Tonight we are in Penitents enjoying our last night in ‘civilization’ before beginning the trek to base camp. The Ayelen hotel does a fantastic job with the meals and services and its great to see my old friend Steve Allen who runs the place. Tomorrow we will start at Punta de Vaca and trek up about 6 hours to our camp, Pampa de Lenas. We have had a great time the last few days enjoying the friendly people, sunshine, and great food in Mendoza. Now we are ready to start exercising and get on with the work of ‘climbing’ Aconcagua!

IMG_3131-2.JPG

At the summit of Aconcagua

A previous summit of Aconcagua

The Madison Mountaineering team is arriving in Mendoza, Argentina over the next few days and will soon begin our expedition and ascent of the highest mountain in the western and southern hemispheres. Aconcagua (the stone sentinel) stands at an impressive 6962m (22,834 ft.) above sea level and is great training for high altitude peaks in the Himalaya.  Please follow our dispatches as we journey from the lush wine region of Mendoza (known for grass fed beef and Malbec) to the arid slopes of the Vacas Valley and up to the base of the Polish Glacier, before making our way to the highest point in the Andes.  Aconcagua is known at times for high winds (100mph) and sub zero temps, as well as the high altitude extreme environment. This mountain is never an easy feat and over half the climbers who attempt are turned back.  We are sure to encounter challenges along the way and with those come potential rewards for hard work and a job well done in the end. On a clear day we might even see the surreal blue of the Pacific ocean from the summit.  This will be my 11th expedition on Aconcagua, and a great way to kick off the first Madison Mountaineering climb of 2015!!!

IMG_3072.JPG
Today we successfully completed the “Main Range Walk” to the summit of Koscuiszko. We began our ascent at 9:30 AM in sunny conditions from Charlotte Pass, hiking some of the greatest alpine country in New South Wales, passing through grasslands along ridges with views of lakes and forest below until reaching the summit, where we encountered 100 km/h winds! On our descent a hailstorm moved in and we scurried down the remainder of the hike crossing the Snowy River and returned to the trailhead. We completed the 22 km loop (920m vertical climb) in about 4.5 hours, half the time suggested by the Koscuiszko park staff. It was a pleasant outing, and now we are back in the town of Jindabyne enjoying a well-deserved hot meal and glass of wine! Tomorrow we head back to Melbourne and then depart for home. It’s been a fun adventure ‘down under’ to the highest point on Australia!

Mount Kosciuszko
The Madison Mountaineering team has arrived in Melbourne to climb/hike the highest point on Oceania and one of the “original” Seven Summits. Kosciuszko (2228m / 7,310ft.) located in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales is the highest point on the Australian continent. Climbers aspiring to reach the highest point on all 7 continents that comprise Earth’s surface usually make the trip “down under” in the summer months, December – February. Kosciuszko is rarely “guided” as logistically it’s pretty easy to make your way to the base of the mountain and, weather permitting, the journey to the summit is usually straightforward, although a few friends have reported white-out conditions and difficulty navigating during a storm. The ascent begins near the village of Jindabyne, and offers 3 different route options. We are planning to take the more challenging route up and one of the easier routes back down.

When American Dick Bass became the first person to reach the highest point on each of the 7 continents in 1985, Kosciuszko was a much smaller and easier objective by comparison to the others:

And then there is the Carstensz / Kosciusko debate:

Another climber, who was also hoping to become the first person to climb the highest point on each of the 7 continents, and was in competition with Dick Bass, decided that Kosciuszko was not worthy of the challenge, given that the other summits are much more formidable objectives. Also, when considering all of Oceania as a continent, Kosciuszko is overshadowed by the peak Puncak Jaya (also known as Carstensz Pyramid) located in Indonesia. This climber, Reinhold Messner, has become one of the world’s best known climbers through his bold conquests: the first solo ascent of Everest, the first climb of Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen, the first climber to summit all 14 of the world’s 8000 meter peaks, and many other feats. Messner decided that nearby Carstensz Pyramid, should be considered the real climbing objective because it was much more difficult, both to access and to climb. Climbers in pursuit of the Seven Summits today usually attempt to summit both Kosciuszko and Carstensz Pyramid to cover all bases.

Start your own Seven Summits quest! Madison Mountaineering is currently offering guided climbs of Everest, Kilimanjaro, Mount Elbrus, Aconcagua, and Vinson Massif.

You can read more about the Seven Summits here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Summits

Since the April 18th, 2014 tragedy that killed 16 Nepali mountain workers, many people have asked me if I plan to return to Everest. My answer is ‘yes absolutely’, as our team for the 2015 spring season on the Nepal side of Everest is nearly complete at this time. I enjoy the challenge and experience of climbing the mountain, and leading other climbers to the top. I realize this is dangerous, but I believe that this risk can be managed to an acceptable degree. In analyzing the accident on April 18th, 2014, and the subsequent shutdown of the climbing season I have a few thoughts:

  1. Within hours of the icefall accident the climbing route was moved approximately 100 meters to the center of the icefall, thus avoiding blocks of ice that might fall down from the west shoulder. This was an easy task and should have been done days earlier. There was also a broken ladder that climbers had to use to cross a wide crevasse, and this was very cumbersome. The ladder should have been replaced so that climbers could easily pass through this area. However, this was causing congestion and a crowd of mostly Sherpa climbers were trapped in an exposed area when the ice broke. Next season on Everest (spring 2015) I believe teams will be proactive in maintaining this portion of the climbing route, rather than relying on the SPCC. If climbers cannot easily pass through under the west shoulder I believe they will turn back rather than spend time exposed to this objective hazard. The group hired by the government of Nepal (SPCC Icefall doctors) is supposed to maintain this route. Climbers pay an additional fee on top of the climbing permit for this. In the future our team and others will work with the SPCC to make sure we agree the route is placed correctly, as well in maintaining it as necessary.
  2. As far as the political and labor situation on Everest is concerned, I believe it will be fine in 2015. I have spoken with many Sherpas since the accident and all of them want to return to climb and support foreign climbers on the peak, time has a way of healing us and rekindling our desires. Many climbers have lost confidence in Nepal, and will go to the North (Tibetan/Chinese) side to climb. Others who prefer to climb on the Nepalese (South) side will wait at least one year to see how things play out. There was a drop in the number of trekkers this autumn season, and the locals are worried this will continue into the next year as a worldwide perception that “Everest is closed” persists. I believe there will be a decrease in the number of climbers in 2015, and ultimately this will affect the families of the Khumbu. Less expeditions means less Sherpas are needed. Generally, a Sherpa usually makes 10 times the average income of a Nepalese person by working 2 months on Everest. This money is used to support his family. Without foreign climbers to support on the mountain, the alternative sources of income for these Sherpa who rely on expedition work is scarce.   My personal opinion is that we will return to climb in 2015 and have great success as we have had in the past.
Ama Dablam: Ben and Vibeke on the summit

Ben and Vibeke on the summit with Everest behind

We had a wonderful climb to the summit of Ama Dablam just a few days ago, and since then have trekked down the Khumbu Valley to Lukla, and just this morning we flew by twin otter to Kathmandu. We are very happy to be back in the city after more than six weeks in the mountains climbing Makalu and Ama Dablam.

The conditions on Ama Dablam were near perfect. Much of the route was covered in snow and made for good cramponing on our way up to the summit in the pre dawn hours of October 30th. There was little wind, and a cloudless sky that allowed amazing views from the summit of the 8000 meter peaks Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Kangchenjunga, and Cho Oyu, as well as countless other summits…

Ama Dablam: Team in base camp

The team in base camp after the climb with our Nepali staff

We descended from the summit to Camp 1 and spent the night, then continued to base camp the following day. We were fortunate to have experienced such great route conditions on the mountain, thanks to our Sherpa team that climbed with us, and our exceptional base camp staff that supported us with amazing meals throughout the expedition.

Unfortunately, this season has not been a good one for all teams on Ama Dablam, as there have been several accidents resulting in a total of 3 fatalities over the last few weeks, and one serious injury. We feel very fortunate that our climb was relatively uneventful, and we made the summit and returned without incident. Our thoughts go out to the families of the climbers who did not make it down from Ama Dablam this autumn.

We just received a sat phone call from the spectacular summit of Ama Dablam (6812m/22,349ft.). Garrett and team sounded fantastic and are enjoying a picture perfect summit day. A transcript of the call is provided below. Congratulations team!

Transcript:

This is Garrett Madison for the Madison Mountaineering Ama Dablam expedition and we are calling from the summit of Ama Dablam! It is October 30th, 8:30am Nepal time. A beautiful day here, not a cloud in the sky, hardly a breeze here on the summit and just a glorious day. We are really excited to be up here, fantastic climb, and we are looking forward to getting back down and being back in base camp shortly. We are really luck to be up here, wonderful climb, and we are going to take our time on the descent. All is well!

Ama Dablam Camp 2

After ascending to Ama Dablam Camp 1 yesterday from base camp, earlier today Garrett and team climbed on and established Camp 2 near 6000m (19,685ft.). Ama Dablam Camp 2 is stunningly located on the cap of a rock pillar with narrowly room for just a few tents.

Weather continues to be favorable. Tomorrow the team will either press on for a summit attempt or move up to Camp 2.7 (6280m/20,600ft.). Stay tuned for live tracking!

ama7

After a few days in Ama Dablam base camp we are now ready to begin our summit attempt. We have been reviewing fixed line techniques, rappelling and have sorted our equipment and food for the high camps. The weather forecast looks good, and the recent snowfall has negligible effect on our route as it is generally follows an exposed ridge.

Today we plan to climb to camp 1, then tomorrow ascend up the southwest ridge to camp 2, then summit the following morning. We are well acclimatized and looking forward to the epic climbing along sections such as the Yellow Tower and Mushroom Ridge, as well as the spectacular views along the way. We should be able to see at least 6 of the 8000 meter peaks from the summit!

Follow along with our real-time tracking. We will post another dispatch from Camp 1 tomorrow.

ama8

This morning we flew by helicopter (a brand new AS350 B3e) from the lower Makalu base camp to Ama Dablam base camp, it was a spectacular ride! We flew right by Baruntse, and many other high peaks before swooping down into Ama Dablam base camp. As you likely know, we called off our Makalu climb due to deep snow and avalanche conditions left by the recent storm, all other teams (British & Slovenian) have also abandoned the mountain without a summit. It was tough to walk away empty handed, but definitely the right call given the existing hazards. We will be back!

After spending several weeks at the upper Makalu base camp (5650m / 18,700 ft.) and higher camps we are well acclimatized and feel great at Ama Dablam base camp which is 4600m (15,200 ft.). It’s a welcome transition from a very remote camp to a very busy one, and we have already met many friends here this morning that we have shared other peaks with recently. Our cook from the recent K2 expedition welcomed us with French Toast and fried eggs, bringing back good memories of climbing in Pakistan last July. We will likely rest a day or two, then push up the route on Ama Dablam.

The weather forecast is good, with a bit of snow this weekend, hopefully not enough to shut down the route as happened last year at this time. All is well here at Ama Dablam base camp and we are excited to climb!