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How to Use the Internet on the Summit of Everest

A journey to Everest base camp to see how technology is changing the world’s highest peak.

It was morning on May 10. I was in a teahouse in Dingboche, a remote Nepalese village about a two-day trek from the Mt. Everest base camp, sipping instant coffee, watching the sun rise from behind snow-crested Himalayan peaks, and trawling my Facebook feed using the Everest Link Wi-Fi network.

My guide Bishnu checked the day's weather forecast on his smartphone. Although there wasn't a cloud in the sky, he told me there was snow expected later in the afternoon. I was skeptical, but he said it would be best to leave sooner rather than later.

Our next destination wasn't connected to Everest Link, Bishnu warned me, as we stuffed our gear into our backpacks. I shot off a couple of messages to friends on Whatsapp letting them know I'd be incommunicado for few days, and switched off my phone. The next time I powered it on would be in base camp, standing in the shadow of the world's highest peak.

***

In the predawn darkness of May 10, 1996, a group of 36 climbers set out from Camp IV, the last major camp before the summit of Mt. Everest. The members of these expedition teams were in the hands of two of the most capable and accomplished mountaineers in the world, Rob Hall and Scott Fischer.

By the end of the day, most of the members of the Hall and Fischer teams had stood on top of the world. But on their way back down the mountain, they were blindsided by a blizzard. By the time the storm was over, eight members of the expedition were missing or declared dead, including Hall and Fischer. It was the deadliest day in the mountain's history up to that point.

Scott Fischer's memorial in a graveyard dedicated to climbers claimed by Everest. Photo: Daniel Oberhaus

Exactly 20 years later, Bishnu and I crested a ridge and walked into a clearing strewn with rock monuments and Tibetan prayer flags—a memorial to the hundreds of mountaineers claimed by Everest. While we rested, a group of trekkers came over the ridge, their necks laden with bulky DSLR cameras. They snapped selfies with their iPhones and wondered aloud which Instagram filters would best capture the mood of the place.

I began to reflexively bemoan our unwillingness to disconnect. That we couldn't leave the digital world even in one of the most remote regions on the planet felt suffocating, and somehow made the Himalayan graveyard I was sitting in feel less real. But as a gentle snow began to fall—just as Bishnu's app had predicted—I couldn't help but wonder if Fischer and his colleagues had access to today's tech in 1996, would they have survived?

ANALOG EVEREST

In 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to summit Mt. Everest.

At the time and for decades after, communication was understandably unsophisticated. Nepali runners physically delivered messages between the Himalayas and the Nepali capital of Kathmandu, a journey of over 40 miles in rugged terrain. It wasn't unusual to wait two weeks for a reply.

On the mountain itself, expeditions used radios to communicate. Hillary's team was using a five-pound radio unit, a hefty weight for climbers used to carrying 20 to 30 pounds on their backs. These days radio is still the primary method of communication for climbers, although now the units are small enough to fit in their pocket and still withstand the extreme weather conditions on the mountain.

"I don't think technology changed mountaineering at all up to 1996 because we didn't have any."

In the mid-90s, mobile satellite phones truly connected mountaineers on Everest to the outside world for the first time. If you're at all familiar with what satellite phones looked like in the early 90s, describing them as "mobile" is at best a humorous euphemism. A good example is the Inmarsat Mini-M, which was a revolution in satellite phone technology when it was released in the early 90s and was still about the size of a large laptop.

Mike Trueman, a professional climber from the UK, remembers Everest's analog days. He began his mountaineering career in the British army in the late 60s, and eventually began training his comrades in the skills necessary to survive in some of the most treacherous mountains in the world. He honed these mountaineering skills by spending 20 years working in the Himalayas as an officer in the Gurkha, the Nepali unit of the British army whose motto is "Better to die than be a coward," and now runs a youth expedition company out of the UK.

Although he had spent decades working and climbing in the shadow of Everest, Trueman didn't make his first attempt on the mountain until the spring of 1996. On May 10, just nine days after his 44th birthday, he was relaxing at base camp when news arrived via radio that Rob Hall and Scott Fischer's teams had encountered serious trouble coming down the mountain. Even though Trueman was at base camp as a private climber, he was asked to put his army experience to use by coordinating rescue efforts from Camp II, the second of four rest camps that dot the route to Everest's summit.

A porter leaves Everest base camp. Photo: Daniel Oberhaus

Trueman's expertise proved to be instrumental in rescuing the survivors of the Hall and Fischer expeditions, and he was lucky to have satellite phones, as bulky as they were.

"In '96 satellite phones were in their infancy on climbing expeditions," Trueman said. "At least 50 percent of the major teams on Everest were using satellite phones for the first time that year. Scott Fischer and Rob Hall's teams had incredibly good communications for the time­—the best on the mountain—and this enabled us to talk to everyone on Everest during the rescue."

According to Trueman, 1996 was a strange year for Everest not only because of the Hall and Fischer tragedy, but also because it was the first time that the influence of digital technology on the mountain could be felt. For Trueman, the reason for this is obvious: "I don't think technology changed mountaineering at all up to 1996 because we didn't have any."

The satellite phone meant climbers could get weather forecasts for the mountain for the first time. But even this seemingly-revolutionary advance was limited by the state of science.

"The weather reports were so inaccurate that we often joked they were sending us weather reports for another mountain," Trueman said. "Although getting weather reports straight into base camp was a new thing in mountaineering, it was slightly irrelevant because nobody was really placing much faith on those reports."

In many ways, having access to faulty weather reports was more dangerous than having no weather reports at all. It could lend a false sense of security to expedition teams who might've otherwise been more conservative in the risks they'd take, or cause them to dismiss weather reports entirely based on historical inaccuracy.

In this respect, the Hall and Fischer expeditions are an instructive example. They had been given a weather report that predicted a major storm developing on May 8 and peaking in intensity on May 11. Seeing a break in the weather, they opted to take advantage and push to the summit, only to descend into the storm as it reached its full force.

Within the last ten years, the mountain has seen the arrival of cell phone service and Wi-Fi. Meteorology has improved a lot since then, too. Helicopters are now capable of landing on the peak, oxygen systems have gotten so efficient even octogenarians can summit the mountain, and GPS devices will broadcast your location in real time on social media.

The effects of these technological innovations have been far-reaching, but ambiguous. They have saved countless lives, but they've also made the mountain so accessible that there have been deadly traffic jams at the summit.

One thing, however, is certain: Everest has gone high-tech, and there's no turning back.

E-VEREST

The Everest Link Wi-Fi network I was using to browse Facebook in Dingboche is supported by a Nepali company of the same name, formed by IT entrepreneur Tsering Gyaltsen in 2012.

The roots of Gyaltsen's "extreme internet" company go back to 2001, when he and a group of young Nepali entrepreneurs formed an internet service provider called Namche Technical Support with the goal of finally bringing the internet to the Everest region.

In 2003, they succeeded in their goal and launched the first "cyber café" at base camp—a 200 square foot tent populated with a handful of satellite-enabled laptops. Climbers could pay a bulk rate of $2,500 to access the internet for the duration of their expedition, or go with the piecemeal rate of $1/minute.

Image: Sarah MacReading/Motherboard

The café was short-lived, however. The Maoist insurgency that had been fueling a civil war in Nepal for over six years had already blown up the sole microwave tower connecting the region to the rest of the world in 2001. In 2004, Gyaltsen said, the Maoists began targeting Namche Technical Support infrastructure and the company ceased its Everest operations.

In 2012, after Gyaltsen and his colleagues saw enough tourists returning to the war-torn area, the company was reinstated as Everest Link. It spent two years raising funds and building, and in 2014, Everest Link succeeded in making wireless internet available all the way from Lukla, the village most Everest climbers fly into at the start of the climbing season, to Everest base camp. The network spans over 100 kilometers of mountainous terrain.

This remarkable feat of engineering was accomplished with a series of Wi-Fi hotspots connected to one another via repeating point-to-point microwave links, which are ultimately connected to the global internet through a backbone—a principle data route between two smaller networks—in northern India. The microwave repeaters that make Everest Link possible are mostly located on mountain peaks, and the entire network relies exclusively on solar power.

A sticker advertising an Everest Link hotspot on a teahouse at Gorak Shep, the jump-off point for Everest base camp. Photo: Daniel Oberhaus

Although Wi-Fi has only been available in the Khumbu region for a little over two years, the arrival of affordable internet on the mountain can be traced back to 2010, when a Nepali telecommunications company called NCell made the first-ever video call from base camp.

Voice coverage in the area had been available since the mid-2000s through Nepal Telecom, and the internet was also technically accessible through expensive satellite connections, but NCell upped the game.

By placing a 3G base station about 150 meters below base camp, NCell had brought voice and data coverage to locals in the Khumbu valley, those working at base camp, and the roughly 40,000 tourists who go trekking in the Everest region every year. Furthermore, it made cell phone coverage on Everest's summit a technical possibility from the Nepali side of the mountain.


Although mountaineer Rod Baber made a widely-publicized cell phone call from the top of Everest as part of a Motorola-backed stunt in 2007, his call was routed through a Chinese mobile station that had been set up on the Tibetan side of Everest earlier that year. If you were operating on a phone on a Nepali cell carrier (and most Everest mountaineers climb on the Nepali side of the mountain, known as the South Col), you'd be unable to make use of China's mobile station at the summit.

The arrival of NCell's 3G "high speed" internet in one of the remotest regions on Earth was heralded as a near-miracle. Even magazines like Outside speculated that cell phones might come to replace satellite phones on Everest. But according to the climbers I spoke with at camp, the hype was a little overblown.

"I think we're pretty far from being able to say that cell phones will replace satellite phones," Alan Arnette, an accomplished mountaineer and prolific blogger on all things Everest, told Motherboard. "The cell phone service is great when it works, but last year and this year I had to wander all around base camp to find a reliable signal. I'm not talking about 3G, I'm talking about just a voice signal."

Arnette first came to Everest in 2002, and although he bemoans the unreliability of cell coverage at base camp, he said it's made communication on the mountain dramatically more affordable. Prior to the arrival of 3G on Everest, accessing the internet required a terminal capable of connecting to the Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) satellite constellation and could cost up to $7/MB for data. The rates for satellite phone calls weren't much better, averaging about $1/minute. By comparison, NCell offers calling over its network for just 2 cents/minute and data plans for as low as 1 cent/MB—if you can get a signal, that is.

Asian Trekking's ad hoc wireless station which allows the company to connect to Everest Link; to the right are two satellite dishes providing the company with its own proprietary internet connection. Photo: Daniel Oberhaus

According to Tunisian climber Tahar Manai, who summited Everest for the first time this year, if you want a better 3G signal, all you need to do is climb to the top of the world's highest mountain. This is because the summit has direct line of sight connection with stations on the ground, whereas base camp does not.

"I always carry my phone when I climb so I can listen to music," Manai said. "When I got to the summit I started getting a ton of emails and notifications—you don't even get that at base camp. Here I have no signal, but at the summit I had great reception."

Compared to the 3G network and BGAN connections I tested, I found the Everest Link connection at base camp to be quite good, with a download speed of around 1.5Mbps. (The network can support up to 3Mbps, provided it is not being heavily used by others.) This was fast enough to browse the web without getting totally frustrated, call friends over Viber, and watch a YouTube video without too much buffering, but not fast enough for bandwidth-intensive apps like broadcasting on Facebook Live. The price for a connection was also admirable: For about $7, I was able to purchase a 100MB connection card at base camp. Most mountaineers, who spend about two months at base camp during a season, will buy their Everest data in bulk and pay around $50/GB.

Although I was impressed with the quality and reliability of the Wi-Fi available at base camp, the system isn't immune to failure. After the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed over 8000 people in Nepal in 2015, both the Everest Link and NCell 3G services went down. Huawei and China Mobile, which had brought 4G LTE coverage to the Tibetan base camp in 2013, was also not an option to climbers since cell signals from Nepal were blocked from the Chinese mobile station by the tallest mountain in the world.

For climbers in the camp, the only way to connect with the outside world was via satellite phone or the expedition company Asian Trekking's private connection. Jelle Veyt, a Belgian climber who was at base camp last year as a member of the Asian Trekking expedition, recalled how after the quake took out most of Nepal's telecommunications infrastructure, he was still able to stay connected.

He failed to Snapchat from the top of the world when his phone froze up in the -30F weather just a few feet from the peak.

"Thanks to our solar panels and satellite connection, I was still able to Skype with my friends and family back home after the earthquake," Veyt said. "Even though we were at base camp and everything was destroyed, we still had a better internet connection than almost anyone else in Nepal."

As Arnette and Veyt both pointed out, the earthquake served as a reminder that despite the arrival of 3G and Wi-Fi at Everest, these technologies are not at the point where they're ready to replace satellite-based tech.

"You really can't depend upon the internet as much as people advertise that you can," Arnette said. "I always tell anybody going to Everest that if communication is important to you, you still need to bring a satellite phone."

#EVEREST

On May 5, 2011, famed mountaineer Kenton Cool reached the Everest summit for the ninth time. To celebrate the occasion, he did what a lot of us do when we've done something we're proud of: He tweeted about it.

"Everest summit no 9!" Cool tweeted. "1st tweet from the top of the world thanks to a weak 3G signal & awesome Samsung Galaxy S2 handset!"

The only thing about this historical moment was that Cool wasn't actually the first to tweet from Everest's summit. The honor really belongs to the polar explorer Eric Larsen, whose simple tweet ("Everest summit!") predated Cool's tweet by over six months, albeit via a satellite rather than cellular connection.

Five years after Cool's first-but-not-actually-first tweet from the summit, social media use on Mt. Everest has become commonplace. This is largely due to innovations like the SatSleeve, a phone case with an antenna that endows any iPhone with satellite internet, as well as the improved internet connection supported by companies like Everest Link.

According to the climbers I spoke with, the proliferation of social media on Everest has a number of benefits: It not only allows climbers to share their experiences with family and friends in real time, but it also has created new opportunities for getting the sponsorships that many climbers depend on to make their summit bid a reality.

Tahar Manai (Tunisia) and Jelle Veyt (Belgium) talk with family and friends at base camp, two days after summiting Everest for the first time. Photo: Daniel Oberhaus

Yet for the younger generation of climbers—those who can't remember life before the internet and had many of their formative experiences occur on sites like Myspace—one of the main thrills of mountaineering is the ability to disconnect from our media saturated world.

Jost Kobusch, a 23-year-old professional climber from Borgholzhausen, Germany, said he became interested in climbing at a young age because of the sense of adventure it promised.

"When I was young I saw these climbing magazines and thought that the last real adventures on Earth are these expeditions where you go up high mountains," Kobusch told me. "These mountains were the places where nobody could reach you. That was real adventure. But it's really rare to have a real adventure today because you know you can make a phone call from anywhere."

Social media allows climbers to share the details of an expedition with unprecedented intimacy—highly valuable content that sponsors are willing to pay for—but it also burdens climbers with high expectations in terms of the amount of media they're expected to produce during their climb. Sponsors can now expect anything from the occasional blog post to Snapchatting the entire climb.

The second was the case with Everest's most recent social media phenomenon, #Everestnofilter. This expedition involved two world class climbers attempting to summit Everest without oxygen and Snapchatting their journey every step of the way. The expedition also demonstrated the huge demand for social content generated by climbers: #Everestnofilter was consistently trending on Twitter, as well as garnering "hundreds of thousands" of views each day on Snapchat, according to the team.

Two Sherpa check their email using a computer terminal at base camp. Photo: Daniel Oberhaus

Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richards, the two climbers making up the #Everestnofilter expedition, said they decided to chronicle their journey on Snapchat in order to give a raw, "unfiltered" look at what it's like to climb the mountain—unlike most stories from Everest, which are carefully curated.

For most of us, sending a Snapchat is as simple as pushing a button. But for Ballinger and Richards, it involved lugging an extra 14 pounds of equipment up the mountain—a satellite internet dish, extra batteries, and solar powered panels that would allow them to access the internet during their ascent. Considering most climbers summit with less than 25 pounds of gear, this was a significant additional load.

The pair also used an app called Strava, which tracks athletes' performance through physiological metrics and allows them to share their metrics with others. For many athletes there is a social and competitive aspect to using Strava, but for Ballinger and Richards, it allowed their performance to be monitored by doctors back in the United States who could analyze the data to determine when the pair should take a break.

This may seem like overkill, but Ballinger and Richards were hoping to add their names to the list of just over 60 climbers who managed to summit Everest without the aid of oxygen. Strava would help make sure they returned alive.

Up until summit day, it looked as though Ballinger and Richards were going to be successful in their oxygen-free summit bid—but as they approached the summit, Ballinger had to turn around when he started slurring his words as he succumbed to altitude sickness. Richards pressed on and was successful in his summit, although he failed to Snapchat from the top of the world when his phone froze up in the -30F weather just a few feet from the peak.

"Summit day was intense," Richards said. "Adrian had to turn around, I was alone and only spent three minutes at the top. Priority number one was safety and getting back down as fast as possible."

SAVED BY THE WEATHERMAN

Michael Fagin, who is based in Seattle and has never actually been to the Himalayas, is not your typical weatherman. When he's not running Everest Weather (one of a handful of weather services in the world dedicated to the mountain), Fagin does meteorological forensics, helping determine whether the weather played a role in people's deaths—and he does it all without a degree in meteorology.

Yet despite his lack of official qualifications, dozens of mountaineers contract with Fagin for his weather reports every season, largely relying on the accuracy of his forecasts for the success of their expedition—and ultimately, their safety. The reason for their choice is simple: Fagin knows his stuff.

Fagin, who worked in marketing until he was 50, was always fascinated by weather. When he began mountain climbing in the Cascades, he became hooked on the intricacies of mountain weather. Motivated by a need for better weather forecasts for his climbs, Fagin sat in on meteorology classes at the University of Washington and began ordering faxed copies of weather forecasts, spreading them out on his floor and studying them for hours in the evening.

In 2003, the 50th anniversary of Hillary and Tenzing's summit, Fagin launched Everest Weather by sending his forecasts to a few expeditions for free. At the time, weather forecasts received by Everest mountaineers were only slightly better than the nearly baseless reports Trueman was receiving back in 1996—but Fagin's turned out to be so accurate that the next year some of the expeditions returned and wanted to know if he would do it again. And so Everest Weather was born.

A member of the support crew for China's Youku team monitors the expedition's ascent up the mountain. Photo: Daniel Oberhaus

According to Fagin, meteorology has progressed rapidly in the last decade thanks to improved climate modeling derived from the vast amount of data and satellite images that are freely available online. Still, Everest remains a challenging meteorological subject for a number of reasons.

In the first place, there's no base station providing weather from the summit, so forecasters are often left without a way to verify their predictions. Furthermore, Everest's height means Fagin and other Everest forecasters must account for fluctuations in the highly variable jet stream, which dictates most of the mountain's weather patterns and creates a microclimate around the mountain. As Fagin put it, "the mountain makes its own weather," which can make forecasting based on macroscale weather patterns incredibly difficult.

Improved communication tools have bolstered the quality of Fagin's forecasts however, allowing him to communicate via text or phone with teams as they make their ascent. The teams will verify Fagin's forecast within a few hours of him sending it, giving him a leg up even over local Nepali forecasters in Kathmandu, who are often left without any way to verify the accuracy of their reports.

Fagin recalled an exchange he had with a climbing team this year as they made a bid for the summit while a storm was forming in the Bay of Bengal. The team had previously been getting inaccurate weather forecasts from another source, so they switched to Fagin on the recommendation of another climber.

"The cell phone service is great when it works, but last year and this year I had to wander all around base camp to find a reliable signal. I'm not talking about 3G, I'm talking about just a voice signal."

"No change in the forecast that we just sent but wanted to alert you that the [Joint Typhoon Warning Center] has just upgraded the tropical disturbance in the Bay of Bengal to the formation of a 'significant tropical cyclone is possible,'" Fagin wrote to the climbers. "That is a major upgrade."

The storm continued to grow in intensity in the Bay while Fagin watched the winds pick up speed on his meteorological equipment, but he didn't hear back from the climbers for another five days. Then early one morning he received a message from the team: They had reached the summit, but it was very cold and some in the team had frostbite. The wind had started to pick up around 3 AM, then peaked at noon—around 50-60 km/hour, the climbers estimated. It was exactly as Fagin had predicted.

"That's why I change to you [for forecasts] next year," one of the climbers wrote in reply.

EVACUATIONS

Better communications. More accurate weather forecasts. Ultralight clothing that prevents frostbite. Wildly-improved oxygen systems.

All these advances have drastically improved the survival rates on Everest, making the ascent safer and more comfortable for the mountaineers. However, it has also made the mountain accessible to far more climbers, many of whom lack serious mountaineering experience and try to make up for this deficit by leaning on technology.

Making the mountain accessible to so many people can lead to congestion at the peak, with several hundred people trying to summit on the handful of days each season when the weather is good enough.

This can mean that climbers spend several hours waiting their turn to summit, which is a problem when the waiting room is a region of the mountain known as the death zone—in 2012, four climbers died in a single day near the summit as a result of this overcrowding.

Furthermore, when shit hits the fan, these climbers lack the mountaineering skills to improvise.

Luckily for those climbers, rescue tech has also made some notable advancements in the last few years.

A helicopter lands at base camp to evacuate climbers with acute mountain sickness to Kathmandu. Photo: Daniel Oberhaus

On any given day at base camp, you're liable to see half a dozen or more helicopters come roaring up the Khumbu valley, loop around the camp, and gently touch down on one of the two rocky helipads set up in the camp. For the most part, these choppers are carrying food and other basic supplies for Everest mountaineers, but increasingly they also play another critical role on the mountain: evacuating injured and sick climbers.

Thanks to steady design improvements made on the Eurocopter B3, the same helicopter model that made history by landing on Everest's summit in 2005, it is now routine for climbers to be evacuated from base camp (which sits at around 17,500 feet), and rescues from Camps I and II (19,600 and 21,000 feet, respectively) are increasingly common. In 2013, the B3 model was given its ultimate test after Canadian climber Sudarshan Gautam became too exhausted to descend the mountain and collapsed at 23,000 feet. Using a long-line it was possible for the helicopter crew to rescue Gautam from where he fell. It was the highest rescue ever performed.

Still, helicopter rescues on Everest are incredibly technical and dangerous even at much lower altitudes. Since 1990 there have been over 40 helicopter and plane crashes in the Everest region which have claimed the lives of well over 300 pilots and climbers—like the other technologies, helicopter rescues can be a huge boon to climbers in hairy situations, but relying on them can come at a high price.

For the ill-fated expeditions led by Hall and Fischer in 1996, all of the deaths occurred at or above 26,000 feet. In a situation like this, improved helicopter tech would've been useless. All of the climbers who died in that freak storm perished as a result of falling or exposure to the elements, something which even today's best climbing gear couldn't have prevented. Their demise was fated days before their summit attempt, coded in inaccurate meteorological data. Yet other technological advancements available to climbers today, particularly improved weather forecasts, may very well have saved the lives of eight climbers on that tragic day in 1996 simply by keeping them off the summit.

THE FUTURE OF EVEREST IS HYPERREAL

Kobusch, the 23-year-old German climber, has a personal rule against posting on Facebook during a climb. When we spoke, he told me about how he had decided to break it on his most recent expedition to Annapurna and bought a SatSleeve for his phone. But when he got to the mountain, his technology failed him.

"I ended up not having internet for 48 days," Kobusch said. "In the beginning I missed it a bit and I felt guilty that I couldn't post anything for the people who were following the expedition. But on the other hand, I felt really far from civilization and that was quite a good feeling. When you take social media with you, you're looking at your experience through what you're posting. It's a more pure experience if you wait to post-process it in base camp."

Sunrise over Everest. Photo: Daniel Oberhaus

In the hills below Lukla, the village where most climbers take a plane back to Nepal's capital, life becomes increasingly technologically primitive. There's no internet, cell coverage is dismal, and just having electricity is the exception rather than the rule.

As Bishnu and I waded through donkey shit up to our ankles in this subtropical forest region after five days at base camp, it was hard not to marvel at the fact that just a few dozen miles to the north there were Wi-Fi routers mounted on top of the same ladders used to span bottomless crevasses and mountaineers relating their summiting experiences to their family over Skype.

Standing in the forest, I was able to feel a bit of the thrill Kobusch felt by disconnecting. Yet for those of us who are only able to climb Everest vicariously through the posts of people like Kobusch, we needn't worry about a shortage of Everest content as more climbers opt for an internet-free climb. Thanks to Icelandic virtual reality company Solfár, Everest will be coming to you later this year.

Using nearly 10,000 pictures of the Everest environment provided by the Icelandic animation company RVX, Everest VR has rendered the Everest climbing experience in unprecedented photorealistic detail. The designers of Everest were able to make this happen using a technique known as photogrammetry, which essentially uses supercomputers to recreate photos as 3D objects.

"When I got to the summit I started getting a ton of emails and notifications."

Users will be able to navigate five key moments experienced by mountaineers on the way to the summit, such as the puja offering at base camp (during which climbers and Sherpa ask Everest for her blessing on their climb), ladder walking in the Khumbu crevasses, and leaving Camp IV in the middle of the night to head for the summit. According to Kjartan Emilsson, one of Solfár's co-founders, Everest VR is so true to life that it has managed to elicit goosebumps even from those who've summited IRL.

Part of the reason for this, Emilsson said, is that Everest VR provides an experience that you can't even get on the actual mountain. When users summit Everest in virtual reality, they will be able to stand on the summit for as long as they'd like and watch the world change around them.

Stay on the summit long enough and you'll be able to watch the sunset and see the moonlit Himalayan range—an experience most climbers (who are limited to just a few minutes at the top of the world due to lack of oxygen and extreme weather conditions) would never be able to have. Furthermore, explained Emilsson, climbers are usually exhausted and a little out of it from oxygen deprivation when they reach the top, so Everest VR will allow them to revisit the experience with a clear head.

In this sense, Everest VR is true to Emilsson and his co-founders' self-proclaimed mission to put people in "impossible places." By allowing users to experience Everest in a way that even most mountaineers will never be able to, Solfár has made the experience of summiting Everest more real than reality—in a word, hyperreal.

These are the two ends of the spectrum of Everest's possible futures: a mountain rendered hyperreal by state-of-the-art technology, and a mountain whose 'realness' is increasingly experienced by the climbers who reject it.