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!

Makalu

We have just returned to base camp after pushing as high as possible on Makalu.

Above our Camp 2 at 22,500′ we found deep snow left by the recent storm that caused the avalanches and fatalities on nearby peaks in the Annapurna region. We felt it unreasonable to press on in such difficult / dangerous conditions, so have called off our climb. Currently we are packing up our base camp and preparing to head out in a few days.

We have had a great time attempting the world’s 5th highest mountain, and have made some great friends along the way.

Thanks for following!

Here we go! The summit push is on! We spoke with Garrett a little while ago from Makalu base camp. According the tracking map, the team has just left base camp and is heading up to Camp 1 (6150m / 20,177ft.). Weather and conditions pending, the rough target for summit day is currently October 24th. Follow along with the team by visiting this dispatch page and monitor the real-time RainOn tracking.

More details as we get them.

Greetings from Makalu base camp!

The forecasted storm came and deposited about 30 centimeters of new snow in our base camp.

Currently the winds are still very high, we hope they will drop in a few days. We are waiting patiently here in base camp, enjoying the clear blue sky and sunshine during the day, and if the weather cooperates soon we will make our summit push.

Everything is good here, as we have plenty of nice food, books, movies and some very friendly Slovenian climbers to share the time with.

We will check in again soon,
Garrett Madison

Makalu

After a few nights up high on Makalu at elevations of approximately 21,000′ we are now back in base camp relaxing and enjoying the comforts of our camp. We accomplished our goal of stocking camps with gear and food, as well as acclimatizing to the higher altitudes.

We experienced perfect weather thus far, but we hear from our forecasting service that the weather is about to change. Apparently a storm is brewing in the bay of Bengal, and is moving north towards us, reaching our area on October 14th. We could have up to 12 inches of snow per day during this time. We are crossing our fingers and hoping a strong wind will appear and blow this low pressure system off track before it reaches us. The benefit of this storm is that it may push the jet stream (high winds), currently over the summit preventing a summit bid, north away from the mountain so that we have calm conditions for an extended period.

Our plan will be to rest a few days in base camp and see what happens…