Last week I got our satphone blogging setup somewhat completed, so I’m out on the first test run. Up at a hut in Colorado, doing some backcountry
skiing. Have the remote antenna outside, and I’m sitting here in luxury that’s not exactly a tent on the Kahiltna, but is a good place to start with something this tricky.
This text and photos in this blog were transmitted over my satphone system, then published once I got home. Since I don’t have an unlimited budget for satphone minutes, we’ll be sending our expedition blog posts and photos as quick and basic emails, and several “ground” people will assemble and publish as blog posts.
Come to think of it, even if I did have a stimulus grant for satphone time, I probably wouldn’t want to take the time in camp to do the actual grunt work of making a blog post from the text and photos. Not a huge time burden, but every minute will count when we’re up there in the reality zone. Instead, dashing off a quick raw dispatch with three or four photos shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes or so. And if conditions are mellow, I’ve got the solar power and equipment to go for quite a bit of content and some crafted writing.
And despite all our high tec stuff, if things get extreme we’ll do what a lot of expeditions do and simply dictate our blog posts to voicemail or a phone recorder, then our ground person can keyboard them in (job security, anyone?). So one way or another, you’ll be able to see what trials, tribulations and successes we have way up there on the Big One.
The whole nerdy mess fits in a Pelican case at about 12 pounds. I can probably get the weight down a few pounds. And if we want to really go light we can eliminate one of the solar panels. I haven’t experimented with charging the satphone or computer directly from the panels, have been using the battery pack as a charge controller and voltage regulator as I’m paranoid about frying something that costs way more than bacon. But leaving the battery behind as well would make the system incredibly light. Some expedition bloggers just do their sat-posts from a PDA, but with seven guys shooting photos I want some photo editing capability, so the small netbook loaded with Picassa and optimized Photoshop 6.0 seems appropriate. Nonetheless, to save weight I might strip out the wireless card as well as the fan. Or, do they have wireless on Denali yet? Heck, they have a helicopter ready for us if we need it and a hospital at 14,000 feet, why not internet service? Park Service courtesy beers at every camp would be appreciated as well.
What did I learn? Amazing I could sent the photos and text with the antenna deployed in a timbered gulch that blocked most of the sky. Testimony to Iridium. The Brunton panels need a frame so they’re easy to deploy and move around. My jury rigged remote antenna is flat, and gets covered with snow if the wind isn’t blowing. And my shortie USB cable is, too short. Onward.
(Please note: I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here and am well aware that many folks out there send emails and blogs from portable satellite systems. However, it seems there are just about as many ways and budgets to do this as there are people out there doing it, so I’m left to developing the system that’s best for our style and the WildSnow business plan. Main thing is that the diminutive Iridium 9555 is a sweet little number. So it all works around that. Beyond blogging, I’ve been pretty psyched to own a satphone. Kind of makes all my messing around with ham radios and cell phone amplifiers look sort of lame. On the other hand, satphones are not exactly cheap to purchase or use and this one might very well end up on Ebay after we’re done. Tradeoffs.)
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.