Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Carstensz Summit Day - Thurs. Sept. 25th

The alarm goes off at 1:ooam and the difficult task of crawling out of the warm sleeping bag begins. The few articles of dry clothing are already on, headlamps on the helmets and climbing harnesses are secured tightly. After a quick breakfast and final preparations, we left Base Camp at 2:30am. Approximately one hour later, we reach the first of many (at least 20) sets of fixed lines. My headlamp pierces the darkness above to reveal the near vertical pitch we are expected to scale. After a careful scan for available handholds, I quickly realized that "The Claw" would be in order here and attached it over my right glove. Next I clipped my ascender to the rope, attached my safety line and started climbing. Higher up, some up of the handholds were few and far between so The Claw turned out to be a big help. Despite the unsophisticated manufacturing technique, The Claw performed without failure. The rock was very sharp, like nothing we had ever seen before and this was a blessing as well as a curse. Great for handholds and The Claw but bad for clothing and flesh. As we got into a rhythm, we racked up the vertical feet and reached the summit ridge just as daylight was illuminating the thick cloud cover surrounding us (foreshadow of weather in store for us).

Not long after we came to the feared "Tyrolean Traverse". Just like the opening scene from the movie Cliffhanger, we stared at the ropes spanning the void of 75 feet or so above a massive drop that would result in certain death if the ropes or our harness failed. Fortunately, there were four ropes set by previous teams so the odds of a successful crossing were greatly improved. But who was to go first to test them out? Poxi, our guide and cook (most valuable member of the team) clipped his locking carabiner to the four ice-encrusted lines and began to pull himself across hanging from the ropes as the ice broke off which created an impressive spraying effect. After safely reaching the other side, the rest of us followed with varying degrees of grace & confidence. I never knew that our sweet Polish friend Ania had such an extensive vocabulary of American curse words....and she made full use of them before, during and even after the famed "traverse".

We encountered a few more "gaps" that required a prayer and a leap from one rock to another above drops of several thousand feet (all with our safety lines attached Mom!). And finally, the summit peak was in view and at approximately 9:00am we stood atop the highest peak of the continent of Oceania!

Injury Report for Summit Day:

Denise - Left upper arm hit by tumbling boulder knocked loose from climber above. Also, blow to the left knee against sharp rock. Additional bruises / cuts on various body parts.

Paul - While rappelling down in snow and rain (wet ropes don't slide through a Figure 8 nearly as smoothly as dry ropes) smacked right elbow against sharp rock wall. Sliced open large v-shaped flap of meat soaking entire right sleeve with blood. Should have required stitches but given our remote location it was not an option.

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