Google Goes to Everest
With a 40-pound camera system and a mission to photograph the world, Google takes us to the Himalayas for a closer look at the Sherpas who call the mountains home.
Last March and April, shortly before the avalanche that claimed the lives of 16 high-altitude workers on Mount Everest, a team from Google was trekking around Nepal’s Khumbu region in hopes of making the most detailed map of the area to date, an approach they're using across the planet. The group of 16 included engineers and international development specialists, and was led on the ground by Apa Sherpa, the legendary mountaineer who’s summitted Everest 21 times.
Google published more than 45,000 panoramas to create this interactive Street View experience, which is available today. Hauling the Street View Trekker—a 40-pound, GPS-enabled external frame pack with a spherical 15-camera, omnidirectional “eye” that protrudes a foot above the hiker’s head—the team captured all 38 miles from the town of Lukla to Everest Base Camp. They also side-tripped up the Bhote Kosi River to the town of Thame, home of the Thame Dechen Chokhorling Monastery, which overlooks the village.
The result is a step-by-step virtual tour of the trek most people make to Everest Base Camp. But the project also went further, taking the mapping indoors to the region’s cultural sites. Typically called “business view” in Google-speak, the team added a layer of panoramic photos from cultural and residential sites.
Project manager Raleigh Seamster, whose background is in international development, says that delivering 360-degree views from within monasteries and Sherpa homes pushes up against the boundaries of mapping, journalism, art, and human understanding. “We consider this project to be part of our program’s commitment to giving knowledge and resources to these non-profit organizations like Story Cycle and Apa Sherpa Foundation,” Seamster told me, “so that they can use this imagery and they can use the maps in order to visualize their cause and tell their story and share these places with the world through Google Maps.”
The interior panoramas produce a kind of spacial awareness that’s not quite like being there, but helps you put the place in a context that’s less abstract than looking at a disembodied photo alone. It’s also just a cool way to procrastinate for an hour or two.
Take a stroll over the Hilary Bridge on the climb to Namche Bazaar.