Mountain climber Rod Baber is preparing for the climb of a lifetime and hoping to reach the summit of Mount Everest in late May or early June.
The 36-year-old climber has also been preparing his equipment by testing a new Motorola mobile phone that he will carry to the top to make a mobile voice call from there, as well as send text messages and pictures.
If successful, it will be the first time a mobile phone call and text messages have been sent from the summit, Baber said in an email interview from Kathmandu in Nepal. "Previously, [calls from the summit] have only been possible by use of satellite phones, which are expensive to use and heavy to carry," he explained.
Baber is testing the Motorola Z8, due to launch in Europe in May, but it is not being ruggedized in any manner to withstand the extreme cold or low pressure at the 29,035-foot summit. Motorola is the headline sponsor of the record attempt and is providing full financial and technical support throughout the expedition, Baber and the company said.
"The team at Motorola has provided me with a pointing device so I can operate the phone whilst wearing my equipment, and I will pre-program the number in as speed dials so I can just press one button to make calls/send texts, etc," he said. "Pressure tests have confirmed this will not affect the use of the phone at 8,848 meters. The battery is a key component and the one thing that will be affected by the conditions. The key challenge is to keep the batteries well insulated and warm on the mountain."
The lightweight plastic pointing device to use the phone's buttons will be crucial. "Gloves will stay on at all times," he said. "Less than 60 seconds' exposure of the skin can cause frostbite." To keep his text messages timely, he will write them from Camp 4 below the summit and store them in a draft section of the device to be able to send them easily from the summit, where he will linger only briefly. After many weeks of getting his body acclimated and stocking base camps with supplies, the final push to the top could take eight days, weather permitting.
Mobile phone calls from Mount Everest have not been possible before because of the lack of cell infrastructure, he said. China Telecom only set up a cell tower in Rongbuk, about a mile from the base camp, last year. "So this is technically the first year any summit calls can be attempted to be made. Line of site from the summit is 20 kilometers, so Motorola technical support teams in China have confirmed that a call should now be possible," he said.
The cell phone will help with the psychological demands of climbing, as much as it will offer a chance to test new technology. "I'll be using the phone to generally keep in touch and share my experiences," he said. "I have a young family, so I will be keeping in touch with them regularly, as well as the team at Motorola. It is of great comfort to know I can easily reach people when I need to."