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The beauty of climbing Ama Dablam

Having just concluded our first big international climbing expedition since COVID-19 hit earlier this year, I wanted to share some notes on my experience for climbers who are planning to climb with me in the future and climbers considering to join one of our upcoming programs.

Pacific Northwest

After the spring “lockdown” periods, we were finally able to get out into the mountains locally in Washington State beginning in late July when Mount Rainier National Park opened for commercial guiding. We operated our climb on Mount Rainier, as well as climbs on Mount Baker & Mount Shuksan in the North Cascades, all were successful, and everyone made it home safe and healthy.  By allowing climbers to sleep in their own tent or for members of the same households to share tents, we maintained appropriate distancing measures and followed prescribed guidelines. Once we departed the trailheads, we could hike & climb without needing the masks, as we were appropriately spaced out. It was refreshing to be able to live “mask-free” for a while. This is a unique benefit of traveling to the mountains during the pandemic.

Kilimanjaro

In August, we were able to operate our first Kilimanjaro program of the summer season. Myself and a father and daughter from Atlanta journeyed to Tanzania and climbed the tallest peak in Africa. We hardly saw anyone else on the mountain. It was surreal to experience Kilimanjaro nearly all to ourselves, as generally, the hiking trails and camps are fairly busy during the summer season. International travel was easy; we only needed to show a negative COVID test result within 72 hours of our travel to board the flight to Tanzania. Once we arrived in Tanzania, the logistics were seamless. The hotel staff in Arusha did a great job of making us feel safe. Our staff on the mountain was as welcoming as ever, all the while utilizing appropriate PPE to keep everyone safe. Reaching Kilimanjaro‘s summit with Drew and his daughter was a highlight for sure; we had it all to ourselves as we watched the sunrise.

After the climb, I flew back to the USA, while Drew and Jordan continued on for the safari. From their photos and reports, the game viewing was the best I’ve ever heard of. They didn’t see many other vehicles on safari, similar to their experience on the mountain, which is why I imagine the animals were in abundance and often ventured close to their vehicle. Overall, it was an incredible trip for them. We also felt very welcomed by the people of Tanzania. The pandemic has crushed their tourism industry, and they were very excited and happy to have us visit. We’ve operated more Kilimanjaro programs since, and they’ve gone perfectly. I look forward to returning in late January for my next Kili climb! If you’re interested in joining, please contact us!

Ama Dablam

The next international expedition I planned was to Nepal, a country I regularly visit for mountaineering in the spring and fall seasons. Unfortunately, we could not visit Nepal this past spring as Nepal went into lockdown, suspending all international flights from mid-March onwards. We patiently awaited Nepal to reopen so that we could plan a climb. Fortunately, the country announced it would open on October 17th for international travelers. Only travelers who are part of a mountaineering or trekking program could enter the country in the gradual reopening process.

The process for us to obtain “visa-on-arrival” approval letters from the Nepal Ministry of Immigration involved us having to process our mountaineering permit ahead of time. With the help of our Nepalese partner agency, we were able to procure the permits and visa-on-arrival letters for our whole team in advance so that when we arrived, the immigration process was smooth and seamless. We were the only foreigners at the immigration counter, a new experience for me! We also had to bring our negative COVID PCR test result and show proof of COVID travel insurance, which is not expensive but was initially hard to find. Our expedition team was the first to enter Nepal since the lockdown back in March, so the process was new for everyone.

Once we entered Nepal, we were required to quarantine at our hotel for about a week. During this time, we had to take another COVID PCR test. This was easy as we arranged for the test to be done at the hotel. The six days of quarantine within the guidelines at Kathmandu’s Hotel Yak & Yeti were pleasant; we did morning yoga on the lawn, played tennis, exercised in the fitness center, did some sightseeing around town, and went out to dinner at the various restaurants open in Kathmandu. The staff at the hotel were very friendly and ensured we had a comfortable and safe visit.

We flew to Lukla and began our trek to base camp. We didn’t see any other foreign trekkers on the trail, just a few locals. The villages in the Khumbu valley were very quiet, and only a few lodges were open. It was wonderful to reconnect with the families of the Khumbu and stay in their lodges. They were very welcoming and friendly. Since we had just recently tested negative for COVID in Kathmandu, we were not worried about spreading the virus but took responsible precautions to stay safe.

For the most part, the people in the Khumbu did not seem very concerned about the virus. However, we practiced responsible travel by masking-up initially if we went into a home or business. Since the Nepalese lost out on the entire spring climbing/trekking season, they were happy to see us return this autumn. Fall is usually the busiest trekking season in Nepal, and our group was the first commercial foreign team to venture into the Khumbu valley. There would be just a few small teams behind us in the coming weeks, a tiny fraction of the norm.

Arriving in Ama Dablam base camp was an occasion to celebrate! Ama Dablam base camp is one of the most beautiful and pleasant base camps I’ve ever visited over the years. Once we were in our base camp, we could practically forget all about COVID. Our team (foreign & Nepali) had tested negative for COVID just days before, so we were assured that our base camp community was virus-free. However, our staff continued to practice safe and responsible sanitation and cleanliness measures. It was refreshing to be able to relax, enjoy the spectacular views base camp affords, the comfort of our personal tents, and the quality of the meals. With Wi-Fi and a hot shower, it felt like “glamping!” Initially, we were the only team in base camp. Later on, another team showed up and would climb after us.

Climbing the mountain was a bit more complex than a “normal” season on Ama Dablam. Since we were the first team on the mountain, we had to fix the lines ourselves. This is nothing new to our crew, as we were also the first team to climb Ama Dablam last year and fixed the lines on Everest during the last 2 spring seasons (2018 & 2019).  Our highly skilled Sherpa team helped out with this task as well as establishing the higher camps. We climbed up to Camp 2 to acclimatize, then rested a few days in base camp before setting out for the summit push. The weather this autumn in Nepal has been very dry, so the route conditions were nice. We had a beautiful summit day, with everyone making it to the top and back down safely. Afterward, we decided to helicopter out from base camp back to Kathmandu, then depart for our home countries. Everyone made it home safely and COVID-free. I can’t imagine how it could have gone better; we were very fortunate. I look forward to returning to Nepal in the spring for Everest. I suspect that the mountain will be less busy than usual, a welcome scenario, as I imagine many people will still be afraid to travel internationally.

What’s Next

We are currently planning more climbs in Ecuador and Chile. Our Total Eclipse Climb program in Chile, as well as Ojos del Salado (2nd highest peak in South America and the highest active volcano in the world), is set to begin December 8th, the day after Chile suspends the mandatory 14-day quarantine for arriving passengers. We are also operating several Ecuador programs planned in the coming months.

Many people have asked how it’s possible for us to travel internationally during this time, assuming that the whole world is still in lockdown. While some countries are still in lockdown and travel there is not possible. Many countries are open and accessible by following the prescribed guidelines. Nearly every major mountaineering guide service has suspended international operations through 2020. However, as a boutique company, we can continue operating to some degree, at least in countries that are open, by complying with the local regulations. We’ve become familiar with the new requirements and procedures for traveling internationally, such as where and how to get the COVID PCR test, how to procure COVID travel insurance, which airlines are operating, etc.

By continuing to operate responsibly, we can facilitate meaningful experiences for our guests while providing much-needed tourist revenue for the local communities that depend on mountain travelers for survival. These communities have been hit very hard by the response to the pandemic. Traveling during this time can mean less crowded peaks and makes an important contribution to the local communities that need our help. Traveling now can also inspire others. We’ve all been affected in some way by the pandemic. It’s refreshing to know that we can still pursue our goals and aspirations that involve international travel.

Team celebration dinner in Kathmandu

With all of the team safely back in Kathmandu, our 2020 Ama Dablam expedition is concluding.  Thank you for following along.  The following team members successfully and safely obtained the summit of Ama Dablam (6812m / 22,349ft) on November 11, 2020, at approximately 11:30 AM NPT (local time):

# Name Country
1 Mr. Garrett Madison USA
2 Mr. Mohammed Al-Thani Qatar
3 Ms. Jennifer Drummond USA
4 Mr. Ted Hesser USA
5 Mr. Chase Merriam USA
6 Mr. Elia Saikaly Canada
7 Mr. Aang Phurba Sherpa Nepal
8 Mr. Siddhi Bahadur Tamang Nepal
9 Mr. Mingmar Sherpa Nepal
10 Mr. Ming Dorchi Sherpa Nepal
11 Mr. Pasdawa Sherpa Nepal
12 Mr. Pasang Dawa Sherpa Nepal
13 Mr. Pasang Kaji Sherpa Nepal

Here is expedition leader, Garrett Madison, with the expedition recap:

Hello, this is Garrett Madison calling in for the Ama Dablam team expedition.

We are all back in Kathmandu now at the Hotel Yak & Yeti.  We summited Ama Dablam together on November 11th.  We had a beautiful, clear, perfect day upon the summit.  Some of us went all the way down to base camp, others stayed in Camp 2 that night, and the following day we all descended to base camp, had a celebration lunch, and then helicoptered back to Kathmandu!

We just had our team celebration dinner and some members are heading off tonight back home and others will be here for a few days.  It’s been a wonderful, successful, and safe expedition here in Nepal.  We’re very happy that we got to come and experience the wonderful people with warm hearts.

We are looking forward to returning to Nepal next spring for Mount Everest!

Camp 2 on Ama Dablam

Camp 2 on Ama Dablam (📷: @tedhesser)

Summit push below the Dablam

Summit push below the Dablam

Nearing the Ama Dablam summit

Nearing the Ama Dablam summit

Jenn D. topping out on Ama Dablam

Topping out on Ama Dablam (📷: @aang_phurba_mountaineer)

Chase M. on the summit of Ama Dablam with Everest and Lhotse in the background

Chase M. on the summit of Ama Dablam with Everest and Lhotse in the background

Ama Dablam Summit

Ama Dablam Summit (📷: @aang_phurba_mountaineer)

Celebration on Ama Dablam summit

Celebration on Ama Dablam summit (📷: @aang_phurba_mountaineer)


In addition to these expedition dispatches, you can also follow our teams as they make their attempts on the world’s most formidable mountains 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 on select expeditions

Instagram:

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

Ama Dablam summit track in Google Earth

Congratulations to the entire Madison Mountaineering 2020 Ama Dablam (6812m) team and crew!  100% summit success!!  Details and photos to follow.  Meanwhile, enjoy this coverage of the summit effort from The Himalayan Times.  Most of the team is safely resting at Camp 2, while others have safely descended all the way down to base camp.


In addition to these expedition dispatches, you can also follow our teams as they make their attempts on the world’s most formidable mountains 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 on select expeditions

Instagram:

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

Jenn D and Garrett touching Ama Dablam Camp 2

The Ama Dablam team have once again completed the crux of the route, The Yellow Tower, while making the move to Camp 2 (6000m) on their summit push.  Tonight is the night!  Within the next few hours, they will start the climb to the summit.  Godspeed team!  Here’s today’s audio dispatch courtesy of team member, Moe Al Thani from his Instagram feed @moealthani:

This is Moe Al Thani calling you from Camp 2, Ama Dablam.  I can see the summit, it’s so close I can touch it.  We arrived here like within three hours since we left Camp 1 after the tough hike up to Camp 2.  We are feeling really good!

The sherpa team just fixed the fixed lines all the way up to the summit.  So now we have the go-ahead to go this evening for our summit push.  We will leave around 1 AM for an 8-9 hour summit push to the summit.  [Arabic]  Keep us in your prayers and will talk to you soon.


In addition to these expedition dispatches, you can also follow our teams as they make their attempts on the world’s most formidable mountains 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 on select expeditions

Instagram:

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

Team member Moe Al Thani on Ama Dablam

First day of the summit push, the Ama Dablam team made the move from base camp to Camp 1.  Courtesy of his Instagram feed, team member @moealthani provides the recap of the day in this expedition dispatch:

Hi guys!  This is Moe Al Thani calling you from Camp 1 (5800m).  It’s freezing cold, I’m wearing my big down jacket, enjoying the most beautiful sunset in the world.  Behind me is Ama Dablam, it’s so close I can almost touch it but at the same time it seem so far.

Just want to let you all know that we’re doing amazing, we’re doing great!  The oxygen and the air is thin, but we’re all strong over here.  So, we are looking forward our move to Camp 2 tomorrow and we’ll keep you posted!


In addition to these expedition dispatches, you can also follow our teams as they make their attempts on the world’s most formidable mountains 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 on select expeditions

Instagram:

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

Heading around the puja to begin the summit push

The summit push is on!  Garrett and the Ama Dablam team just left base camp moments ago heading for Camp 1.  You can follow their progress on this real-time map:  https://madisonmountaineering.com/maps/ama-dablam-2020/.  Here’s Garrett’s message as they were leaving base camp this morning:

Well, it’s November 9th and we are off this morning on our Summit Rotation for Ama Dablam!

We just had breakfast, packed up, and walked around the puja – doing one last ceremony as we head off here up towards Camp 1.  It’ll be a six hour, seven hour hike today to Camp 1.  And then the plan is Camp 2 tomorrow night and then wake up around midnight and go for the summit!

So hopefully, we’ll be back down here in a few day’s time.  All’s well here and we’re looking forward to gettin’ up on the mountain!


In addition to these expedition dispatches, you can also follow our teams as they make their attempts on the world’s most formidable mountains 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 on select expeditions

Instagram:

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

Ready for the Ama Dablam summit bid

For the Ama Dablam team, the resting is done, and the summit-push is next!  Here’s expedition leader Garrett Madison, with today’s expedition dispatch:

Hello, this is Garrett Madison calling in for the Ama Dablam team expedition.

We’re here at Ama Dablam base camp, the second rest day here on November 8th.  The weather is looking good.  We’re planning to head up tomorrow, November 9th, to Camp 1 (5791m) and then the following day to Camp 2 (5944m), then we will go for the summit (6812m)!  The weather’s looking good, route conditions are solid, and we’re excited to begin our summit rotation.

We’re all doing good here and looking forward to getting up on the mountain.  We’ll check in soon.  Thanks!

 

@hopperschoppers departing Ama Dablam base camp (🎥: @chase.merriam)


In addition to these expedition dispatches, you can also follow our teams as they make their attempts on the world’s most formidable mountains 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 on select expeditions

Instagram:

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

Rapping down from Ama Dablam Camp 2

The Ama Dablam team is back at base camp after successfully completing their first acclimatization rotation.  With the comforts of base camp, including Internet, everyone has been busy with the important work of updating their Instagram accounts with amazing photos – check out @garrettmadison1, @moealthani, @boldbravebeautifullife, @chase.merriam, @tedhesser, and @eliasaikaly.

Today, team member Ted Hesser provides a detailed recap of the rotation:

This is Ted Hesser calling in from the Ama Dablam team.  We are back, safe and sound, at Base Camp after an eventful couple of days up at Camp 1 and Camp 2 on our first acclimitization rotation.

We hiked up a few days ago with heavy packs and burning lungs and got to a beautiful Camp 1 in time for sunset – beautiful clouds and golden rays and Himalayan peaks surrounding in all directions.  We ran out of breath, just like I’m running out of breath right now trying to read this to you [laugh], but we woke up the next day and continued onwards to Camp 2 where we tested ourselves against the first technical cruxes of the route and I believe the actual crux of the route on The Yellow Tower – which is, about, an 80 foot, maybe a full rope pitch, of technical climbing at about 19,000 – 20,000 feet.

So very difficult on the body and on the lungs – very cold.  But the whole team successfully made it up there.  We were greeted with more beautiful views and a view of the rest of the route, which looks daunting, to say the least.  A fair amount of elevation and technical terrian awaits us after Camp 2.  But we turned around, came back to Camp 1, spent the night, rested up, and then came on back down to base camp today.

We’re all feeling pretty pooped, pretty tired.  We are going to try to treat ourselves to alot of rest and food and hydration in the next few days and hope for good weather and a successful climb a few days from now!

Alright, ending the dispatch…

Oh(!) and Garrett says that we had the famous Chicken Sizzler dish tonight, which I almost forgot about [laugh].  But it was really good, it was on fire, the tent may have almost burned down [laugh], no I’m just joking – the tent’s fine.  But dinner was great, there was hot showers when we got back down, which was really lovely, and warm tea and all the accoutrements of base camp!

Okay, over and out!  Bye!

 

Elia receives his Chicken Sizzler dinner (🎥: @eliasaikaly)

Climbing between Ama Dablam C1 and C2

Climbing between Ama Dablam C1 and C2 (📷: @tedhesser)

The beauty of climbing Ama Dablam

The beauty of climbing Ama Dablam (📷: @tedhesser)

Garrett Madison climbing around Ama Dablam Camp 1 and Camp 2

Garrett Madison climbing around Ama Dablam Camp 1 and Camp 2 (📷: @tedhesser)

Jenn D and Garrett touching Ama Dablam Camp 2

Jenn D and Garrett touching Ama Dablam Camp 2 (📷: @tedhesser)


In addition to these expedition dispatches, you can also follow our teams as they make their attempts on the world’s most formidable mountains 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 on select expeditions

Instagram:

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

Moe on Ama

The Ama Dablam team touched their high point so far by climbing to Camp 2 (5980m) today before returning to Camp 1 for the night.  Just before reaching Camp 2, they enjoyed some of the route’s best climbing by tackling the technical crux:  Ama Dablam’s Yellow Tower.  Tomorrow they will descend to base camp and rest up for their summit bid.  Team member Moe Al Thani returns with today’s dispatch, again courtesy of his Instagram feed: @moealthani:

This is Moe Al Thani from Camp 1.  We are back at Camp 1 after climbing to Camp 2.  It was harder than I expected.

Climbing the Yellow Tower was whatever people say and even more.  It’s really difficult, rock climbing at 6,000m with no oxygen.  However, we made it!  Now we’re back at Camp 1 and acclimatized better.

So tomorrow morning we’re going to head back down to base camp where we will enjoy internet, shower, food, and a good place to sleep.  Now that’s Heaven to me!  That’s it.  I’m really tired, we had a very long day.


In addition to these expedition dispatches, you can also follow our teams as they make their attempts on the world’s most formidable mountains 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 on select expeditions

Instagram:

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

A view of Ama Dablam Camp 1 from BC

Today the Ama Dablam team moved up the mountain on their first acclimatization rotation.  They will spend two nights at Camp 1 (5800m).  Here is team member Moe Al Thani with today’s dispatch, courtesy of his Instagram feed: @moealthani:

Hey!  This is Moe Al Thani calling you from Camp 1.

It was a very, very long day – over 7 hours and we gained altitude of over 1000m.  It’s been a long day and we’re a bit tired.  But we have high spirits and that’s what’s important.  We’re going to get a bit of rest and we have a beautiful view of the mountain.  We are going to spend the night here.

Tomorrow we are going to head to Camp 2 (5980m) and then back to Camp 1 for the night.  I’ll keep you all posted with whatever happens and we’ll see you all soon.

Good night!


In addition to these expedition dispatches, you can also follow our teams as they make their attempts on the world’s most formidable mountains 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 on select expeditions

Instagram:

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