In 2019, respected Everest guide Garrett Madison called off a bid to summit the mountain when a serac he was concerned with loomed dangerously over the route to the top. One of his paying clients on the trip, a man named Zac Bookman, became upset that the expedition was scuttled and sued Madison Mountaineering for $100,000 for breach of contract.
Bookman’s suit claimed that the trip was organized around execs at Mountain Hardwear, a brand that sponsors Madison, and that when one of those execs couldn’t make the summit because he was exhausted, Madison decided to end the trip. Bookman also claimed the Sherpa working with Madison were lazy and disinterested, and their malaise contributed to the climb’s failure.
Madison was horrified. He and other guides feared that if well-heeled clients could sue when guides called off trips because of perceived danger, it would lead to more death on the mountain as guides feared for their financial lives if they didn’t summit.
No teams made it to the top of Everest that season, with most turning around because of the serac. Bookman refused placement in subsequent trips, demanding instead a refund of the $70,000 he paid for the first trip, plus $30,000 in damages. Madison pointed out that Bookman, like all clients, signed a waiver that made it clear there would be no refunds if a trip was canceled because of danger.
After a year of legal dispute, the pair settled last month, with Bookman and Madison signing a statement that declared Madison the successful party, and that “the fear of lawsuits and the financial repercussions from lawsuits can lead to injuries, illnesses, and fatalities for clients, guides, Sherpa, and other mountain professionals.”
The statement also included a line that Bookman was sorry for calling the Sherpa lazy and inefficient.
“The real fear within the industry would be that we would get sued every time we made a decision that a client did not like,” Guy Cotter, CEO of New Zealand–based Adventure Consultants, told Outside. “The typical client on Everest has always included business leaders of industry and high rollers, some of whom decide that it is they who should be dictating decisions on the mountain.”