Cory Richards had just summited Mount Everest, without oxygen, and his attempt to share his hard won victory with the world was being scuttled by the most mundane of tech issues. He was standing more than 29,000 feet above sea level, on the world's tallest peak, and his cell phone wouldn't work.
Richards and Adrian Ballinger, his climbing partner for this expedition, had been Snapchatting their goal to summit Everest for more than a month, posting photos and videos daily to their shared account EverestNoFilter.
Ballinger turned around during the summit bid, heading back to camp after reaching almost 28,000 feet above sea level on Tuesday Everest time, but Richards pressed on, making it all the way to the summit.
Once at the peak, he got out his phone to Snapchat the view. The phone worked just fine about 35 feet lower down on the mountain, but it stopped functioning as he reached the top.
“We actually sort of failed to Snap from the top of the world,” Richards told Mashable Thursday during a phone interview from Everest base camp.
“What happened was my phone — because technology is affected by the cold and it’s affected by atmosphere, and it’s affected by all of these things — I pulled my phone out when I was on the summit and it just flat out died. It’s just due to cold, and that’s something you can’t account for.”
With bad weather moving in, Richards only had about three minutes on Everest’s summit so he didn’t have much time to troubleshoot.
“I think it was kind of a classic reminder of where we were and how much power that place had," Ballinger told Mashable.
Richards tucked the cell phone away and booked it back down the mountain, meeting up with Ballinger in their high camp about 27,000 feet above sea level. The team then continued to descend out of Everest’s “death zone” — the part of any mountain 26,246 feet or higher where the body cannot acclimatize to the extreme altitude.
Ballinger and Richards set out to Snapchat their adventure up Everest in April when they reached base camp.
The two experienced mountaineers wanted to share the magic of the world’s tallest mountain with other people on the planet who probably won't climb it in their lifetimes.
But of course, there are some logistical issues around sending a snap from a remote outpost like Everest.
“We have a whole system in place that makes it possible but even that system has failed,” Richards said.
That system includes two solar-powered satellite internet systems that can connect them to Wi-Fi. The two climbers also brought along plenty of batteries to aid in charging equipment along the trail.
“We were basically carrying probably somewhere from 15 and 16 pounds of equipment from camp to camp in order to allow us to Snapchat as we go,” Ballinger said.
“We built this whole story around social media and around these social media platforms, and the fact is — even with an external battery — I can’t make my phone work at 29,035 feet,” Richards added.
Most of the EverestNoFilter snaps show Ballinger and Richards — who had their climb sponsored by Eddie Bauer — goofing around, listening to music, eating and smiling on Everest.
The two mountaineers also showed off the tech they use to track their fitness on Everest during their snap stories.
The app Strava monitored the climbers’ heartbeats and miles walked while slowly acclimatizing to Everest’s extreme altitude. Ballinger and Richards allowed their bodies to adjust to the height gradually by making excursions up to higher camps and back down to rest before the final push for the summit.
The pair also shared the celebratory atmosphere of their camp after Richards made it to the summit.
But on the day of the summit push, the tone of their snaps got much more somber.
“The day became much more real or desperate than I think we hoped for,” Ballinger said.
“On a perfect day, we both would have been up there in leather gloves and would have had the time and flexibility to play with our technology and try to get it back from the cold, from the depths. And instead, I was down and fighting pretty hard health-wise.”
Ballinger, who has previously summited Everest, needed to turn around during this attempt when he became too cold and started slurring his words. Both the team’s doctor and Richards suggested he head back down the mountain and try to warm up at a camp 27,000 feet above sea level.
Once at the camp, Ballinger breathed supplemental oxygen to try to stave off any effects from altitude sickness brought on by breathing the thin air high on the mountain, which at the peak has about one-third as much oxygen as air at sea level.
Richards is only one of about 200 people that have successfully climbed Everest without the use of extra oxygen, but the fact that his phone couldn’t make it is a good reminder that Mother Nature imposes limits.
“Everest definitely reminded us who was in charge after two months of Snapping with ease,” Ballinger said.
Most people attempt to climb Everest in April or May during brief windows of good weather high in the Himalayas.
During clear weather, certain routes up the mountain can become jammed with climbers, potentially leaving people waiting to summit later than they should be.
So far this year, at least three people have reportedly died on Mount Everest with others missing.