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Carstensz Pyramid: Highest Mountain in Oceania

Fast Facts About Carstensz Pyramid

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Carstensz Pyramid: Highest Mountain in Oceania

The regular route up Carstensz Pyramid ascends its steep north face.

Photograph courtesy BBC

Elevation: 16,024 feet (4,884 meters)
Location: West Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), New Guinea
Coordinates: 04°04.733 S / 137°09.572 E
First Ascent: First ascent by Philip Temple, Heinrich Harrer, Russell Kippax, and Albert Huizenga, February 13, 1962.

Fast Facts:

  • Carstensz Pyramid and neighboring peaks Puncak Mandala (15,223 feet) and Puncak Trikora (15,518 feet) are the highest peaks of West Papua in the western half of New Guinea (eastern half is Papua New Guinea). These tropical mountains, a scant four degrees south of the equator, are in the Snowy Mountains, which the natives call Pegunungan Maoke. The range contains four glaciers, including Carstensz Glacier. The largest is Meren Glacier on Nga Pulu (15,951 feet). The glaciers, not surprisingly are steadily shrinking due to global warming.

  • Carstensz Pyramid is the tallest mountain between the Americas and the Himalayas in central Asia.

  • Carstensz Pyramid is named for Dutch seaman and explorer John Carstensz, who, along with his crew, were the first Europeans to see the snowcapped mountain. After returning to Holland in 1623, people didn't believe him when he talked about a snowy mountain near the equator.

  • Carstensz Pyramid has many names, including Puncak Jaya, Puncak Jaya Kesuma, and Jaya Kesuma. Puncak Jaya, meaning "Summit of Victory," was applied by Indonesian communists. In Indonesia it is usually called either Carstensz Pyramid or Puncak Jaya.

  • Carstensz Pyramid is the disputed summit of the Seven Summits, the highest points on the seven continents. It is the highest point of Oceania, an area which includes Australia and all the surrounding islands. The trouble started after Reinhold Messner, the second person after Dick Bass to climb the Seven Summits, climbed Carstensz Pyramid rather than 7,313-foot Mount Kosciusko, the highest point in Australia and the one Bass had climbed. Messner claimed that the true seventh summit was Carstensz, the high point of Oceania and a worthy climbing goal rather than Kosciusko, which is basically a hike. The controversy is unresolved and most climbers who aspire to do the Seven Summits also do an eighth one-Carstensz Pyramid.

  • Carstensz Pyramid also lies in a disputed region-the western half of New Guinea, the second largest island in the world. It is in the Indonesian province of West Papua, which was called Irian Jaya until 2005. The Dutch ceded control of the area in 1962 to Indonesia and there has been an independence movement since them. Indonesia, however, because of the mine near Carstensz and the millions of dollars it generates, will not give any self-control or autonomy to West Papua.

  • Carstensz Pyramid, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the coast, is a difficult mountain to climb. Not only is it the most technically difficult of the Seven Summits but it is remote (hike-in requires 6 to 8 days), located in dense jungle, surrounded by native tribes not far removed from the Stone Age, improperly mapped, near the world's largest gold mine, and requires lots of permits and bureaucratic nonsense from the Indonesian government. The mountain is also closed from time to time to all outsiders. The last time it was closed was from 1995 to 2005. The mountain is almost impossible to climb on your own because of the difficulty and cost of obtaining permits.

  • Carstensz Pyramid was not climbed until 1962 when Philip Temple, Heinrich Harrer, Russell Kippax, and Albert Huizenga reached the summit on February 13, 1962. New Zealand climber Philip Temple had pioneered the access route from the north in 1961. Temple wrote The Last True Explorer about his experiences climbing the Pyramid as well as adventuring in New Guinea. He returned in 1962, leading a U.S. War Graves Registration team to the area. Famed Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer (1912-2006) made the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps in 1938. The following year he was detained by the British after an attempt on Nanga Parbat. He later escaped into hidden Tibet and became friend and confidante of the boy Dalai Lama before the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950.

  • In 1936 a Dutch expedition climbed nearby Ngga Pulu, which was considered then to be the island's highest peak, rather than Carstensz Pyramid, missing out on the peak's first ascent.

  • Carstensz Pyramid, composed of limestone, has seven faces. Several routes ascend Carstensz. The Harrer or Normal Route is the usual route up the mountain. Its ascent and descent usually takes 12 to 15 hours. It ascends mostly solid rock up the north face to a long jagged ridge, which is followed to the summit. The ridge poses the most difficult climbing sections, requiring technical climbing skills up to 5.9 depending on the exact route taken. Commercial trips usually fix ropes over all these sections so less experienced climbers can climb the rope with ascenders.

  • The other two routes are the East Ridge, a long scrambling route, and The American Direct, which is a long steep climb directly up the North Face to the summit. This route offers 5.10 climbing on steep limestone that is difficult to protect due to the absence of crack system. The final headwall below the summit is the most difficult section.
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