“Do not underestimate this mountain…”—Erling Juul, Island Peak conqueror

The excitement is building! Two TechRepublic editors tomorrow take a leave from their posts to undertake a “techxpedition” to Everest Base Camp and scale Imja Tse, also known as Island Peak.

Imja Tse, or Island Peak, rises an imposing 20,285 feet above sea level. Photo by Larry Chapman, courtesy of Peakware.com

Who are these brave souls? Mike Jackman and David Bard will be departing for Kathmandu on April 8th to attempt a “first” in the IT world. I had the opportunity to get the skinny on the trip in between their training breaks.

The trip itself is a personal idea that David and Mike discussed earlier in the year. They wanted to think of something big, and quite frankly, 20,000-foot mountains are about as big as big gets. According to David, they “approached TechRepublic to partner with us, because there was so much potential for the company.”

Potential for what?
Mike and David will be field-testing and reporting on ruggedized high-tech equipment. In fact, they’ll use many such items on their Himalayan climb. The technology this techxpedition will test includes:

  • Portable satellite phones
  • Ruggedized laptops
  • Hardware designed for harsh and inhospitable environments
  • PDA computers
  • Digital cameras
  • Communications software
  • Mountaineering software

“No other company has reported on such equipment like we intend to,” adds Bard. “We’ll document not only our personal equipment, but the equipment team members from other countries bring. We’re going to be right there on the spot, reporting from the side of an ice-covered mountain. There’ll be no relying on secondhand information.”

An island in a sea of ice
Island Peak rises to an elevation of 20,285 feet, and it was first conquered in 1953. Over the years it has become one of the most popular climbing sites in the world.

That doesn’t mean it’s an easy climb, though. Quite the contrary. An entire team is recommended for an attempt to scale it.

The techxpedition team includes three climbers, one guide, and eight sherpas, porters, and cooks. The climbers will ascend no more than 2,000 vertical feet per day in order to acclimate themselves properly and avoid Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).

Should everything proceed as carefully planned, once the team reaches the summit, Bard and Jackman will plant the TechRepublic flag and photograph their accomplishment. Their stay at the summit will be a brief one, however. They’ll be unable to remain longer than twenty minutes due to oxygen depletion and weather conditions.

The risks
There are many risks involved when attempting a project of such magnitude. Lives have been lost and others changed forever when mountain climbing.

Imja Tse is no exception, as it has proven to be unforgiving in the past. Peakware.com includes an Imja Tse summit log that reports, among other things:

  • “The two first parties in [a friend’s] travel group were killed in an avalanche…”—Eva Nilsson
  • “Turned back due to extreme avalanche danger around 18,000 ft.”—Bretton Adams

Mother Nature can be cruel, but she is not the only enemy of the outdoor adventurer. At such extreme elevations, climbers must be careful to avoid the aforementioned AMS. Symptoms begin within 48 hours of ascent and include headache, nausea, and difficulty sleeping. AMS at its most dangerous can produce respiratory depression, cerebral edema, and pulmonary edema.

Nothing but fear itself…
With these risks in mind, David and Mike admitted they have reservations.

“It’s a mammoth task,” says Jackman. “To say I’m perfectly cool with it would be a lie.”

David explains further, “If you weren’t scared, you’d be a fool. You need to have a healthy respect and carry that fear to a point where it helps you.”

Mike adds, “Well, when you’re standing on a summit at 20,000 feet, I expect you realize that you have to come down the same way you went up, so you get to be scared twice.”

Follow the techxpedition’s progress
Both editors must now shake off those fears and face the challenge. Their flight leaves tomorrow.

Be sure to check back next week. Mike and David will provide regular reports via satellite modem to TechRepublic’s Louisville, KY headquarters during the month they’ll be gone. They’ll share their personal experiences and report on how well their high-tech equipment performs.

Meredith Johnston is a published author and regular contributor to TechRepublic.

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