She Climbed Kilimanjaro. But the Real Achievement: Keeping Her Phone Alive.anupreeta at the kilimanjaro summit

Extreme conditions require unusual measures to preserve gadgets and get online; 756 messages that won’t open
By Anupreeta Das
Nov. 8, 2019

cell phone on kilimanjaroMOUNT KILIMANJARO—At 13,800 feet on Africa’s highest mountain, as the nighttime temperature dipped and I drew my hot-water bottle closer, the following thoughts occurred in quick succession:

Don’t quit now

I was toasty in my sleeping bag. My iPhone, sitting on the tent floor, was not. How would I survive if my phone died on the mountain?

There was only one thing to do. I would have to spoon my phone. Then, feeling bad for all the other gadgets I had brought along on my weeklong quest to summit Kilimanjaro, I snuggled my smartwatch, my AirPods, two digital cameras, a headlamp, charging cables, three power banks and several dozen spare batteries inside my bag.

It was a little crowded.

I definitely could not have nested with my tech,” said Lilla Zuill, my tentmate, after several nights of watching me fuss over my gadgets, rather like a hen with mechanical eggs. “It was too uncomfortable,” she added, having tried it one night and woken up with a 1.3-pound portable battery charger on her. After that, she stuffed her tech inside hats and pockets instead.

Gadgets, especially smartphones and devices powered by lithium-ion batteries, respond poorly to extreme cold. They can freeze or develop glitches. Batteries drain alarmingly fast. (On day two, as we climbed from 11,550 feet to 12,540 feet, my phone’s battery went from 100% to 72%. In airplane mode.) The internet is packed with helpful hacks for climbing Kilimanjaro, the 19,341-foot volcano that is on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. How to keep your tech from freezing is a popular category of advice, with suggestions ranging from stuffing gadgets into spare socks with hand-warmer packs to taking backup devices.

“We’re addicted to our personal technology so let’s not have a philosophical discussion about going cold turkey on technology while on our Kilimanjaro climb,” wrote Eddie Frank, a longtime Kilimanjaro guide, in a blog post advising climbers on ways to stay connected, including buying a local SIM card.

On the mountain, temperatures can range from autumnal in the lower reaches to Arctic at the top. Summit night can be especially rough on batteries and screens. A woman from Hanover, Germany, on her way down, advised us to keep our phones and other gadgets in “the third of the six or so layers you will wear to the top so that body heat can keep the battery warm.”

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