Mountain Zone correspondent Peter Potterfield reports from Nepal

First Look at the Science
Wednesday, April 2, 1997 -- 11am (Kathmandu)

Todd Burleson, Wally Berg and Charles Corfield got the first look at some of the summit hardware necessary for the science experiments they hope to conduct this year, and it was a sobering experience. The trio of climbers will attempt to place a permanent attachment point for GPS receivers on the highest exposed bedrock on the mountain. The fixed point will enable accurate measurements to be taken over a period of years or even decades to detect movement of the Everest massif. But in addition, the expedition also hopes to measure, using radar, just exactly where the bedrock of the mountain lies beneath its summit mantle of ice and snow. [Click here for a detailed look at the science to be done on Everest this year.]

The rig for doing this was developed in Boulder, CO at a cost of approximately $60,000. It consists of a radar emitting and collecting "foot" attached to a long pole with an antenna at the top, which sends signals to GPS satellites above. The effect is one of a floor lamp made by an insane sculptor. But more to the point, it is large and awkward, and will provide a challenge not just to get it to the summit, but to manipulate it effectively once there.

Charles Corfield and Freddy Blume
In the courtyard of the Tibet Guest House, the on site science manager for the expedition, Freddy Blume, demonstrated the device and its assembly to the climbers. Once put together and attached via cables to both GPS transceiver and a laptop to crunch the radar "echoes", the device is to be carried back and fourth within a known grid at the summit. Radar waves will penetrate the ice of the summit and identify where the bedrock of Everest lies below. It is similar technology to that used for oil and mineral exploration -- but in that application, altitude and a hostile environment is not a factor. [Click here for Fred Blume's explanation of the science being done this year.]

"We're committed to Brad Washburn and the experiments he feels are necessary to get the data required," said Burleson. "We knew it was not going to be easy, and the complexity of this rig is going to call for imaginative thinking, both in terms of getting it high on the mountain and getting it assembled. Given the right conditions, I believe all of our objectives can be met." [Click here for an interview with Brad Washburn.]

Burleson and Corfield will continue to work with Blume at base camp to rehearse the complex procedures necessary to make the radar experiment successful.

-- Peter Potterfield, Mountain Zone Correspondent

[Fred Blume and Brad Washburn Talk Science]

[Dispatches from Everest Index]