Seattle mountaineering guide Garrett Madison and Silicon Valley tech CEO Zachary Bookman were supposed to summit earth’s tallest peak together in September 2019.
But they didn’t and instead, they’ve entered a legal battle.
The dispute has dragged on for over a year now and has resulted in two separate lawsuits. It all started when Bookman paid for a guided expedition up Mt. Everest set to happen in September of last year, but never took place after the guiding company he booked with canceled the attempt due to what they claimed were too hazardous of conditions to continue the ascent.
Madison, the founder of Seattle-based Madison Mountaineering and the man who pulled the plug on their planned expedition, contends that he was relying on his skills as an expedition leader and was forced to call off any attempt to summit due to dangerous mountain conditions.
Naturally, Bookman became upset with the cancellation and requested a refund for the expedition, which Madison refused to give because Bookman had signed a standard waiver consenting that he would not be entitled to a refund in the event they didn’t complete the expedition.
So Bookman sued Madison.
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Bookman — who’s the co-founder and CEO of San Francisco cloud computing startup OpenGov — is arguing that the $69,500 trip he signed up for was essentially a scam, that he was basically charged for a five-day walk to Base Camp, and that Madison promised to pay back some of his costs, Geek Wire reports.
Madison told Geek Wire in an interview:
“I honestly never imagined when I started my own business six and a half years ago that this was something I might have to deal with. It’s been a complete surprise.”
As did Bookman…
“I’m not an unreasonable person,” Bookman said in a separate interview with Geek Wire. “It’s just … wow, you’re going to take $69,500 from somebody for a five-day walk to Everest Base Camp? It doesn’t pass the laugh test.”
Bookman filed an initial lawsuit on March 27, 2020, alleging that Madison canceled their September 2019 Everest attempt because one of Madison’s expedition members was out of shape and backed out from the trip, making Madison not want to take his other clients to the summit, according to Outside Magazine. Bookman and his attorney also insisted in a January 21, 2020 letter that the Sherpas hired by Madison’s company were, “clearly lazy and inefficient,” which may have contributed to the cancellation. That’s when Bookman sued Madison for $100,000 for breach of contract and fraud.
— MadisonMtng (@MadisonMtng) September 25, 2019
Madison filed a countersuit in August that says the expedition was actually called off because a well-documented and very hazardous ice block was overhanging the route, Outside Magazine reports. The countersuit also says that no summit or expedition through Madison’s company is guaranteed and that Bookman isn’t entitled to a refund or damages because he signed a standard waiver acknowledging the very reality that unpredictable conditions could force them to turn back at any time.
And it gets worse. The case could set an alarming precedent in the mountain-guiding community.
Lawsuits like these are extremely rare, and the case could set a horrible example. Because, say Madison were to lose and have to pay Bookman the $100,000 in damages he seeks, it would likely bankrupt him, as it would many other mountain guides like Madison. This, in turn, could increase the fear of financial repercussions by guides on expeditions which could lead to poor decision-making in dangerous terrain.
If a guide started taking risks that they normally wouldn’t just because they’re scared of lawsuits, it suddenly becomes exceedingly dangerous for everybody — the guides, the clients, and anybody else on the high-altitude route.
These are not the kind of factors rational mountain guides want to have to weigh in when making high-consequence decisions in life-threatening terrain.
As for now, Bookman’s claim against Madison is at a standstill, Outside Magazine reports. The mountains are inherently dangerous, and conditions can change in the blink of an eye — which is all it takes for someone’s life to be taken, like the 16 sherpas that were killed in an ice avalanche on Everest’s Khumbu Icefall in the spring of 2014. But Bookman still isn’t taking no for an answer, and the decision determining this case’s outcome could have long-lasting, potentially dangerous implications for the entire mountain-guiding world as we know it.
A PDF of Bookman’s lawsuit is attached below.