When communication breaks down on the mountain

Broad Peak (with the shadow of K2, photographed in 2004)

4G network in the base camps at the foot of Mount Everest or K2 – climbers have now become accustomed to being able to communicate with their smartphones even on the two highest mountains in the world. In this way, they receive the latest weather reports in a simple and, above all, extremely fast way or can also maintain contact within their teams by cell phone. Not as in the past with radios or the considerably more expensive satellite phones. In recent days, however, expeditions in Pakistan have reported communication problems with their teams on the mountain.

All’s well that ends well for Ali and Kashif

For example, at first on Nanga Parbat the connection to the Pakistani climbers Fazal Ali and Shehroze Kashif broke off, who after their summit success on Tuesday had got into trouble because of the worsening weather. At first, the two were declared missing. The following day, Ali and Kashif were sighted from the base camp at an altitude of about 7,000 meters. After apparently spending a night in the open, they finally managed to descend under their own power to Camp 1 at just below 5,000 meters. From there they were flown by army helicopter to Gilgit today.

Communication problems were also reported from the eight-thousander Broad Peak – both with the 4G network and via satellite. It therefore took a while for the sad news to reach base camp and from there the world that Pakistani climber Sharif Sadpara had broken through a cornice on the summit ridge and fallen to his death.

Power outages in Pakistan

It is possible that the power crisis in Pakistan is the cause of the mobile phone network in the Karakoram not working properly. The country’s major telecommunications companies warned last week that frequent and prolonged power outages in Pakistan could cause mobile phone and Internet services to fail, especially in rural areas – such as the high mountains in the north of the country.

Backup power in the form of generators and batteries is not enough to compensate for the blackouts, the country’s three largest mobile phone companies let it be known. Responsible for the power crisis are expensive oil and gasoline prices as well as gas shortages resulting from the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine.

Almost like before

Solar storm
Solar storm and its particle emission

And why are satellite phones also weakening? The cause could be the solar storms that have been recorded in recent days. The massive emisson of charged particles during such a storm can cause satellites to become paralyzed. If both smartphones and satellite phones no longer work as usual, it’s almost like old times on the mountain: the climbers are on their own. And those down at base camp have to wait for their return to find out what has happened.

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