Author: Kurt Wedberg

Rarely formed ice climb “Widow’s Tears” Grade V WI5 successfully climbed!

The Widow's Tears looking in great shape from the Pohono Bridge in Yosemite Valley on January 14, 2013 one day before Trevor, Kevin, and Kurt climbed it.

On Tuesday January 15 Trevor Anthes, Kevin Daniels, and SMI founder Kurt Wedberg climbed the Widow’s Tears in Yosemite Valley, the longest continuous ice climb in the contiguous 48 states.  This ice formation located near Sentinel Rock needs a special combination of cold temperatures and ample running water to completely form ice from top to bottom. This only happens once every few years.  The recent cold snap in the Sierra created ideal conditions for this climb to form.

Anthes, Daniels, and Wedberg are all Bishop residents and long time friends.  Trevor is a professional photographer ( and manages the Mammoth Gear Exchange located on Main Street next to the SMI office in Bishop, Kevin is the CEO of Fixe Hardware, and Kurt runs SMI. Hearing that the Widow’s Tears had formed they dropped everything, packed their ice climbing gear, and made the long drive from Bishop to Yosemite Valley on January 14.  Colin and Molly Broadwater, founders of Bishop Crossfit where Kurt and Kevin train, closed the gym on Sunday while attending a conference on strength and conditioning.  For the workout of the day they posted “No classes for the people of CrossFit Bishop!!!  Git yourself outside and do something worth writing home about…”.   Although two days late this mission was accomplished!

The trio arrived in Yosemite Valley on Monday afternoon in time to scope out the route and make a plan. The forecast called for temperatures to drop to the single digits that evening and warm to 34 degrees on the Valley floor the following day.  Higher up in the shady gully where the climb is located temperatures should remain cold keeping the ice in perfect shape for climbing.  When temperatures warm up higher than freezing the ice conditions start to deteriorate.  The plan would be to get an early start and climb efficiently.

Approaching the climb by headlamp the team reached the bottom where they put on crampons, helmets, and climbing harnesses and began climbing at 5:45am.  Finding the ice in good shape Trevor took off on the first lead of the day and climbed efficiently over a curtain of ice and set up a belay on a ledge.  Kevin and Kurt followed then made their way over a snowy ledge to where the rest of the climb would continue. As Kevin began leading the second pitch it was just starting to get light enough to see without needing headlamps.  A “pitch” is a rope length of climbing.  Their ropes were 60m/198′ long.  The team’s strategy was to try and maximize each pitch using as much of the rope as possible while doing their best to find comfortable places to set up belay stances making it easy to rest while the leader climbed the next section of the route.

Kurt led the 3rd and 4th pitches.  Picking his way up the terrain he found a mixture of solid ice with a few hollow sounding spots which are to be avoided.  Careful route finding kept the team on good ice and got the team to the base of pitch #5.  Here the climb steepened where the ice was formed over a large almost vertical rock slab.  The team called pitch #5 “the money pitch”.  Kevin brilliantly led this long sustained section.  At the top he placed a secure anchor using three ice screws and belayed Trevor and Kurt up.

It was now Trevor’s turn to take the sharp end and lead pitch #6 that climbed over ice that started off steep then gradually backed off as it reached a ledge offering an excellent place for the team to take a short break for food and water.

Looking at the terrain above it appeared it would be two full 60m pitches to the top.   Kurt led pitch #7 which turned out to be almost as steep as pitch #5.  It was now mid afternoon and nearing the top of the climb the team found water dripping over the ice on parts of the route.  This didn’t prove to be a safety concern.  Air temperatures remained cold and this water was flowing from above where it was warmer.  It was however enough water to soak team member’s gloves.  Thankfully the team was prepared with spare pairs to keep their hands warm.  With rope running out near the top of pitch #7 Kurt spied a ledge 10′ above him.  He yelled down to Kevin and Trevor asking if he had enough rope to get there.  He managed to get to this tiny ledge with no rope to spare then set up a belay to bring the other two up.  By running this pitch out as far as possible it also assured Kevin would be able to reach the top when he led pitch #8.

Kevin efficiently led the final pitch over a mix of steep terrain, wet ice, and finally loose snow leading to a large tree where he set up an anchor to belay Trevor and Kurt up.   Reaching the top of the climb the team exchanged “high fives” for a job well done on a rare climb with a beautiful backdrop of the late afternoon alpenglow on the 3000’+ face of El Capitan.

A few pictures are below.  The entire photo gallery can be found here:

Widow’s Tears January 15, 2013

Kevin and Trevor with binoculars in hand scoping out the Widow's Tears on January 14.

Trevor with a pre dawn start begins pitch #1.

Kevin placing an ice screw leading pitch #2.

Kevin pondering some of his last moves high up on pitch #2.

Looking above at pitches #4 and #5.

Kevin climbing pitch #4.

Kurt and Trevor at the belay ledge at the start of pitch #5.

Kurt organizing rope while Kevin racks up at the start of pitch #5.

Kevin leading pitch #5. This proved to be the steepest part of the route. The team referred to this section as "the money pitch".

Kevin belaying Trevor on pitch #6.

Trevor climbing above a freshly placed ice screw on pitch #6.

Trevor belaying Kevin near the top of pitch #6.

Kevin topping out on pitch #7 with Trevor climbing behind.

Trevor approaching the small belay ledge at the top of pitch #7.

Trevor is all smiles at the belay ledge on pitch #7.

Kevin geared up and ready to start leading pitch #8.

Kevin leading pitch #8, the final pitch that ended at the large tree above right.

Trevor and Kevin psyched as they untie from their ropes at the top of Widow's Tears.


Afternoon alpenglow on El Capitan from the top of Widow's Tears.




After two days of hiking & Mule riding , Kurt, April, Alan, Andy & Scott make it to 4200m Base Camp. All are healthy and feeling strong. Rest day tomorrow and then they begin a series of training/acclimatization hikes on Wednesday. Below are some photos of the trip thus far.

SMI off to Aconcagua (6962m/22,841′), Argentina!

Morning alpenglow on Aconcagua (6962m/22,841')

On December 28 SMI guides April Mayhew and Kurt Wedberg met Alan Bagley, Andrew Burg, and Scott Evans in Mendoza, Argentina where they staged for an expedition to the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.  They spent the day securing climbing permits, packing gear, and organizing trip food.

On December 29 they started off from the trail head at Punta de Vacas at 2400m/7874′.  It will be a 3-day trek in to Base Camp at 4200m/13,747′.  Here is their planned itinerary:

Dec 29: Hike from trailhead at 7874 feet to Pampa de Lenas at 9514 feet

Dec 30: Hike to Casa de Pierdra at 10,630 feet

Dec 31: Hike to Plaza Argentina at 13,747 feet.  This is our Base Camp.

Jan 1: Rest day, take small acclimatization hike

Jan 2: Acclimatization hike, prepare loads for higher camps

Jan 3: Carry load to Camp 1, return to Base Camp

Jan 4: Move to Camp 1 at 16,732 feet

Jan 5: Rest and acclimatization day hike

Jan 6: Carry load to Camp 2, return to Camp 1

Jan 7: Move to Camp 2 at 19,127 feet

Jan 8: Rest and acclimatization day, prepare for summit bid

Jan 9: Summit bid

Jan 10: Extra day built in for weather/acclimatization

Jan 11: Extra day built in for weather/acclimatization

Jan 12: Extra day built in for weather/acclimatization

Jan 13: Return to Plaza Argentina Base Camp

Jan 14: Hike to Pampa de Lenas

Jan 15: Hike to trailhead, spend night at Los Penitentes

Jan 16: Drive to Mendoza

They will be calling in updates via satellite phone.  We will try to post reports as we hear from them.

Mendoza has a population of approximately 1.2 million making it the fourth largest province in Argentina.

Fountains light up La Plaza de Independencia, the largest plaza in Mendoza

Kilimanjaro Wrap Up December 16-22, 2012


Our latest climb to Kilimanjaro was another great success!  This trip with LA residents Heather Krug and Robyn Stern had been in the works for a year by the time we boarded a flight at LAX bound for Tanzania.  Upon arriving we spent adjusting to the time change, which is 11 hours ahead of California.  We took a walk through the forest near our hotel, ate lunch in the town of Moshi near our hotel, and packed for our climb.  On December 16 we drove to the park gate and started our seven day trek.

Kilimanjaro is the only place in the world where it is possible to climb through five climate zones in five days.  We started off in a jungle and a few days later we would be at the summit in an alpine environment that has snow, ice, and dirt but no forms of life at all.

While it is possible to climb Kilimanjaro in less than seven days this cuts short the crucial acclimatization process we need to adjust to the thin air we will be climbing in.  We try to average 1000’ per day above 10,000’.  This gives enough time for our bodies to keep producing more red blood cells that allow our circulatory system to carry more oxygen, which is important as the air gets thinner at increasingly higher elevation.  For many of our clientele Kilimanjaro (5895m/19,340’) this is the first time they have been this high in elevation.  Robyn and Heather’s training program included hiking peaks in Southern California including San Gorgonio (11,499’/3505m) and Mt. Baldy (10,064’/3607m).  Robyn had also climbed Mt. Whitney (14,508’/4422m) with us over the summer and Heather had trekked in New Zealand.

As we ascended through the different temperate zones the landscape and scenery changed with each one offering its own unique beauty.  At lunchtime on December 20 we arrived at our highest camp at 4600m/15,100’, which put us in position for our summit attempt the following day.  We had an early dinner and got to sleep well before it was dark because we had planned to leave for the summit at 11pm.  We would climb through the night and hopefully be high on the mountain by sunrise.

At a few minutes after 11pm we left camp bound for the summit.  We were treated to a warm, clear, and windless night.  Climbing at a steady measured pace we navigated by headlamp and were treated to a beautiful blanket of stars above.  We took a few breaks along the way for water and food and found ourselves reaching the crater rim of Kilimanjaro at 4:30am.  It was still dark and we were ahead of schedule!  Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano.  The top of it is a large oval shaped crater.  We reached the crater rim at an area called Stella Point at 5737m/18,821’.  From here it takes 45 – 60 minutes to traverse around the crater to its highest point they call Uhuru Peak at 5895m/19,340’.

Once we hit approximately 5500m or 18,000’ we have half the oxygen that is present at sea level.  Climbing in this rarified air requires 1-3 deep breaths for each step we take up hill.  We took a 10 minute break at Stella Point then started off on the last push towards the summit.  As we neared the top we could see the first evidence of sunrise out to the east.  We reached the “Roof of Africa” at 5:30am!

We spent a few minutes taking summit photos and enjoying the view as it began getting light enough to see around.  The weather was cold with a slight morning breeze beginning to pick up.  We were bundled up in several warm clothing layers including our puffy down jackets.  At 5:55am it was time to begin our descent.  As we retraced our steps we were treated to the awe inspiring view Kilimanjaro always offers of the sunrise over the African plains!

Heather and Robyn are now off on a game viewing safari to unwind after a great adventure.  Thanks to everybody at home for your loving support and prayers during our climb!!

Below are a few pictures.  The entire gallery of photos taken during the trip can be viewed here:



December 16: Robyn, Kurt, and Heather at the start of the Machame Route on Kilimanjaro.

Heather and Robyn hiking through the jungle en route to Camp 1.

Our porters carrying loads on day 1. Our Chagga staff carries most of our gear so we can carry light day packs.

The jungle environment is rich with exotic plants and wildflowers.

Our tents at Machame Camp, Camp 1 at 3000m/9842'

Afternoon tea and popcorn at Camp 1.

Kilimanjaro from Camp 1 on the morning of December 17, day 2 of our climb.

Robyn psyched on the trekking and scenery on day 2.

Heather taking in the views at a water break during our trek to Camp 2.

Camp 2 at 3864m/12,620'. The peak in the distance is Mt. Meru, a satellite peak of Kilimanjaro.

Heather and Robyn hiking on December 18, day 3 of our climb.

Kurt and Robyn at our high point on day 3; Lava Tower at 4610m/15,170'.

Kilimanjaro's Western Breach Wall from Camp 3 at 3940m/12,926'

Lobilia plant near Camp 3. There are five varieties of lobilia. Their distinguishing feature is the leaf structure funnels water into the center of the plant where it can drink it as needed.

Kurt, Heather, and Robyn saddled up and ready to hike on day 4.

Giant Senacio plants near Camp 3.

Late afternoon light at Karanga Camp, Camp 4 at 3930m/12,893'.

Heather, Kurt, and Robyn at Karanga Camp on the morning of day 5. Heather decided to descend from here and not try for the summit. After saying goodbye Robyn and Kurt ascended to high camp and Heather returned to our hotel.

Sunset at Barafu Camp, Camp 5 at 4600m/15,100'.

Robyn dressed up and ready for summit day!

High on the crater rim of Kilimanjaro at dawn. Seeing the sunrise over the African plains is one of the most breathtaking events to witness in Africa!

Robyn's summit photo with the sign that sits atop the highest point in Africa.

December 21, 2012, 5:30am: Robyn and Kurt on the summit of Kilimanjaro 5895m/19,340'

Kilimanjaro Team Reaches Summit!


At 5:30am on December 21 Robyn Stern reached the summit of Kilimanjaro with SMI founder Kurt Wedberg.  They reported beautiful weather for their summit day, clear skies and little to no wind.  Stars were out in full force. They descended to Mweka Camp at 3100m/10,170′.  They plan to sleep here tonight then make the final 3 hour trek to exit the mountain tomorrow.
Below are some pictures.  More stories and pictures are coming soon!  Congratulations Robyn and Kurt!

Greetings from high camp at 15,100′ on Kilimanjaro!

Since our last update we have been moving steadily higher putting ourselves in position for our summit attempt tomorrow.  Along the way we have seen amazing scenery and experienced everything from sunny days to rain.  Sitting here at high camp we have a clear day with clouds forming below us.  Our spirits are high and we’re very psyched to be ready to attempt the summit in the morning.

Our plan is to wake in the middle of the night and hike by headlamp with the intention of getting close to the crater rim at sunrise.  We will then traverse the crater rim to Kilimanjaro’s highest point they call Ururu Peak at 5895m/19,340′.

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we attempt to reach the “Roof of Africa”!

Below are some pictures depicting the last few days…. Enjoy!

Kilimanjaro Team Reaches Camp 1

Greetings from Camp 1 on Kilimanjaro at 3000m/9842′.  After a good breakfast at our hotel we drove to the park gate at 1800m/5905′.

Kilimanjaro is the only place in the world where it is possible to pass through five temperate zones in as many days.  Locally they name these zones as follows:  Cultivation Zone, Jungle, Moorland, Sub-Alpine, and Alpine.  Our climb today took us through the Cultivation Zone and into the upper end of the Jungle Zone.  We had a little rain today as we walked.  This made the jungle smell fresh and sweet.  The canopy overhead gave us partial protection from the rain.

Although Kilimanjaro is not known for having an abundance of animals it is possible to see a few neat forms of wildlife.  There are also several varieties of wildflowers including the Kilimanjaro Inpatients.  The jungle surrounding Kilimanjaro is the only place in the world where this pretty red and yellow flower grows. Look for more coming soon!

Kilimanjaro here we come!!

Kilimanjaro (5895m/19,340') from near the village of Moshi, Tanzania.

On December 14 SMI founder Kurt Wedberg arrived in Tanzania with Heather Krug and Robyn Stern.  Robyn is a Creative Director who’s biggest account is Purina and Heather is the CEO at Bear Grylls Ventures.  This trip has been planned for close to a year now.  Many hours of planning, conditioning hikes, acquiring gear, and rearranging lives have gone into the preparation for this climb.

December 15 was spent acclimating to the Tanzanian countryside and getting prepared for a 7-day climb to the Roof of Africa beginning on December 16.  We will try to keep you updated on the progress of our climb as often as possible.

Here are a couple pictures from today’s adventures:

Heather and Robyn taking in the scenery on a walk through some local rice fields outside the village of Moshi.

A local Tanzanian carrying hardwood from the forest behind. He will use this for heating and cooking in his home.

Bananas growing near the rice fields. There are an estimated 80+ different types of bananas grown in East Africa. Some are used for cooking and others can be peeled and eaten.

They harvest rice twice each year in these fields. In the foreground a local farmer is tending to groups of starter plants that will soon be transplanted to the empty fields behind.

Rice farmers pause to greet us as we walked by their plot of land. The people in Tanzania are some of the friendliest people we've met anywhere in the world.

Tanzania is abundant with over 1400 varieties of beautiful flowers.

Tanzanian children from the Chagga tribe are always a joy to be around. Today they enjoyed following us on our walk.

Kurt cutting open a fresh mango. Sampling the local fruit is one of the fun fringe benefits when visiting Tanzania.

Kurt climbing a vine in the forest.

A Black & White Colobus Monkey yawning high up in a tree in the forest.

Kilimanjaro looming high above our hotel. We're excited to start up it tomorrow!

Kurt Wedberg Climbs Carstensz Pyramid, Completes the Seven Summits!

September 23, 2012: Summit photo on Carstensz Pyramid (4884m/16,024'). From left to right: Esther Kim, Vanessa O'Brien, Andrea Cordona, and SMI founder Kurt Wedberg.

SMI founder Kurt Wedberg just returned from Indonesia where he guided a climb of Carstensz Pyramid (4484m/16,024’).  This is a write up of the trip as told by Kurt…

On September 15 I boarded a China Airlines flight at LAX bound for Jakarta, Indonesia.  I was meeting three ambitious ladies who intended to climb Carstensz Pyramid located deep in the jungle on the island of Papua.  Carstensz gained notoriety in the international mountaineering community in the 1980s when climbers started including it as one of the coveted “Seven Summits”; the highest mountain on each continent.  Carstensz Pyramid is the highest mountain on the Oceana continent.  Previously this continent was limited to Australia making the highest peak on this continent Mt. Kosciuszko (2228m/7310′).

Carstensz Pyramid (4884m/16,024') located on the island of Papua, Indonesia.

Access to Carstensz Pyramid is one of the biggest hurdles to climbing it.  The island of Papua is still inhabited by several native tribes who see very little contact with people from the outside world.  Two of the biggest tribes are the Dani and Moni.  Since we would be traveling on their land permission needed to be granted for us to walk through their territory.  We also needed their help with hiring porters to carry our gear, fuel, and supplies for 12 days in the jungle.

Kurt Wedberg with a Moni tribe elder in the town of Sugapa, Papua Indonesia.

Some of our porters from the Moni tribe in Papua.

Our team met in Jakarta on September 16 where we organized our equipment.  We then flew overnight to Timika on the island of Papua.  The weather was hot and humid in this town located a short distance from the coast.  From Timika we took a charter flight to the village of Sugapa.  Here the weather was slightly cooler but the equatorial sun was piercing and bright.  At Sugapa we arranged for Moni tribe members to porter our loads and prepared to start walking.  We would be trekking past the historical boundaries of the Moni territory and it was important that we had them with us.  The trailhead was accessed by riding on the backs of motorcycles along a dirt road for 20+ minutes.

The village of Sugapa and the runway located deep in the jungle on the island of Papua. Airplanes are their only connection to the outside world.

Moni tribe members discussing our route through the jungle and the porter loads they would carry during our trek to Carstensz Pyramid.

Esther and Vanessa on the backs of motorcycles that will take us to the start of our route. It was about a 15 minutes motorcycle ride over a dirt road.

On September 17 we began our trek.  Over the next 5 ½ days we planned to hike 100km/62 miles to reach Carstensz Pyramid.  On Day 1 we passed by several Moni villages.  It rained hard at times and we quickly learned that two of our most important pieces of equipment we brought were our thick rubber Hunter boots to trample through the mud and an umbrella.  We stayed in the furthest village along this path at 1991m/6532’.  From here the trail became less defined.  On September 18 we traversed a hillside to a large river that we paralleled for most of the 7 hours of walking.  The terrain varied from solid rock to thick mud.  Rain returned after lunch and made our path significantly muddier plus rocks and tree roots became more slippery.  Even with high top boots our pants got caked with mud.  Our camp was pitched at 2276m/7467’ in a small clearing amid thick jungle foliage next to a large roaring river.  Nearby was a creek of clear running water that provided a nice place to wash our pants and boots.  Even after these first two days it became obvious that trekking through the jungle would be hard work.  Every single step requires thought and effort.  Relaxing mentally even for one step is recipe for losing footing on the muddy wet slippery terrain.

Andrea, Esther, and Vanessa traversing a muddy slope on September 18, day 1 of the trek.

A fence made of local wood along our trekking route in a Moni tribe village.

Huts in a Moni tribe village.

Moni tribe members discussing our route for day 2, September 18.

Muddy boots on September 18.

One of many log crossings over a river.

Our camp in the jungle on September 18. At each camp we draped a tarp over a wooden frame to give us a dry place to cook and eat meals, plus give us a place to hang out away from the rain.

On September 19 our goal was to get high enough to reach the top end of the thick jungle environment and start entering a large plateau.  Our porters had a camp in mind that offered a good water source and flat terrain for camping.  The path continued to deteriorate throughout the day.  The footing became more slippery, the mud became thicker, and we found ourselves grabbing mossy tree branches to surmount steeper sections of the route.  In the middle of the route we passed a small “village” consisting of one hut and a family.  They were friendly and let us sit on the grass outside their hut and each lunch.  Weather remained warm and humid.  The clothing of choice was long pants and long sleeves for abrasion protection from plants but clothing that would offer breathability to prevent overheating.  I wore a pair of loose fitting and comfortable Patagonia pants and a wool Icebreaker short sleeve shirt.  I was the only team member who chose a short sleeve shirt.  I managed to keep my arms from getting scratched too much but the other three were happy to have worn long sleeves.  I was truly impressed with how well wool garments performed here.  The insulating properties of wool allow it to have a much wider temperature range than any synthetic material I’ve ever used.  In my pack I kept two heavier Icebreaker wool layers in case I needed arm protection and additional warmth.  The day wore on and by late afternoon it became apparent we were running out of water and no camp was in site.  Soon after our water ran out we also started losing our daylight.  We found our pace slowed in the darkness in spite of us donning headlamps.  We kept walking following our porters path finally reaching our intended camp at 3222m/10,570’ in the dark after 10 ½ hours of walking.  Tired and dehydrated we counted it a big blessing we were relieved of dealing with rainy weather while hiking today.

Our porters crossing a large river. these log crossings were numerous in the jungle. Our bare footed porters moved with ease over these wet slick logs. A fall off this log would have sent anybody into the swift fast current below with a water level several feet high.

Andrea crossing a bridge made from small and medium size branches held together by vines wrapped around small branches laid in cross sections at intervals along the bridge.

Close up photo of vines and cross sections that hold the bridges branches together.

A moni tribe member using a machete to clear jungle foliage to aid in hunting.

A Moni family and their hut in the middle of the jungle. With great amusement they teach Kurt how to use their hand made bow and arrow they use to hunt.


Negotiating the terrain in the jungle.

The team pauses for a photo during a rare sunny morning on the plateau above the jungle. The team hiked for two days over this plateau reaching an elevation as high as 3808m/12,493'.

A typical day of rain on the trail. It rained every day of this trip and with the exception of a couple days it rained during our walk. An umbrella was an invaluable piece of gear for this trip.

We woke on September 20 after a good night of welcomed rest and rehydration.  We’re now half way to our Base Camp for Carstensz Pyramid.  Over the next three days we would gain elevation and the terrain would open up offering us views of the surrounding hillsides.  We hoped this would signal an end to the mud but no such luck!  Instead of mud mixed in with tree roots and slippery rocks we had mud mixed in with wet marshy patches that would deceivingly not support body weight.  A misstep here could mean sinking in past the knee and water entering our boots.  My socks got wet each day regardless because Hunter boots are not breathable.  This is where I found my wool Icebreaker socks to be invaluable.  They would dry out at night and during the day they performed well regardless of how wet they got.  If our socks weren’t getting wet from inside the boots or from a misstep in the marsh they would get wet from the rain that came down heavy at times over the next three days.  Since we were out of the thick foliage of the lower jungle our umbrellas were easier to manage.  Arriving at camp each night with muddy boots and pants and soaked clothing we spent the late afternoons trying our best to clean up and get warm and comfortable in our tents.  We put in camps at 3569m/11,709’ and 3717m/12,194’ before reaching our Base Camp on September 22 at 4330m/14,205’.  Arriving at mid afternoon we had time to organize our climbing gear and prepare for our climb of Carstensz Pyramid in early morning.

Vanessa negotiating mud on September 22 en route to Base Camp.

September 22 en route to Base Camp. Heavy rain lasted most of the day. Now at higher elevation the temperature dropped from the warm tropical climate to much cooler requiring team members to wear a couple layers of clothing underneath their rain gear. We reached an elevation of 4500m/14,763'.

September 22: Kurt at the high point for the day at 4500m/14,763'. The last thing Kurt purchased for this trip was an umbrella from K-Mart in Bishop. This proved to be his favorite piece of gear!

Base Camp at 4330m/14,205'. Carstensz Pyramid, which was shrouded in clouds all day, is located out of the photo to the right on the other side of the ridgeline.

Our mountain was sitting in a cloud above us with rain soaking the route all day.  Finally by evening time the rain quit and revealed stars through partially cloudy skies.  Our strategy was to leave early, climb efficiently, and hopefully reach the summit by early morning.  We hoped to be on the summit and descending before any precipitation began.  Although it can (and did) rain at any time day or night the odds in the mountain environment usually trend towards less precipitation in the mornings and more in the afternoons.  Just the same we carried our umbrellas for the one hour approach and left them at the base of the route.

The rock on Carstensz Pyramid is hard limestone.  The abrasive nature of it meant it would be hard on our clothing but it also provides a lot of friction making for good hand holds and solid purchase for our feet.  The rock is also not very porous and therefore doesn’t absorb water.  Thus even after so much rain the rock was dry as we started up the route at 3:30am.  The climbing consists of scrambling on terrain anywhere from 3rd class up to low 5th class.  Fixed lines have been placed over the years on various sections and these were in varying degrees of wear.  My job on this climb was to keep these ladies safe, negotiate the most effective route, and coach them on the most efficient techniques to climb.  I checked the integrity of the lines and the anchors and as we got into the rhythm of moving we found the climbing to be very enjoyable.  As daylight approached we found ourselves high up on Carstensz Pyramid approaching the long summit ridge we would traverse.  A few 5th class moves led us to the ridge where we turned left and moved to the most exciting part of the route; a Tyrolean Traverse approximately 30m/98’ long over an airy and exposed spot on the ridge.  The challenge of a Tyrolean Traverse revolves around more mental aspects than physical.  They are usually wildly exposed (hence the need for employing this technique) and intimidating to trust at first but once you start on them it is just a matter of moving across the lines and before you know it you’re on the other side.  I rigged everybody with two safety backup systems and we clipped into five different ropes offering plenty of redundancy and piece of mind.  The remoteness of where we were was not lost on any of us!!

Vanessa feeling out her moves on a small chimney on the lower part of the route on Carstensz Pyramid.

An easier area of the climb in between 5th class sections.

Vanessa climbing a 5th class pitch directly below the summit ridge.

Esther getting close to the summit ridge.

Andrea enjoying a 5th class pitch on the route.

View of the surrounding landscape at 5:45am from high up on Carstensz Pyramid.

Esther and Andrea traversing the summit ridge below the Tyrolean Traverse.

Vanessa started the Tyrolean Traverse.

Andrea on the Tyrolean Traverse.

Esther on a small "step across" on the summit ridge.

Traversing the summit ridge of Carstensz Pyramid.

Esther and Andrea high on the summit ridge of Carstensz Pyramid.

One by one we made it across the Tyrolean Traverse then continued traversing the ridge line.  A couple more impasses were encountered that required stretching across smaller expanses but with good backups and carefully placed hands and feet these posed little problems for the ladies.  The terrain then got easier for the last few minutes leading to the summit.  Vanessa and I found ourselves slightly ahead of the rest.  I surmounted a small notch and looked up 40’ above me and realized that was the summit.  I turned to Vanessa and told her to scramble on past me to the summit and she could be the first to stand on top and I’d get some pictures of her.  She obliged and made the final steps towards the 5th of her Seven Summits!  Shortly afterwards the others joined us on the summit.  We were blessed with intermittent clouds and clear skies offering an occasional view, pleasant temperatures, and no precipitation.  We exchanged summit photos and hugs and made a couple calls on our satellite phones before it was time to descend.

Vanessa on the summit. This was the 5th of her Seven Summits. She is scheduled to go to Antarctica to attempt Mt. Vinson in November and Aconcagua in Argentina in January.

Esther elated to be on the summit of Carstensz Pyramid.

Andrea poses on the summit with the Guatemalan flag. This moment completed not only her Seven Summits but also the Adventure Grand Slam which includes the North and South Poles. She is the first female from Central America to accomplish the feat. Congratulations Andrea!!

Kurt standing on the top of Carstensz Pyramid reaching the final of his Seven Summits!

Kurt calling on his satellite phone from the summit of Carstensz Pyramid. Within minutes of reaching loved ones with the news of their successful summit an announcement was posted here on this blog.

Carstensz Pyramid summit photo: Esther Kim, Vanessa O' Brien, Andrea Cordona, and Kurt Wedberg

Retracing our steps we made it across the summit ridge and started down as light snow began to fall.  It was wet and melted upon touching the rock.  As we descended further the rock got increasingly wet until small streams were flowing down crack systems all around us.  Our gloved hands got soaked but each step brought us closer to the bottom.  Many rappels and short step downs brought us to the base of the route where our trusty umbrellas awaited us.  As the rain picked up in intensity we hiked back to our camp.  We had snuck in a successful ascent of Carstensz Pyramid and we were happy for that.  It would be another four days of trekking through mud and rain retracing our route back to Sugapa.  We managed that and in the process completed an amazing adventure on a remote and distant island in an exotic land with an experience I’m sure the team will remember for the rest of our lives!

On a personal note this was a truly rewarding experience for me.  As a professional mountain guide at SMI our goal is to keep our clients safe and help them achieve their intended goals.  Along the way we continue to make many new and dear friends.  All those missions were accomplished here.  It also completed my own Seven Summits journey.  It began 20 years ago in July of 1992 when I was a young assistant guide on my first expedition to Mt. McKinley (20,320’/6193m), the highest mountain on the North American continent.  SMI is now positioned to guide climbs on all seven continents.  I’ll share more on the journey to the Seven Summits soon.

I want to extend a big thank you to Andrea, Esther, and Vanessa for sharing such an incredible adventure on Carstensz Pyramid.  I also want to thank my family and dear friends who have been so supportive of me throughout my guiding career.  Finally, a special thank you to all of our clients who we continue to share so many incredibly memorable experiences with.  We look forward to seeing you back and to all the new people we will meet along the way.  We already have many trips lined up for the next coming year and we hope to see many of you on one soon!

The entire photo gallery from this climb can be found here:  Carstensz Pyramid September 2012



Summit Photo from Carstensz Pyramid

Kurt Wedberg just arrived back to Jakarta, Indonesia after 4 days of jungle trekking to return from the summit of Carstensz Pyramid.  Many more photos and stores will be following soon.  For the moment here’s a summit photo taken on September 23, 2012.

Summit of Carstensz Pyramid September 23, 2012. From left to right: Esther Kim, Vanessa O'Brien, Andrea Cordona, and SMI guide Kurt Wedberg.