Entries By alex van steen

RMI Guide Alex Van Steen Participates in Career Fair at Columbia Crest STEM School

Posted by: Alex Van Steen | May 21, 2014
Categories: *Guide News *Responsible Climbing

Yesterday, RMI Guide Alex Van Steen joined a host of other local professionals at Columbia Crest STEM School’s First Annual STEM Career Fair. The presenters who were invited to speak tied their professions directly into the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and encouraged the approximately 125 first through sixth grade students to see the connection between what students were learning in the classroom and what knowledge and skills professionals required in their careers.

The presenters included geologists, meteorologists, naturalists, biologists, veterinarians, computer programmers, science librarians and a variety of other environmental educators. While Alex tied his roles in environmental management, human resources management, and job place safety to the STEM program, the truly exciting part for the students came when they had the opportunity to put hands on all the climbing and mountaineering gear used for the mountain climbing demonstration. Students crawled around in tents and into -30 sleeping bags, saw short demonstrations of how camming units and pitons (yes, pitons!) worked, and some students even donned an 8,000 meter down suit. Big smiles, lots of questions and fun learning!

RMI Guide Alex Van Steen presents during the Career Fair at Columbia Crest STEM School. Photo: Alex Van Steen

RMI Guide Alex Van Steen Shares his Mountaineering Experiences at Columbia Crest STEM School

Posted by: Alex Van Steen | April 25, 2014
Categories: *Guide News *Responsible Climbing

Long-time RMI Guide, Alex Van Steen, visited a local second grade classroom at Columbia Crest STEM School as part of RMI’s Community Outreach program.  STEM schools, a relatively new concept in Washington State, have a distinct emphasis on hands-on learning and the integration of science, technology, engineering and math into student lessons. RMI has partnered with Columbia Crest STEM to bring our mountaineering experiences right into the classroom.  With Alex, the second graders studied the essential question, “What causes a volcano to erupt?” Students thoroughly enjoyed the lesson and learned ways to explain and create their own shield, composite, cinder cone and caldera volcanoes!

RMI Guide Alex Van Steen

RMI Guide Alex Van Steen with the Columbia Crest STEM School 2nd graders. Photo: Sarah Turner Columbia Crest STEM 2nd graders mix up a batch of jelly and kernel magma. Photo: Sarah Turner Alex Van Steen oversees the CC STEM 2nd graders building a shield volcano. Photo: Sarah Turner

Carstensz Pyramid: Creating the Sugapa Route Visitor Protocols

Posted by: Alex Van Steen | April 01, 2013
Categories: *Guide News *Carstensz Pyramid *Responsible Climbing

In February 2013, I spent several weeks in West Papua with the express intention of connecting with villagers who live along the trek followed by our Carstensz Pyramid climbing programs. I traveled with two translators - one a long-time friend who grew up in West Papua and the other a member of the Moni tribe, a man who truly has a good heart for his people.

I visited about ten villages and had numerous trailside chats. I spent many hours chatting (as well as eating, and playing soccer & table tennis!) and had opportunities to share our vision with various folks: government officials, village elders, tribal chiefs, pastors and school teachers.

The constant thread throughout the conversations involved villagers expressing frustration with tourists who came to “take photographs” and “take summits” but who did not (as it was described to me) “give relationship.” It is understandable that folks were upset when they weren’t paid as promised by unscrupulous outfitters or when they felt unsafe being asked to porter into the high country (the tribal peoples have not traditionally traveled above the jungles, see story below), but it truly resonated with me that when they felt most disrespected was when they were treated as if they were nothing more than pack animals. Quite frankly, they explained, why should they leave their tribal community and upset their daily lives only to be mistreated or underpaid?

The Moni name for Carstensz is Mbai Ngela. It means “Forbidden Egg.” The story is that in years gone by when the mountain was snow covered, it resembled an egg, and the fore-fathers forbade their people from going there because it was the hunting grounds of evil spirits and those spirits always killed those who ventured there. Even today, villagers have a very difficult time understanding the science of hypothermia and often will point to and tell of places along the way where the spirits have killed a poor wayfarer!

I knew that in order to eat this elephant, I would need to take it one bite at a time, so I started with small bites of “giving relationship.” I found that when I played soccer (which I am convinced is the lingua franca of relationship) with the local men and boys on village airstrips, that we had laughs to share (mostly at me tripping on the uneven surface!); when I offered to show folks photos of my family, they showed me their village (!); and for all my “otherness” (some folks, I was told,  had never seen white-skinned people), I was never denied the hospitality of a meal or a hut as respite from the rain.

Another small bite was the creation of the protocols (below) to be posted in a church along our route. The pastor in this village of twenty people, a good man named Atan, had initially wanted to run me off. I agreed to keep walking, but in deepening the conversation as to why, I learned that an earlier group of tourists had – in his word – “desecrated” the church by leaving garbage there. I whole-heartedly agreed that such practices were unacceptable, and offered to create protocols to instruct tourists how to behave. Through my translators I was able to build a simple list of what it would take for his village to feel respected. They fully wanted tourists to stop for the night but they also needed tourists to respect that privilege.

As I look forward to my next trip, I hope to take a few more bites of the elephant!


This church serves an important role in the community. Guests are welcomed to find refuge here and are asked respect the following requests. This will help ensure use of the building for future travelers.

• Please stay off of the raised area which surrounds the altar. This area is for local religious personnel only and it is considered offensive if others trespass there.

• Please keep hot water, stoves & cookware out of the building. This helps keep the area clean.

• Please hang a trash bag just outside the building to collect your garbage. Villagers will burn your trash for you.

• Because of the importance of Sunday worship, travelers should not expect access to the building on Saturday evenings or Sundays.

• Please do not use the church grounds or property for toilet needs. Ask the Pastor of the church where it is appropriate to wash and use the bathroom.

• Please offer a donation for your use of the church. This is an appropriate and considerate way of expressing thanks.

Download a multi-lingual copy of the Sugapa Route Visitor Protocols here.

Alex and Atan after creating and signing the protocols (Photo: Alex Van Steen). Villagers wishing Alex goodbye in front of their church on the morning of their departure (Photo: Alex Van Steen).

Hi Alex, Glad to see you are still at it and your spine is still in good enough
shape to climb the big ones! Not sure if you remember… read more

Posted by: Chris Mallory on 7/28/2013 at 6:59 pm

The RMI Difference in Papua: Preparations for our September climb of Carstensz Pyramid

Posted by: Alex Van Steen | March 20, 2013
Categories: *Guide News *Carstensz Pyramid *Responsible Climbing

In every part of the world where we travel, some RMI individual is tasked with developing & maintaining the quality program presented on the web. Whatever their role, that individual typically has a personal attachment, investment and history with the lands, mountains or peoples visited during the program. Their effort includes much more than simply creating an appealing itinerary and a glitzy web presence. The behind-the-scenes work includes addressing RMI’s environmental responsibilities, social responsibilities, and the development of solid logistical support, from understanding local customs to establishing a safety net. Most importantly, this effort involves building relationships with the local community, helping to ensure that we operate as partners wherever we travel with whomever we work. For Carstensz Pyramid in Papua, New Guinea, I get to be that individual.

The description of our program strikingly claims that we are the only outfit in the Western Hemisphere to partner exclusively with indigenous Papuans. Does it make you wonder how that came to pass?

Papua’s somewhat notorious reputation extends beyond the daily rain, and slick mud and logs of the jungle trek, and beyond the remote nature, sharp rock, and high altitude of the actual climb. And that’s already a lot! Truthfully, for those who research their objectives carefully, Papua’s reputation extends even beyond the uncertainty and flexibility required to visit an area where political tensions and security concerns exists. Shouldn’t you choose your outfitter most carefully?

In February I spent approximately three weeks in New Guinea’s “interior” with the intention not just to climb Carstensz Pyramid again, having guided a recent trip, but, as I enjoy saying, “I went to meet people.” Most of my time was spent among the Moni and Dani tribes of the highlands, but I also had the opportunity to shake hands with Indonesian government officials, Papuan regency representatives, folks with the Freeport mine, school teachers, pastors and missionaries, both Indonesian and expat, village elders, and even folks who were likely associated with the freedom movement (though that was difficult to tell because it seemed like politics was on everyone’s lips.)

I met a lot of people, explained what I was up to, and had many discussions with many people (with both tribal and Bahasa Indonesia translators helping me). Some folks expressed utter amazement that I was walking through their lands. This is predominantly because I was off the beaten path, i.e., not on the traditional, historical routes which have seen a good bit of use (and abuse). My presence also elicited appreciation (something I didn’t necessarily expect) because I was choosing to walk through the land rather than helicopter over it. Very practically speaking, people explained, flying over their lands excludes them from the benefits tourism can bring. I was already convinced that the model for sustainable tourism needed to include the indigenous peoples who inhabited the lands we wish to travel though en route to Carstensz, and spending all these weeks on the ground emphasized my sense for following socially responsible practices.

RMI’s commitment to Responsible Climbing pursues environmentally and socially responsible practices. This is simple enough to say, but a significant investment of time, energy & money is required to make good on those words. I have been told by many of the people with whom I connected in Papua, that my “relationship building” excursion (which included porter and trekking guide training, as well as discussions regarding tourist behaviors and expectations for each of the villages along the trek) was the first of its kind by a Western outfitter.

Sadly, the people of Papua (whether indigenous or Indonesian) have become accustomed to transactions which center solely around the exchange of money. I would suggest that for a tribal culture, where community is highly valued, to encounter trekkers & climbers with expectations to “take” home interesting stories, photographs and a summit, who repeatedly fail to “give” relationships, virtually guarantees a poor experience for both sides. I’m not trying to paint too broad of a picture because the truth is that each individual Papuan also wants what is best for his/her own person, family or tribe, just as we do in the West. I do, however, suggest that our social responsibility must encompass more than just paying porters well for work done well. Failure to build strong relationships will lead further down the present path experienced by many Western outfitters: where porters feel poorly treated and are sometimes not paid, and where tourists feel exploited and are sometimes extorted. Looking further down that path, do you wonder what it might look like? It looks just like the tensions which closed the route through Beoga years ago after hostages were taken. It looks just like the tensions which are currently threatening the Illaga route following a hostage/extortion situation in July 2012, or the abandonment and subsequent death of a sick Danish climber by a highly experienced outfitter. It looks just like an increasing number of operators who no longer have the option to peaceably travel through tribal lands and now offer helicopter transit up and over “tribal tensions.” And honestly, with some of the political and societal tensions which exist, unless outfitters work to develop relationships which are in line with indigenous tribal cultures, tourists will have no options other than to hire armed police or military to escort them through tribal lands. Wouldn’t it be more culturally and socially responsible to build relationships with the native peoples in which both parties collaborated to build a sustainable model of tourism? 

I encourage you to follow my blog at http://climbcarstensz.wordpress.com as I continue to share stories of what I have learned and of what we seek to build over time.   


Families invited us in for a traditional roast of vegetables, chicken and rabbit. Banana trees and lush gardens form the backdrop. Porter and trekking guide training included Moni and Dani men from the various villages through which we trek. I had the opportunity to visit both Indonesian and expat schools, from tekah (kindergarten) through high school, and several churches. This 10 year old girl made a special trip to offer me a large sweet potato – a most gracious gift!

Enjoyed this post.  One of the primary reasons I like to climb is the opportunity to explore and understand other cultures.  Reaching a summit is obviously awesome.  However everything that… read more

Posted by: Jon Morton on 3/20/2013 at 7:30 pm

Mt. Shuksan Fisher Chimneys

Posted by: Alex Van Steen, Jake Beren | October 05, 2012
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *North Cascades
Elevation: 9,127'

The final RMI EXPEDITIONS climb of our North Cascade’s season took place under excellent weather & high spirits. The three of us (RMI Guides Jake Beren and Alex Van Steen, with climber Jim Lumberg) enjoyed late season conditions. The chimneys, gullies and summit pyramid didn’t have an ounce of snow in them, making for absolutely fantastic & fun rock scrambling & climbing. On summit morning, we postponed our bid by an hour or two as rain threatened, but by the time we took off the skies were clearing and we enjoyed an improving day and stellar climbing. 

RMI Guide Alex Van Steen

Jim Lumberg on summit pyramid Photo: Alex Van Steen Summit! Photo Jake Beren Ascending the fun rock toward the summit Photo: Alex Van Steen

Carstensz Pyramid: Expedition Recap

Posted by: Alex Van Steen | July 19, 2012
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Carstensz Pyramid

As we descended the path leading to the Moni tribal village Ugimba, two men - wearing only traditional kotekas (penis gourds) and tribal markings and wielding large bow and arrow sets - stepped out of the bush and onto the path, raising their weapons toward us as they did so. Our hearts stopped, but just for a breath. A moment later two pairs of young women also stepped into our path. Equally modestly dressed in grass skirts and colorful jog bras – I guess that’s what I should call their tops – also with a variety of facial paintings and tribal markings, the women began a series of repetitive calls that sounded very much like an old style emergency alert siren. The sound that issued from them rang amazingly loud and clear and others, further toward the village, responded in kind, setting up a sort of path of sonic bread crumbs for us to follow. We were being treated to an entirely genuine and traditional village welcome ceremony, complete with dance and song.

The welcome committee, now growing rapidly as additional warriors, women and children joined in, guided us patiently toward Ugimba. Running ahead about fifty feet, then stopping to dance as we caught up, and all the while calling out, the six of us were soon engulfed in a small sea of Moni tribes-peoples. In the distance, even from entirely across the valley and opening meadows, we could see all eyes on us.

I asked Sara, one of the two teens on our trip - and a stalwart kid at that! - if she would like to lead. I was afraid that perhaps she was not able to see some of the traditional welcome ceremony as I was walking in front and blocking her view. I wanted for her to experience this as fully as possible since this was by far a most unexpected and exceptional experience. She responded, a bit reservedly, “Oh, I’m experiencing this!” And we were.

What a fantastic climax to our day of trekking through the heat, humidity and wetness of the jungle. We knew we had a lot to look forward to on this trip as we were engaged on an excellent adventure via a route that has seen few western travelers, with a two-fold goal: first, safely reach and return from the summit of Carstensz Pyramid and second, build relationships with indigenous people which would respectfully balance our visit with their way of life. This excursion represented our inaugural effort and we were full of hope that we might attain our goals. 

The village of Ugimba lies in the heart of Moni land in Papua, deep in the jungles of New Guinea. It is the deepest of the tribal villages; only immensely dense jungle and the high marshes and limestone plateau’s of the Sudirman mountain range lie further afield. We would travel this road less traveled en route to Carstensz Pyramid, the jutting high point of the Australasian continental mass (or the high point of Oceania as some call it.)

Six days of arduous trekking eventually led us to our Carstensz Base Camp at 13,900 feet alongside a pair of sky blue alpine lakes known as the Peacock Pools. Rising all around and above camp, amazing rock ridges and towers fought for our attention. If this were the U.S. Rockies or Cascades, the place would be inundated with routes. Here, however, only the most significant line of weakness on the highest peak – the original route – remained the solitary choice for climbers. (Sadly, we knew others had travelled here as plenty of garbage had been left strewn about Base Camp. We have since begun an initiative to help clean this beautiful area, and look forward to working cooperatively with locals and visiting climbers in the future.)

The climbing of Carstensz Pyramid is rather spectacular, with rock that just won’t let you go, even when it runs with rain water (and it rains every day.) The route initially climbs a series of 4th and low 5th class rock gullies before traversing along the narrow summit ridge and over several small notches, toward the summit. The climbing involves mostly scrambling, with dramatic exposure and a few short sections of mid 5th class climbing. Fixed lines and a Tyrolean traverse bypass many of the difficulties. Even with rain, fog and a bit of snowfall, and the altitude, it remains an imminently do-able adventure.

After a long day of effort, two of us - including 17-year old Sara - reached the summit, and all of us returned tired but unscathed. Still some distance from the summit, with the lateness of hour and deteriorating weather on our shoulders, Tuck and I, as guides, made the choice to split the team: Sara and I headed for the summit, with the expectation that we would catch the remainder of the team just before the Tyrolean, and rejoin to complete the descent. Even with more than two hundred high altitude peaks between the two of us, guiding thousands of climbers on hundreds and hundreds of climbs, decisions like this remind us that professional mountain guiding is a most serious profession.

Sara’s dad, Bill (who climbed phenomenally well), and I plan to return to Ugimba in the following six months to help the Ugimba Moni explore options for healthy community development. Bill and I were both strongly and positively impacted by the Ugimba people who helped make this adventure a reality for our team. As we continue to support the development of local enterprise and promote the rights of indigenous peoples both to develop tourism and maintain their traditional lifestyles and customs, we invite you to follow us. I will be posting monthly at http://climbcarstensz.wordpress.com.

RMI Guide Alex Van Steen

A Moni man and woman welcome the team. Photo Alex Van Steen. The team hikes through the thick jungle of New Guinea towards Carstensz Pyramid. Photo Alex Van Steen. The team prepares for summit day by testing out the first few pitches of the climb above Base Camp. Photo: Alex Van Steen. On the summit of Carstensz Pyramid. Photo Alex Van Steen.

I have seen the above comments that others has given and read the comments that describes about Carstensz Pyramid Expedition. I congrats you for proving the such a wonderful… read more

Posted by: Climb Carstensz Pyramid on 5/16/2014 at 3:26 am

Carstensz Pyramid: Team arrives back in Timika

Posted by: Alex Van Steen, Mark Tucker | July 07, 2012
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Carstensz Pyramid

Hello All,

We have just finished a fun dinner after returning to Timika late this afternoon. Admittedly though, the dinner, as delicious as it was, paled in comparison to a shower after all these days in the humid & muddy jungle!

This trip has been demanding in so many ways that the whole adventure is just that much sweeter now that it has ended. Mark Tucker and I are off to Bali for a day of body surfing (oh how I hate my job!) and then back to the U.S.

Thanks for following along.

All the best,
RMI Guide Alex Van Steen

On The Map

Sign Up For Carstensz Pyramid 2012 Email Alerts


Mark Tucker, good to hear that you’ve completed the summit list! I can recall hearing you talk about Aconcagua and my daughter, Erin, still has the small chip from the… read more

Posted by: Leslie Kelly on 7/13/2012 at 6:19 pm

McGahan clan… congrats to all of you!  Sooo proud!  I can’t wait to hear all about it!  Love y’al,  Coach/Mrs. Eubanks

P.S.  Katie… Are you keeping your backpack as neat… read more

Posted by: Amy Eubanks on 7/8/2012 at 6:48 pm

Carstensz Pyramid: Summit!

Posted by: Alex Van Steen, Mark Tucker | July 05, 2012
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Carstensz Pyramid
Elevation: 16,023'

Good morning, this is Alex Van Steen from the Carstensz Expedition. And my oh my, what a day we had yesterday. And here is the great word: RMI has summitted Carstensz Pyramid! We had a long day but everybody, despite being exhausted, did, really, really well. We all have a little bit of an altitude hack and the desire to head the other direction, but we are just loving this experience. I wish I could send photos via this dispatch, but they will be posted later. We’ve got lots of photos, and lots more stories. Stay tuned. Thanks, good-bye.

The summit ridge of Carstensz Pyramid.  Photo: RMI Collection RMI Climber Sara M. on the summit of Carstensz Pyramid.  Photo courtesy: Bill McGahan RMI Guide Alex Van Steen with climber Sara on the summit of Carstensz Pyramid.  Photo courtesy: Bill McGahan

RMI Guide Alex Van Steen with the Carstensz summit news.

On The Map

Sign Up For Carstensz Pyramid 2012 Email Alerts


Alex, I’m so proud of you!!! Good job. Love, your cousin-in-law!!! ;-)

read more

Posted by: Lynnette Rutledge on 7/6/2012 at 6:53 pm

Hey guys!!  So incredibly proud of all of you!  To celebrate your achievements today, Sophie and Kasey slept til noon!!!!You guys are all amazing.  Can’t wait to see the pics… read more

Posted by: Uncle Martin on 7/6/2012 at 3:51 pm

Carstensz Pyramid: Team Readies for Summit Attempt

Posted by: Alex Van Steen, Mark Tucker | July 04, 2012
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Carstensz Pyramid
Elevation: 13,900'

Mark Tucker checking in from the Carstensz Pyramid Expedition.  All is well.  We had a great training day today.  We climbed a portion of the route just trying to familiarize ourselves with the terrain and technique.  Our team is doing very well.  We were pleasantly surprised at the abilities of our group here.
So, of course, it had to starting raining.  We did start out in some clear weather but the spicket turned on and it is raining right now.  We are going to take a look at the weather starting about midnight tonight.  And at some point we’ll pull the trigger and give it our best shot.  Safety is our number one priority but we are going to push it hard and hope that we get a chance to make the summit.
We look forward to climbing tonight but for now, we have to get some rest.
Thanks for checking in.

RMI Guide Mark Tucker

A team ascending Carstensz Pyramid. Photo: RMI Collection

RMI Guide Mark Tucker checks in from Carstensz Pyramid Base Camp.

Sign Up For Carstensz Pyramid 2012 Email Alerts


Mark, so jazzed to see you are still climbing mountains! Pat is still in college (Theatre) and Erin is a librarian in Md. I am in Louisiana. Say hello to… read more

Posted by: Jessie Kelly on 7/12/2012 at 12:38 pm




read more

Posted by: ALESSANDRO (ALEX) on 7/5/2012 at 6:53 am

Carstensz Pyramid: Team Arrives Basecamp and Preps for Climb

Posted by: Alex Van Steen, Mark Tucker | July 03, 2012
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Carstensz Pyramid
Elevation: 13,900'

Good afternoon,
This is the Carstensz team checking in. We had a hike today into our base camp we got in pretty early this morning, and have spent the day getting ready for a prep day tomorrow.  So tomorrow we will probably climb 6 - 8 pitches of rock as a warm up for Carstensz which we hope to attempt the following day.  Things are going great.  We are well established at base camp. It is raining still but there are long breaks of good weather during the day. And we’re certainly hoping to take advantage of that. That’s it for right now. We’ll check in again tomorrow after we’ve done our training.  Good night to all.

RMI Guide Alex Van Steen

The climbing route on Carstensz Pyramid.  Photo: RMI Collection

On The Map

Sign Up For Carstensz Pyramid 2012 Email Alerts

More Entries