A Note on Using Trackers As Summit ‘Proof’

Annapurna and Shishapangma have brought the first summits of the spring season. On both occasions, thanks to the climbers’ live tracking systems, we reported the summits almost as they happened. Yet trackers are often confusing and may even raise doubts. Recent climbs illustrate this and are worth examining for the future.

Did the tracks lead to a foresummit?

On April 15, the rope-fixing team reached Annapurna’s summit, followed by clients from Imagine Nepal and EliteExped. Sajid Sadpara, climbing without O2, was also there. Over the next two days, more climbers followed.

Some climbers who summited used their InReach devices to share their live locations. All the trackers had two points in common. First, they all went to the same point, which is logically the end of the fixed ropes.

The second point was not so obvious. All the climbers seemed to stop at a secondary summit on Annapurna, far from the spot marked on the map with a red summit triangle and Annapurna’s name in Sanskrit. The trackers put the altitude somewhere between 7,800m and 7,900m.

Jonathan Lamy's Annapurna summit tracker info

Jonathan Lamy’s Annapurna summit tracker, with data corresponding to his highest point on April 16, his summit day.


Shehroze Kashif's Annapurna tracker

Shehroze Kashif’s Annapurna tracker shows he reached the same point as Jonathan Lamy.


summit tracker data

A closer zoom and data from Shehroze Kashif’s highest point.


Drama soon overshadowed the summit news. Anurag Maloo fell into a crevasse, Baljeet Kaur was reported dead and then found alive, Noel Hanna died during the night, and the rest of the climbers got stuck in Camps 3 and 4 after an avalanche damaged the ropes below them.

Yet some readers started asking questions about the trackers. Incorrect attitude measurements are common at high altitudes but the consistency of the “error” prompted speculation. ExplorersWeb writer Kris Annapurna noted that trackers from previous years showed the same unusual summit point.

Australian Allie Pepper's highest logged point in spring 2022.

Australian Allie Pepper’s highest logged point in spring 2022. Screenshot: Kris Annapurna


Checking with the experts

The Annapurna summit area is confusing, as the team at 8000ers.com explained in a recent report. We shared the tracker data with two of their team, Eberhard Jurgalski and Rodolphe Popier.

By then, Sajid Sadpara had returned to Base Camp and shared an Annapurna summit video. The video cleared up any doubts.

“That video is at the summit, for sure,” Popier said. Popier explained that the video was shot near C3W, which lies within the 50m section of the flat, corniced ridge that the 8000ers.com team considers Annapurna’s true summit.

Annapurna summit ridge with several points marked in yellow with letters and numbers.

All the significant points on Annapurna’s summit ridge. Photo: 8000ers.com


The trackers are right, the map is not

What was wrong, Popier noted, was the map. “The summit location, marked by the red triangle, is simply wrong. That is the central summit and not the main one, which is to the left, where the tracker signal goes.”

Marks on a google Earth map of Annapurna summit area.

Popier’s notes on an aerial map of Annapurna by Google Earth. The red circle is marked as the summit on the InReach map, but the true summit is marked on the left, at the end of the normal route.


Popier also observed that the contours on the InReach map were “amazingly inaccurate.” His colleague, Eberhard Jurgalski, agreed. “I think the trackers are correct, but the contours are quite wrong,” said Jurgalski. “They have marked the highest point at the central summit, not the main one. The video shows the true summit and, I must say, I don’t trust Google Maps that much.”

Shishapangma: Summit news too soon?

Shishapangma is another tricky summit because of its long, knife-sharp summit ridge. It’s easy to stop short of the main point. Observers were able to follow the summit push, thanks to Viridiana Alvarez’s tracker and texts over InReach. She sent her summit message from a different point from the one marked as the summit on the Google-generated map.

The data placed the summit altitude at 8,036m, actually higher than Shishapangma’s main peak. Kristin Harila’s tracker was full of glitches (irregularities because of a poor satellite connection). At one point, it suggested that she had reached 8,300m, unlikely unless she can fly.

Viridiana Alvarez's tracker on Shishapangma

Viridiana Alvarez’s tracker shows her progress from Camp 3 (7,100m) to the summit of Shishapangma and back.

A video is worth 1,000 maps

In the end, the lesson is that trackers are great for following climbers’ progress and location in case of trouble, but they are not always accurate. Furthermore, the Google Maps used by InReach’s interface could be drastically improved.

Annapurna summits were ultimately confirmed by the climbers’ testimonies and by images and videos. The summit video shared by Sajid Sadpara, with clear views of all points, Sadpara himself, and other climbers on the summit was particularly valuable. It also provided excellent information about snow and weather conditions.

Likewise, summit pictures and videos are the way to confirm the April 26 Shishapangma summits. The climbers are back at Base Camp and will hopefully share material soon.

As for the future, the lesson is to take a summit video and keep it raw and unedited. There will be time to work on more polished versions for sponsors and Instagram followers later. But filters, editing, additions, or modifications can lead to doubts.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.