Another interesting development occurred in Nepal while I was away visiting The Falklands and South Georgia. Just as the spring climbing season inched closer to its start, the government in the Himalayan country announced that it would use GPS tracking devices to improve safety and verify summits on Everest this year, a move that comes amidst increasing scrutiny of the world’s highest peak.
2017 is expected to be a record year for climbers on Everest with dozens already on their way to Base Camp and hundreds more to soon follow. A few of those climbers will be required to wear a GPS tracking device – such as a SPOT Satellite Messenger or DeLorme InReach – while they make their climb. Those devices have the ability to send an SOS signal should the climber – or anyone else that he or she is climbing with – gets into trouble on the mountain. Both devices also are equipped with tracking capabilities that will allow Nepali officials to follow a climber’s path to the summit and quickly discover if they actually made it to the top or not.
Last year, a high profile fake summit case took place when an Indian couple claimed to have topped out on Everest when in fact they never went much higher than Base Camp itself. These GPS devices will help to prevent those kinds of frauds from happening, although not every climber will be carrying one, so the impact is likely to be minimal, at least for now.
Similarly, the safety features of the device aren’t likely to help much either. Most of the time the issue on Everest isn’t locating someone who is injured or in trouble, it’s getting them down safely. Carrying a device such as these won’t help in those situations, although it could potentially improve the reaction time for search and rescue squads by signaling potential rescuers much more quickly.
All of that said, there isn’t much of a reason to be against carrying the trackers either. They are lightweight, fairly unobtrusive, and they do serve a positive function. 2017 is likely to be a test bed for using the devices, with more climbers potentially having to wear them in future seasons to come. The biggest challenge is likely to be keeping them charged and operating while higher up on the mountain, as battery life can be short and they don’t do much without power.
It will be interesting to see how this program plays out. Just having a few climbers carry them isn’t likely to change the culture much on Everest, but at least it is a start. False summit claims aren’t rampant, but they do happen, and any attempts to prevent that is a good thing. The same goes for any efforts to help make climbing in the Himalaya safer too. If this technology can achieve those goals, than it is a positive step in my opinion.