how to do comms from the top of everest (literally)

You'd be amazed at what doors digital skills can unlock. For one man who climbed Everest cultivating them has led to a better work-life balance.

by Mark Horrell

On 30 May 1953, James Morris of The Times struggled down the "newly oozing ice-bog" of the Khumbu Icefall during darkness. The following morning at Everest Base Camp he dispatched a runner to Namche, the nearest village with a telegraph office, with a coded message which read: 'Snow conditions bad stop advanced base abandoned yesterday stop awaiting improvement.'

Two days later while lying in his tent he tuned into his wireless and heard an English voice announce Everest had been climbed, The Times had broken the news, and Queen Elizabeth had received it on the eve of her coronation. He breathed a sigh of relief his danger-fraught communications process had worked.*

Communicating news from Everest is a bit easier these days. When I climbed it this spring I was able keep a WordPress blog by email using our satellite internet connection, post photos to Tumblr, and reply to posts on Twitter and Facebook using 3G on my iPhone. I could even browse the web and tweet passages from George Mallory's expedition book using my Kindle.

In Morris's day news about exploration usually took months to report; now sites such as ExplorersWeb, EverestNews and Alanarnette.com, which curate content from expedition blogs and other comms channels, receive thousands of visits from people who enjoy following expeditions in real-time.

Digi comms has become a great enabler for people like me - not all of whom are comms professionals - who seek a healthier work-life balance, because it allows greater opportunities for marketing, attracting sponsorship, and earning income on the side from self-publishing and advertising. It's also perfect for remote working.

Although I'll never earn as much from any of these things as I will from my day job as a digital comms project manager who takes time off between contracts to climb mountains, it's a buoyant industry at the moment, and this gives me confidence that I'll always find work when I return.

The great mountain explorer and sailor Bill Tilman used to cobble together inexperienced crews from small ads in The Times. Shackleton famously once advertised a polar voyage in the same way with the words safe return doubtful. How they would have loved community sites like Explorers Connect, which enable like-minded people to share costs by hooking up for expeditions. 

Not everyone's career path is like mine, but whatever yours is these are exciting times, and cultivating your digital skills can improve your quality of life in so many ways!

* All PR professionals with a taste for adventure should read James (now Jan) Morris's hilarious journalist's account of the 1953 Everest expedition, Coronation Everest.

Mark Horrell is a digital communications consultant and project manager. He blogs here.

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