Tweeting from Everest

Mar 19, 2010
Outside Magazine

Alan Phoning Home On my first Himalayan expedition, I spent $1 per character to sendan email. "Hi, I'm back safely" costs $19! How times have changed.

Twittering from the Top is not unheard of today. Expeditions sendemails, pictures and videos from trek to summit - all for pennies.Social media is a key tool for climbers and expedition companies topromote and share their adventures.

The ability to stay in touch is priceless for some climbers. I knowthat without my satellite phone to call my wife, I would be lost onlong expeditions. The opportunity to bring others along on the dailyexperiences of a climb bring more meaning for some climbers.  But forothers, staying connected destroys the purity of their sport.

Between websites, Facebook and Twitter; climbers have theopportunity to share every detail; even those others really don't careabout. In 2005, an Everest climber rated his mental state, relationshipwith teammates, attitude and even his bowels on a scale from 1 to 10.Perhaps a bit of TMI!

For 2010, social media has taken a strong hold on the climbingcommunity. Google reports over 38 million sites with "climbing" andalmost 3 million with "Mt. Everest". Every serious expedition companyhas a website. And many individual climbers have a website or blog.

Climbers report during their climbs using nothing more than a satphone and a PDA or laptop computer. A system that used to cost over$10K can now be outfitted for less than $1K. Sat phone time is now wellless than $1 a minute with a direct connection to the Internet. Thefolks at HumanEdgeTech can set teams up with a one-stop shop from phones to websites.

All this does require some expertise. For example, the low cost SIMcard for a Thuraya satellite phone works in Nepal but not in China thusnot on the summit of Everest - when climbers want it the most!

Another interesting newish technology climbers are using are satellite-based GPS tracking devices such as SPOT. Last year, Scott Parazynski and Gavin Bate used these types of devices to record their every move up and down the mountain. Their followers could see each move on a Google Map from the comfort of their home.

But with these tools come risks. Technology failures, rumors orhonest misinformation can lead friends and families to confusing andunnecessary concern.

In 2009, Gavin turned back at the balcony and we watched his pathlead to an exposed edge and abruptly stop. He was fine but left manywatchers wondering if disaster had struck. His home team made this postin the midst of the crisis:

There are hundreds of possible scenarios but nothing atpresent can be confirmed until we hear from Gavin. Due to his lack ofcontact we can only assume that he is either higher up and queuing tosummit without the tracker or on his way down and the phone battery hasdied with the cold weather. Obviously laptop and hence twitter updatescannot operate without the sat phone link up.

Tim Ripple ofPeak Freaks kept everyone informed throughout his team's expeditionusing Twitter.  Tim tweeted "Everest 27,000 ft.. we are alive and well.We weathered the extreme winds, buried in our tents. Heading for thesummit tonight at 21:00hrs [9:02 PM May 17th, 2009]". Tim will be backin 2010.

Everest is now used for serious advertising. In 2009, Eddie Bauerlaunched their First Ascent line of climbing appeal with amulti-million dollar expedition complete with Ed Viesturs, liveblogging, on-mountain camera men and film editors. It was an amazingexample of technology. Not be be left out is the Discovery Channel'stelevision series. Finally, the father of all Everest films is IMax Everest.

I wanted to see what an experienced commercial guide thought of today's social media and blogging during climbs. I asked Guy Cotter, principle of Adventure Consultants for his thoughts. Adventure Consultantshas been posting real-time updates from their climbs for over a decade on their website plus now use Facebook and Twitter.Their on-mountain technology has advanced along with the latesttechnology. Guy makes it available to his clients.

Q: How has the Adventure Consultants (AC) website evolved over the past decade?
It's become our main resource for folks to find us and interact withour team all the way over here in New Zealand. It has grownsignificantly larger and has loads of useful information for our guestsand climbers in general to absorb.

Q: AC has been posting live dispatches from your climbs for over10 years. What do you see as the benefits of posting your expeditionsfor the public to watch?
The dispatch pages are some of the most active pages of our site, andteam members on expeditions love how the information goes out daily sothat their friends and family can follow their adventures. It's prettyexciting seeing what is posted each day and for all our team it's thefirst thing they look at when they arrive at work in the morning!Travel and climbing are both activities that can enrich your life, andto be able to share it with your wider network via the web adds anotherdimension to each journey.

Q: How is AC using Facebook today?
We've quite a large family of clients here at AC and we find thatFacebook helps us keep in touch with everyone with 'insider' details onwhat's going on in the world of climbing and at AC.

Q: How is AC using Twitter?
Both to follow key expeditions with brief updates of their progress andalso to highlight articles of interest on the web about climbing,guiding, high altitude expeditioning for our followers.

Q: Do you see any complications when your clients also post dispatches?
We brief our team members to be sensitive to other teams and thecurrent situation when updating their own web blogs but yes there isthe potential for mis-communications and mis-reporting to occur.

Q: Does all this real-time communication increase the opportunity for confusion during accidents?
Yes and no, yes in that there is the potential for the wronginformation to be published (and then sometimes retracted, which isvery confusing and happened a lot on websites covering Everest in 1996)and no because we can get relevant facts about what is actuallyhappening out to people who are following any particular situation.

It is interesting seeing some of the blogs/dispatches that come outand how sometimes there are discrepancies in what has been written andwhat has actually happened. It's important for people to realize that ablog/dispatch is only one person's point of view and not necessarilyintending to provide balanced media like the mainstream media attemptsto.

Mountaineering used to be something that occurred a long way fromanywhere and news was slow to get out. Electronic media now makes itall the more immediate and hence people can follow an expedition'sdaily progress with the flick of a switch. I think this is a cool thingas more people can share in the experience without necessarily havingto be there.

One of the first websites I remember visiting as I took an interest in Everest was chronicled the climbs of Everest and other Himalayan peaks and dida great job with interviews and insightful articles. Their real-timecoverage of the 1996 disaster was novel at the time. But for those noton the Internet in 1996, most waited for Jon Krakauer's's extensivearticle in Outside magazine - not the website, the printed magazine :).

Today, many websites report on climbing, adventure and Everest.There are many well-known sites and then those that range fromadventure in general such as The Adventure Blog to ones that specialize such as Mount Everest: The British Story for UK climbers.

My sitehas a twofold purpose. I post dispatches during my climbs to share theexperience and then I provide annual coverage of each Everest season topublicize the need for Alzheimer's research.I take my reporting seriously and treat it with respect. However, withso much unfiltered information available, the opportunity for confusionis a strong possibility.

Sadly, the Everest climbing season brings accidents with injuriesand sometimes death. My policy is not to comment until I have a firsthand witness report and preferably from more than one source thatconfirms the story. Then I do not report names until it is clear thefamily has had an opportunity to be notified. My goal is not to befirst, but to be sensitive and as accurate as possible in eachsituation.

Today, I updated my Everest 2010 Season Coverage,with each climber's and team's Facebook and Twitter pages and thecurrent link to their website. Some are very active, others not somuch. But you can follow your favorite team directly if you like.

Even with the downsides, all this technology opens the world of highhigh-altitude mountaineering to millions. Clearly it is fully up toeach individual climber and team if they want to report on everymovement (so to speak); just use the technology to stay in touch, orexclusively for an emergency.

So for all the Everest 2010 climbers and teams, be safe and thanks for letting us tag along.

Climb On!


Arnette is a speaker, mountaineer and Alzheimer's Advocate. You can read more on his site

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