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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.

Early this morning our Ecuador climbers reached the summit of Cayambe at 5,790 m (19,000 ft)! Located in the Cordillera Central, this glaciated super-volcano runs along the Ecuadorian Andes mountain range. The volcano and most of its slopes are located within the Cayambe Coca Ecological Reserve. Weather conditions looked beautiful on the summit today with epic views from high above the clouds! After a short rest at the high altitude hut, our team packed up their gear and will now drive back down the mountain and toward their next mountain ascent on Chimborazo.

Way to go team!!

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William enjoying the amazing summit views from Cayambe.

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Summit success!

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Route to summit.

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Lower glacier crossing.

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Beautiful views in the Andes as our climbers set off for the Ecuador volcanoes! Our team will spend the first few days acclimating on local peaks close to Quito in preparation for Cayambe at an elevation of 18,996 feet. For a detailed overview of this exciting climb please visit our page here.

To the top!

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William celebrating his first summit of Pasochoa. This extinct volcano is located in the Guayllabamba river basin in the Ecuadorian Andes.

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“I am happy to report we (Jared and Andrew) successfully summited Iliniza Norte this afternoon!  Snow and ice made the ascent and descent rather technical as well as frigid temperatures and strong winds (Jose estimated gusts to near 70 mph). It was a fantastic climb to end the trip and Jose took excellent care of us along the way. I can’t say enough good things about him! We were lucky to have him!
Looking back, sometimes the better climbs aren’t the highest, they are the ones that present the more challenging conditions and technical aspects of mountaineering.  Despite being sick for Antisana, weathered off of Cayambe, and switching things up to give up Chimborazo for Iliniza Norte (technically an acclimatization peak), today’s climb made the trip worth it!” – Jared
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Beautiful photos by expedition climber’s  Jared and Andrew!
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“I am happy to report we (Jared and Andrew) successfully summited Iliniza Norte this afternoon!  Snow and ice made the ascent and descent rather technical as well as frigid temperatures and strong winds (Jose estimated gusts to near 70 mph). It was a fantastic climb to end the trip and Jose took excellent care of us along the way. I can’t say enough good things about him! We were lucky to have him!
Looking back, sometimes the better climbs aren’t the highest, they are the ones that present the more challenging conditions and technical aspects of mountaineering.  Despite being sick for Antisana, weathered off of Cayambe, and switching things up to give up Chimborazo for Iliniza Norte (technically an acclimatization peak), today’s climb made the trip worth it!” – Jared
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Beautiful photos by expedition climber’s  Jared and Andrew!
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Our climbing team is having a cloudy and rainy week across Ecuador so far and we all hope that conditions will get better shortly. Starting in Guachala earlier this week the team moved up towards the hut on Cayambe. Despite a smooth start to our team’s summit attempt last night on Cayambe, the weather very quickly turned shortly after roping up and starting up the glacier. Two hours into the climb up the glaciated slopes of Cayambe the clouds appeared out of nowhere and proceeded to dump wet snow on our team.  Not long after, the sky was filled with lightning and thunder.  At this point our team quickly descended back to the hut. The weather turned on our climbers when they reached around 5,000 meters.  It dumped snow most of the night causing Jared and Andrew to be a bit delayed on the departure trying to wait for the hazardous road conditions to improve. Our team is now assessing options for Chimborazo given the weather and our maximum acclimatization height to date.

Mother Nature always gets the final say.

 

Thank-you Jared for the update and pictures!

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View from the Cayambe Hut
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Snowing hard at the Cayambe Hut!
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Our climbing team in Ecuador continued their acclimatization climbs outside of Quito with a successful summit of Rucu Pinchincha this afternoon. Jared and Andrew were able to beat the change in weather and are now settled in Papallacta. Our team had just started to descend in the cable car when it started to rain. Jared reports that Cayambe was clear this morning before getting clouded in, and Antisana and Cotopaxi had lenticular clouds over them. Currently low clouds are reported in the surrounding hills while raining on and off at Papallacta.

Yesterday Jared and Andrew had an easy day at Papallacta. Completing a short hike in the park up to one of the lakes in the morning.  Our team is healthy and doing well. Onward!

Thank you Jared for the awesome pics!!

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Today our Ecuador climbing team successfully summited Pasochoa (13,860ft) outside of Quito, Ecuador.  Jared and Andrew got caught in a unexpected afternoon hail storm on the summit which made for a bit of fun for the descent.  It poured and hailed on us on the way down which made for a wet ride home to our hotel in Quito.  The team is in good spirits and is enjoying the adventure!

It is currently raining with thunder and lightning in Quito.  Jared and Andrew are back at the hotel, sorting through some gear for tomorrow’s climb of Rucu Pinchincha. To view our Ecuador team’s upcoming climbing itinerary click here.

So far, so good!  Team is one for one in the summit department!

Pictures provided by Jared. Enjoy! 🙂

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Jeff, José, and I have made a safe and successful ascent of Cayambe volcano! After we finished our acclimatization hikes near Quito we departed for Cayambe hut at an elevation of 15,250 feet. After a hour of driving from Hacienda Guachala we took our expedition vehicle across rocky and steep terrain toward Cayambe. The hut was beautifully located and provided spectacular views of the mountain. After three days of glacier training we prepared our gear and left at 11pm for the summit. After 7 hours of climbing we made it over the last crevasse and to the top on a crystal clear day just as the sun came up over the horizon. We were the first climbing team to reach the summit 🙂 We had an amazing adventure and thank our guide José Luis for his expert guidance and support! I will be posting additional photos from our expedition to the Madison Mountaineering Facebook page!

Onward!

-Andrew Tierney

Photos taken below by Andrew Tierney using a GoPro Hero 4 Black and iPhone 6. Enjoy! 🙂

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Dinner at Hacienda Guachala. The Hacienda Guachalá is known as the oldest hacienda in Ecuador, and the most important hacienda until the middle of the 20th century. The oldest buildings date from the year 1580!

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Breakfast with a view at Hacienda Guachala.

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Middle of the World!

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Happy Birthday Jeff! 🙂 Mountain Birthday’s are the best!

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Jeff with Cayambe in the background!

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Glacier training on Cayambe.

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Ladder training in preparation for Jeff’s upcoming Everest ascent!

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Andrew enjoying the fixed ropes and ladders on Cayambe!

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Jeff preparing to cross the ladder.

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Andrew on the summit of Cayambe!

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Jeff on the summit of Cayambe! Rise & Shine!

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Spectacular sunrise across Ecuador!

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Cayambe Hut

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Cayambe Volcano

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Last sunset before we made our ascent!

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Yesterday Jeff, José, and I summited Pichincha in record time and enjoyed panoramic views of Cayambe, Cotopaxi (active), and many other notorious mountains across Ecuador. Once we reached the summit at 15,700 feet we had lunch and continued to acclimate as we prepare for the journey to Cayambe hut today. After our climb we checked out of our hotel in Quito and drove a short distance to Hacienda Guachala, a famous establishment that dates back to 1580! As we fell asleep we enjoyed a warm fire in our room and woke up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee on our patio. Today we will journey to the Cayambe hut and begin to review the technical skills that we will need for the climb. Service will become harder to find but I will try and update the blog as soon as I am able. Onward!

-Andrew

 

Photos taken below by Andrew Tierney

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Bouldering across a rock field as we make our way up Pichincha.

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Jeff and José Luis climbing up the last few steps of Pichincha!

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Jeff and Andrew at the summit of Pichincha (15,700 feet).

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Beautiful views looking over the city of Quito from Pichincha!

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