To the locals, it is known as Puncak Jaya – the Summit of Victory. Most of the climbing world calls it Carstensz Pyramid, named for the Dutch explorer who first saw the glacier peaks at the top of the Surdiman Range in West Papua, Indonesia, back in 1623.
Jan Carstenszoon never tasted the victory of that reaching that summit – the highest point in the Australia-Oceania region. No one on Earth had when he first brought word of his discovery back to Europe (and was mocked by skeptics who questioned whether he’d actually seen snow caps barely 4º south of the Equator). And no one would for nearly another 340 years.
In the half-century since, very few climbers would stand victorious on top of the Pyramid. And yet, later today, sometime in the neighborhood of 7:00 p.m. ET, the More Than Just Mountains climbing team – consisting of Tommy Danger, Mark Nolan and filmmaker John Burkett – expects to reach the summit, some 16,024 feet above sea level. That’s a win maybe 500 or 600 people can claim.
As difficult as it is to climb Carstensz Pyramid, it’s even harder to see. The mountain is almost always draped in clouds, a mammoth legend invisible at the center of a seemingly perpetual storm. It is a myth shrouded in mist, which only adds to the appeal of its potential conquering.
“It pretty much rains there all the time,” said Mark back in early February, prior to leaving for this climb. “That’s why you don’t see a lot of photos from the summit.”
Each of the Seven Summits presents its own distinct set of challenges. Wet weather is a signature of climbing Carstensz, and the MTJM team was anticipating four days of hiking through a muddy, sloppy jungle.
“We have to worry about trench foot. We (will have to) wear waterproof knee-high boots, like troops used to use back in Vietnam, but we’ll need to make sure our feet can air out,” said Mark, who noted that putting on the knee-high boots is no problem; taking them off is another story.
Porter strikes are another traditional curveball unique to Carstensz. Several blogs posted by people who have climbed the Pyramid make reference to porters striking somewhere on the mountain, lobbying for more money. Sure enough, when Mark, Tommy and John reached 14,200 feet, their porters went on strike, leaving the climbers in camp at retreating down to 12,000 feet.
But perhaps the greatest challenge that distinguishes Carstensz Pyramid from the world’s other highest summits is the technical aspect of the climb itself. The Pyramid is considered the most technical climb among the Seven Summits, with several routes along the way rated at 5.9.
Mountains have a rating system not unlike rivers do for white-water rafting. Class I is the easiest, Class V the hardest. Then, Class 5 is separate by additional degrees of difficult. At one point, 5.9 was considered the most difficult climb there was.
“5.9 is when you go from basic climbing to needing to be a good climber,” said Tommy.
Or, as it was put in a 2011 article published on Climbing.com: “5.9 is the grade where things go crazy.”
This is no stroll to the summit as it is on, say, Mount Kosciuszko, the highest point on mainland Australia, which MTJM climbed before flying to Papua. The Pyramid required rock climbing preparations that were unnecessary for the team’s previous four summits.
“All of them have their own character,” said Mark. “On the last mountain (Denali), we tried not to fall into it. With this one, we’ll try not to fall off of it.”
Tommy Danger, Mark Nolan and filmmaker John Burkett (Red Tide Productions) are climbing the Seven Summits to benefit the More Than Just Me Foundation. They hope their adventure – More Than Just Mountains – will call attention to and raise funds to support a variety of causes, ranging from Cystic Fibrosis to providing clean water, food and supplies to orphanages around the world. To contribute to the More Than Just Mountains campaign, visit their Flipgiving fundraising page below.