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Ojos del Salado

The team reached the summit of Ojos del Salado this morning, the highest volcano in the world (#1 in the Volcanic Seven Summits), the second-highest mountain in South America (#2 in the Second Seven Summits), and Chile’s country high point (6893m/22,614ft)!  Congratulations team!  Great work.

Here’s expedition leader, Garrett Madison with the happy news direct from the summit via satellite phone:

Hello!  This is Garrett Madison calling in for the Ojos del Salado expedition team.  Today’s December 16th and we have summitted Ojos del Salado, about 22,600 ft. and change or, I think, 6,893 meters.

Team members that made it up here today would be Jenn, Ted, Ryan, Jean Marie – our local guide, myself, and Chase!  We had a great climb, nice weather – it was cold starting out and cold during most of the day, but sunny, not many clouds, not much wind.  Could ask for a better day up here.  Great views all around.

We’re up here at the top of the mountain and Chase and I are the last ones up here, about to head down – back towards Acacama Camp [base camp] where we are going to sleep tonight.

It was a beautiful climb.  Glad that we came here to Chile.  A wonderful experience all around.  We’re looking forward to checking-in soon.  Thanks!


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:

Atacama Refugio

Readying for Ojos del Salado, today the team drove from their camp at Laguna Verde up about 3,000 ft. higher to the Atacama Refugio at 17,250 ft. (5256m) which serves as the Ojos’ base camp.  Being the only team there, they enjoyed the peaceful serenity of an amazing sunset after a great dinner.

Tomorrow the plan is to move to Refugio Tejos at 5825m/19,110ft. aka high camp.  Wind conditions are favoring a summit attempt on Wednesday.  Climb on!


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:

Today the Ojos del Salado team made one last acclimatization hike.  Leaving camp along the shores of the Laguna Verde, they drove by 4×4 up to 16,234 ft. to start their hike climbing along the Chile/Argentina border to the summit of Nevado San Francisco – 19,744 ft.  Whew!

After descending to the trailhead and driving back to camp, they were rewarded with a soak in the natural hot springs next to the lake.  Tomorrow will be a rest day at Laguna Verde and Monday, they will move to Ojos del Salado base camp with the 4×4’s.  The summit bid is planned for Thursday.  Stay tuned!


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:

Ojos del Salado Moving Day

Today the Ojos del Salado team made the 105 mile (170km) drive along Maricunga salt flat then continuing across the high plateaus to reach Laguna Verde where they will camp for three days near a hot spring.  Next up is an acclimatization climb of Nevado San Francisco (6016m/19,738 ft)!


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:

Today the team acclimatized by hiking Cerro Doña Inés.  Garrett Madison provides the details via satellite phone:

Hello, this is Garrett calling in for the Ojos del Salado team in Chile – in the Atacama region.  We had a great day today!  We arrived yesterday, all together, in the Copiapó airport and drove out to our first camp here at the [Pedernales] Salt Flats.

Today we went for an acclimatization hike.  We climbed the nearby peak, Doña Inés – about 16,700 ft. (5095m) at the summit.  About a 2,000 ft. elevation gain, amazing that we could drive up to over 14,500 ft. to start our hike which is higher than Mt. Rainier, the highest peak in Washington state (USA).

Everyone’s doing great!  It’s sunny here, a little windy in the afternoon, and we’re looking forward to nice dinner tonight.  Then tomorrow we’re going to drive all the way to Laguna Verde, the green lake, and hopefully get to check out the hot springs, as well.  We’ll be there for a few nights.

So, all’s well here in Chile.  We’re having a great time and looking forward to getting closer to Ojos!


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 in Copiapó and ready to head out to the mountains!

As the Ojos del Salado team arrives Copiapó and heads off the grid today, expedition leader Garrett Madison makes use of the last bit of Internet connectivity to provide this expedition dispatch:

Hello, this is Garrett calling in for the Ojos del Salado expedition team.  Myself and Jenn, Chase, Ted, Ryan, and Krisli are all here in Copiapó.  Some of us arrived last night, some today and we’re headed off towards our first camp on Ojos del Salado at about 11,000 ft. (3,353m) today.

We will be without Internet likely for the next 10-11 days, as there is no cell signal and no Wi-Fi up on the mountain.  So, we’ll be communicating with our Garmin inReach and looking forward to some great weather, some amazing views, and watching the partial eclipse on December 14th.

We are excited to be heading off shortly here to the salt flat camp and working our way higher on the mountain and returning in about 10 days.


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:

Our team members prepare to board their flights to arrive in Santiago, Chile tomorrow to kick-off the Ojos del Salado expedition – the world’s highest active volcano and second only to Aconcagua as South America’s highest peak.  Expedition leader, Garrett Madison, has the details in this kick-off expedition dispatch.  Be sure to follow along for daily updates and see below for details on other fun ways to track the team’s progress.

Hello!  This is Garrett Madison calling in for the Ojos del Salado climbing expedition.  Today we are departing the U.S. and heading to Chile, arriving in Chile tomorrow and flying to Copiapó to meet our team that is providing the ground transportation for us to drive out to the Atacama and begin our expedition on Ojos del Salado.

We’re very excited to be heading off to Chile to start this expediton climb.  This is my first trip to Ojos del Salado, so I’m personally very excited.  It looks like good weather – it’s going to be warm and sunny down in Chile because it’s their summertime.  We look forward to posting some pictures and making updates as the expedition progresses.

Here we go!


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:

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.

Today our second Mount Vinson expedition with guest-guide Conrad Anker flew to Antarctica arriving Union Glacier on the Illyshin 76 jet.  Here’s Conrad with today’s kick-off expedition dispatch:

Hello folks, Conrad Anker here at Union Glacier with the Madison Mountaineering V4 team.  We had a successful three days in Punta Arenas.  We went out and had fine food and saw the sights and we’re on schedule – maybe even a little ahead of schedule.  The weather’s good and the team’s all together.

 

It’s a real treat and an honor to be here with Garrett!

(photo:  Madison Mountaineering archives)

By the way, it’s not too early to start making your plans to join us on Mount Vinson for the 2020/2021 season next December!  Contact our office for details.


In addition to these expedition dispatches, you can also follow the teams as they make their attempts to summit the highest mountain in Antarctica 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 maps:

Union Glacier Camp

Our Mount Vinson team #1 is now back at Union Glacier camp and getting ready to return to South America tomorrow.  Expedition leader, Garrett Madison, calls in from camp with a recap of the busy day:

Hello. This is Garrett calling for the Mount Vinson expedition team #1. Today is Saturday, December 28th and myself, Bartek, Aga and Motoki have all return back to Union Glacier camp from Mount Vinson.

 

We had a wonderful day. We woke up this morning at Mount Vinson High Camp after our successful summit yesterday. We descended from High Camp all the way down the fixed ropes past Low Camp and down to Vinson base camp. And then a couple of hours later we were met by a Twin Otter aircraft where we boarded and flew back to Union Glacier camp. It was a very scenic flight, great views all around.

 

We had a nice dinner here at Union Glacier camp, and a shower and the climbers are looking forward to the flight out on the Ilyushin 76 jet tomorrow from the Blue Ice Runway back to Punta Arenas. Hopefully, the weather is good and our three climbers will be flying back to Chile and our next group of Mount Vinson climbers, along with guest guide Conrad Anker, will be flying into Union Glacier camp and heading to Mount Vinson.

 

All’s well here in Antarctica.  We will check-in again soon!  Thanks!

(photo:  Madison Mountaineering archive)

By the way, it’s not too early to start making your plans to join us on Mount Vinson for the 2020/2021 season next December!  Contact our office for details.


In addition to these expedition dispatches, you can also follow the teams as they make their attempts to summit the highest mountain in Antarctica 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: