Sights & Stories > Indonesia > Papua > Mine Tour


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Welcome to the Mines!

Freeport mining operation started back in late 1960s, with the discovery of Ertsberg. As this depleted, a follow on discovery of Grasberg rejuvenated this company, with the current reserve estimated for at least another 30 years. Grasberg is said to contain the world's highest concentration of copper and gold in a single mine. The open-pit mine digs from mountain top spiraling deeper, while the underground mine tunnels from bottom spiraling up, eventually will meet halfway. There are three ways of getting to Grasberg mine: by cable car/tram, driving through underground tunnels, and driving through HEAT road (Heavy Equipment Access Trail); This story covers only the first two.

papua_me_01.jpg (46928 bytes) From Tembagapura, mile 68, we drove further up to mile 74, passing Zangkam tunnel of 950m straight, arriving at the heart of mine support and processing facilities. We're taking tram to Grasberg.
papua_me_02.jpg (34786 bytes) The tram took us almost vertically up almost mile to elevation over 4000m above sea level, a land in the clouds and chilling air. As we ascend inside the tram looking down at the giant structures and facilities build on the rugged mountain terrain, one can't help but wonder how it all started, how those materials were moved and assembled, coming to such a complicated network. There are power plant, rock grinding facility called SAG Mill, waste processing plant and others.
papua_me_03.jpg (37541 bytes) At the end of the tram ride, we got out and boarded this bus to take us to Grasberg lookout point. The front part and engine of this bus is the same with all the trucks continuously scaling up and down the mountain transporting cargo, only the body is tailored to provide passenger comfort, with cushioned seats and safety belts, and heater!
papua_me_04.jpg (43649 bytes) Welcome to Grasberg Mine! Behind this signboard is an office building dubbed "Surabaya", housing support personnel. It supposedly got its name from the an early big shot coming from Surabaya, guess he missed home that much!
papua_me_05.jpg (32997 bytes) In the background is the Grasberg open-pit mine. The snaking white steaks are roads trailed by heavy equipments, mostly giant shovels and haul trucks moving the rocks. The pit is shaped like a big bowl with access roads spiraling downward as they dig deeper. On a clear day, we can see the glacier-topped Carstenz peak right ahead, the only glacier-topped mountain in the tropics.
papua_me_06.jpg (51983 bytes) In this workshop, giant haul trucks are assembled and maintained. The picture shows the front half of a new haul truck being assembled, its tire diameter measures twice my height.
papua_me_08.jpg (42445 bytes) One of the many entrance doors to the underground mine. Beyond this point, it's all dark and damp all the time. DOZ stands for Deep Ore Zone. Standard safety gears include safety shoes, vest with reflectors, helmet with torch light, glasses, and a can of oxigen hanging from the belt. Despite the good ventilation system, during heavy blasting in mining operation, the tunnels would be filled with smoke and dust. This is definitely one thing to observe before entering.
papua_me_09.jpg (27963 bytes) Almost all the tunnels criss-crossing inside the mountain are narrow and muddy with rough wall, like this one, and they all look exactly the same, like a maze. At narrow sections you'll see a light and a rope hanging down within reach. As you drive through, you're supposed to pull the rope, turning the light on the other side red, preventing vehicle from opposite direction to enter.
papua_me_10.jpg (20359 bytes) Around the underground training facility, the tunnels have been reinforced with concrete and installed proper lighting. How to get here? Beats me, even the regular tunnel rats like our guide sometimes gets lost inside this maze.
papua_me_12.jpg (27771 bytes) This is just one example of what is available in the underground, a complete training facility with classrooms and its own mess hall. There are other even better structures available, including a big mess hall with catering service for the miners.