Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I don't know if I've had a more exciting summit day than today...

I actually can't even think of the best place to begin. I guess I'll go chronologically: The "day" started during the night. We woke up just before 1am and ate a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, and rice. We also received some chocolate bars to add to our summit snack bag. The atmosphere at that hour was unbelievable. It was (relatively) warm and the air felt energized. Looking to the south, the lights of the Freeport Mine gave the sky an ominous red tinge. It looked like a real-world Mordor... (Or the real-life equivalent of the Avatar storyline...but actually.) Though it was several miles away, we could hear the buzz of the machines and their non-stop action; I guess mines operate 24/7. 

After breakfast, we grabbed our gear and made our final adjustments before grouping up to being our summit bid.   The day starts with a rolling 45 minute trek up and over the first range to the actual base of the mountain, which is essentially a massive granite slab sticking up out of the earth. The fixed lines stretch all the way down to this base, so we cached our poles and umbrellas there and prepared to begin the technical portion of the day.

I do not have a ton of rock climbing experience, so this summit was new for me in many ways. One of those ways was rock climbing at night. Rock climbing is hard enough for me in full daylight, but at night your vision is restricted to the narrow halo of light shining from your headlamp. It makes identifying the best handholds and footholds significantly more difficult. I should add that, though one could simply "ascend" using the fixed lines (not actually climb the rock, just use the lines to pull oneself up), I did not want to do this because the lines are quite old and are fraying very badly in places. So I ended up climbing the rock as if I did not have a fixed line and then using my ascender as a self-belay for safety. 

Summit Day begins!
This all felt pretty manageable until the final 70 vertical meters of the climb. At this point, the slope turns completely vertical and the handholds more scarce. Though this sounds painfully difficult, it was actually quite fun to do. By and large, this summit day had turned out to be way more interesting and fun than any I had done before. Though my arms and legs felt fatigued from the six days of trekking and the morning's rock climbing, I almost didn't feel it because of the excitement this terrain provided. 

Once we reached the top of this steep section, we were on the summit ridge. From here it was a 15 minute walk to the Tyrolean Traverse, which is a wire stretched across a 25m gap in the ridge. One essentially slides/pulls oneself across this wire, trying not to look down at the 800+m of empty space below. This was surprisingly difficult. Because you're going slightly uphill, it requires some significant arm muscle to drag your body (and harness and bag) up those final few meters. Luckily we all made it without incident and continued on our traverse of the summit ridge. 

Me pulling myself across the Tyrolean Traverse.
To my surprise, there were two other features on the summit ridge that were actually scarier than the Tyrolean. Both were notches that featured a sort of jump to the other side... If the drop had been a couple feet (or even 10ft) it would have been a piece of cake, but having such a huge drop beneath you makes everything more difficult. We made it across with varying degrees of assistance from our guide Poxy; Ed and I managed it unassisted, but my mother (who has significantly less leg reach than us guys), needed a helping hand to make the jump safely. 

Finally, we ascended the final 50 vertical meters to a steep knob. Suddenly we realized that there was nowhere higher to go. An ice axe marked the highest point in Australasia and we all let out a massive "Woop!" to express our satisfaction and excitement at having made this summit.

To say it had been a difficult journey would be a massive understatement. It was the hardest and most miserable thing I had ever done. But we were only half way; we still needed to get down (and out of the jungle) without incident. 

We spent around half an hour at the summit, taking pictures and exchanging hugs and congratulations. (I reached the summit at 7:27am, with the whole group gathered before 7:35am.) Then we decided to head down before the weather had a chance to turn. In that respect we had been incredibly fortunate all day. We could even see the ocean, some 100+miles away! But didn't want to push our luck, so we began to head down soon after taking some group pics. Ed and I made quick progress, reaching the Tyrolean about half an hour before the others. We waited there and when the others joined us, we all went across the Tyrolean. We were significantly more efficient this time than we had gone across on the way up to the summit. 

From the top of the ridge we abseiled (rappelled) down approximately 8 pitches to get to the base of the fixed lines. This was by far the most dangerous part. As I said, much of this rope was not in good shape and when you're abseiling you're putting all of your trust in a single line. Not a great feeling. At one point, I literally heard a tearing sound coming from my rope. I tried to get off of it as soon as possible. It's only a matter of time before one of those ropes breaks and someone gets injured or dies. 

It began raining lightly as we collected our umbrellas and poles. We then began a casual walk back to Base Camp, all excited by our big summit. We reached Base Camp after 9:59 minutes of climbing--an average time for a Carstensz summit bid. We were shocked to find that our cooks (and one of our guides, Yosh, who had gone down due to illness), had prepared a massive lunch and even had cold Balinesian beer (Bintang--a great drink) ready for us! Nothing could have made up more happy. 

After stuffing ourselves, we retired for the day. We still have a four day trek out, so we need all the rest we can get. To be honest, this summit day was one of (if not the) easiest day of the entire expedition so far. Hopefully we will manage to make it out of this jungle efficiently and safely. 

Wooohooo! Another summit down!

Our whole group at the summit of Carstensz Pyramid, the highest peak in Australasia.

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