…but only through the Freeport Mine which operates essentially as its own country. It has its own armed security force that shoots on sight if anyone approaches. One group last year had an urgent medical issue and entered the mine, only to be shut in a shipping container without fresh food for seven days. Eventually a mineworker felt bad and was able to sneak them out on a helicopter. Cool, in like an adventure movie way. Not so cool when you are actually facing that as a real potential situation.
- Local Culture and Customs: The final dangerous aspect of this expedition is the locals. The local people of Iryan Jaya are incredibly impoverished. Making money as porters for expeditions is an important source of income for many of them. This is good, because if not for this income they might be eating you. Yes, that’s right, some of these tribes still practice cannibalism. They also use blow darts. And wear penis gourds. Don’t believe me? Just wait for the pics. If I ever get back to civilization…because the final thing is that their judicial system is based on an eye for an eye. So a situation might arise when someone—a local working as a porter, perhaps—gets crushed by a random rock fall. The locals would then hold the westerners responsible and exact “justice” by…yes…killing him or her. You probably don’t believe me. I wish I were making this up. How I know it’s true? It happened on an expedition last year.
As you can tell, this mountain will be an adventure no matter what happens. And by “adventure” I mean “an experience, usually hazardous, whose ending you do know not or cannot predict.” I’m just hoping that my ending involves us making it back home safely…!