Thursday, 27 June 2013

Rainbow Summit 4 - Kosciusko and Carstenz (2 for the price of 1)

For an introduction to Cason Crane’s Rainbow Summits Project go here and here.

I know it says Kosciusko and Castenz in the title of this article but Cason’s 4th summit attempt was actually on Mount McKinley Denali in Alaska. Preparing for the climb Cason was in good spirits, but the expedition was overshadowed by the deaths of 4 Japanese climbers on McKinley Denali in an avalanche on 15th June 2011, the day before he set off for the mountain. The weather was not good. Cason and his tam managed to reach High Camp but were held back from reaching the summit by the snow storms and winds.

Undoubtedly disappointed at not reaching McKinley Denali’s summit Cason was determined to return a year later so he could complete his Rainbow Summits Project. I’ll give a more detailed account of the aborted climb in a couple of days.

Almost as compensation, Cason’s next expedition was to climb two summits, as there are two different mountains listed as the highest in Australasia/Oceania. One lists Kosciusko in Australia as the highest, but the other list gives the Carstenz Pyramid on the island of Guinea as the highest in Australasia. Cason decided from the start of his project that he would climb both to stop some mountaineers saying he didn’t climb the “right ones”.

From Sydney, Australia, Cason set off for Kosciusko, about 300 miles south west of the city in the Great Dividing Range. Having a relatively low summit compared to the other Seven Summits meant that Kosciusko is most likely to be the only one on either list that was successfully climbed long before Western/European climbers even knew it was there.

Cason was held up for two days in the ski village due to bad weather, but once it cleared it was an afternoon stroll to the summit in comparison to his other climbs. He managed the whole trip up and down in less than 4 hours on 8th August 2012. But that isn’t to say that it’s no less dangerous than any other mountain.

After the relative ease of Kosciusko Cason headed out to Bali to meet his mother Isabella who would join him on his expedition to Carstenz Pyramid, twice the height of Kosciusko.

Even if Bali sounds exotic and romantic, the actual island where Carstenz is located is more challenging. For a start you have to track through dense jungle for up to ten days before you reach the actual mountain – there’s no other way to get there. Of course, the local population may seem challenging if you are unprepared for the culture shock. There are still some tribes of cannibals in the jungles of Guinea, not to mention rebels prepared to kill foreigners in their fight for independence from Indonesia.

The arduous jungle trek to the summit of Carstenz began in earnest on 17th August. A good omen was the sight of an actual rainbow arching out of the jungle. It not only filled Cason and Isabella with optimism but was also a good omen to the native porters (who can get quite confrontational if not paid enough, apparently).

It wasn’t until three days into the dense jungle that the expedition got their first view of the object of their quest, Carstenz Pyramid. The name makes it sound man-made but its not. Its made of limestone, a type of rock not normally associated with mountains. Usually, mountains are made of much harder granite or other igneous rock.

After battling through the jungle and the rain for several days the group reached Base Camp (actually higher than the summit of Kosciusko). The nature of the rock from which Carstenz is made means that the summit is shaped differently and is reached by means of sheer climbs and several crevasses. Cason admitted that this was a worrying aspect of the climb but he was excited at the air of true adventure. At one point there’s a 25 meter gap, across which a wire stretches. This is the only way to get to the summit.

Reaching the actual summit came almost unexpectedly to Cason. On reaching a large lump of rock after a vertical climb of 50 meters he realised there was no wire or crevasse before the summit – because he was actually there! Within ten minutes the whole of the expedition, including Cason’s mother Isabella, were celebrating reaching the summit on 22nd August 2012.

The Carstenz expedition was a highlight of the whole Seven Summits project. Cason was fascinated by the different culture, the “other worldliness” of the jungle section of the climb. It was in total contrast to Cason’s next summit, where he’d be lucky to see anything living at all, on the highest mountain in Antarctica.

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