There's much more to climbing Mount Everest than the trek to the summit, mountaineer David Breashears would tell you.
To help emphasize that point, the filmmaker and explorer has teamed up with Microsoft to build an interactive examination of the mountain and the Greater Himalaya region, which have enthralled imaginations since Edmund Hillary made his successful ascent of the Everest summit 75 years ago this week.
Everest: Rivers of Ice is a new Web site open to the public on Tuesday night built in HTML5 and CSS3 for touch screens. Created by the Internet Explorer 10 team, Microsoft Research, and PixelLabs, a small HTML5 site-building company, it takes you on an immersive, gigapixel-rich adventure from landing at Lukla's Hillary Tenzing Airport to panoramic, sweeping views far above Everest Base Camp.
It works well with a standard keyboard and mouse, too, although after several tests in Firefox and Chrome, it definitely performs best in IE 10.
"The way of storytelling is an important part of it," said Robert Capriotti, Microsoft's director of Internet Explorer. "The goal is to spur a new generation of explorers and learners to explore Everest, and to get people talking about the glacial change that's happening."
From a technical point of view, the site is yet another shot to show off to developers what modern browser technology can do, especially Microsoft's Pointer Events API for touch screens. Currently, the API has been well-received enough that the Internet Explorer team is working with Google Chrome to get Pointer Event API support into their browser, too.
But there's much more to the site than nerdy code demos. As you move through the nine stops on the map, a swipe will pan across the Himalayan vistas. Since the photos used to make the site are gigapixels deep in resolution, zooming in reveals much more to the photos.
As you zoom in on Namche Bazar, for example, reveals a link to a video of the market that wasn't previously available. Zoom in on Everest Base Camp, a 4 billion pixel photo, and a link appears to a smaller photo with a slider. Tap the link and the screen fills with the photo. Drag the slider to the right to see the Khumbu Glacier in 1952, just a year before Hillary's successful climb, or pull the slider to the left to see how it has shrunk by 2007.
Breashears has contributed his deep stockpile of high-resolution photos and videos, some making their public debut on Rivers of Ice, to both educate and advocate. It's never stated explicitly, but there's a clear demonstration throughout the site of how climate change has impacted the glaciers in the past 75 years. There's also a link in the site navigation at the top to donate to GlacierWorks, Breashears' non-profit that works to raise awareness of how the shrinking glaciers adversely affects the water supply for much of Asia.
No doubt, Everest: Rivers of Ice is a grand demonstration of modern browser tech bundled with an important message about climate change. But the site also will appeal to anybody who's wondered what it's like to summit Everest without having to recover from frostbite.