GARRETT MADISON IS AMERICA’S PREMIER EVEREST GUIDE and the owner of Madison Mountaineering, a boutique guide service specializing in expeditions to the world’s most famous and formidable mountains. Madison began guiding in 1999 on Washington’s Mount Rainier, and he has since earned the reputation as the most successful Everest guide of all time, according to the number of clients who summited. Since 2009, he’s personally led more than 60 climbers to the top of the world. In 2011, Madison led the first expedition in history where climbers combined Everest and Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain in the world at 8,516 meters. The entire team reached the summit of the two 8,000-meter peaks in less than 24 hours, while Madison and one client managed to connect the peaks in 21 hours.
In 2014, Madison led the first successfully guided ascent of K2, arguably the hardest and most dangerous mountain in the world. He reached the summit with two clients and three Sherpas on July 27, 2014. Four years later on July 22, 2018, a team of eight clients, three guides, and 15 Sherpas reached K2’s summit. Madison regularly guides first ascents on unclimbed peaks as well as “Seven Summits” expeditions, which include Mount Vinson, Carstensz Pyramid, Mount Elbrus, Aconcagua, and Kilimanjaro.
As an Emmy award-winning producer, Madison works as a consultant on Everest and other big mountain film productions, including Sports Illustrated’s Capturing Everest. He’s been featured on CNBC, ESPN, and The Today Show, in addition to Outside and People magazines. Madison assists with product testing for Mountain Hardwear and speaks professionally about his mountaineering experiences. Despite all these accomplishments, Madison still cites his biggest achievement as zero climber deaths during his 20 guided expeditions to 8,000-meter peaks. Having observed hundreds of climbers in challenging situations before, during, and after major expeditions, Madison knows how to plan, pack, and prepare for success. Below is his best advice for a successful climbing expedition.
1 PREPARATION BEFORE THE EXPEDITION: Develop the fitness, climbing technique, and other experience necessary to have a safe and successful climb of Mount Everest. I’ve climbed with most of my Everest team members in the past, so I can help assess and prepare climbers on their journey toward Everest, and ensure they are in a strong position for a successful climb.
2 EXPEDITION STRATEGY: Once on the mountain, I believe strategy is key for success. An expedition team with good leadership, ample resources, and competent climbers will have the highest level of success. This includes the comforts of basecamp that allow recovery between rotations, such as fresh and nutritious food, spacious personal tents, and hot showers. The oxygen system, communications, weather forecasting, acclimatization process, and Sherpa and guide support are all essential parts of the equation.
3 CLIMBING AS A TEAM: Time after time up high on Everest, I’ve seen teams that are able to climb to the summit together, and make it down safely, whereas individuals not climbing as part of a cohesive team often run into trouble and turn around, or worse, they don’t make it down. When we climb as part of a true team where we support each other, work together to solve problems, and continue moving toward our goal, we are much more effective. When we are climbing as individuals, the chances are much higher that we will end up turning around when faced with an obstacle like high winds, precipitation, or an uncertain route. Sometimes climbers join a ‘team’ in the sense that they share an expedition permit, a basecamp, some high camps, and Sherpa support, but on summit day they don’t climb together or look out for one another. These are the climbers that have a much higher chance of dying on Everest, which I’ve seen firsthand. A notable example of this happened on May 19, 2012, when four climbers from other teams didn’t make it down to Camp 4 because they were too tired or ran out of oxygen, and no one was around to help them.