Totally new challenges faced me. Forget worrying just about composition, aperture, shutter and film speed, and add to your list of worries altitude, cold, unreliable or non-existent electricity, humidity, poor light, and dust everywhere!
I needed a plan that allowed me to be completely self-sufficient. My first concern was downloading, storing, and viewing my photographs. While viewing your photos on your camera’s LCD is possible, it is neither a fun nor practical approach. Feedback is the best teacher. I needed a laptop.
Panasonic and a few other brands make laptops specifically designed for harsh conditions, but the weight and size aspect was unacceptable to me. Carrying all of my equipment in a day pack to approximately 18,500 feet severely limited the total weight of my equipment. I settled on a Japanese model of a Sony Picturebook. It weighs only 2.2 pounds and contains a 60 gig hard drive. Unfortunately, I was unable to get any reliable advice from SONY as to a safe altitude to operate the laptop.
All too often, technical support personnel will give answers based on their feeling and not based on fact. If the answer you receive the 2nd time you call is not the same, then you are probably getting opinions instead of answers from their tech-support database.
Instead of accepting suspect advice, I posted my question to a mountaineering newsgroup. There was a common consensus that I would be safe to at least 14,000 feet. Some people said they went higher and had no problems. Others said they made it to as high as I was planning, but others experienced problems around 15,000 feet.
Instead of risking my laptop and photographs on an inexact science, I decided to use the “canary in the mine approach.” I bought a simple digital wallet called the IDrive. Each night I would back up the day’s photographs from the camera’s compact flash cards onto the IDrive. Assuming that was successful, I would download and review them on my laptop. If the IDrive failed, I would stop using my laptop until I descended to a “safe” altitude. This would mean rationing my compact flash cards, but there would be little other choice at that point.
Since I was only planning on spending a few days over 14,500 feet, I decided I would use this approach until 14,500 feet and then just use my compact flash cards until I descended.