20-26 March 2015 #750

Googling Everest

People can now experience the Everest Trek from the comfort of their homes

Professional mountaineers and trekking enthusiasts from all over the globe have been flocking to the Himalaya for years, but now for the first time people can experience the Everest Base Camp Trek from the comfort of their homes.

Google’s Street View has introduced a virtual tour of the Everest region, allowing viewers to navigate through rugged terrain around the world’s highest mountain.

Views: Everest Base Camp by Google Maps

In collaboration with Kathmandu-based start-up Story Cycle and 21-time Everest summiteer Apa Sherpa, a Google team of backpackers and photographers trekked 100 horizontal and 2.5 vertical km from Lukla to Everest Base Camp and captured more than 45,000 panoramic images along the way. The team used two single-lens tripod cameras and a 15-lens custom-built ‘Trekker’ unit.

Apart from the usual popular sites from Lukla to Everest Base Camp, the Street View captured images from Apa Sherpa’s hometown of Thame and high altitude communities at the base of Mt Everest such as Phortse, Dingboche and Lobuche.

Scrolling through a slideshow of 360-degree views of various areas, visitors to the site get the chance to experience the Everest region from the trekkers’ point of view, minus the strenuous walk. Of course, nothing can beat the real thing, but the site can be an excellent primer for those who are planning the trek.

Views: Namche Bazaar by Google Maps

Not only do these high definition panoramas stir wanderlust amongst us who have rarely visited the Himalaya, but they also educate us about the difficulties faced by the communities living in the region. The aftermath of last year’s avalanche on Everest, which killed 16 Nepali high altitude workers, is one of many tragedies that have highlighted the region’s precarious dependence on adventure tourism.

While the Google team has done a magnificent job in documenting the Everest region, there were a few inaccuracies. In the Google Street View of the Hillary Step, the GPS lag still places it on the South Face of Everest instead of the SE Ridge. Such issues are mostly present in street views which appear narrower and aren’t evident in panoramas of the mountains.

Google’s Street View of the Everest Trek is probably the best thing that happened to Nepal’s adventure tourism brand since the Imax film in 1997. The site is an experience in itself, and much more immersive than photographs in a guidebook. Rather than replacing real trekkers with virtual trekkers, it will probably bolster the popularity of Nepal’s most famous destination.

Yantrick’s Verdict: Nothing can beat the real thing, but Google’ Street View of the Everest region can be an excellent primer for those who are planning the trek.