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It is of a mountain expedition that I am going to speak, but so much time was occupied in reaching the mountain range that mountaineering in the proper sense of the word will occupy but a small part of what I have to say.
A mystical mountain rises from the equatorial jungle of New Guinea. The mountain reveals itself infrequently; it is cloaked for all but a very few days each year by a thick gray mist to the south, and is guarded by a towering ridge of stone to the north. The natives living in the highlands to the northeast, the Dani, call it Dugundugu, which is also their word for ice. They believe the mountain offers strength through its ice, which is white, like the meat of their pigs. The natives living in the jungle south of the mountain, the Damal, call it Namangkawee, which means white arrow. They make their arrows from reeds with white blossoms, which appear to them like the crowns of snow on the mountain. The Indonesians, in whose territory, Irian Jaya, the mountain stands, call it Punjak Jaya, or "victory peak."
In Europe and America the mountain is called Carstensz Pyramid, after the Dutch explorer Jan Carstensz, who in 1623 descried it from his ship in the Arafura Sea. He returned to Holland to report that the mysterious mist which covered the interior of the island had parted one day, and far inland he had glimpsed "a very high mountain range in many places white with snow, which we thought a very singular sight, being so near the line equinoctial." His countrymen thought that Carstensz must have been mad.
Nearly three centuries later, in 1910, a British expedition set off in search of Carstensz Pyramid. In 15 months the party of 262, led by six explorers, inched 30 miles into the jungle from the southern coast—halfway there. Sixteen of the 146 porters died and many more were disabled by accidents, beri-beri and malaria. Upon his return, Wollaston, one of the expedition members, told the Alpine Club, "Even if we had spent twice that time in the country, I doubt if we should have come as far as the foot of the highest range." But he confirmed Carstensz' claim: a mountain of icy beauty does indeed rise from the island's perpetual mist, in fantastic contrast to the dark jungle around it.
Wollaston went back in 1912—"for my own peace of mind, if for no other reason"—leading an expedition that numbered 226. Like the first, it included a detachment of soldiers for protection. Said Wollaston, "I ought, perhaps, to explain that this apparently excessive number of men required for the transport of two Europeans for a comparatively short distance, and the subsequent huge bulk of supplies and gear, were made necessary by the nature of the country." For 92 days they trekked, stretching dwindling supplies and fighting diseases. Fog, rain, precipitous rock formations and a glacial ice field turned them back near the mountain's base.
Twenty-four years elapsed before the next assault. An 11-man party led by A.H. Colijn of the Netherlands hacked a trail from the southern coast to the mountain in four weeks, but failed in three attempts to reach its summit. But they had established contact with a mountain tribe, the Kapaukus. Wrote Colijn:
"They were all crowded together on the plateau, where they were dancing and yodelling like madmen, waving their bows and arrows, not knowing whether they should shoot or wait for us.... Suddenly they seized us and dragged us into their frenzied dance.... We screamed and danced with them like madmen, whirling our ice axes above our heads as they did with their bows and arrows. By this participation in their dance we captivated their hearts, however, and they then sat down beside us, fondling our hair and faces."
After World War II, missionaries, most of them American, came to New Guinea. Among other things, they built airstrips. In 1961 a party of climbers led by New Zealander Philip Temple landed on one of these strips, in the highlands northeast of Carstensz Pyramid, and trekked to the vicinity of the mountain in two weeks. They ran out of food while looking for a pass over the Noordwand, the 1,500-foot-high ridge that guards Carstensz Pyramid, and subsequently retreated, bitter and hungry. They had not even seen the mountain.
Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian climber who conquered the north wall of the Eiger in 1938 after eight men had died trying, went after Carstensz Pyramid in 1962. He recruited Temple; with air support and 115 porters they searched out a way over the Noordwand (which Harrer named New Zealand Pass) and climbed a western ridge route to the summit of Carstensz Pyramid. Its altitude: 16,023 feet.
It might be considered foolhardy, the way we came together to climb Carstensz Pyramid last summer. I had never set eyes on either of my climbing partners, Bob Shapiro and Geoff Tabin, before I landed in Jayapura, the only city in Irian Jaya, the western half of the island of New Guinea. The expedition was the dream of Shapiro, 25, of Chappaqua, N.Y., a biologist, who had just completed his second and final year at Oxford, where he had studied philosophy and psychology. Tabin, 24, a Chicagoan and Bob's friend and climbing partner, had graduated cum laude from Yale and had also studied at Oxford. They had met during their first week at Oxford, a university with a rich mountaineering heritage, and within a few days were climbing together on the sea cliffs of Cornwall. In January 1980 the two made the first free ascent of the Diamond Buttress on 17,040-foot Mount Kenya, which rises spectacularly from the east African plateau.