By Jennifer Hartman
When I catch up with Scott Kress this week, he is walking through my neighbourhood, dragging two spare truck tires behind him. Kress is preparing for his upcoming unsupported and unassisted 4-man trek from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. The challenge of succeeding in such extreme conditions is daunting enough, but communicating to a global audience while doing so has taught Kress to anticipate the unexpected.
As the 15th Canadian to climb the highest peak on each of the seven continents, Kress, owner of Summit Team Building, has witnessed the evolution of “extreme climate” communication tools over the years. He recalls his 1999 trip to Mount Logan, Yukon, long before satellite phones were commonplace in the mountaineering community. He lugged an unwieldy VHF radio to base camp, attaching it to a 50-foot antenna, the ends of which needed to be staked to ski poles. The system never worked and ultimately he spent five weeks isolated from the outside world.
By far, the best of Kress’ tales relates to his 2008 trek to Mount Everest, renowned for its “death zone”, which is the name climbers give to the altitude above 8,000 metres where the human body slowly deteriorates due to the lack of oxygen. His Everest trip coincided with the approach of the 2008 Olympics, and the Chinese had planned to ascend the mountain with the Olympic torch. The Chinese government, not wanting any interference with their ascent, ordered the Nepalese government to confiscate all phones and cameras from base camp. Non-compliance resulted in arrests and immediate deportation from the country. Once the political static resolved, Kress and his teammates proceeded up the mountain. Kress made it to the top of Everest with his satellite phone. Alas, his climbing mate who was carrying the battery did not summit, and Kress was robbed of his chance to make a phone call from the top of the world.
A brand new satellite phone and solar charger will accompany Kress to the South Pole next month, keeping him connected to the rest of the world. If all goes well with the new gear, he will be blogging along the way. Wishing you safe travels, Scott!