195: Garrett Madison: High Altitude Mountain Guide and Founder of Madison Mountaineering

March 26, 2021

Garrett Madison talks about how he has managed to build an extremely rewarding career in mountaineering and overcoming the obstacles that presented themselves during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Guest Garrett Madison defines what he does with his business Madison Mountaineering. “As a mountaineering guide service, I organize and lead expeditions all over the world, to the seven summits, which is the highest peak on each continent, and also the highest peaks in Asia, like Mount Everest, K2, which is the second highest peak, Mount Lhotse, the fourth highest peak, and others.”

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, we talk with Garrett Madison about how Madison Mountaineering was affected by COID-19. “When COVID hit, we were able a week away from flying from the US to Nepal to go on our Mount Everest expedition. Nepal closed their border. China closed their border. Mount Everest was completely shut down. It was a big surprise for everybody, obviously. Initially, we thought it would just be a couple of weeks of shutdown business and then we would be back up and running a couple of months later when we start our K2 trip in June. Whoever, COVID has endured and much of the world remained totally closed for travel.”

What You Will Learn:

How was Garrett Madison able to adjust to COVID-19 businesswise? “Fortunately, in late July, Mount Rainier National Park opened up and allowed commercial building again. So, we were able to operate our Mount Rainier program, which was awesome. Climbers came out from the midwest. We met up. We had perfect route conditions, perfect weather. It was a wonderful experience.”

How much do local sherpa depend on mountaineering expeditions in their economy? “It is a major loss in her income for the year. Most of them rely on Everest to make the bulk of their income and some of them will do other trips with me during the year, summertime in Pakistan, K2, other peaks, autumn sometimes.”

Garrett Madison shares what his experience was like in October 2020 when he went to Nepal. “In the autumn season, Nepal had announced that they were going to open September 1st and they actually postponed that out to mid-October. So, I was very excited to plan an expedition to Ombigaichan, which is a 6000-year peak about 20,800 feet…I was able to team up with very adventurous climbers who were willing to travel during the pandemic. We flew over there and we were the first commercial team to enter Nepal since the lockdown back in March. So, we had to obtain special permits and visas to arrive. We arrived in Kathmandu. It was very quiet. There were no other tourists or other climbers. We had to do a five-day quarantine, which wasn’t a big deal. We had a good time.”

Garrett Madison talks about the power of looking for opportunities. “One line a buddy of mine said to me is, ‘we need to look for opportunities during this pandemic.’ I didn’t embrace it when the lockdown happened back in March. But, a few months later when I realised that things weren’t going to go back to normal anytime soon I started embracing that concept of looking for other opportunities. That is how I came up with the idea to go to Ombigaichan last fall, the climb to Nepal. Then after that I organized a climb to the highest volcano in the world in Chile.”

How will Everest be different this year than in the past? “I know that China isn’t going to open in time for the Everest season. So, the border is closed and it will remain so for at least a couple more months. Unfortunately for the teams that normally go up the north side of Mount Everest they won’t be able to go this spring. Some of them have canceled their plans. Others have shifted to the south side of Nepal that we go to. But as of now, the total count for climbers on Everest in Nepal is about half of what it was in the season of 2019, which is great for us. It means that it will be far less crowded.”

Planning Expeditions

Do expedition leaders plan in advance to make sure that they are spreading their trips out so that the area doesn’t become too congested? “We do a little bit of coordination between the teams and talk about when we want to plan our summit attempts. That said, there is no regulation. So, anybody can choose to go on any day that they desire. I think a lot of climbers look to the more experienced teams and expedition leaders and guilds on the mountain and say, ‘when are you going? When are you submitting?’ Because they want to go when the experienced climber is going. So, that creates a bit of a conflict for people like myself because I don’t want to advertise which day I’m going to summit and then have a bunch of climbers also going on the same day. So, I am usually more vague about our plans.”

Avoiding Impaired Judgements

During this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, Garrett Madison also talks about starting his professional guiding career in 1999 and how the decision-making of climbers can become impaired. “If we look at both Mount Everest in spring of 2019, May 22nd and 23rd, over a half dozen people lost their lives in the death zone above 26,000 feet and looking at what transpired on K2 in the last couple of weeks where five very accomplished climbers who had a lot of experience on other big mountains parrished, it is incredible tragic for them, for their families, their friends, for them. Why does that happen? When we are up in the death zone and we become impaired, climbing without oxygen, or low on resources, they don’t have good support, it can become difficult to make good decisions. FOr climbers that are going after Everest, K2, or another big mountain, it is a lot of sacrifice.”

Links to Additional Resources:

Mark Pattison: markpattisonnfl.com
Emilia’s Everest – The Lhotse Challenge: https://www.markpattisonnfl.com/philanthropy/
Madison Mountaineering website: madisonmountaineering.com
Garrett Madison social media: Instagram
Madison Mountaineering social media: Instagram

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