Author: kurt_hunter

Nice end-of-season climb on Washington state’s Mt. Olympus last week.  Lead guide, Terray Sylvester, provided this report:

We made the most of challenging conditions last week on Mount Olympus’ Blue Glacier Route.

The trail to the route follows the milky Hoh River through the massive trees of the Hoh Rainforest for about 17 miles to Glacier Meadows campground, just below the foot of the Blue Glacier. It’s a uniquely beautiful approach, but since the Hoh Rainforest gets 12 to 14 feet of rain each year, it can also be a bit wet. We had rainy weather both days of our hike in, and for that, we all carried golf umbrellas. Maxfli isn’t a brand you often see on a mountaineering rack, but those umbrellas kept us dry each day until we climbed into our tents. For backcountry comfort, they were some of the most important gear we brought.

After all that rain, I was relieved to see stars in the sky when I stuck my head out of the tent at 1:30 a.m. We ate a quick breakfast of oatmeal and hot coffee, and then hiked out of camp, over the lateral moraine on the east side of the Blue Glacier and down to the glacier at about 5,000 feet of elevation. By the time the sun was up, we had crossed the lower arm of the glacier and were climbing toward the top of the Snow Dome, a plateau at about 7,000 feet. But late-season conditions were slowing our pace. Lack of snow on the lower glacier forced us to pick our way carefully across the glacier’s deep, icy furrows. Higher up, I built a series of anchors to protect the final, steep slopes near the top of the Snow Dome. Earlier in the season, those slopes would have been covered in snow and we could have simply walked up them as a rope team. But with glacier ice exposed, it was too dangerous to ascend without belaying.

By the time we approached Crystal Pass at 7,200 feet, we were running out of time to make it to the summit. We would still have to climb and descend the final 5th class rock pitch below the summit pinnacle, but we also faced a more immediate problem – a wide bergschrund that spanned the glacier below Crystal Pass. Having climbed down into and back out of the bergschrund a week earlier, I knew we could do it safely, but I also knew it would cost us quite a bit of time. Ascending higher would have pushed us into a long summit day when nightfall and fatigue might conspire to make an accident more likely. With clouds coming in, we returned to camp, taking off our packs at our tents just before dusk.

On many climbs, the most difficult choice is when to turn around. It was disappointing not to stand on the summit of Olympus on this climb, but that was the price we paid for a lesson in decision-making, and for the experience of climbing on this remote, beautiful peak in late-season conditions when the dramatic crevasses and seracs of the Blue Glacier are most visible. We also got to practice some teamwork and rope skills as we moved through the belays on the Snow Dome. All in all, it was a valuable trip to one of Washington’s most remote and beautiful peaks.

Team with golf umbrellas hiking to Mt. Olympus high camp

You don’t always see gear branded Maxfli (golf umbrella) on mountaineering trips!

Sean hikes from the Hoh River to Glacier Meadows at the base of Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park

Sean hikes from the Hoh River to Glacier Meadows at the base of Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park

Climbing the Blue Glacier route on Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park

Climbing the Blue Glacier route on Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park

Climbing the Blue Glacier route on Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park

Climbing the Blue Glacier route on Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park

Team pose while climbing the Blue Glacier route on Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park

Team pose while climbing the Blue Glacier route on Mount Olympus in Olympic National Park

Today the team reached Everest Base Camp (5280m/17,323ft.) around 09:43 AM UTC (2:43 AM PDT or 3:28 PM Nepal local time)!

Communications are still being set up but expedition leader, Garrett Madison, was able to provide this brief update via our Garmin inReach Mini:

Just arrived in EBC…the crew is psyched to be here…although it’s a little wet and cloudy.  Hopefully clear skies tomorrow morning for our Puja ceremony.  Everyone is doing great.  The base camp set up is nice!

Today’s hike was about six hours from Lobuche (4932m/16,181ft.) including a nice lunch break at Gorak Shep (5264m/17,270ft.) before continuing on to Everest base camp (5280m/17,323ft.).  Stay tuned for more dispatches as the climbing team settles into their home for the next month and begins the climbing!

RainOn tracking map of trek from Lobuche to EBC

Tracking map of trek from Lobuche to EBC

2019 Autumn Everest base camp

Our autumn Everest base camp dining tent. Check out the sweet stonework in the foreground. (📸: Aang Phurba Sherpa)


In addition to these expedition dispatches, you can also follow the team as they trek to Everest Base Camp and then make their attempt to summit the world’s highest mountain on:

Amazon Alexa devices with the Madison Mountaineering Flash Briefing skill:

  • Enable the skill and add to your flash briefing to hear Garrett Madison’s daily audio expedition updates

Instagram:

– our Garmin inReach Mini powered real-time tracking map:

Guide Jayar Storms provided this trip report on our recent 1:1 skill building and training outing to the Boston Basin area of the North Cascades National Park:

We began our trip early Tuesday (9/3) morning on the Boston Basin climbers trail. By that afternoon, we had reached Boston Basin and set up camp. We had just enough time to set our tent and square our equipment away when a freak hail storm struck. We took shelter from marble-sized hailstones in our tent for about 20 minutes before it turned to rain and then died away. We ate dinner and got to bed early for an early start at Sahale Peak the next day.

In the morning, we left around 6:30 AM and hiked up and right of the normal route which goes up the moraine, left of the Quien Sabe Glacier. About 500 feet below the glacier we noticed that we could traverse below the glacier and access it at a point closer to our objective instead of getting on the glacier itself and traversing across. We chose this lower traverse so we could avoid navigating most of the crevasses with this route. We cut across the talus and low angle slab to the other side and gained the glacier from there. After a few hundred feet of travel, we did not like the steepness of the terrain and turned back for camp.

The next day we tried Sahale again but from the normal route instead. After a walk up the same moraine from yesterday and a scramble up some low angle slab and loose rock, we gained the glacier once again, this time all the way on the left side of the glacier. With snow condition on our side and crevasses in manageable condition, we topped out at about 8,200 feet. We descended safely and enjoyed the rest of the day in Boston Basin.

We had the remaining day to pack up camp and descend back down the Boston Basin climbers trail and back to the car. We had a very enjoyable trip with Patrick and were thrilled to provide an excellent experience to advance his climbing skills and techniques. We can’t wait for our next adventure!

 

We are excited to report that our Climb for Conservation charity climb of Mt. Rainier enjoyed a 100% team success in reaching the summit this week.  The group had a beautiful sunset climb with perfect conditions.  Way to go team!

Our 2019 Mt. Rainier climb supporting the Climb for Conservation fundraiser kicked off yesterday with the initial hike up to Camp Muir (10,188 ft).  Here are some shots of the day.  The team is likely now headed up for a sunset summit attempt.  We will post an update on their progress tomorrow!  Stay tuned!!

With Kilimanjaro conquered and the safari complete, a very memorable Tanzanian expedition draws to a close and our team bids farewell to Africa as they head home. Lead guide, Rob Smith, provides the final words on the trip:

Many people have heard of ‘the big five‘ when it comes to African wildlife. The term originated from hunters, for the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot. These are lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino. It is heartening that the term associated with hunting these animals is now synonymous with wildlife tourism and conservation.

 

We did not see the full set of five, but that matters little as we did see so much. It is the diversity and abundance of wildlife that made our safari so memorable.

 

Of course the safari was after our main event, the Kilimanjaro climb. The hardships of that are beginning to fade, and the good times are becoming more memorable. Standing on the roof of Africa is not so easy, and John, Jaclyn and Kristin all managed to get there. It has been a safe, successful and enjoyable trip which has packed a lot into a relatively short time. Definitely not your average two week vacation. Thanks for following our journey!

 

Today’s Swahili: Kwaheri – goodbye; Karibu – you are welcome

Sunrise at our Serengeti camp

Sunrise at our Serengeti camp

A final Safari

A final Safari

The team arriving in Arusha

The team arriving in Arusha

Lead guide, Rob Smith, tells the story of the Kilimanjaro team’s final full day on safari in the mightly Serengeti:

Today exceeded all our expectations, as Jaclyn said on returning to camp.

 

Shortly after leaving this morning we saw several vehicles parked at the trailside. This usually means there is something of interest nearby. We pulled up and sure enough, a cheetah was sitting on top of a termite mound near the track. The fastest land animal in the world sat in front of us, just like that. It was sleek with beautiful markings. Black ‘teardrops’ noticeable on its alert and watchful face. The cheetah moved to a closer mound, rested and then crossed the track between the vehicles. It sat on another mound before dropping off, looking right but moving in a leftward arc. We could not see what the cheetah had seen until soon a Thomson’s gazelle bounded through the grass towards the cheetah. A pounce, a flurry of dust, a kicking of legs and it was all over. We were amazed to have witnessed the spectacle. Whatever your views on animals killing each other, this is the circle of life in the Serengeti.

 

We continued on to a rest stop, where maybe 50 tourists were gathered. 500′ away a tree stood with a rock by its base. The rock turned out to be the head of a male lion, its large mane bulking its head size. At one point, the lion stood up before lying down, now completely unseen. It made us wonder how many animals lay in the long grass out of sight nearby. The day continued, we saw a leopard perched on top of a Kopje, rock outcrop, much larger and muscular than the cheetah. We wondered what was coming next.

 

Two large lions chasing gazelles across the plain before stopping at a carcass surrounded by vultures. Hippos, crocodiles, elephants, giraffes, a jackal, hyenas, so many birds. A mother and young cheetah sitting in the shade eyeing up ostrich and warthogs in front of them. Two lionesses squabbled and the winner dragged a Thomson’s gazelle into cover and sat virtually unseen as it feasted on the catch. This is some of what we have seen today. It is no wonder it far exceeded our expectations.

 

We have another night in the Serengeti Osupuko Camp with the birds calling and wind rustling the tree branches. Tomorrow we leave the Serengeti to drive back to Arusha. Fortunately for us, we get to view more wildlife on the first part of the drive until we leave the National Park.

 

Today’s Swahili:  Kiboko – Hippo; Chui – Leopard; Duma – Cheetah; Serengeti – Endless plain

A hungry giraffe

A hungry giraffe

A "bloat" of hippos

A “bloat” of hippos

Ready for safari

Ready for safari

The Kilimanjaro team is now deep into their multiday safari and having a great time.  Lead guide, Rob Smith, provides the details of their day in two of the most amazing game parks in the world:

This morning we visited the Ngorongoro Crater, an area more than 180 square miles bounded on all sides by steep crater walls of a former volcano. The fertile base of the crater provides a haven for wildlife, and today it did not disappoint. Despite a misty start limiting views at the top of the crater, conditions were much clearer when we reached the base after a rough, steep descent. Buffalos and ostrich were seen on the drive down. A pool was filled with hippos, most of their bulk underwater with their backs and snouts visible. They shared the pool with pelicans while egrets, sacred ibis, and Egyptian geese sat on the banks. Two elephants stood in foliage nearby.

 

In the dry season, many animals are attracted to water sources, and it can be a great place to view them. Along the trails secretary birds with their snake stamping legs strutted back and forth. A jackal paced in front of our vehicle for several hundred meters before it cut off the track. Hyenas slinked around in the long grass, looking menacing. We crested a rise, and two lionesses were just off the track, focussed on a group of buffalo. They blended in perfectly with the grass and moved stealthily. With more ground to cover, we left them to it.

 

Leaving the Ngorongoro, we bumped and shook along the road to Serengeti National Park. Wide-open plains had us wondering if we would see any wildlife, as the area is vast. But after 5 minutes of entering the park, we spotted two more lions. Two became three which became four, and when a half-eaten leg was seen sticking up through the grass, it was clear we had come across the site of a recent kill. A pile of feathers nearby told us an ostrich had been the unlucky catch. It is disconcerting when a lion with a bloody face stares at you from not so far away. Content with their meal, they all lay down in the sun and slept, and we moved on.

 

So our adventure continues. Tonight we are staying in a tented camp in the Serengeti amongst this amazing habitat. Tomorrow we have another full day of safari. Let’s see what is in store for us.

 

Today’s Swahili:  Lion – Simba — Buffalo – Nyati

A lioness blending into the landscape

A lioness blending into the landscape

A wildebeest poses for the camera

A wildebeest poses for the camera

Serengeti plains

Serengeti plains

Still celebrating their Kilimanjaro summit success, our team has completed day 1 of their safari of the big major game parks of Tanzania.  Lead guide, Rob Smith, give us the daily update:

We have left Arusha and driven South West to Tarangire National Park. Having descended Kilimanjaro yesterday, today we found ourselves in the midst of the Tanzanian plains, savannah grassland with stands of Acacia trees and lone Boabab trees studding the landscape. Our new ‘ride’ is a Toyota Landcruiser with a pop-up roof that allows great views of landscape and wildlife.

 

We saw too many animals and birds today to list, but the most popular were definitely the elephants and giraffes. No matter how many wildlife programs you have watched, there is no comparison with seeing these animals in the wild. Large numbers of zebra in their sharp coats, mixed with wildebeest making their way towards watering holes, or later in the afternoon, resting in the shade where available. A ‘dazzle’ of zebras mixing with a ‘confusion’ of wildebeest, to give them their correct collective terms.

 

This is the dry season here, and the Tarangire River that runs through the park is bone dry. Elephants stood in the middle of its dusty flats and dug their trunks deep down to reach water. It is hard not to become saturated with the sights and sounds here on Safari. Tonight we are in the fabulous Lake Manyara Safari Lodge overlooking Lake Manyara and the Rift Valley. Tomorrow we move on to the world-famous Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park. What a way to follow a Kilimanjaro climb!

 

Today’s Swahili:  Twiga – giraffe — Temba – elephant

A memory of elephants

A memory of elephants

Zebra and wildebeast at a watering hole

Zebra and wildebeast at a watering hole

Our new transport

Our new transport

Our Kilimanjaro team has returned to Arusha after coming all the way down from a great summit climb and is getting ready for their safari.  Here’s lead guide, Rob Smith, with the details of the day:

After our summit yesterday we returned to Kosovo Camp (4870m/15,978ft) and had a couple of hours to rest, eat and drink, and then pack up. We hiked downhill for 3 hours to reach Millennium Camp (3820m/12,530ft) and were glad to reach it. Another early start this morning at 5 am, though practically a lie-in compared to our summit bid, saw us on our final day of Kilimanjaro. We dropped altitude and made our way from Alpine Desert to Moorland to Rainforest.

 

We were lucky enough to see Black and White Colobus Monkeys leaping from branch to branch high in the tree canopy. When we reached Mweka Gate (1638m/5,375ft), our exit point, we received a welcome that had everyone there looking on. The singing and dancing were well worth the effort that the team made over the last 7 days, and was a fitting end to our Kilimanjaro climb. So now we are back in Arusha before driving West tomorrow to Tarangire National Park, to begin the Safari.

 

Today’s Swahili:  Congratulations. Hongera  —  Brother. Kaka — Sister. Dada

Descending into the tree line

Descending into the tree line

Our welcome at Mweka Gate

Our welcome at Mweka Gate

A happy team at the end of the climb

A happy team at the end of the climb

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