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  Carstensz Pyramid Seven Summit Expedition - October 2003

Mid - September 2003

We spoke frequently on the phone, (time zone made this very difficult), as he didn’t want incriminating information exchanged through an email. I needed to get a firm date established so I could arrange flights and my business schedule, but this was proving extremely difficult, it kept changing every few days.

My contact emailed me saying he’d been contacting his people in Timika many times but so far they still could not give him a final confirmation whether we can enter Timika on October 1st or later on Oct 6th. The night before he had told me he received information from Timika, which required us to revise our schedule to a later date as the Indonesian Army Force, had an anniversary that might cause their people to be very busy around the base for a few days. He was still hopeful it could work with our time schedule. I had a speaking engagement on Oct 16th, so I needed to be back on the 15th or leaving on the 17th.

My agent stated that because a date isn’t firm, I shouldn’t purchase my plane ticket until he got confirmation regarding a firm date of departure.

Every few days another tentative “firm date” would crop up and then have to be revised. Revised schedules, plans and commitments seemed to be the order of the day. I kept thinking how anyone who didn’t own his or her own business could work under this system.

October 2003

The Expedition was confirmed; I needed to be in Jakarta on October 19th fly out the early morning of the 20th to Timika. Airline tickets confirmed and paid, equipment packed, I was ready to go.

October 10th, 2003

I received an urgent email from Jakarta stating that I now had to be in Jakarta by the 17th to catch the 3.00am flight to Timika on the morning of the 18th.  I guess I should have expected this. I immediately called Jakarta learning that the Army Intelligence wanted us to be going through the mine on a Saturday night vs. a weeknight, as there was less activity during this period even though it operates 24 hours a day seven days a week. 

I scrambled into action, not only changing my flight, but also cancelling the Oct 16th speaking engagement I had booked, as I would now have to leave Canada on the 15th a few days away.  This would only be the beginning of situations to come.

October 15, 2003

I left Calgary, Alberta and arrived in Jakarta at 1.10 PM on the 17th, 27 ½ hours later. I was met by the agent’s representative and escorted to the waiting vehicle. It was nice to be back in a hot and humid climate. The one-hour drive to the hotel in Jakarta was slow and tedious, traffic crawling with dense air pollution and congestion that seems to make Bangkok’s traffic seem extremely fluid.

We arrived at the Ibis Hotel, I checked in, showered and went downstairs to meet the three climbers from South Africa who would make up the rest of the group. We would now depart the Hotel at 2.00am for our 5.00am departure to Timika, only 5 ½ hours flying time away, but a Stone Age in time.

October 18th


We touched down at the Timika Airport at 1.10am. The airport was built by Freeport Mine Company in order to bring in workers, equipment, supplies etc. We certainly stuck out like a sore thumb as we entered the terminal and waited for our gear to be off loaded. We were approached by Military Police, Airport Security, Mine Security and Army personnel, all of them asking the same question, why are we here?  We gave vague answers never alluding to Carstensz, but in reality whom were we kidding. I avoided their questions by having taking photos of them. There is no tourism in the Timika area itself, the only reason Westerners would be coming here is for Freeport Mine business or to climb Carstensz. Out of the 110,000 people living in and around Timika, 80,000 of them are non-Papuan who have come to work for the mine or min associated jobs. I am told they do not venture out of the town.

PT Freeport Mine

This mine is the worlds largest Gold and copper mine with an estimated 40+ Billion dollars in reserves, therefore it is very secure. The Indonesian Government has its hand in for 20 % and uses it’s army to patrol not only in the mine site but around it as well, keeping out so-called Rebels. Aside from the Indonesian Army you have Military Police, Freeport Mine security, and Airport security that are constantly on the lookout for foreigners or non-Freeport employees coming to the area. Indonesian Government's largest taxpayer is Freeport Mine, who on average pays out $180 million a year in taxes and royalties. Freeport employs about 18,000 people of which 5,500 are from West Papua.

Our agent had come over to Timika a few days earlier to make sure all the logistics were in place and going according to plan. 30 minutes after we arrived our agent met us with an Army escort, he hurriedly pulled us through the terminal exit into the awaiting vehicles. We were told to keep the windows rolled up so we wouldn’t be seen as we driving through Timika. We had arrived and it was only beginning.

We stopped for lunch 20 minutes down the road. He told us the plan was to get us up into and through the mine immediately so we could get to base camp by early morning. I finished eating the Nasi Goreng dish I ordered. It’s a very tasty Indonesian fried rice mixture with a fried egg on top. I would get to know this dish very well over the next week, maybe a little too well. We were met by an Army unit and transferred into two of their Land Cruisers, one for equipment and one for us, they would take us on our journey through the mine. These Land Cruisers were Army issue, two seats and a consul up front, three passenger bench seat behind with two side seats in the very back where we sat. It had blacked out windows all around, with a thin 6-inch high strip running across the driver’s windshield where someone standing outside looking in would be able to see into the vehicle.

We were off, crammed into the back of the vehicle working our way along the only road leading out of Timika. We had to get through six armed security checkpoints without being seen. We were again assured all logistics were in place, as it had all been arranged prior, but even so they explained the precautions we had to take. We first needed to get safely up to the Freeport mining town called Tembagapura, up at 6500 ft, taken to an Army safe-house, change to another vehicle which will take us through a mountain for 1 hr 15 minutes in an underground tunnel where we will again change vehicles just out of the tunnel, and then taken to the upper Army outpost shack at the top of the mine called Post Carstensz.

We sweated profusely as the sweltering heat in the back of this Land Cruiser was stifling, we couldn’t roll down the windows for fear of being seen and caught, and there wasn’t air-conditioning. We each drank litres of bottled water as we ascended from sea level to what would eventually be 11850 feet later that evening at the upper Army Outpost.

Throughout our drive, our agent told us interesting snippets of information about the mine and Carstensz. He mentioned how back in 1994/95 the mine had allowed climbing expeditions to pass through their property. This ended when journalists from Germany (unknown to the mine) filmed the mine site and distributed film and photos to the media around the world showing the environmental devastation that the mine had caused over the years. That ended the mines cooperation with climbing agencies except for a few rare circumstances where access was granted through high up channels in the US. 

He told us how the Mine has actually encroached upon the National Park, slowly excavating away these massive mountains. I was getting a condensed history lesson.

Our vehicle was being driven by an off duty army officer, we had his commander, a 2nd Lt (who along with everyone else will remain nameless) who was our agents top contact in charge of coordinating all the Army personnel etc. He would accompany us with four of his men to Base camp, protecting us from the Rebel forces who they frequently have firefights with.

Along the way we crossed a bridge and passed over silt infested river that carries to the ocean a continuous daily deluge of mine tailings. I couldn’t believe the amount of Mine and military vehicle traffic on the road, huge transport vehicles as well as these Land Cruisers. The road had started out smooth but as soon as we left the town it got to be very rough. We bounced around in the back of the truck  having to hold onto anything solid to stay on the seat and not crush the person next to you. The going was tough over this pot holed gravel road. We were three big guys and a smaller woman crammed into an area that might have been 4 ft by 4 ft square. We had been drinking so much water because of the heat, and now with the constant vibration we needed a pee break, luckily we stopped at a military outpost hidden off the road. We had stopped to pick up two more soldiers who would accompany us up to the mine.

We now had to don military clothing, caps, hats and jackets etc, to help camouflage us in the back of the truck. We were coming up to the most crucial security checkpoint at mile 50. I could sense the nervous tension in both the Army personal, 2nd LT and our agent. The windows are blacked out so that you cannot see into the back of the truck, but that didn’t relieve the nervousness that permeated as we tried our best to blend into the seats making sure not to make eye contact with the security guard who approached the truck as the driver rolled down the window 6 inches. Even though people had been paid off you never new what could or would happen next. We were certainly out of our element.

We made it through the first checkpoint with no problem, relief showing on our agent’s face, a big nervous released smile. Everything was cool and optimism was in the air. From this point on we started to rapidly gain altitude, it had started to rain, the inside windows started fogging up. I had been filming discretely in the back and was amazed at how these roads had been carved out of the sides and tops of these mountain ridges. Many times we were driving through rain and cloud perched precariously on a ridge that plummeted straight down on both sides. You honestly would have to be here to really experience what we were feeling, seeing and doing, this was out of a James Bond movie. We passed cascading waterfalls, shear cliffs and drop offs, thick rainforest, an amazing view to us all. As we looked out we pointed and gestured in awe of the scenery, we sounded like kids out for the first time.

The steep roads certainly were taking their toll on the driver and us. We were now nine crammed into the truck as it laboured up the steep grades, sliding us into each other. The driver would stall the vehicle out at times as he tried to down shift. I kept wondering how vulnerable we were in the back of this thing should he misjudge a turn.

We started climbing up a grade that appeared to be 20 degrees as we ascended about 300 ft every couple of minutes, passing through this beautiful rainforest and rock formations. We again had to stop for a pee break and came to an open level area that was shrouded in cloud and fog. We were parked at what was thought to be a hidden secure area, some mining equipment was scattered around, I got out to film. A few minutes later a couple of vehicles approached our location, myself an two others scurried back to the truck while another hid with a soldier behind a bin waiting for the chance to get safely back to the vehicle. I captured this event unfolding on film, all the time thinking how were we really going to get out of there, exposed, risking getting caught just because someone had to take a leak.

I thought how we should really all be using pee bottles in the back of the truck instead of risking being seen outside the truck. Little did I know what would come four days later.

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