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Expedition Da Capo
In the summer of 2005 we sailed a 28ft sailing yacht from Sweden to New
Guinea in order to become the first people to ever ski Carstensz Pyramid,
rising 4884 meters over the Arafura Sea. Without climbing permits, proper
visas or a cruising permit, things were bound to get messy. And they did.
Arrested, put in jail and unceremoniously deported from Indonesia, we were
forced to sail on to Australia and there skied Mt. Kosciuszko, the
Australian continent’s highest peak. But the dream lived on. Now a year
and a half later, the mountain still stands unskied and with a wide
variety of papers, documents and stamps, we are making another attempt.
This time making our approach through the air from Jakarta to the northern
parts of the island and on by helicopter and trekking boots up to Base
Camp at around 4000 meters. Perhaps we’ve gotten older, wiser and more
cautious. Or perhaps just lazy. This time however, we’re getting to the
top. Fool me once…
We’re probably just to dumb to know when it’s time to give up. Coincidentally that’s also one of the qualities we really like in ourselves. After our first attempt to climb Carstensz Pyramid on Irian Jaya (New Guinea) two years ago (The short version: “20 000 nautical miles on a tiny sailing yacht, no papers, enter the island through the pretence of having lost our engine, try to bribe our way to the mountain, fail, get ourselves thrown in jail, PNG:ed out of “Indonesia”, not welcome back, ever, screw it, it’s not a real country anyway.” Read the whole story on the old sailing section of the website: www.fangadagen.com/segling) we’ve had some feelers out sensing that we would at some point once again attempt to navigate through the smelly seas of bureaucracy and banished or not, one day set foot on the humid shores of Indonesia, home to what half the climbing community calls the highest mountain in “Australia”. And that’s how it happened. Just before Christmas 2006 we got a long distance phone call.
“Yeees mister. Only 15 000 US$. Each. No problem. Climb soon. Very good. Book now?” Well, maybe not… Or…what the hell? Some people gamble on horses. Others buy expensive watches. We went to the bank and deposited a ridiculous amount to a dodgy account in Sulawesi, for a vague promise that someone somewhere might somehow be able to get us to the “closed” mountain a month later. But heck, the dollar was cheap, the whole thing was too ridiculous not to work and besides, we’d already gotten really nice watches from our friends at Sjöö Sandström.
All said and done, following a week of skiing in the French Alps over New Year’s we both boarded a plane for Jakarta. The situation had not changed markedly since our first attempt. We still had no permits, no visas for Irian Jaya and the mine that controls the area around the mountain was as closed as ever. One thing had changed however, we were far poorer than two years ago and although the quality of KLM’s long haul service has fallen drastically in recent years, it was still slightly more comfortable than our 28ft sailing yacht. Or at least it was quicker…
Given these circumstances, none of us were really surprised when we arrived in the Indonesian capital only to find that nothing was happening. Few things ever do in this country. There was no one at the airport to meet us. Our contact had apparently turned off his phone. And our skis and luggage had not made it out of Europe. So while KLM continued to provide us with stinking excuses instead of fresh underwear, we checked into a beachside resort 120 km north of the city dividing our time between trying to find our 40 kg of climbing gear, our now very wealthy Indonesian friend and swimming in the ocean. Suspecting we would find neither, at least the palm trees and sandy beaches were calming for our nerves. Against all odds, we had however one week later found both our lost luggage and our shady friend, and our chances of climbing the mountain had increased slightly from none to slim.
The fact that we were even contemplating a return to the island after our first attempt, during which the police authorities in Timika (the only city on the southern side of Irian Jaya) had taken and posted unflattering “mug shots” of your humble narrators, explaining that we need not bother about ever coming back, was that our new friend had promised us an approach through the northern parts of the island, where we were hoping, due to the lack of IT infrastructure, our reputations had not preceded us. We were sorely mistaken.
Buying a judge in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is said to costs about 40 000 Swedish kronor. This amount will apparently let you get away with anything. The military, as luck would have it, were considerably cheaper, and our dollars had silently been working very hard. In short: Our climbing gear (including skis) were sewn into large sugar sacks, we were ordered to don hats, long sleeve shirts and fake beards, and were flown to Irian Jaya, landing of course in that very same hell hole we had been arrested in two years prior. But it mattered not. Our friend had earned his money and been hard at work. Nobody saw us get off the plane, the booth with the sign “Imigrasi” was empty, and without as much as a stamp or police control (virtually unheard of in this part of the world) we were ushered to a waiting black military SUV with tainted windows. Our flight tickets didn’t even bear our names. We felt like diplomats. The bad kind. Following a short wait for the start of a new guard shift, we sped through the town and onto the one road leading north, up through the mountains towards the massive mining complex and our climbing objective. The camouflage we had been told to put on seemed rather superfluous as our car was neither stopped nor searched at any of the many military checkpoints positioned at 15 km intervals, and the guards always seemed to look the other way, resolutely staring into the jungle as we drove by. Perhaps it was for the best. We never fancied learning the consequences of being caught in a restricted military area without the faintest trace of a permit or the necessary papers. Again. After another short wait in the mining town of Tembagapura, waiting for the next shift to start, we switched vehicles to one of the mine’s trucks and were literally driven through the world’s largest copper and gold mine (the Grassberg site at Freeport’s Indonesian mining operation) and out to the edge of the complex, were we, under the cover of darkness, could begin the trek up to Base Camp at roughly 4200 meters, arriving in the early hours of the following morning. It had been precisely 24 hours since we left our hotel in Jakarta. All in all, a most impressive operation. We concluded that at least 30 people in varying positions had been bought to keep quiet about our presence. At a price of around 1000$ US per head. Minus our friend’s provision of course. Says something about what people might be willing to risk their careers for. Quite tragic really. Possibly unethical on our part, but we were hardly there to make the world a better place. We were there to ski Carstensz Pyramid. And our chances of success had just gone from slim to fair.
As the sun began to rise we put up our tent in the middle of a magical landscape. Far away the turquoise waters of the Arafura Sea, where we had anchored our yacht two years earlier. Below us a lush green and impenetrable jungle and a bit further away, the no longer as impenetrable mining pit. Around us dark and razor sharp lava rock that looked as if it had been formed only yesterday, and above us our goal. The white snow and ice of the Carstensz Glacier and the narrow rocky ridge that leads to the highest point in Oceania.
The climb was uncompromising. A steep crack secured with fixed ropes of varying quality took us from the plateau up along the side of the near vertical face and up onto the ridge, which then continues for about 500 meters through some rather deep crevices and up to the summit itself. Since we’ve both enjoy occasionally spending time in the gym and have been blessed with stronger upper bodies than legs, jumaring up the vertical sections was quick and just short of six hours after leaving our tent we had reached our final summit in the series. A very interesting and technical climb for being us, but we were still happier about having gotten through the bureaucratic jungle on our way here.
And what of the skiing? Yes, in the continuing quest for fame and fortune we can now proudly announce that we are the first people to ski down Carstensz Pyramid, and therefore also the first people to ever ski all of the Seven Summits as stipulated by Reinhold Messner. The first section was however rather horrible. Five centimetres of snow barely covering the underlying gravel and rock. Painfully reminiscent of poor preseason skiing in the Swedish Alps. Only steeper. It was only when we got out on the glacier further down, after having traversed considerably to our right that conditions began to improve and we could begin making proper turns down the remaining 300 vertical meters. Perhaps an historic ski descent, but certainly not a ski descent that will go down in history. It felt good to finally have skied on New Guinea nonetheless. The following day we also climbed and skied the only other remaining snow on the island, Puncak Peak, a mere 20 meters lower than its neighbouring cousin. And if nobody else hurries up and skis the rapidly receding glaciers in the next five years, we might just remain the only people ever to have skied in Oceania. Guess that’s always something to tell the grandchildren about…
Carstensz Pyramid (Puncak Jaya), 4884 m above sea level, Oceania, 2007
Members: Olof, Martin
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Date: January, 2007
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