Ahh… technology. You don’t realize how much a part of your daily life it is until it’s taken away. And the harshness of the conditions you’re in really hit home as you watch how it impacts your gear. Frosted lenses, frozen batteries, failing memory cards, powerless laptops… the Himalayas can be really rough on technology.
A lot of this episode revolves around Jon’s problems with getting our satellite phone and modem up and running, which didn’t actually work for several more days. Even once it was working, the sat signal was pretty unreliable and the call quality not that great. I wasn’t able to connect with my mom at all when I tried to call her, despite several attempts, and made only one successful call to my then-girlfriend Anne. (During which I apparantly sounded like a robot the whole time.) Even funnier was trying to use it at Base Camp. The sat phone was only set up to work in Nepal, but Base Camp is so close to China (the border runs right through the middle of Everest) that the GPS in the phone would occasionally think it was in China and try to connect to the Chinese network rather than the Nepalese one. So there was a lot of re-booting the phone to try and force it to connect to the correct network. Good times!
Surprisingly, we had GSM coverage as far as Namche Bazaar. So Chris was able to make some calls, including phoning in a couple episodes of Daily Photo Tips With Chris, on his iPhone. Pretty cool to stand there and watch Chris record his podcast, and equally cool to then hear it again after returning home! I had left my iPhone back at the hotel in Kathmandu, so no calls for me. I don’t regret this decision at all, as it was actually kinda nice to be off the grid. I even said something to that effect in the commentary for this episode. It felt good to get away from everything, to disconnect from the world and just be focused on the experience at hand. Though I missed my family and friends, pretty much everything else back in the “real world” was not missed in the slightest.
Then there were the problems with keeping a dozen or so still cameras, a couple of HD video cameras, two laptops, and the sat phone & modem all charged up. As you might be able to guess, there’s not much of an electrical infrastructure in the Himalayas. Solar power is king up there, and the higher we got the fewer and farther between available electrical outlets became. (And the spaghetti pile of power cables, power strips, and socket adapters was rather frightening on occasion!) At our highest we were reliant on a small car battery to keep things up and running. I brought along 5 batteries for my camera, my only piece of technology, and that suited me just fine. I got at least 2-3 days out of each battery (largely due to diligent power management… turning the camera on and off between shots, setting the LCD to turn off very quickly for previews, etc.) and never had to worry about re-charging anything until we got back in Kathmandu. Others weren’t so fortunate and ran into problems.
Storage was another issue. We’re all shooting in RAW format with high megapixel cameras, so memory cards filled up fast. I solved this by bringing a huge stack of 4MB memory cards and swapping them out as needed. Each card generally lasted a full day, or two in some cases, so I didn’t need to worry about any other solutions. We had a pair of Dell Mini 9 laptops (Hackintoshed, of course. Shh… don’t tell Apple!) to connect external hard drives to and offload photos with, though that was another issue. Above 20,000 feet or so, traditional platter-based hard drives don’t work terribly well. So either solid state or high-altitude rated drives needed to be used. I intentionally went with smaller cards at Chris’ recommendation, so that if one failed I would lose fewer photos. And, in those conditions, failure is always an option.
And if you were wondering, yes, that really is Jon when he’s angry. No torn purple jeans, no green skin, no “Jon smash!”, nothing of the sort. I know he was very frustrated with the ongoing communications issues, but you’d probably never have known it by listening to him. Very even-keeled, that Jon Miller. The thing is, I think he was the only one that was all that bothered by the lifeless sat phone and modem. We all seemed to adjust to the circumstances and find suitable means of communication in lieu of them. And Jon was very accommodating to us, up to paying for internet service for us at a local hotel or internet cafe more than once. Good guy, that Jon Miller.
(Images from The Rest Of Everest podcast are © 2003-2010 TreeLine Productions.)