Wrapping up Indonesia

So as I’m sitting here trying to come up with the words to express how disappointing the last trip to Indonesia was and the attempt at the summit of Carstensz Pyramid, I’m reminded of the importance of life. I’m back home alive and have some incredible stories to share, and it was due to some dumb luck, yea, but also to some good decisions on my part.

While I was in Indonesia, I started a list of “things that went wrong” and started to get depressed, but I’m glad I did, because now I can type it out and laugh at everything because I had absolutely no control over all of these things and it’s only something that could have happened in a movie.

After booking the original trip of trekking to Base Camp (BC), it was cancelled because the villages we were going to trek through wanted more money and wouldn’t let anyone through. A week later, I was told we couldn’t trek in and had to go via helicopter, requiring more money (fuel for those things isn’t cheap), and a change in flights from America to Indonesia. A day before I was going to arrive, I was told the helicopter was broken and it wouldn’t be fixed for another week. Changing my flight, hotel, reservations, etc would be more expensive than going to Indonesia and staying at a cheap hotel because the helicopter “might be fixed” while I was in the country. Think that happened? Sigh.

So when I arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia (where the international flight landed in Indonesia and where I’d leave to get to Nabire (town where the helicopter was being “fixed”), I was told the heli would be just fine by the time I got to Nabire. So while there, I visited the local cancer hospital and shared my story with the children fighting for their lives as well as their parents and the adult patients… making the best of my time. I was in Jakarta for 2 days.

It’s expensive in Jakarta (it’s like NYC), and I found a flight to Bali for $50 and left the next day because it was MUCH cheaper there and I could leave from there to get to Nabire. I won’t even get into the internet problems with the hotel in Jakarta, but the hotel in Bali… well… I didn’t have one because everything was booked, but about an hour before I left Jakarta to get there, my friend (a travel agent in CA) found something for me.

While in Bali (we’re on day 4 by the way), I was told the “part” for the heli was ordered and would take about a week to get to Nabire. Later, I find out this “part” wasn’t anything like a “part” you’d expect. Maybe a spark plug, a rotor, anything but what it really was… the tail. Yea, the TAIL TO THE HELICOPTER!! Haha. So when they said “part” they actually meant “the helicopter itself.” So this “part” was going to get into Nabire in about a week and was an easy fix they said. Ok… no prob. My hotel in Bali was only for 3 nights because I was told the heli was going to be fixed by then. So I had to find another hotel (the one I was in was booked solid when my reservation was over). Hotel number 3 was nice, but didn’t have any mosquito netting to fend off any bugs with malaria. Sigh. No… I don’t have malaria, thank god. Anyhow… by this time I had no idea when I was flying to Nabire, but received a call after a few days at this new hotel and said we were leaving later that day to go from Nabire to Makassar (1.5 hour flight) to Biak (5 hour flight) to Nabire (1 hour flight). So I packed up my stuff to head out to another hotel and another city.

So I took off from Bali to Makassar, but in Makassar, I was told that all flights were booked to Biak and Nabire. (keeping up?) SO… hotel number 4, here we come. I was in Makassar for a few days because all flights were booked into Nabire (except another group managed to get 8 seats from Makassar to Nabire… hmmmm). While in Makassar, I was told the “part” for the heli got there, but they didn’t have the tools to put it on. Haha. Really? So a few days later (day 15 of the trip??) I was told the “part” was on, and there were flights to Nabire again. GREAT!! I’m heading over and going up the mountain because the heli was going to be fixed in a couple of days. I get to the Makassar airport and head to the gate for my 1AM flight to Biak where I was supposed to arrive at 6AM (2nd time zone change in Indonesia after the 12 from America), and the flight was delayed. I take a nap. Wake up… delayed. Nap. Wake up… delayed. Nap. Wake up and find out that the flight isn’t leaving until 6AM. By this time I had been at the airport for nearly 8 hours. Finally get an answer on the plane where they attempted to speak English and they said, “we apologize for the delay. The delay was due to reasons.” ………thanks. That clears everything up. I appreciate it.

Getting into Biak late, I luckily only had an hour before the flight to Nabire and it was a nice day. It was only 94. The entire time while I was trying to get to Nabire, we were also trying to negotiate using a different helicopter to take us to base camp. It was a Russian Kamov heli piloted by a crew of 4 Koreans. Through the negotiations, it was like that old “telephone game” where we’d say something in English to someone who spoke Indonesian to someone who spoke Korean. Hahaha… I give up. So we finally come to conclusions about the Kamov (basically price and the fact that we’d be “borrowing” it from a local gold mine), but there’s no fuel. So we try to get fuel, but get this… a couple weeks before, the country had a week-long holiday where people went to Nabire for vacation. The airlines ran more flights than normal to get the people there, but the week later, when they were trying to get people back home, they ran out of fuel because they didn’t plan for the extra flights. The fuel tanker comes by to sell them the normal weekly supply, they didn’t order more, the tanker didn’t have extra, so the people trying to get back home had to wait another week for the fuel and because of all that, we actually got fuel from the military in Biak to drop fuel in Nabire so we could use the Kamov heli. ….have I lost you yet?? Haha.

So after the fuel was “found” and after we could use the Kamov, they decide that the Kamov needed some sort of “anti-freezing” instrument placed on the blades because of the altitude. Great. Another part. Well that part was ordered, got there quickly (quick enough) but they didn’t have the tools to put it on either. Wonderful.

Back in Biak… flight finally takes off (it was delayed 5 hours) and I land in Nabire where I heard the smaller heli was fixed and was ready to go… GREAT!! But later find out that the heli IS fixed, however the Indonesian government wouldn’t let them test fly it until they had someone inspect it. …another 3 days for that person to get to town. In the mean time, the pilot for the heli isn’t even on the island and hasn’t come back from his vacation yet to do the test flight.

So back to the Kamov… fuel is there, crew is ready, we’re ready, part is finally on… we still can’t take the other heli, so we head up in the Kamov. After about an hour of flying up to base camp, we see it, but can’t land because the clouds are too thick and it’s too dangerous to land. We discussed us jumping out and the crew tossing us our climbing gear, but they weren’t too keen on that idea. So it’s back to Nabire.

Weather the next day wasn’t great, so we didn’t go anywhere and enjoyed the 103 temps with 100% humidity. I think one of my ears is a little lower because it melted a little and slid down my head.

The next day we attempted the base camp again. No dice. Back to Nabire again. We figured we’d try again tomorrow, but guess what… no fuel. We’re out. By this time the “inspector” for the smaller heli showed up and looked at the “part” they put on only to say, “great. Looks wonderful. Now take it off and put it back on in front of me so I know you did it right.” Sigh. Another 2 days of playing around in the jungle heat waiting on something that might not happen. In the mean time, we wanted to meet with the pilot because we heard he was going to be back on the island. We were told he was, we went to meet with him (but he was actually the co-pilot – pilot was in Makassar still on vacation). After meeting with the “pilot” as we were told he was, he mentioned something about the “part” being put back on the heli, but because it cracked, they had to wait for … I kid you not… the glue to dry. That’s about the time I figured it wasn’t in my best interest to go up this mountain and the signs (the numerous signs) were telling me it wasn’t my time and I should try to go home and return.

The next day I took off from Biak back to Jakarta, changed my flight out of Jakarta to a few days later (when I thought I’d actually get back to Jakarta), and spent nearly 10 hours in the airport trying to fly standby to get to Seoul to Chicago. Midnight comes rolling around, I sleep in the airport for a while, finally find a hotel, take a taxi there, check in, sleep for an hour or so, and get ready to head back to the airport again and fly home. That worked, and 2 days later I landed in Chicago.

Looking back at it, it’s one frustrating trip to say the least and I didn’t even cover everything that went wrong because this novella has gone on long enough. I did, however, get the opportunity to meet some incredible people and they have become some good friends...

Heli - 2


Internet problems

Happy ending

Makassar update

Trip to Nabire

Bali pt.1

Bali pt. 2


Hotel Secrets

Internet Problems

Chicken Liver


Hospital Visit Security

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Dont Drink the water!

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Dispatching from Seoul

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Day 9 Kilimajaro -- Summit reached!

Day 9 Kilimanjaro Climb

All of the CancerClimber team has reached the summit!

I’m sitting back in moshi, Tanzania right now getting ready for lunch and nodding away at the computer in the hotel. I’m tired. Very tired. Everyone is doing well. Everyone is fine. Everyone is happy. Everyone is glad to be off the mountain.

We all got to Barafu camp no problems. We hiked from Baranco through the high altitude desert to the last camp for about 7 hours. Once we got there, we rested, got some dinner and got ready for the summit push. We were awaken at 11PM for tea, some snacks and left Barafu at midnight for the summit. We had INCREDIBLE weather for a while, as there was absolutely no wind what so ever. We kept pushing through the night and kept going "pole pole" (pronounced POLE-eh) or "slowly slowly" as the locals say. The last camp was at about 15,200 feet and the summit is at 19,340. We hiked and climbed through the night fending off the sub-zero temperatures and just praying for the sun to come up early. Apparently Mother Nature didn't get that memo and the sun came up at the same time it normally does. Bummer. Anyhow, the sunrise... most beautiful sunrise anyone has ever seen. It started to crest the horizon, cracked out above the clouds and we started getting warmed by the rays. Truly God's country. From the time the sun came up, we had about 1 hour or so to go before we hit Stela Point. It was there that we all celebrated, hugged, got some warm tea, and could see the crater of the volcano. We could also see the summit and knew we had about 1 hour left. From here on out it was just a high altitude slog to the top. Once on the summit, I pulled out the Pringles, the celebratory Guinness, and I think 4 people ended up puking just from the thought. We snapped tons of photos, got the UICC flag out as well as the CancerClimber flag and headed back home (Barafu) to take a nap and rest up for the 3 - 4 hour hike to Mweka camp.

After climbing all through the night (8 hours and 32 minutes to be exact), then the 2-hour hike back to camp... well, let's just say the extra 3 hours to Mweka camp wasn't exactly ideal. All in all, it was about a 15 hour day and VERY exhausting. Ouch. From Mweka, we all had about 3 hours this morning to head to the gate and then back to the hotel where we are now... all waiting lunch, however something happened in the kitchen and we're not sure what to do since we just want to nap and sleep until next week.

I have a guest blog coming, but when we got to the last camp, everyone was so exhausted, no one wanted to do anything but sleep and rest. We only had about 4 hours to rest before we got up at 11 for the summit push and I thought it would be in everyone's best interest to just relax and not worry about that, so my apologies, however it was necessary.

Out of the group, 10 made it to the top. One didn't leave Barafu camp, another had to turn around due to some sever altitude sickness. HOWEVER... with all that said, every single person is happy, enjoying life, and ... well... glad to be back at the hotel. Everyone did an amazing job and I’m proud to call each and every person on the trip a true friend. Fantastic to say the least.

Tomorrow we are all heading out on a true "vacation" as it's the safari through the Serengeti, Lake Manyara, and the Ngorongoro crater. I’ll call in more updates and keep everyone abreast as to what's going on, but in the mean time... thank you all so so much for your support, your help, your prayers, and everything. It truly has been a magical trip and I want to do another one in about 9 months. Anyone interested in trekking to the summit of Africa and meeting the most incredible people in the world?? The folks on the trip who were guiding us up and who were helping with everything were more than fantastic.

Keep Climbing,

Sean Swarner


  1. Sean, so great to hear about the success of this climb!! Can't wait to be there with you to climb in 2010! Thanks for the time you took to keep us updated and make us a part of this adventure. Also, thank you for all you do to bring hope and inspiration to the world!

  2. Safe travels and hugs to all!

  3. Way to go! I am so happy for everyone! Reaching the summit is the goal, but sometimes all the "learning", both physically and mentally, are in the climbing. Glad a great time was had by all!

  4. Congrats Sean! What an amazing, inspiring, adventure for a great cause! I hope next year I can be a part of the journey!

  5. Sean,
    Congratulations on making it to the top! Good to hear you made it safely back at the hotel. This trip sounds amazing; I hope to be able to do something like it one day!