Tommy Danger is the founder and CEO of the non-profit More Than Just Me. He is currently in the middle of a project called More Than Just Mountains to climb the Seven Summits (the highest peak on each continent) to raise awareness for Cystic Fibrosis. In this three-part series, his shares his unbelievable adventures climbing Carstensz Pyramid in Papua, Indonesia.
Life is something that most of us don’t fully grasp until we are in our twenties, thirties, or even years beyond. We expect to live a long life, full of happiness and love until one day we say goodbye to this beautiful world.
As I packed three bags for my trip to Australia and Indonesia, I had a completely different adventure on my mind. My wife, who would be joining me for a week in Australia, was six months pregnant with our first child. As I stuffed my down sleeping bag into a tiny compression sack I thought to myself: Am I going to be a good dad? Will my daughter understand why I do what I do? Will she love me as much as I love her?
This was a completely different outlook than my first trip to scale the Seven Summits for the More Than Just Me Foundation. As I headed to Africa to crush Kilimanjaro, I had the long-hair-don’t-care mentality of an unstoppable 31-year-old. I had just started dating my wife, Alyx, and being gone for a couple of weeks didn’t even phase me.
Three and half years later I worried about the amount of solar batteries we had so we could keep in constant communication with our loved ones. I wanted to make sure the blip that existed inside my wife knew I was always thinking of her and her mother.
From Dude to Dad, I was still an adventure junkie at heart, but I knew life wasn’t about the crazy ass traverse I was about to test my life on, but instead the crazy ass diaper I was about to change.
I didn’t have a choice this time. I HAD TO COME HOME IN ONE PIECE.
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We spent a quick week in Australia summiting the highest point before jumping on a plane to Bali, Indonesia to meet the coordinator of our next climb. Carstensz Pyramid, the fifth climb of our Seven Summit bid, stands 16,024 ft above sea level in the heart of Papua.
For this climb, John Burkett, Mark Nolan and I were joined by Jon Kedrowski, an experienced skier and climber going after his sixth peak of the Seven Summits.
Papua isn’t your normal climbing scene. We began our journey with a three and half hour flight from Denpasar, Bali to the small town of Timika, Papua where we exited the plane on the runway.
We loaded one small minivan with our bags and climbed into another with our guides, Romie and Loren. Locals from the island of Manado, they had more than 60 summits under their belts. In the local market, we began our search for the rain boots we’d heard so much about:
DON’T BRING RAIN BOOTS! They have perfect boots in Timika!
They didn’t expect the four of us to have such large feet. We needed European sizes 45-47, but the largest we could find were size 43. With a week of hiking through the jungles and rain forests to reach basecamp, we knew we would lose some toenails along the way!
Next, we took a single propeller plane from Timika to the tiny jungle town of Sugapa, landing our tiny plane on a single runway perched on the ridge line above the town. There we met a convoy of motorbikes, who took us to be documented, then to negotiate with local leaders about the taxes and tolls we’d need to pay to pass through their lands.
After navigating a series of tolls, we continued a terrifying ride up and down mountains, over trenches, and through rivers to a village where we spent the night. The next morning, we gathered our gear, and our guides selected the porters who would carry most of our gear for the next five days through the wet, muddy, and dense jungle. All thoughts of complaining about our cramped rain boots vanished when we noticed the porters would be carrying half their body weight barefoot!
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Our first day was a learning experience. We quickly learned that we needed to watch every single step we took in the jungle. There are zero soft falls in the jungle. The moment we looked up or even took our mind off our next step, we were on the ground.
After encountering a ten foot python, crossing a raging river, and falling countless times, we managed to arrive to Camp 1 with all of our limbs intact. When we saw the porters’ sleeping arrangements, we learned how much easier we had it. They threw a tarp over a wooden set up, and all of the porters would sleep on ground. They would build a fire within the tarp to smoke out the bugs, warm everyone up, and cook whatever they caught during the day. Yet, they were in higher spirits than any of the climbers. It was one giant family, hiking and working together.
All but three of our porters were women. Some of them carried their babies along with a load of gear, and every few hours we’d see them behind the other porters, taking a break to breastfeed their children. I honestly don’t think I can ever complain again!
When I asked Loren the following day if it was the norm to have women as porters, he explained that a big election was going on. The men were voting, so the women served as the backup porters for our expedition.
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On day two we pulled on rain boots that felt like they had shrunk overnight and began an upward hike across wet roots, knee-deep mud holes, and slippery rocks. Despite the frequent slips and falls, it was a good day. We only had one problem. The porters were tired and wanted to stop at an in-between camp before Camp 2. It’s typically used on the hike out, and it’s situated on a hill within the rain forest. The rocks, roots, and trees don’t create a very tent-friendly site.
The challenging terrain was equaled by the constant moisture. In an environment that renders Florida’s humidity laughable, it’s impossible to set up a tent still wet from the night before. Even dry sacks can’t keep the moisture at bay. Each night, John would lay his soaking wet socks over his bare chest hoping his body heat would aid the drying process. It didn’t really work.
As persistent as the moisture was, sleep proved elusive and short-lived. We’d sleep for three minutes. Wake up. Turnover. Sleep for ten minutes. Wake up. Stare at the blackness formed at the top of the tent. Turn to other side. Repeat. The higher the elevation, the more severe the beating on our minds, bodies and breathing.
Day 3 took us through flat lands and swamps. It was a nice change from the jungle, even if we lost a boot to the deep mud holes. Once again, we stopped for the night at an in-between camp.
The next morning the sun popped out, and the guides made delicious pancakes for breakfast. We took advantage of our elevated vantage point to break out the drone and capture the tree tops and constantly moving mist.
Then we were off to Camp 4. This is normally a short day so we made up the distance lost in the previous days. We hiked on ridge lines, through beautiful valleys, and across rivers covered in mossy rocks.
The gain in elevation gave us views for miles. The final push was through more soggy wetlands, but the slog was totally worth it when we arrived to the flattest and driest spot of the adventure yet. We were also given a view of two peaks that held a beautiful glacier between them. Behind these two peaks lay the goal of our expedition.
Though hidden, we could feel the presence of Carstensz Pyramid, and we were ready get to Base Camp! The rains stayed away, and we packed our gear and had another great start to the morning. We didn’t have to cover a lot of mileage, but we had 3000 feet of climbing before a 1000-ft descent into Base Camp. We gauged the climb by the lakes we passed on the way up.
We reached the first lake in no time, but then we had a big wall to climb. It wasn’t quite vertical, but there were definitely some class four spots where one slip would mean a long fall. The second lake waited at the top of the wall. As we hiked past and started climbing a limestone ridge, something new happened.
It started to hail. And all hell broke loose.
In Part II, Tommy describes the unexpected fallout from the storm.
Photos by John Burkett, Red Tide Productions