Perhaps you've always been curious: What is it like on top of the world? But as for going yourself, well, you'll leave that to the adventurers.
Fortunately for you, one of those adventurers is Dan Fredinburg. And he's not just your regular run-of-the-mill adventurer, but a professional one at Google. In fact, Fredinburg's official title (one of them, anyway) is "Google adventurer," and he's part of Google's "Mountain Enthusiast" team.
Together with different groups of friends and colleagues, Fredinburg has traveled to four of the planet's "Seven Summits" (the tallest peaks of each continent) over the last year and a half. They bagged three of the peaks (Aconcagua in Argentina, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and Elbrus in Russia) and they made it to the Everest Base Camp, though seasonal conditions prevented them from going farther.
"When we got [to Everest Base Camp]," Fredinburg told me, "I did my best to try to encourage the different sherpas and other porters to go with me to go farther -- no one else in my expedition wanted to go any farther -- but they all insisted that it was definitely impossible given the time of the season we were in."
Everest Base Camp, Kala Pattar (View Larger Map)
He continued, "I thought they just didn't want to go any farther, and so I asked what the probability of death was, and they assured me that it was certain."
On their way, they captured some of the most famous sights with fisheye lenses, and now anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can explore these extreme destinations in that particular mediated first-person experience we all know from Google's Street View.
The summit of Mount Aconcagua (View Larger Map)
The collection isn't like Google Street View in that you can't do the entire trek virtually, hiking all the way from the mountains' bases to the top, but you can explore certain sites. "Along the route, you're at high altitudes and not always in great conditions, and so what we did is that each night while we were huddled up in our tents, we would really plan out the point of interest that we wanted to capture and bring back and share with the world. And the way we do that is you just kind of pick each of the different locations around the camp or around the point of interest and map it out on paper [Editor's note: Actual pencil and paper!]. In the morning, before anyone else would get up, we would jump up and take out our camera with the fisheye lens on it, and capture photos at each of those locations." Each capture is made out of 12 photos.
The camera is just a standard Canon camera with a fisheye lens and the tripod a regular old tripod -- it's in the way the photos get knit together that the photos take on their special virtual reality quality. But it's a lot of gear to schlep. "In terms of ensuring the success of your expedition, it's a terrible idea to take a ton of extra weight with you," he told me. "We already were carrying food for the entire trip, as well as crampons to keep your feet stuck to the ground, ropes, spikes, and other equipment. So it definitely adds to the challenge of the expedition."
Does he want to make it to the tops of all seven of the Seven Summits? "I'd love to," Fredinburg told me. "I'd also love to go to Olympus Mons." Street View to look forward to.