alex hillary, dingo, carstenz base camp

Carstenz Pyramid – surrounded by Dingos, beset by blizzards

We congregated for dinner in Kuta, on Bali, just back from the beach. Chris and Brook in from New York, Richard out from Dallas, Peter up from Auckland, his sons George and Alex over from Melbourne and I with the short hop from Kuala Lumpur. The next flight left at 1 a.m. and took us east 4 hours to Timika, in West Papua, what would perhaps best be described as a one horse town, if it wasn’t for being in the shadow of the worlds largest gold mine.

#everyrolextellsastoryAlexander, George and Peter Hillary on the head wall, Carstenz Pyramid.

The best thing about helicopters is they get you there quickly, almost too quickly to realize you are there. And the worst thing is they need good weather to fly – and in the mountains, particularly when you are flying from sea level, over the jungle and up to over 4,000 meters, you have many options for bad weather.

Peter Hillary, his first climb of Carstenz memorable enough to warrant a return with his sons Alex and George. 

A slow day one passed, day two was on the golf course, a sure sign of desperation from a climbing team. Lucky day three we were off over the steaming jungle, hopping over what is likely one of the biggest manmade holes in the world and into the Yellow Valley. Pre-dawn, February 5. Cold, clear, bacon frying, eggs sputtering and off for the fast 15 minute walk up the shifting scree to the rock.

Carstenz, Peter hillary,
The tyrollean, Carstenz Pyramid, Richard braves the heights and a rather loose cable. 

Clipping in we were now part of the mountain. The limestone was serrated, pocketed, always a hold and always a fin or ledge to step on – easy and fun climbing up chimneys, along ridges, across ledges and onto the headwall.

A final steep and airy section leads off the face, 50 meters of near vertical rock, but with holds and ribs to clasp and stem upwards through. The Ridge opened up, the view to the jungle and the sea now pale blue below the clouds. The 360 view and the air and clouds rushing over the ridge remind us we may be very close to the equator, but we are also very close to the top of a continent.

Over the many years the Tyrolean has evolved from a deep 20-meter cleft climbed in and out of, to a fixed rope, a single cable, and now three cables. With the feet bouncing along the slack lower cable and 500 meters of air under ones feet, the hands swaying on the hand cables, we each edged across. The final ridge threw out its own challenges, 2 meter square chock-stones set into cuts in the ridge, lowering off one side on loose frayed ropes, stepping over an abyss, then pulling up the far side.

Our airy walk took us up a final head-wall, around a promontory suspended over the jungle far below and a final scramble to the summit.


Atop Sumantri, the second tallest peak in West Papua. Left to right, Chris, Peter, George, Alex, Robert and Brook. 

The journey out would mirror the journey in, but the clouds now dumped snow and not rain, we were surrounded by Dingo’s and beset by blizzards, twas a true adventure. So we scampered off in a short clearing of the weather and climbed Sumantri. Whereas our local guide Poxi had just completed his 78th ascent of Carstenz, he followed along happily behind us as we led him up Sumantri for the first time. Carstenz was my eighth 7 summit, a final completion of all the tops no matter how they are counted.

Unlike most of the 7 Summits where I had been on top alone, climbing with Peter Hillary and his sons, George and Alex, along with Brook, Chris and Richard: being with the team on top together was the real summit, what made it really worthwhile.