Alan Arnette is an
Alzheimer's advocate for individuals, their families and anyone impacted
by this disease through his professional
speaking, climbing and website.His objectives for the Memories are Everything® climbs
Educate the public, especially youth, on the early warning
signs and how to prepare
Increase awareness that Alzheimer's Disease has no cure
CURE, always Fatal
• No easy, inexpensive method of early detection
• 3rd leading cause of death in the US
• New case every 68 seconds, 4 seconds worldwide
• Impacts more than 5+m in US, 25m+ worldwide
• Devastating financial burden on families
• Depression higher for caregivers
• Issues are increasing rapidly as population ages
The Alzheimer's Immunotherapy Program of Janssen Alzheimer Immunotherapy
and Pfizer Inc. funded my climbs for the 7 Summits campaign and ongoing
efforts between November 2010 and November 2012. All money I raised then
and now from donations goes directly to the organizations I have selected. During
the campaign, content posted here was my own but subject to certain limitations
in conjunction with the support of the AIP.
Of all the 7 Summits, Carstensz Pyramid was the most challenging; logistically
and climbing. I knew it would be an adventure based on many reports of climbers being
stranded at remote airports, porters abandoning teams, malaria and more; it was all
this and then some.
Click on any picture to enlarge.
I left Colorado on October 13th, 2011 and arrived several days later in New Guinea
by way of Bali where I met up with the rest of Mountain Trip (MT) team. The plan
was to fly from Bali to Timika, West Papua and directly to Carstensz Base Camp via helicopter.
However, the uncertainty of the schedule started immediately with notifications that
our flights had been delayed, but then changed within hours requiring a rush to an
While somewhat normal for this part of the world, where we were going was far behind all
modern boundaries so flexibility was required. To complicate matters, we flew into the mining
town of Timika which is, for all practical purposes, owned by the Freeport mining
company who operates the world's largest gold and copper mine, Grasberg, a few miles
from the summit of Carstensz.
The majority of the 12,000 workers were at the end of a month long strike wanting
a 10X increase in wages. There had been several deaths due to violence and the miners
had taken over the airport at Timika, ground zero for the strike, shutting off jet
fuel supplies and effectively closing the airport. While we knew of the conflict,
we still flew into Timika expecting it to be calm with the strike scheduled to end
a few days before our arrival. A mistake.
The Boeing 737 landed in Timika on a hot and humid day, and as we entered the
arrivals room, it was clear this was not Kansas. We waited for our bags, which arrived
without delay, and cleared a casual customs process. There was an air of anticipation
all around. The customs person warned us to be careful.
Scott Woolums, our guide, met up with Franky Kowaas, owner of Manado Adventures,
our local contact. We took two air conditioned Toyota minivans to the hotel. Freeport
had closed the best hotel in town where we had reservations, previously owned by Sheraton, to prevent foreign
journalist having easy access to the strike activity, so we switched to a basic hotel
in central Timika.
The waiting game began in earnest. MT had promised, and we had paid for, helicopters
to the Carstensz base camp but had always set expectations that anything could go
wrong and we might have to trek 6 days through the jungle to reach BC. This was part
of a Carstensz climb and the reason many western operators ignore it, simply too
But MT had conducted over 12 successful climbs plus Scott had 3 previous summits
so I went with them based on this track record. Once in Timika, it became clear that
our schedule was at risk. With no jet fuel, there were no flights. Scott kept in
continuous communication with Franky who repeatedly assured us that everything was
going fine. I had heard this before from local operators, eager to prove themselves
to westerners to drive future business. When he said we had 100% guarantee we would
make it to BC, I felt discouraged.
With no fuel, Franky worked his contacts to charter fixed winged and
helicopter flights using Jakarta based Susi air. The previous helicopter flights
MT had arranged had backed out a few weeks earlier, unbeknownst to us. We spent the
next two days in the hotel, advised not to wander due to the violence; however several
of the team rented scooters and toured the country side with minor altercations.
Plan B or C or D
After two days delay, which was minor in the grand scheme, we boarded the most amazing
airplane I have ever flown, the Swiss made, Pilatus Pilot. Franky, in an incredible act of commitment, had worked with
Susi, and Scott had monitored, verified and endorsed a plan that required 24 individual
flights, plus a fuel cache for the helicopter, to transport the team from Timika
to the isolated village of Bilogai in Sugapa and then to the Base Camp in the Yellow
Valley at the base of Carstensz and, presumably back out.
that many teams had traveled to Timika and never went any further, we felt grateful. However, it was at a cost. The extra flights required an additional
10% to our already paid fees; and that was supplemented by thousands of dollars paid
by MT and Manado. So it was shared contribution to make this helicopter trip work.
Ours was the first successful helicopter flight in one and half years and the reason
many western operators do not run regular helicopter and emphasize the "adventure" of
a jungle trek. With all due respect to those points, I wanted a helicopter.
After a day delay, we left the hotel for the airport without incident. We boarded
the Pilatus in two groups separated by a few hours and landed in the remote village
of Bilogai in the Sugapa region of Western Papua. I felt like I had gone back a few
hundred years. We flew over Carstensz and the Grasberg mine. I was amazed at the
immense size of the mine and the remoteness of Carstensz. Also the sharp ridge of
the peak. We saw the Lakes Base camp and about 12 tents.
The Greeting Committee
As the plane landed, about a hundred villagers swarmed the airplane, with the
goal carrying our bags to Carstensz BC or just out of curiosity. You see, this village
has no roads, zero; in or out, so if you want to visit, you have to trek many days
across the jungle or fly in. Visitors were a novelty but also a source of income.
That said, the hospitality turned to extortion as they learned we would not hire
them to ferry our gear to base camp but instead would use a helicopter. About 30 well built, strong men (porters) gathered
in a large group asking for compensation, represented by their leader. Franky negotiated
with their leader and reached an agreement which involved cash.
We spent the night in a basic but primitive and comfortable compound run by the
local Catholic Priest. The kids were constant visitors as were the locals out of
curiosity. Our Manado guides cooked dinner and we actually watched an Everest DVD
on the TV the Priest had!, so it was not pr imitative. Assuming the helicopters would
arrive the next morning we went to sleep swatting mosquitoes.
With scheduling better than a US airline, the helicopter arrived at the dirt airstrip the next morning.
We had moved from the hotel to the airstrip using the services of the locals and their
motorcycles who transported our bags and then us. Some walked the mile. Once again,
we were the center of attention - or more accurately the center of controversy. While
at the airstrip, we watched a couple of small planes (Twin Otters) land then offloading
an amazing variety of cargo from lumber to food to sheet meta and a few new motorcycles. The locals gathered
closely looking for a few rupees to carry the goods to their destination.
Cash Accepted Here
But something more ominous occurred as the porters, clansmen's and tribes gathered
on the short ridge line above the airstrip.
Occasionally, one would approach us asking
if we needed help to carry our bags. We politely pleaded ignorance. Soon two men
appeared in western clothes with megaphones. What followed appeared as a political
rally but really was an attempt to calm the porters that if they stopped our flight,
attacked us or otherwise interfered; their future trade as porters would be in jeopardy.
The head man occasionally made a comment accompanied by large gestures to which the
followers nodded their heads or shook their bows and arrows or guns. With all this,
I never felt in harms way and even joined the ridge crew for a picture.
The helicopter arrived and then another plane which offloaded five barrels of
fuel for our helicopter flights in and back out. The first group flew out as the
rest us waited with the mob. After two flights the helicopter was refueled using
a battery operated pump, complete with some spillage. Another flight and the entire team
was at the Yellow Valley. Scott insisted we land there because it was lower the the
Lake Base Camp (the usual spot for Carstensz climbs), closer to start of the route
and flatter with more room. His experience proved right on as it exactly as he envisioned.
Base Camp, finally
As we landed, a team of 12 with Austria's Kari Kobler was descending. They wanted
to use our helicopters to avoid the trek out but more importantly, they had one person
with a temperature of 103F who was showing signs of malaria. Scott arranged for our
last helicopter flight to transport the sick climber. Another group guided by a local
company a few days earlier had refused to walk out after the difficult trek in and
wanted to leave via the mine or via helicopter. It seemed that if you walked in,
you desperately wanted to leave a different way! But many expeditions have successfully
walked in and out. It showed me that if you can get a helicopter then you can focus
on the climb and not the trek, which is what I was here for.
We set up our base camp with three tents and a tarp strung over a single rope
to be used for shelter for cooking and eating. There was a concern about acclimatization
given we had flown from sea level to 7,000' in Bilogai then directly to 14,000' so
we spent the next 36 hours resting at our new home. The area was unusual with high
ridges to the north and south, Carstensz's North Face was in full view and the route
somewhat obvious. We could see the glaciers on nearby peaks. Amazing given this was
a few hundred miles from the equator surrounded by hot jungle.
The next day we took a short walk a few hundred feet up the route to familiarize
ourselves with it as well as to check out the ropes given we would start climbing
at 2:00 AM that night. I was amazed at how sharp the limestone rock edges were and
wondered if my gloves would hold up. That afternoon, on schedule, the rain started
like it did everyday we were there. The tents provided by Manado, a new series from
ExPed, leaked horribly as it rained hard. Chuck, my tent mate and I, put our rain
gear over our sleeping bags to try to preserve the warmth for the cold part of the
But this was all part of the experience. We knew we were fortunate to have helicoptered
in and were anxious to start climbing. We rose at 1:30 AM for a simple breakfast,
mostly coffee, and left with headlamps aglow towards the summit on October 22nd.
The first part of the route was rock scrambling on a fixed rope, maybe high class
4. We gained altitude quickly before hitting a short flat section of scree but it
soon turned vertical as we followed the ropes. The ropes were very old, frayed and
the anchors suspect. Johnny, our local guide, led the way and Scott as second; I
swept our group of five. Scott would stop multiple times to repair anchors or replace
suspect rope with the line he carried but he only had about 100m so we still climbed
on some rotten line.
I was not too concerned going up but knew with the sharp angles we would be arm
wrapping or rappelling on the descent and the risk would be high. We made steady
progress toward the summit ridge. The climbing involved classic rock moves at the
high class 4 to 5.7 level. We used a jumar attached to our harnesses for aid but
it was not really necessary except for a few moments. The final pitch to the summit
ridge was a steep chimney, maybe at 60 degrees but with plenty of foot and handholds.
The sun was starting rise as we crested the ridge.
It took a few minutes to reach the large gap where we would execute a Tyrolean
Traverse. A steel cable has been set up a year earlier and there was a rat's nest
of fixed lines strung across the 50' gap. It was 100' to the ledge below but another
2,000' along the north and south face to the valley floor on both sides so this was
serious exposure and nothing to be dealt with casually.
Johnny crossed first and Scott took his position at the other side as one by one
we attached our figure of eight (which was attached to harness) to a pulley straddling
the cable with a locking carabineer and then a 'biner also attached to our harness
to three of the fixed lines. The maneuver was a bit awkward as you had to get your
waist very close to the cable, clip in and the rotate so that you faced upwards to
pull yourself along the line; all this while perched on the edge of the gap. Going up was slightly more effort in that you had to
pull yourself uphill .There was another rope that Johnny would use to pull you but
it often added no real value.
I took my position, attached myself to the pulley and leaned back allowing my
full weight to be supported by these lines. It was a leap of faith in that I had
minimal confidence in them. But, with helmet cam on, I pulled myself across letting
out a whoop of glee. It was fun! I got to the other side in less than a minute and
awkwardly pulled myself back onto the sharp rock. We continued to make progress towards
the summit. There were two more short gaps that required some tricky down climbing
and requisite up climbing before we reached the final pitch to the summit. There
were a few patches of fresh snow along the summit ridge but nothing serious.
This video was shot by Chuck Raper waiting his turn and also using my helmet cam as I made the traverse:
The summit was a bit complex with two major small spots marked by a well worn
plaque and an ice axe with an Indonesian flag. The views were excellent on this mostly
clear and breezy day. I made my traditional call to Cathy, my wife, who had been
following me on the SPOT GPS tracker and then to my blog noting this was the 7th
of 8 climbs in the 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer's: Memories are Everything®.
The descent followed the same route but was more involved as we used those old
lines for rappelling and arm wrapping, I tried to use my legs as much as possible
and never felt comfortable until I touched the Yellow Valley floor.
Scott wanted to split our team of 7 climbers into two pushes so the next team
went the following night with 100% success as well. Then we stared the waiting game
for the helicopter fight out. Meanwhile, a new group arrived at the Lakes Base camp
including an Iraqi war veteran with a mechanical leg and only one arm. It had taken
them 9 days to reach the camp via the jungle trek. I have total admiration and respect for this
individual. They left for the summit, intending to take two days with a bivy on
the way up, as we left.
The Susi Air helicopter arrived within an hour of when they said and four flights
later we were all back in Bilogai A cargo flight arrived about 30 minutes after
our last flight so we jumped on it to take us up to Nabri where we spent the night.
The next day involved four different flights across Indonesian to reach Bali. On a
mission, I took a flight out that same night to Sydney for my final 7 Summits climb
So, what a climb! I thoroughly enjoyed the rock climbing aspect of Carstensz. It
actually reminded me of the Colorado 14ers, Capital Peak and Pyramid. I felt very
fortunate to have used the helicopter. Candidly, I had no desire to trek days through
the hot, humid, leach infested jungle; bribing the local tribes for access and dealing
with extortion oriented porters. Maybe because this was due to being gone from home
for 7 of the last 11 months climbing the 7 Summits; but I was overjoyed to ride in
the helicopter looking at the jungle.
Being in New Guinea reminded me that the world has a long way to go but that societies
get along just fine in their own way and there are many approaches to life.
If you dream of climbing mountains but are not sure how to start or reach your next level from a Colorado 14er to Rainier, Everest or even K2, I can help. Summit Coach is a consulting service that helps aspiring climbers throughout the world achieve their goals through a personalized set of
consulting services based on Alan Arnette’s 20 years of high altitude mountain experience and 30 years as a business executive.