-April 10, 2020
Our hearts go out to each of you who have been personally affected by the global crisis of COVID-19. We believe that by working together, demonstrating kindness, gratitude and compassion, we will find hope and healing.
Mountain Trip was born of a daydream over 40 years ago, a dream of exploring and sharing wild places with new friends. Since 1973, we have been working in partnership with those new friends, climbing classic and obscure routes on peaks well known and unnamed around the world. As Mountain Guides, we are in the risk management business; however, this current challenge has presented us with risks we never imagined. It has also demonstrated the resiliency and depth of partnership of climbers who have entrusted us to help them explore the wild places of their dreams.
The administrative and guide staff of Mountain Trip have been self-isolating for over 3 weeks along with much of the world. In that time we have taken our laptops and phones to our homes near our offices in Southwestern Colorado and worked as a team to reconcile the cancellation of the Everest and Denali climbing seasons. Throughout that process, we have been humbled by the grace and continued trust exhibited by our climbing partners. Our efforts are also focused on supporting our amazing team of guides and Sherpa who are facing economic challenges brought on by the cancellation of peak seasons of work.
We thought we would summarize how the Mountain Trip winter and spring operations in Telluride, as well as Mountain Trip Alaska’s expeditions and dates, have been affected by COVID-19.
Our home base in the little mountain town of Telluride, in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado, saw a rapid halt of activities after Telluride Ski Resort, along with all other ski resorts in the state of Colorado, was shut down with immediate effect on the evening of March 13th. Visitors turned to other activity providers and outfitters in the area to fill their vacation time and we took a flood of calls and reservations from people asking what activities there were left to engage in, and many reservations were made for first time ice climbing sessions and backcountry skiing tours. Unfortunately, though our desire to provide adventure was strong, we cancelled those activities within days, as schools, offices, restaurants and cafes closed their doors when our county introduced shelter in place orders.
We are now working together as a team and with the Telluride guiding community on an outline of our community’s best operational practices for when we can all return to the office and begin welcoming visitors again; when conditions and guidance from our Federal, State and Local governments allow our Summer Program of rock climbing, mountain climbing and Via Ferrata activities in Colorado to begin. However cautious, as guides who are fortunate to spend our lives bringing visitors to beautiful, remote places, we remain ever optimistic.
Within days of our office transitioning to our homes, we received news from the National Park Service that they had decided to not issue climbing permits for Denali. That news was abrupt and bitterly disappointing, but not entirely surprising and we understand and support their decision. In the weeks that followed, we have engaged with our guide team and with other guiding companies, as well as the American Mountain Guides Association in conversations to help us work together to build models for supporting climbers and guides and to develop new sets of best practices for expedition guiding in the months and years to come.
Like you, we are continuing to monitor the news. We firmly believe that each of us has a responsibility in keeping our community safe. Everyone should be following preventive recommendations. We encourage anyone reading this to please re-familiarize yourself with these practical and effective measures. We are in full support of our state and local governments’ health mandates and we will follow that guidance to direct our decisions about when we will open our doors for our guiding programs. Guidance from our local San Miguel County can be found here: https://bit.ly/SanMiguelCOVIDinfo and the State of Colorado’s COVID updates can be found at https://bit.ly/ColoradoCOVIDinfo
We cannot wait to get out into the hills with you, but for the time being, we ask that anyone considering visiting our little mountain town respect our state and local orders to please not come to Telluride quite yet. Our home base is a town of 2000 people, with extremely limited healthcare resources. We love our visitors, we love the energy and enthusiasm you bring and we appreciate all we learn from new friends from around the world, but we think our Governor Jared Polis nailed it when he said, “The pandemic is not a vacation.”
We will keep you updated as we learn more. As of today, we remain optimistic that we will be able to begin taking reservations by the end of April for our Denali 2021 climbing season, as well as our international expeditions to Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Mount Vinson and Carstensz Pyramid later this year and for Mount Everest next year. We also hope to be operating our summer activities in Telluride and the local San Juan Mountains at the start of our summer season, typically in early June.
No one knows what we will face in the weeks ahead, but everyone knows enough to understand that COVID-19 will test our capacities to be kind and generous, and to see beyond ourselves and our own interests, all things decades of expedition climbing have taught us. In the mountains we continuously face the unexpected. Together, as a team, we can best support one another to remain calm under pressure, embrace uncertainty and find that common path ahead of us. These are qualities refined by the extended Mountain Trip Family over the past 47 years. We will rely on them as we continue to do our part for the greater good, for our families, and for ourselves, until we are able to resume our daily activities.
The ancient Persians told us, “This too shall pass.” This will, and when it does, when we can interact socially under more normal circumstances, the outdoors will play an important role in our common recovery process. Under the broad blue sky, walking among majestic peaks or pushing ourselves to explore our physical or emotional limits on climbs near and far, wild places provide us all with a sense of connection and reason for celebration. We strongly encourage our guests, guides, staff and friends to please follow government directives so that we can soon explore those wild places together and experience the healing splendor of the world’s mountains.
Director, Mountain Trip
Denali Specific Updates
-March 20, 2020
We just received word from Denali National Park and Preserve that they have decided not to issue any climbing permits for Denali or Mount Foraker this season. Please find the NPS press release below.
This is a rather stunning, but not entirely unexpected development, given the rapid pace of disruption caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. The National Park Service staff is concerned about their ability to protect staff working in the inhospitable environment of Denali. It resonated with us when they said, “You cannot fly a helicopter in a hazmat suit.”
While deeply disappointed with this turn of events, Mountain Trip is fully committed to doing our small part to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and we support the decision made by the NPS. Globally, we are all in this together and despite the hardships and challenges presented by the NPS decision, we understand the need to protect the critical infrastructure of Climbing Rangers, helicopter pilots and support staff that make it possible for us to climb in the Alaska Range.
Over the next week, we will reach out to each of our 2020 Denali climbers individually to discuss options in the face of this unprecedented situation. Over the past weeks, we have discussed many scenarios about what we might do if we found ourselves in the position of being unable to launch expeditions. Our climbers entrusted us to help them pursue a dream of climbing to the top of North America. We ask for continued trust as we work out how to proceed in light of this recent event.
Our home office is based in San Miguel County, Colorado. San Miguel County issued “Shelter in Place” orders effective yesterday, so we are not allowed to access our office or even leave our homes, with limited exceptions. We ask for your patience as we take a few days to collect ourselves and to finalize a plan for how to proceed.
Beginning on Monday, we will start calling each of your Denali climbers to discuss options.
We have all been training and preparing for the Denali season. The mountain isn’t going anywhere. What is most important now is that we all do our part to help ensure that we can all head up it when things settle down. To that end, we strongly urge everyone to do your part to prevent the further spread of the outbreak. Please take precautions personally, so that you come out the other side healthy and able to head up a big cold mountain in the not too distant future.
Date: March 20, 2020
Contact: Maureen Gualtieri, (907) 733-9103
Denali National Park is announcing modifications to operations to implement the latest guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and local and state authorities to promote social distancing. As of Friday, March 20, Denali National Park and Preserve has suspended issuance of climbing permits for any expeditions attempting an ascent of Denali or Mount Foraker for the 2020 mountaineering season. Furthermore, the Walter Harper Talkeetna Ranger Station will be closed to the public until further notice.
Due to weather and glacier conditions, the Denali and Mount Foraker climbing season typically begins in late April and ends in mid-July, however most teams begin their expeditions in May and early June. To date, no permits have been issued for the 2020 season. Considering the anticipated longevity of the international coronavirus response, social distancing protocols, and travel restrictions, park managers have determined the most appropriate course of action is to suspend all 2020 permitting.
The health and safety of the climbing community, including park visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners is our number one priority. High alpine mountaineering typically requires transport in small aircraft, and shared tents, climbing equipment, and other camp infrastructure. In light of these and other factors, such as the difficulty maintaining recommended hygiene protocols in a mountain environment, park officials have determined it is not feasible to adequately protect the health of mountaineering rangers, other emergency responders, pilots, and the climbing public at this time.
All mountaineers currently registered to climb Denali or Mount Foraker will be entitled to a refund of their 2020 mountaineering special use fee and park entrance fee. Registered climbers do not need to request a refund, and they will be notified by email in the next several weeks when the refunds are processed.
The National Park Service (NPS) is working with the federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. The NPS urges visitors to do their part when visiting a park and to follow CDC guidance to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by maintaining a safe distance between yourself and other groups; washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; and most importantly, staying home if you feel sick. For high-risk populations, such as the elderly and people with underlying conditions, we ask that they take extra caution and follow CDC guidance for those at higher risk of serious illness.
March 17, 2020-
Given the uncertainty of the rapidly unfolding situation with the COVID-19 outbreak, we want to assure our Denali climbers that we optimistically anticipate launching our 2020 Alaska Range expeditions as planned.
In conversations with Denali National Park as recently as March 16th, they do NOT foresee any operational changes to the mountaineering program this season. We still have a month and a half until our first trips of the season head to Alaska. We also had a phone conversation with the Acting Chief of Commercial Services in the National Park Service (NPS) in Washington DC on March 17th. He indicated that decisions about which, if any, units of Denali National Park might be closed will be made by the Superintendent of the Park. The NPS has a landing page on which they will update the public as to any closures with the Park system: https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/news/public-health-update.htm
Given the information available to us at present from local and federal health and governmental officials, we are planning to continue preparing for Denali season. Nonetheless, we want to emphasize that–similar to an expedition on a high-altitude glaciated peak–there are uncertain times ahead and, just as when we are tied into a rope on the Kahiltna Glacier, we are all in this together. As with mountaineering, we must continue to maintain trust, candor and a sense of calm while moving forward. We will try to be as transparent and forthcoming as possible as we work through this ever-changing new normal.
We are actively coordinating with healthcare professionals to develop protocols that we can institute in the weeks preceding Denali climbs that will hopefully help us all feel comfortable about spending time together on the glacier. As mentioned in our previous email, mitigating the risks to our guides and climbers is our highest priority. While the West Buttress and Denali are remote from the rest of the world, each expedition team spends a lot of time in close quarters.
We encourage everyone who has planned on an expedition for this 2020 season to continue to self-monitor, do your best to stay healthy, and importantly – keep training. Although it might be a bit hard to find the motivation to pick up the weights or get out for that early morning run, especially when the landscape of our day-to-day lives has changed so drastically, it’s important to keep preparing for the expedition ahead. Abide the recommended measures from the Center for Disease Control (in the US) and your national, regional and local governments to mitigate risk to yourself to both prevent the spread of the COVID-19 and to avoid contracting it. Keep doing those lunges, burpees and try to make time to get out into nature.
Conditions around the world are rapidly changing in response to this unprecedented pandemic. We do not yet know how the COVID-19 will affect international or even domestic travel and our climbers’ ability to get Alaska. Here are some links to Alaska’s updates and to those of the CDC.
We do not know anything more than we are disclosing to you now, and we will maintain communication and transmission of information from all pertinent sources as we receive it. Please be understanding, as there are many questions for which we simply do not have answers. While we are always more than happy to chat, we will be working remotely at this time and our office staff will not necessarily be able to take every phone call or respond to every email immediately as it arrives.
Stay healthy, be well, wash your hands, and keep positive in these uncertain times. We look forward to seeing you in Alaska!