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Disappointing Circumstances Force the Heroes Project Team to Make a Difficult Decision
Posted on December 15, 2011

Last month First Ascent Guide David Morton helped lead a climbing team from the Heroes Project, an organization that provides an adventure outlet—among other things—for injured veterans, to Carstensz Pyramid, a 16,000-plus-foot peak on the Indonesian side of the island of New Guinea. This is the third part of a three-part story. -EB Editor

Story by David Morton. Photos by David Morton and Ken Sauls


Base camp was a treat. Not because it’s really that nice. It’s not. But for the first time in quite a few days we had a rest day. It was well deserved and much needed. There’s nothing quite like a long slow morning for relaxing and reorienting.

But by noon it was back to the drawing board and trying to plan how we could pull off the summit in the amount of time we had left. We had one issue that was greatly affecting the plan. The porters apparently weren’t aware that not only did we need more days into base camp than usual, but we also needed more days for the climb as well. Surprise, surprise … they weren’t psyched.

We made a plan as best we could and rolled the dice. I went to the route to do a bit of recon that afternoon while the team organized gear. Back at camp that evening we discussed our plans and serious concerns about the issues particular to this trip. The main one being that most afternoons, and sometimes all day, it pours rain. Because of the nature of the rock and route, with that type of rain the ground turns into a river. The limestone slabs shed water in massive quantities. The drainage path is the route.

We would not be moving fast. Often the route is climbed in a day during the drier morning hours with a return the same day. If these rains are encountered on the descent, one is still able to get back to base camp to warm back up. For us, if we were out in the rains, it would be very difficult to quickly descend. Hypothermia quickly sets in being that wet. There was no question, we had to prepare for multiple days with shelter and stove.

Noah was game as always. He remained super excited about each and every prospect even if he harbored doubts about the climbing. How could he not? His experience climbing rock was relatively limited for starters and he has limited use of both his left leg and arm. Bringing his leg up and bending that knee is incredibly difficult on steeper rock. But there remained places he had to walk so he needed the knee joint.

We gained the base of the ridge with plans to climb up one-third or one-half of the route to an area we could put in a camp. It was impressive, though it was not fast. Noah used an undying amount of reserves to shimmy and slide along rock sections where he couldn’t get his leg underneath him. My respect was won over and over.

Noah and Tim spent the night in a tent on a ledge. Ken and I returned to base camp and would return the next morning early to begin again. At base camp we learned our porters had decided they had had enough. Most left and descended to lower camps. We had a quarter of our porters left. They would not wait for more days. We also were a bit under-equipped for what appeared to be an extra three days more than what we anticipated.

The following morning we returned to the camp and broke the news that we were out of options. We needed to keep the remaining porters in order to get out of base camp and we didn’t have the time or supplies to continue.

It was heartbreaking for all of us. There weren’t words to describe how empty it felt at that moment after such an amazing effort on Noah’s part. Truly, he was spectacular. He deserved every bit of a successful summit and the logistics were what stopped him. He would have gone for hours upon days. I’m certain of it.

Despite not making the summit it was an experience we could all be proud of. The decisions were appropriate and clear. We will return within the year. Tim is dedicated to raising the funds and we’re all dedicated to finishing the job.

No question Noah will “show up” in every sense.


Author: - Thursday, December 15th, 2011

  1. Greg miller

    It takes courage to turn back when experience and facts make it clear that something cannot be done. It is against our nature to “quit” but if you cannot make that call you are not a leader. You took your team out, made the best effort and brought them home safe. BRAVO ZULU!

    Greg Miller
    The Explorers Club

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