Ballpark Estimate: $10,000 to $20,500
Located 4 degrees south of the equator in the Papua province of Indonesia, Carstensz Pyramid (elevation 16,023 feet) is the highest point on the Oceanic continent and one of the most remote of the Seven Summits. Papua is in the western half of New Guinea and the peak is part of the Lorenze National Park. In 1623, Dutch explorer Jan Carstensz was the first European to discover the mountain, known locally as Puncak Jaya, or “Victorious Peak.” The area is so remote that the indigenous Dani people had almost no contact with the outside world until missionary Lloyd van Stone parachuted into their lives in 1954. Today, the Dani welcome tourists to certain villages, but have retained much of their aboriginal culture and lifestyle.
If you decide to climb Carstensz Pyramid, you will have to cope with three climates: meteorological, cultural, and political. The peak towers above dense tropical rainforest in the central highlands of New Guinea, and you can expect everything from heat and humidity in the villages to heavy rain, snow, and cold winds on the mountain. However, the weather is the least of your problems.
Cultural issues arise when groups attempt to trek through villages and territory of the Dani people without prior permission. Arrangements, donations, and, most important, a letter of recommendation and support from a tribal leader are required.
The area is so politically volatile that Indonesia actually closed the peak to climbers from 1995 to 2005. The Free Papua movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, or OPM) is a guerilla group that has been fighting for independence from Indonesia for over 30 years. Consequently, you will encounter many security checkpoints where you will be asked to show permits, passports, and many other complicated forms. (See Fees and Permits, below.) A number of climbing groups have been turned back in recent years, forbidden to even trek to base camp.
The Freeport Company of Indonesia owns the largest open pit gold and copper mine in the world, and no longer allows climbers to use their access roads near Carstensz without special permission.
In other words, access to the peak is the primary obstacle to summit success, and is such a serious concern that some American guide companies have temporarily suspended trips to Carstensz completely, rather than risk their clients’ time, money, and safety.
Gear and Clothing
Temperatures can range between 45°F and 85°F in highland areas, and from 28°F to 60°F on the mountain. On the summit, you may even encounter snow, and during your climb, you will almost certainly encounter rain. You will receive a gear and equipment list from your guide company, and you should follow it closely. High altitude expedition gear isn’t needed, but good quality leather alpine boots with rigid soles are required for technical climbing and you’ll want good trekking shoes for the approach. Layering is the key strategy for this expedition, along with methods to stay dry under remarkably wet conditions. Keep gear to a minimum since you will probably be carrying much of it yourself.
No immunizations are currently required. However, be sure that all your routine immunizations are up to date, and consult your doctor at least two months before your departure about anti-malaria medications and other recommended procedures.
Passports and Visas: $25
A valid passport and proof of a return ticket are required of U.S. citizens. You will have to purchase a 30-day visa upon arrival in the country.
Fees and Permits
Before approaching or climbing Carstensz, an amazing array of forms must be submitted to the Indonesian Government offices in Jakarta. The process takes several months. A sampling of required permits:
- Indonesian Police permit
- Indonesian Army permit
- Indonesian Climbing Federation permit
- Lorenze National Park permit
- Secret police BAIS ABRI permit
- Ministry of Tourism permit
- Ministry of Sport permit
- Ministry of Immigration permit
In addition, the following local permits must be submitted to the West Papua authority:
- Permit from West Papua tourism office, on behalf of the West Papua government
- Local police permit
- Local army permit
- Letter of recommendation and support from tribal leaders
Finally, a Freeport Permit is required for those parties planning to cross or use the Freeport access road.
When to Go
Because the mountain is located so close to the equator, it is possible to climb year round. But expect to get rained on.
Many trips start in Manado, on the island of Salawesi, Indonesia; others start from Jakarta or Bali. Travel time from the United States to Indonesia is usually about 28 to 34 hours.
- $1,800 to $6,500 – Round trip from New York (JFK) to Manado, Indonesia (MDC)
- $2,100 to $5,000 – Round trip from Los Angeles (LAX) to Manado, Indonesia (MDC)
- $1,260 to $4,000 – Round trip from New York (JFK) to Jakarta, Indonesia (CGK)
- $1,050 to $4,800 – Round trip from Los Angeles LAX) to Jakarta, Indonesia (CGK)
Indonesian domestic flights (chartered helicopter and fixed wing) are included in your cost for western companies. However, many Indonesian guide companies require that you pay for your own domestic fixed wing airfare. Cost: $630 to $740
- $7,500 – Cost of helicopter evacuation (per person) in case of emergency
Guided Trips: $10,000 to $20,500
Whether you choose to go with a western guide service or an Indonesian one, be sure to do your research. What is the guide-to-climber ratio? Do they have a solid history of successful expeditions? What are their connections like in Indonesia and how can they guarantee permits, access, and helicopter availability? Ask for names of former clients, and contact them for their opinions. Finally, don’t consider going to Carstensz without trip cancellation insurance, and be sure to schedule extra time at the end of your trip to allow for any unforeseen circumstances.
American, European, and Australian guide services: $16,000 to $20,500
Starting from Manado, Jakarta, or Bali, the price for these expeditions includes all domestic travel in Indonesia. The companies guarantee legal access to the mountain and will take care of all permits and fees. Many of these guide services try to solve the access problem by using helicopters, landing at or near base camp at the beautiful Zebra Wall (approx. 12,450 feet). Of course, permits are needed for helicopter access as well; you are not allowed to fly in Freeport Mine air space; and availability of helicopters is often a serious issue. Finally, weather plays an important role in helicopter transportation, so you should be prepared to wait a week or more, if things go wrong.
Indonesian guide services: $10,500 to $15,000
Indonesian guide services claim they have better relationships with government and local officials, Freeport Company officials, and tribal dignitaries, and are therefore better able to guarantee access to the mountain. Each company has a different approach, both literally and figuratively. Trips can range from two to four weeks, and offer a variety of trekking approaches as well as helicopter options. Due to the high cost of the helicopters, most companies require a group of at least six climbers before committing to this type of trip. Dani porters are hired for trekking trips, although you will be carrying your personal gear yourself.
The rock climbing on Carstensz Pyramid is the most technically difficult of all the Seven Summits. There are three established routes on Carstensz: the Normal route (Harrer’s Route, named for first ascent party), the East Ridge, and theAmerican Direct. The latter two are more difficult routes with loose rock, and are rarely climbed. Each of these climbs can be done in one long day.
From base camp (at 12,800 feet), the Normal Route follows a series of gullies up the north face of the mountain. Your first challenge is 1,600 feet of relatively easy 3rd and 4th class scrambling over coarse limestone to the summit ridge. From there, you encounter a number of gaps in the rock. Some are narrow enough to jump (with a belay), but a few require a rappel followed by jumaring the opposite side on fixed ropes. (Jumars are ascending tools that slide up and then clamp on the rope.) The most difficult chasm is over 60 feet deep, and while the rappel isn’t difficult, jumaring the overhanging opposite side is very strenuous (particularly at 14,800 feet). Your guide can give you a top rope, for your protection. A few companies use a Tyrolean traverse – a special technique that allows climbers to traverse on ropes suspended across the gap and anchored on each side.
There’s very little loose rock on the Normal Route, and the coarse limestone offers decent friction even when wet. There are a few steep sections of moderate rock climbing (up to 5.8), and you’ll be climbing in your leather alpine boots. There are fixed ropes on these sections, so you can choose to climb or jumar. The rock is so abrasive that many climbers wear leather gloves on the non-technical sections, to protect their hands.
Count on a strenuous summit day, lasting 12 to 18 hours. Your descent will be a long series of rappels and then the hike back to base camp, usually in the rain.
Tips, Gratuities, and Emergency Funds: $500 to $1,000
It’s a good idea to bring extra cash with you to cover tips and unexpected expenses. Because of the uncertainties surrounding access (helicopter availability, in particular), there have been instances of clients running out of time and having to leave the trip early.