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HITTING A PEAK
John Walter
October 25, 1999
In its full-scale coverage of a mountain-climbing tragedy, a Web site attains new heights
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October 25, 1999

Hitting A Peak

In its full-scale coverage of a mountain-climbing tragedy, a Web site attains new heights

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The accidental death on Oct. 4 of North America's top climber, Alex Lowe (SCORECARD, Oct. 18), was a reminder of the awesome power of nature and the Internet. Hours after Lowe and cameraman Dave Bridges perished in an avalanche on Tibet's remote, 26,291-foot Shishapangma, the Web site MountainZone.com, which had been providing a Web-cast of the expedition, was furnishing firsthand accounts of the catastrophe. "We waited until the families were notified," says editor in chief Peter Potterfield, "and then we posted the news."

MountainZone.com had already been offering daily dispatches on the ascent. Even after the deaths of Lowe and Bridges, the reports from the remaining five climbers continued. "I told them, 'Look, this has to be a very difficult time for all of you,' " says Potterfield, " 'but you're still the only source of accurate information.' "

The tragedy brought home to Potterfield how, given the sport's remote locales, mountain climbing benefits from the Internet. "I'm blown away by what this medium can do," says Potterfield, whose site received one million hits, a record for MountainZone.com, following the avalanche. "When Scott Fischer died on Everest in 1996 [on the expedition chronicled in the best-seller Into Thin Air], it took me two days to learn of his fate. We were reporting on Alex and Dave within five hours of the avalanche. You can't bring them back, but the lack of ambiguity helps in some way."

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