Home > General > Summit? The proof is in the… SPOT

Summit? The proof is in the… SPOT

Verifying summits has been an increasing problem in Himalaya, as latest evident in the Kanchenjunga showdown between female star mountaineers Korean Miss Oh and Spanish Edurne Pasaban.

Peak Freaks team leader Tim Rippel mentioned recently that a summit picture is now required by the Nepal ministry to obtain an Everest summit certificate.
Bad weather can however make such difficult to shoot or identify.

Lately, the tiny 150 gram SPOT tracker has offered to become a great back-up to traditional summit proof. Together with head mounted cameras the Spot is the “thing of the year” in Himalaya.

Portuguese Joao Garcia took nothing for granted on his final 8000er, Annapurna, and had the Spot to track him live on a map for the world to see while ascending.

American speed climber Chad Kellogg is carrying a Spot for his Everest speed attempt in the next weeks. Canadian Lucille, the first female to summit Everest this year used the tracker as well. On the other side of the mountain, American teen climber Jordan has brought it up to the north col.

Setting it up

Introduced in February 2010, the 2nd generation Spot is smaller and smarter than the previous model.

The unit comes at $149 and requires an activation fee starting at $10/month. Tracking to a google map adds $5/month. The gadget is not officially rated above 6500 meters, but has worked fine up to the summit of Mount Everest (US Astronaut and Everest climber Scott Parazynski used a SPOT on his 2009 climb).

Powered by 3 AAA Energizer Lithium batteries the Spot runs 3-7 days on a full charge while tracking. The batteries work great in cold and the unit is rated down to -30C.

Lucille de Beaudrap’s Spot seemed to cut off somewhere around the Hillary Step which could be related to power outage. It can thus be a good idea to double check the charge and protect the unit from extreme cold on a summit push.

How does it work?

A regular GPS device picks up the position from GPS satellites owned by the United States government and stores it on the gadget for your viewing.

The Spot has two antennas inside the shell. A receiver picks up the position in latitude and longitude from the GPS satellites after which it is transmitted to the Globalstar satellites every 10 minutes along with any messages or SOS distress signal.

There are many other positioning/emergency systems available today. Most of them, such as GM’s OnStar, receive the GPS position in the same manner as the Spot, but the transmission goes over the mobile phone network lacking the geographical coverage of Spot.

Mapping and dispatches

Spot offers for the positions to show in an easy setup via a Google map application that can be used with your website (such as CONTACT 5).

Similar to Argos in the polar areas, you can further pre-program the Spot to send out a simple message with a push of a button such as, “I’m OK – moving along.” A safety and position unit, Spot is however not intended to replace extended communication prepared and made over satellite phones, PDA’s and Laptop.


Spot has one button for SOS that connects directly to 911 in North America and 112 in Europe. It also features a HELP button that can notify your home team should you need assistance.

The recent fatality on Annapurna showed once again that in high altitude emergencies, finding a climber can prove a serious problem. While positioning is somewhat possible with Thuraya (as happened on K2 some years back) it requires that a phone call has been made from the location in addition to a time-consuming if not impossible regulatory battle with Thuraya’s staff in Dubai.

The SPOT will automatically pinpoint the position to within a couple of meters and the data is almost immediately easily available.

Categories: General
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