How technology climbed Mount Everest

Jamie Clarke is the ninth Canadian to reach the summit of Mount Everest. He successfully climbed the highest peak in the world in 1997 thanks in part to a high tech sponsor Lotus Development Corp. Lotus was acquired by IBM in one of the biggest hostile takeovers in the computing history. But that’s not the piece of technology that helped Clarke climb Mount Everest.

The Canadian adventurer was the guest keynote speaker at Synnex’ VARnex conference in Las Vegas where he told an audience made up of solution providers and vendors that the Magnavox satellite phone played a major part in his quest to reach the top of the world.

It all started in his earlier 20s. He volunteered as an expedition manager, which meant he was not part of the climbing team. He packed food bags and bided his time. Then the team needed someone who could be a phone technician. Magnavox was a sponsor back in 1991 when Clarke made his first attempt at Everest. Clarke had no experience with phones but thought how complicated could it be. “It’s a phone!”

The technology behind the Magnavox phone was indeed complicated, he said. The nine week expedition took seven years and about $1 million and Clarke and the team were about 1,000 meters short of reaching the top.

Clarke then found himself fundraising for the next expedition. The team needed $500,000 and only had a $5,000 donation from Tim Hortons. Clarke was rejected time and time again by potential sponsors. He said he felt depressed at being rejected so often. But Clarke did not give up. He decided to go back to all those people who rejected him to find out why. A lot of people did not return his phone calls or gave him excuses such as lack of funds in the budget. One person, however, decided to teach him about offering a return on investment. He told Clarke that while he liked his dream the return on investment compared to a defibrillator for a hospital could not compare.

Clarke would not name this person but he said that he taught him to figure out the sponsor’s business first and provide solutions to that business.

With his help and this new approach he raised the $500,000 needed and in 1994 they went back to Everest.

Clarke also devised a plan of improvement for the 21 person team that included:

  • No bottled Oxygen;
  • Fewer Climbers;
  • Climb in a different season;
  • Choose a different route;
  • More rolls of toilet paper (Clarke was not kidding about this); and
  • More acclimatization.

Clarke said that altitude sickness is a major challenge. He told the story of getting cracked ribs because of altitude sickness and using duct tape on his ribs so that he could continue to carry the 35 pounds of fuel up the mountain.

At about 160 yards from the peak – a 40 minute climb – climber John McIsaac told the expedition that if he continued he would be putting his life in jeopardy. The team used the satellite phone to call his family. McIsaac heard from his family to not break his promise of coming back home. This $32,000 long distance call provided the extra motivation for McIsaac to get back down to base camp safely, Clarke said. The 1994 expedition was now over and Clarke faced the realization that his team failed twice.

“If we quit now we live forever with the dull ache that we quit. I will risk failure than quit,” he told the audience at the Synnex VARnex conference.

Clarke and company returned to Everest in 1997 with even more areas of improvement such as:

  • Scale the south side of Everest;
  • Develop Special teams;
  • Buy newer equipment;
  • More Pringles potato chips (Clarke wasn’t kidding about this item either); and
  • Focus

According to Clarke, potato chip bags explode in high altitude, while Pringles packages don’t.

In 1997, Clarke got Lotus to sponsor the expedition along with other vendors and he reached the summit of Mount Everest. Clarke said the top of Mount Everest is as big as a seat chair.

And, as Clarke stood on top of the world he said he found “peace.”
One quick hit before I go.AT&T Canada is about to name David Aspinall to the AT&T Global Services Canada subsidiary as its new Canada sales centre vice president. Aspinall replaced Aisha Ulmer who left the company this summer. Aspinall has more than 15 years of telco experience. He was the mobility sales center vice president at AT&T in Washington, DC and Chicago. Aspinall will report to Mary Livingston, vice president Canada, Caribbean and Latin America.

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