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Carstensz Pyramid - open for business!
image story Image of climber about to cross one of the gaps in the Carstensz Pyramid summit ridge courtesy of Harry Kikstra and the 7summits.com.

03:04 pm EST Jul 12, 2005
Last year, ExWeb ran a big article on Carstensz Pyramid, 16,023ft (4,884 m), located in Irian Jaya and the highest Peak of Oceania, therefore one of the Seven Summits. The Indonesian government had stopped issuing permits claiming it was due to security reasons, though it was believed that the real reason was because of the bad press climbers were bringing upon the Freeport Mine, located at the base of the mountain, reportedly causing serious environmental damage.

Word spread and soon all permits for CP were canceled

But one climber, Byron Smith sneaked under the radar in the fall of 2003. With the help of locals, he was smuggled across military checkpoints, held up in safe houses for days, and disguised as a soldier or photographer. Afterwards, he happily detailed his ‘Indiana Jones’ adventure on the Internet. All of the Army guys and the guide who helped him were easily recognized from the article, according to the locals. Word spread and soon all permits for CP were canceled, leaving a number of very angry people - and climbers.

71 year old climber denied access

One of them was Ramon Blanco, who at 71 years of age was the oldest climber to do the 7 summits Kosciuszko-version. He wrote in an open letter to Byron Smith; Everything went well until we reached Timika … my fears materialized the day before we were scheduled to leave for the Carstensz Pyramid’s Base Camp. An authority showed up with your story (all 18 pages of it!) where you describe your “war and espionage movie”. Ramon was denied access to the mountain.

The first legal foreign expedition since 2002

Now, Ramon might get a second chance: Safe, legal and successful - an American team, facilitated by Franky Kowass of Manado Adventures, re-opened Indonesia's Carstensz Pyramid to foreign climbers with successful summits on Friday, July 8th.

Believed to be the first legal foreign expedition since 2002, American climbers James Clarke, Pat Hickey and Randy Peeters teamed with Indonesian Franky Kowass and overcame significant legal and logistical challenges to gain access to the remote 5000 meter peak, located in the highlands of Indonesia's Papua province.

No overland access was granted

For Clarke and Peeters - both already among the world's first 100 Seven Summiters via Australia's Kosciusko - the climb represents their 8th peak of the circuit and moves them into a more select group.

After several weeks of planning, Kowass secured the "Surat Jalan" - travel permit(s) - from federal officials in Jakarta. Once the Americans arrived in Indonesia's easternmost province, Kowass then negotiated a series of provincial and district police approvals across Papua. The team acclimatized in Enarotali for several days while Kowass and Clarke worked through significant complications to coordinate the necessary helicopter transport to the remote mountain. No overland access was granted by the authorities out of ongoing concern over political unrest in the region.

Support team and supplies never arrived

After a series of frustrating setbacks, on Wednesday, July 6th the team deployed in a chartered helicopter to Zebra Wall (just outside of Freeport Mine territory) and trekked up to Lakes Valley base camp later that day. Increasing clouds followed by a storm prevented a planned second chopper load, so a support team and supplies never arrived. Fearing that the rare opportunity to climb Carstensz might not present itself again, the climbers seized the first break in heavy rains and began their push just after midnight on Thursday 7 July.

After a hour's approach hike the team had some difficulty identifying the start of the route in the dark. Randy Peeters then took the lead at the base of the steep 500 meter coarse limestone face.

Fog limited visibility at times

Bringing years of big-wall experience, Peeters inspected the fixed lines and anchors and moved everyone efficiently up to the 'halfway terrace'. Owing to the length and nature of some of the pitches, communication was frequently difficult. Clarke succeeded in locating the route above the terrace and led to the long summit ridge, reaching it just at dawn.

At this point, the team moved in two pairs, and negotiated a series of very airy pinnacles, notches, and catwalks, employing rapells and jumaring as necessary. While the rain held off, fog limited visibility at times. Although there was no appreciable ice, the climbers did encounter some snow patches.

Franky Kowass the man

Peeters and Clarke reached the summit just before 9 am with Kowass and Hickey approximately one hour later. Heavy rains caught all four climbers on the descent. Nevertheless, everyone was elated to have achieved the summit of Carstensz. The Americans departed Timika on Sunday and are returning to the United States. A European team, also facilitated by Kowass, arrived on the mountain that morning.

All the climbers agreed that accessing this peak -- the most technical of the seven summits -- will continue to pose considerable obstacles. One very bright spot was the friendliness and support of all of the Indonesian people and officials encountered along the way. Before departing, the Americans again expressed their gratitude to Franky Kowass for his critical and untiring efforts to make the climb possible.

Carstensz Pyramid, 16,023ft (4,884 m), is located in the western central highlands of Irian Jaya and is the highest peak in Oceania, Australasian continent, making it one of the 7 summits.
In order to climb Carstensz one must secure the proper permits. This region, however, has had “limited and frustrating access throughout its history”, said Gordon Janow, Director of Programs for Alpine Ascents last year.

Harry Kikstra of 7summits.com said he was the last one to receive an official permit (for 6 Norwegians in Dec 2002) and got another permit that was canceled at the last moment due to security reasons.

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