2005 Expedition Carstensz

To bring discoveries in the world of nature to the general public, Slovak documentary filmmaker Pavol Barabáš has crossed high mountains, polar landscapes, wild rivers, inaccessible jungles and torrid deserts. Until recently, though, he had never delved underground... 

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Expedition Carstensz

Czech -Slovak mountaineers battled through the hard jungle from naked natives through icebergs to the highest peak of the mountain between the Himalayas and the Ands - the Cartensz pyramid.

The day got more and more sultry, nothing helped, the ghost of the Snow Hills warned the expedition. One thing was for sure. If they hadn’t ward off the rebellion, they would not have any carriers left. Although the slim men are not able to carry heavy things they can still carry something. Promises made 4500 meters above sea level became less important. The power of money won even in the gap in New Zealand on the highest peak of the crossing through the central mountains of New Guinea. Under the menace of using bows, the participants of the expeditions gave them their last dollars. The carriers turned round and took to their heels. Their decision was also sealed by the heavy rain. The base camp was thanks god very close. The rest of the journey to the bottom of the Cartensz pyramid, the most inaccessible hill of the world, the men had to carry their bags themselves, without any help.

Snow caps above the primeval forest: The natives of the Damal tribe are not used to the winter and the cruel whether. They pass the whole life in the tropical forest in compliance with the nature. White limestone mountain have also been a big secret to them, where grows nothing and lives no one. They are inaccessible, unbeatable and cold. And still, some of them venture out sometimes and they set off for a long trip to the south of the hill. We don’t know exactly what the reasons for they wanderings are: maybe they just want to find a new stone for their axes, maybe they are only curious. Even John Cats who grew up in New Guinea does not know their reasons exactly. His parents had been missioners in the field called Highlands. He is getting to know them his whole life. “Last week I went for a trip through the mountains to the Tembagapura region. After 5 days of wandering I found five of our natives lying in the snow-covered mountain pass. The Papuans who accompanied me already knew what happened. It snows, rains, the weather is bad, but the nearly nude natives have not enough food, got cramps and dye from exhausting. The other men have not enough energy to carry them down. The dead bodies stay there thanks to the snow and the cold intact for several years,” tells the missioner to the members of the expeditions before recruiting the first carriers in the Damal settlement. The Carstensz pyramid had not been found for many years. The last was a group of French mountaineers who stopped and returned in the middle of their journey. The jungle toiled them so much that they failed psychically. The most inaccessible hill of the world had one other catch - surat jalan.

Permission: Every year several expeditions try to mount the highest peak of Australia and Oceania covered by glaciers. Normally it’s useless. They don’t get the permission. West Papua, the Indonesian part of the Papua-New Guinea Island has no rules. The Indonesian government controls the movement of foreigners in the whole country. For the stay in the country, you need surat jalan, what literally means the permission to walk - a piece of paper with names, photos and many stamps. It’s a very important start of a chess game with nature standing between permission and the peak of the Cartensz pyramid. As many pawns as possible had to joins the battle - friend and family of Rudo Svaricek, the traveler who fell in love with New Guinea so much that he comes here regularly every year. He has to spin the machinery of “diplomacy” involving much time and money. “The most important world peaks have their own price. If you want to go to Kilimanjaro, pay 500 dollars, if you want to reach the 8000 meters peak pay 10-thousand dollars, if you want to master the Everest, you need twice as much, “explains Rudo, who knows the situation, mentality and the language of the natives quite good. The mountains of the West Papua are even more complicated. The most complicated is Carstensz pyramid, the highest hills between the Himalayas and the Ands. It shoots up in the region of stone axes, voodoo and former cannibals. The entry into the bowels of Irian Jaya has a different price each time, but it’s always fearfully expensive, but unrepeatable and unique.


Naked carriers: The capital of West Papua - Jayapura lies in the gulf of the North coast at the foothill of the Kyklop Mountains. Jayapura - means the victorious city, and the meeting point for all roads of the inland. The only way to approach it is by plane. Small planes ensure the transport between the city that starts to be flooded by the civilization and the last wilderness on our Earth. The pilots still have white spaces in their maps. The relief of the areas of the mountainous land covered by tropical jungle is still much unknown. The airports in the middle of the mountainous jungle look spooky. Plane crashes are not rare. On the day when the expedition arrived the son of the pilot had a crash. He survived luckily. Only the plane is a ruin now.

Bob Roberts, an American pilot working for missionary stations is a real professional. New Guinea enthralled not only him, but also his friend, the leader of the expedition Rudo Svaricek. He is a magician in the air, although originally a dentist. The expedition will fly with him to Beogy. From there the only possibility to go further is to walk. The Carstensz pyramid is a teaser. “300 meters of climbing ropes, pitons, carbines and other mountain-climbing material, food, equipments necessary to survive, water filters, cameras,” names Palo Barabas only a fragment of the things the expedition had to carry through the Jayawi Jaya , mountains under the Carstnesz pyramid. Level 6 of the rock-climbers qualification tells a lot about it. It is evident that the key assistants on the roads were the carriers.

White clouds and mist spitted out Bob’s plane in the village called Beoga. Papua means in Indonesian language bahasa - curly hair. The men of the local tribe, the Damalas wear it too. They hair is in a net made of orchids, they penises are hidden in typical shorts, the only clothes they wear. In the surroundings of Boega the men pierce their noses with bird beaks. The Damalas are tough warriors. In the inland mountains the opposition to the Indonesian government is the strongest. The supporters are trying to gain independence from the inland. „Will they be good carriers? “, asked our men. The most important person in the settlement is kepala desa, which means major or chief. He often comes from a different location and speaks Indonesian. He advised us a few men who already walked through the snow-covered mountains. But there are only a couple of them who remember the way there. „We got 14 carriers and one big problem. Food. Damalas are hunters, they don’t make provisions. Finally also other natives followed us on our way. These carried batatas for them, a kind of potatoes, the only one they can cultivate there, “says documentary filmmaker and director Pavol Barabas. After visiting the last village Mugulip, the men entered into a different world. Uninhabited, unchastely and steep valley of Big water.

Damned mud: marked the trip of the adventurer for the next few days. The terrain of the ridge, limestone rocks, the steep slopes and water coming from everywhere was nearly impassable. The term time was now divided into two. The first from east to west was reserved for life; the second belonged to ghosts and magic. „The jungle is not about the heroism of the individual, it is a common battle of all expedition members. The expedition (that becomes thanks to the people taking part on it) an unforgettable experience.” The words of Pavol Barabas come true in the most difficult moments.


The men followed the tracks of the barefooted natives running through a very unclear vegetation. They started loosing them because they were not able to walk faster. Every step could be fateful. Men wearing rubber boots were drowning in mud that wanted to swallow their feet by force. They had to concentrate even it was very hot, nearly 40 degrees and the everlasting tropical rain. They were marked by the insects, the wounds caused by the jungle made them weaker and weaker. The marched from dusk till down, slept on all possible places. The distances in jungle were not measured in steps, nor kilometers, they were measured in days spent with walking instead. It was not easy to get over the rivers. The heavy loads and the strong stream could cause a real tragedy. They had to improvise a lot: stretching ropes and carry the people and luggage over the river. „That is the worst thing ever happened to me,“ says Paľo. The Big water valley was a difficult trip. The men were gradually loosing energy. After 4 days of exhausting marching a magic world of Mesozoic opened in front of them.

Plató Kembalo: They were out of the primeval forest. In front of them there was the mountain savannah, the unique plateau called Kembalo was. It was fecund with fern growing only on this place on Earth. The view at the Big Water valley only strengthened this freedom. The reward for all the precious bothers in the jungle. Fern tree - 4 meters long tree ferns looking like huge palms created the perfect illusion of Mesozoic. Only the prehistoric animals were missing. “The coulisses of the primeval ages are ready. We would not wonder if a dinosaur would outrun us. Ancient animals are a part of this country,” says Pavol Parabas.

Gradually, the Maoke Mountain - snow hills, rocky towers covered with snow uncovered in front of them. The rampant vegetation was getting lost, only the rocks stayed untouched. The rain changed into wet snow. The nearly naked carriers, the barefooted natives left after the dangerous looking revolt. Looking from this mountain pass in New Zealand the group of adventurer had an unbelievable view. The rocky cliff of the Carstensz pyramid with the iceberg took their breath away. “The first who saw it was the seafarer Jan Carstensz in 1623. He could see the whole summits from the Arafur Sea situated 80 kilometers by air line. No one wanted to believe what they saw: ice above the tropical jungle not far from the equator. Allegedly the crew had been beaten up and eaten by cannibals, describes Rudo. The peak of the Carstensz pyramid stayed untouched until 1962 when the Austrian explorer Heinrich Harrer mounted the peak. Harrer became famous as a man who spent 7 years in Tibet. Immediately he mounted Ngga Pulu and said that these are the most beautiful hills on Earth. The highest peak in Australia and Oceania are marked on maps as Puncak Jaya, the Victorious Mountain. The information about its height diverges. Officially it is 4 884 meters, but the Carstensz pyramid is a bit higher if you look at a map. The natives say it climbs up to the skies. Under its cliff the expedition has built its basic camp. The next day the 4 expedition members reached the peak of the pyramid. Adolf Eliáš, Pavel Bém and the mountaineers Vladimír Zboja a Láďa Nosek who already stood on the peak of Everest says. „Carstensz pyramid is full of beauty and wonderful emotions,“ says Rudo Švaříček. Together with Palo Barabas they fulfilled the promise and on the highest iceberg they made a little snowman. The return to the civilization was waiting. The time of the return was much closer than they assumed.

Gold mine: Their packed up their rucksacks on the morning. They had to carry down all the things 14 men exhaustingly carried up. Because the natives ran away earlier than they arrived in the base camp, they had to figure out the way back. Rudo was talking about the rocky cliffs in the Idenburh valley. “The last natives live in caves in harmony with the nature. Maybe they could help us to carry the heavy loads.” But he could not anticipate that things have changed. The natives had to leave their unique cave homes. They found out the reason for it only later. On the place where the nature of Mesozoic lost the battle with the latest mining technologies. They were chased out by the most profitable and most controversial gold and copper mine on Earth that took possession of their territory. Giant machines are thundering there today gnawing the less accessible terrain 4000 meters above sea level.

Paľo Barabáš was filming secretly. But it is not sure whether the mine will get into the new film he is preparing. It will be about a rocky pyramid towering over the tropical jungle. Rudo tried to get the permission to transit the most guarded region of Indonesia, through the veiled places hiding raw materials for hundred billions of dollars. As soon as they found out that it makes over a million dollar daily, they felt like crying. No one dared to predict the future of this place situated a few days of walking from the tribes living exclusively from the edibles offered by the jungle. Western Papua is becoming the Indonesian Siberia, a source of minerals and raw materials. Indonesia does not perceive its east province as a last unique nature reserve but as a large finding site of natural sources. And the natives stand in their way.

Článok z Plus 7 dní, autor: Juraj Sedlák

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