12:20 p.m. EDT May 1, 2003
Three Everest stories have been making the rounds through mainstream media – The Chinese Sohu team using mobile phones on the mountain, the Everest reality show, and the base camp Internet café. The sad part is that these three stories are the least interesting of what is actually happening. Contrary to what Mr. Hillary has been saying, Everest is NOT bullshit these days – the mainstream coverage and its celebration of all that isn’t in the true spirit of climbing and achievement is.
The Chinese Sohu team has driven a big-ass truck into base camp, strung fiber optics up and down the mountain, and has a task force of 140 people. What does all this accomplish? – About the same thing one climber with a handheld sat phone, PDA, and camera can do. Technology is all about making things smaller, lighter, and more convenient, not the opposite. Do you think the media would laud a farmer that replaces his tractor with 300 oxen?
OLN’s Global Extremes should be called the un-reality show. They are using technology, lots of money, and tons of manpower to bring the experience of climbing Everest to people all over the world, live. The ironic thing is that they are doing just the opposite – the team has been on Everest for almost a month and no one knows what’s going on with them?
Already there has been death on Everest, close calls, high winds, and lots of action. Just last week the Russians had to sneak a team member back through the Chinese boarder – it’s like a Cold War spy novel. Where is the Global Extremes team and what are they doing? Reports from the mountain are nowhere to be found until May 12th when they’ll be live from base camp. How interesting is this compared to the small teams who have already been sending video and pictures from Camp II, 6800m, unscripted, and with not even a 10th of the man power.
Twinkie eating speed skaters
Oh yeah, and none of the OLN contestants have even been above 7000m before. Here’s an idea to pitch to the networks – how about taking a 50 year old, Twinkie-eating, 250 pound couch potato and put him in an Olympic speed skating event; and then air it live for the world to see. This team has every right to be on Everest, but despite being one of the most boring expeditions so far, they are written about everywhere. There was one piece of news on the team several weeks ago – their camera crew was on the other side of the mountain acclimatizing because they were still in negotiations with the Chinese over the film permit. That’s excitement, but do you think they dare tell people about it themselves?
The famed Internet Café has been written about the most. What is left out of all the stories though is that Base Camp has had Internet for years, and wireless technology has been used from high on the mountain as early as 1999. Most teams in base camp come with a satellite phone and a laptop now a days, yet the world’s media can’t get enough of this Café. They make it out to be the greatest thing to have happened on Everest since the invention of an ice axe. One thing the Café is doing that no one has written about is posting ExplorersWeb’s weather forecasts for the climbers without satellite phones to see (in exchange for the use of ExWebs printer). This is a service that is actually making a difference to the climbers.
As big and bad as it ever was
So what does all this come down to? Does it diminish Everest and its grandeur – of course not! There are so many climbers on the mountain right now living their life long dreams. For some this will the first time looking out their tent door high on the Lhotse Face, with the Western Cwm and entirety of the Himalayas at their doorstep. (see picture) For others, this is their umpteenth time trying for the elusive summit – successive failures year after year will not break their drive.
Everest is a challenge, no matter who climbs it, how they do it, or how many grace its slopes – this is not up for argument. The message is this – stop calling Everest a circus, and stop calling it bullshit. For every Chinese Sohu team on the mountain there are three others like the Japanese Miura father and son expedition where a 70-year is skiing above 6400m, and sending video back for us to see.
Seeing through the veil
The reason for edge communication technology is to make us all more mobile (and ultimately take us to space). Which technology do you think meet the criteria? The one-kilo setup of the small teams or Sohu’s crew of 140? Well, just look at the videos and pictures from the other mountains and the Polar areas this year. The large outfits better hurry up! Faster, lighter and smarter - those are the real modern day adventurers. And before we can hope for initiated journalists - armchair warriors must learn to see through the hype.