Tommy Danger is the founder and CEO of the non-profit More Than Just Me. He’s 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. In Part I, the team trekked through dense jungles on the way to Base Camp before making their summit push in Part II.
Above, Mark Nolan pictured in Spyfire Jacket.
The morning after reaching the summit, we woke up, packed our gear, and broke down camp. By 8 AM, we were ready to roll, anxious to get over the pass and cover as much ground as possible before the rain started.
We didn’t see any porters outside, so I headed to the dining tent to see what was causing the delay. Three of the female porters were speaking to our guides in their local language while Mark stood near by.
On summit day, our guides sent the three male porters to get food and supplies from the mine, but they never returned. As they approached the store, men from a rival tribe informed them that a tribal war based on the local election had broken out in Sugapa (the origin of our adventure). Tribal wars continue until the death tally is equal on both sides. It’s a complicated, bloody process that can drag on and on.
One of the women looked at Mark, pointed in the direction of the town, and said “Sugapa” as she moved her finger across her throat in a slitting motion. The message was clear: If four American men went back to Sugapa during a tribal war, they would likely be killed. Even if we managed to dodge death, the tiny airport was closed.
We called Loren and Romie’s boss on the satellite phone. It would take 2-3 days to send a helicopter to Base Camp. We would need at least two helicopters to transport everyone (gear not included), and the rate was an exorbitant $5000/hour for the 6-hour round trip. With a dwindled food supply, we couldn’t afford to wait 2-3 days.
The forbidden Gold Mine was our only option, but it wasn’t without its own risks. On past trips, our guides had been arrested and detained for up to three weeks for trespassing. But, with no other viable options, we started the two-hour hike to the border. Our porters long gone, we once again had to double carry our gear. With each step toward the border, our trepidation grew. We had no idea what to expect.
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We made it the “Zebra Wall,” a 100-ft, striped overhang created by the mine. We stored our bags near the wall and went back for the second load. We were exhausted and suffering from the lack of nutrition, but we pushed on to get everything moved.
From the Zebra Wall, we moved our gear to a beat-up storage container, littered with glass and tile shards. We left our gear, and ventured deeper into the mine, eyes peeled for a security jeep to flag down.
Eventually, we saw a jeep, and we stood in line as the jeep roared toward us. The security guards were Indonesians, so Romie and Loren translated the situation. They told us to get in the jeep and took us to a security building even deeper in the massive mine.
After explaining the situation repeatedly to different workers and pleading to use the mine phones to call the Embassay, we were sent back to the storage container to sort things out on our own. With only the satellite phone to link us to the outside world, we hunkered down and started sending messages.
After hours of fragmented, frustrating messaging, we had a game plan. Our stateside support team reached the chief of police in Timika and organized a rescue team to arrive the next day. It wasn’t a guarantee, but it was the boost of hope we desperately needed.
We cleared glass from the storage container, spread out our sleeping bags, and tried to get some sleep.
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It was one of the longest nights of my life. In the middle of the night, a security jeep returned with food, water, and wood to help us stay warm. We finally got the fire roaring, and the flames fueled our hope that the rescue team would arrive in the morning.
It was almost 9 AM when three jeeps approached us. Our rescue team had arrived!
After a quick medical exam and some paperwork, we loaded our gear into the jeeps. We drove 30 minutes to a giant tram that took us down the mountain. From there, we rode in another set of jeeps to a small town outside of the mine where they checked all of our documentation.
During this time we met an American who worked security for the mine. We explained how we ended up in the mine, and he gave us some background on the tense situation surrounding the mine and the Indonesian government. It turned out things were not only heated in Sugapa but in the mine area as well.
The road between the mine and Timika had become increasingly dangerous over the last five years. Our new American friend wanted to make sure we made the final leg of our journey safely so he arranged special jeeps for the two-hour drive to Timika.
After a very long day, we made it to our hotel. Exhausted but happy, we toasted the end of our fifth summit bid for More Than Just Mountains. Nothing about the adventure turned out the way we expected, but in the end, we raised awareness for More Than Just Me and Cystic Fibrosis.
And I made it home in one piece to start my next great adventure: Fatherhood.
For more about the climb to Carstensz Pyramid, visit the More Than Just Me YouTube Channel.