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Australasia, Irian Jaya, Carstensz Pyramid (4,884m), North Face, Root Matrix

Irian Jaya, Carstensz Pyramid (4,884m), north face, Root Matrix.

After summiting Carstensz, Charlie Mace, Erik Weihenmayer, and I had a spare day before a helicopter arrived to take us out. Erik graciously requested that Charlie and I try to establish a new route. Charlie decided on a line right up the middle of the 1,900' north face, trying to stay on the least vegetated terrain. In order to do that, we’d need to make a rightward shift half way up the wall. We hoped to start at 5 a.m. but woke to rain: not surprising, as this had happened seven of our nine days in the area. However, it stopped, and by 6:30 a.m., when we reached the foot of the face, the limestone was mostly dry.

We started up clean limestone between the 1972 British route and the 1973 American Direct. There were old ropes in place on a crack system 150' above, and we followed them. The second pitch went through an eight-foot roof that from below looked like 5.13 territory but turned out to be old school 5.9+. I left my pack under the roof and hauled it after; Charlie made it proud with his pack on. We noticed old webbing hanging from the roof just 20' to our right, possibly from the 1979 French route or the 1973 Bruce Carson (solo) line.

Seven hundred feet of 5.6 to 5.9+ on awesome limestone, runnel, tufa, moss, grass, threads, and various other whacky features, took us to a huge gravel ledge where we found evidence of a much earlier ascent: a Chouinard carabiner, an old-school aluminum canteen with green cloth, and old camera parts.

Four hundred feet of moderate climbing diagonaling 45° up and right took us to a point where we needed to make a 70' rappel in a gully to be able to finish up the headwall. After the rappel, 200' of climbing brought us beneath an amazing set of roofs. A sling hung from the far right roof crack, presumably from the American Direct, so I opted for the central crack, which turned out to be a slot/tunnel reminiscent of the Harding Slot. It was a crazy classic squeeze, and across the valley Erik could hear my grunts and moans. Once out of it, I yelled my head off with glee and relief.

Charley also radioed Erik to give the play-by-play of my spelunking. Charlie came up with less verbalizing than I, though his rain jacket and pants now have many holes. A few snow flurries and light drizzle threatened us on the remaining three pitches to the summit, which we reached at 1:30 p.m., six-and-a-half hours after starting. Our ascent probably used the American Direct for the last two to four pitches.

We have tentatively called the climb Root Matrix, because we likely crossed and joined two or more routes on our quest to stay on better terrain. There was another reason for the name: while hiking through the rain forest, we’d had to describe all manner of weird terrain to Erik, who can’t see. Often we used the term “root matrix” to describe the lattice of roots, moss, logs, vines, and sometimes soil that we passed over and through. Charlie said, “This is the type of climbing day I’ve trained for my whole life.” I concur: generally moderate climbing with adventure due to the unknown outcome; historical evidence of previous adventurers; challenging protection placements, but not so bad that you wet your pants; threatening weather but not deadly; total Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer climbing, with light-and-fast being mandatory; a beat-tired return to base camp, where a hot meal and good friends welcomed us back.

Hans Florine, AAC