"Anyone who has once seen Carstensz Pyramid longs for it like it was a beautiful woman. It seduces you while remaining mysterious. Once in a while it shows you all of its beauty, only to be covered in the veil of mist a minute later. It is provocative but unattainable. It makes you tormented and restless, as it does us."
— Petr Jahoda, climber and guide on Puncak Jaya
The 8th Summit
Depending on whether you think Australia should be classed as a continent all by itself, or whether you include all of Indonesia and the surrounding islands and call it Oceania, Puncak Jaya is either the highest mountain in Indonesia, or the highest mountain in Oceania. The latter designation would make it one of the Seven Summits - the highest points on each contenent - since Australia's highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko, is only 2,228 metres tall, whereas Puncak Jaya reaches 4,884 metres (over sixteen thousand feet). The first man to climb the "seven summits", Dick Bass, did not climb Puncak Jaya - it was Reinhold Messner who insisted that as the highest point in Oceania, it must be climbed as part of this quest. Some climbers, interested in reconciliation in the ongoing debate about its inclusion, refer somewhat whimsically to Puncak Jaya as the 8th peak of the seven summits.
So What's The Real Name?
This peak is located in the Sudirman mountain range of Papua, a province of Indonesia on the island of New Guinea, only 4.5 degrees south of the equator. Due to all the political upheavals of this area, it has been through several name changes, as has its region. The mountain's original name was Nemangkawi, in the local language of Amungkal. Its first recorded sighting by a Western observer was in 1623, by the Dutch Explorer Jan Carstensz, and for hundreds of years its common name in the West was Carstensz Pyramid. More recently, when Papua province was taken over from the Netherlands by Indonesia, the mountain was renamed Puncak Sukarno (Sukarno's Peak) after the first President of Indonesia. This name was then changed again to Puncak Jaya or "Victory Peak", reflecting another name for the region, Irian Jaya. However, most climbers still refer to the mountain as Carstensz Pyramid, or simply Carstensz, and the majority of information to be found online is also under this name.
Puncak Jaya is regarded the most difficult of the seven summits, both for technical reasons (a great deal of sheer rock faces to ascend and descend; bad weather) and reasons of accessibility. One can approach base camp by helicopter, but this brings acclimatization problems, and the same applies to a cablecar that runs from Grasberg, the largest gold mine and third-largest copper mine in the world, owned by the U.S. corporation Freeport McMoRan; in addition, the route via the mine has not been open to the public for quite some time. The alternative is a 5-day trek through the wilderness of Irian Jaya from Llaga to the mountain, including travelling though jungle inhabited by tribes still effectively living in the stone age. Some websites mention the practice of cannibalism, but it's doubtful whether this is still a realistic fear for Western climbers.
The political situation in Indonesia has been unstable enough over recent years that tourists have been actively discouraged and often forbidden for extended periods from obtaining official permits and guides to the mountain. As of 2006 the government has been allowing tourists to reach Puncak Jaya through trekking and adventure companies, but it remains a difficult prospect. Irian Jaya, or Papua, has had elements seeking independence from Indonesia since it was taken over, and occasionally tourists may be accosted or abducted by protesters seeking attention for their cause, although no physical harm is usually intended. The Grasberg mine is also a target for protestors, who claim that it is a polluting foreign influence. One site (SummitPost) states:
"UPDATE August 2008: At the moment there is no single safe and guaranteed way into Carstensz. Though some rogue operators do run trips, they are know for bribes and pollution, endangering the clients and their chances of success."
Although it was noted so early by Carstensz, the upper reaches of Puncak Jaya were not reached until the early 1900s, and the summit not until 1962, by an expedition led by Heinrich Harrer, the author of Seven Years In Tibet. He wrote I come from the Stone Age about the expedition, in which he described both Puncak Jaya and several of the surrounding mountains. As noted above, it is not an easy technical prospect for amateur climbers. Aside from the rugged, steeply notched summit ridge which must be traversed, one of its peculiarities is its weather variation. Being within 5 degrees of the equator and surrounded by rain forest, its slopes can be subject to heavy rain, making the bare granite slippery. The mountain is usually shrouded in mist (Jan Carstensz glimpsed it on a rare clear day) and visibility in certain parts of the slopes can be reduced to a few feet. As the higher altitudes are reached, climbers encounter glaciers such as Carstensz Glacier and the Northwall Firn, and even snowstorms on the summit ridge. Satellite images show that the glaciers of Puncak Jaya have retreated significantly since the 1970s, and some, such as the Meren Glacier, appear to have melted away completely.
One Last Thing...
I've found it impossible to track down statistics for Puncak Jaya, including how many successful summits and fatalities there have been. If anyone has access to this information please let me know! It may well be that, due to the inaccessibility of the mountain and the lack of cooperation of the Indonesian Government, these statistics have never been compiled at all.
"Official" Carstensz Pyramid site: http://www.carstenszpapua.com/
The consequences of an illegal trip: http://www.mounteverest.net/story/CarstenszPyramidBewaretheConsequencesJul152004.shtml