Because It’s (Virtually) There: British Army Posts Live Blog, Video Via Satellite From Mount Everest

By | October 30, 2006 | Feature, Telecom

It’s not difficult to understand the literal and figurative gravity involved with trying to summit Mount Everest. On average, about 10 percent of those annually attempting it are killed, and even those reaching the world’s tallest peak face a 1 in 20 chance of never returning.

Even less likely, then, seemed the chances for a British Army team who earlier this year braved the mountain’s West Ridge, a route used by only 13 others ever since Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal first reached the peak in 1953.

With the use of satellite, the British Army’s Everest West Ridge expedition made and preserved history of its own by broadcasting a live blog and video from the treacherous slopes by which they came just short of the summit in May.

Despite an altitude approaching 29,000 feet and temperatures capable of deep-freezing human flesh, four climbers crossed the West Ridge to Camp 5, pushing through the Hornbein Couloir, a narrow crack channeling into Everest’s North Face and its “Death Zone” where the atmosphere is too oxygen-starved to support human life.

At a relentless 45-degree angle, the couloir is filled with unstable rock and exposed to violent winds. And that’s before the wind slab: The worst kind of avalanche risk, wind slab occurs where compacted snow crusts atop a soft, yielding layer which can break up and dislodge the layer beneath as if on ball bearings. Such a fall in the couloir means certain death.

Much better, then, to surf rather than climb it. With a Hughes class-1 Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) terminal supplied by NSSL, the team was able to provide their armchair followers with real-time information. Weighing under five pounds, the terminal let the team relay blogs, record video, make calls or send e-mail to family and friends by uplinking over an Inmarsat L-band feed unaffected by weather conditions. They posted information online and through RSS, e-mail, mobile text alerts and video clips; details from throughout the adventure can be seen at http://www.armyoneverest.mod.uk/.

NSSL’s product manager, Danielle Edwards, said the ruggedness and effectiveness of BGAN is evidenced by the downloadable files and video clips which both enlivened and preserved the attempt online thanks to the intrepid climbing cameramen who documented it in what may be fairly considered the most comprehensive and accessible record of a climb available to the public.

Next up? At 7,818 meters, actually, is nearby Makalu, the world’s fifth-tallest peak, for the army’s 2008 expedition.

— J.J. McCoy

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