In a dining expedition tent in Antarctica amidst general banter about roads less travelled Sam, a 28 year old Google executive, proudly showed me a scar on his neck, a byproduct of a climbing trip to Carstensz Pyramid. ‘I was held at a knife point by native tribes on the way out’. He got off lightly having paid a few hundred dollars to be let free after a few hours in captivity.
A Brazilian climber I met on Aconcagua shared another Carstensz climb saga of being smuggled into the Grassberg mine in a metal container, held overnight and in the morning being driven out dressed in miners’ overalls with a few thousand dollars being pocketed by the mine guards.
Getting to places we climb often requires ingenuity, genuine stamina and time. Tons of it. When the journey is about a climbing objective, we make every effort to reduce inconvenience and time to get to the place.
In this day and age recreational climbers routinely take helicopters to base camps of Aconcagua, Denali and Everest. With question that comes as to what counts as a climb?
I remember ski climbing Elbrus last year with some friends from Chamonix. We had long arguments as to what is the geographical point from which a mountain climb counts: a skilift (part of the permanent landscape), a point where the skidoo can drop us off or a climb up all the way from Terskol?
There is no governing body in climbing hence the arguments vary and stack in favour of simple disclosure, of being honest about the way you got to the place.
I am guilty of this pursuit of efficiency as well. When one sets a mountaineering challenge of climbing a number of peaks in succession for a time record: logistics and the need for a downtime decide the route.
For obvious reasons we have decided against a week-in a week-out long hike in the verdant jungle of Papua for this Carstensz journey. With that arguably we lost a chance to see Papuan culture or bond with a landscape.
Yesterday’s climb was all about precision, movement. It was about the route with intense focus on doing it well, efficiently and safely. We did fast and well in under 6 hours.
Today is a downtime day of waiting for a helicopter that may of may not come tomorrow. This morning I felt an urge to take a long scramble to the top of Northern Carstensz past the tongue of the only glacier in Indonesia to give myself space to bond with a landscape and create memories. Meandering path amidst huge glacial boulders, two wild dogs barking from afar, almost no vegetation at this altitude of 4200m and silence. My way of meditating and relaxing after a taxing day.
One more night in this beautiful campsite just with 3 tents before (we live in hope) we get helied to Timika with an onwards journey to Terskol, another small dot on a huge map to become a point of argument ‘where do you climb a mountain from?’