A Race Against Time

Gaining crucial data, Rolex helps to navigate the most remote and inaccessible places in the world, along with an old friend, the National Geographic Society

Norwegian adventurer Rune Gjeldnes on The Longest March, 2005–2006

To reach the summit of Mount Everest, you first need to pass through the Death Zone. The area is named with stark economy: Once a human reaches the altitude of 8,000 metres, their body starts to break down. There is not enough oxygen for their cells to continue their most basic functions; the brain, the heart and the lungs cease to work.

When Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary launched their attempt to reach the summit of Everest – known locally as Sagarmatha or Chomolungma – they needed to time the effort precisely in order to avoid spending too much time in the Death Zone. The ROLEX Oyster Perpetual, chronometer certified, Hillary wore allowed the duo to time it to the second; the difference between life and death on the mountain.

The society – and its magazine, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – have a long and storied history with the mountain. From giving their first grant for research in Nepal in 1948 to broadcasting the first-ever footage from Everest (narrated by Orson Welles’ imposing baritone) in 1965, the publication is inextricably bound up with the public’s perception of the world’s most infamous peak. And with their mapping photography of its topography in 1984, a new wealth of information about the mountain’s geology became available on a scale never seen before.

ROLEX and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC are once again involved in a race against time through the Death Zone. But this isn’t about being the first to reach the summit; instead, as part of their Perpetual Planet Expedition partnership, the two-month expedition culminated with the installation of the world’s highest weather station. Sitting on a thin wedge of ice and rock on the south-east ridge of Everest, and continually blasted with ice, snow and hurricane-force winds, the seven-foot-tall aluminium pole transmits data on the subtropical jet stream, which influences weather patterns across the globe and can only be accessed at incredibly high altitudes. When paired with ice cores, lidar scans, mapping and biodiversity surveys, the data allows scientists around the world to understand the effects of climate change on the 250 million people who live in the mountain region, and the 1.6 billion who rely on the water that flows from it.

Good weather – and a fast pace – were essential for the team to successfully drill the ice core and erect the weather station before they ran out of oxygen. After a brief worry that conditions and lengthy queues of climbers waiting to reach the summit would force them to call off the mission, the team were able to install the structure on 23rd May 2019. It immediately started transmitting information to a NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY computer.

Under The Pole III, supported by Rolex, is exploring marine ecosystems until 2020

What they found was impossible to ignore: High mountain regions, responsible for providing fresh water for billions of people, are being inordinately affected by climate change.

The glaciers act as storage tanks for water, collecting snowfall that slowly melts and flows downstream. But with the Everest weather station reporting a warming of around two degrees Celsius, this process is being disrupted, with potentially disastrous effects. Rather than a consistent supply of water, communities now face both floods and droughts, with the effects having geopolitical and environmental ramifications across the world. But with this data we can begin to address the problem, whether on an international or local scale.

Yet, the relationship between ROLEX andNATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC extends far beyond Everest, supporting those doing vital and often unrewarded work in teams across the world, bringing their successes to a wider audience. The ROLEX NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Explorer of the Year Award, announced at ROLEX Explorers Festival, highlights trailblazers dedicated to discovering ways to address the issues facing the planet today. The recipient for 2019 was the Okavango Wilderness Team, who have dedicated the last four years to saving the rivers that feed Botswana’s Okavango Delta, a freshwater wetland. Home to a breathtaking variety of species – some of which science doesn’t even know about yet – the 2.5 million gallons of water that flows through the delta provides water to over a million people and sustains an innumerable number of plants, mammals and fish. It’s a vast and beautiful place, with great pools of water that reflect the springbok and white rhinos grazing amongst the jackalberry trees, as well as the world’s largest remaining elephant population.

Although the delta is protected within Botswana, its sources also originate in neighbouring Angola, and Namibia, where they are at risk from excessive development, charcoal production and the illegal bushmeat trade. To tackle this, the Okavango Wilderness Team have documented the ecosystems of the rivers on motorcycles and dug-out mokoro canoes, gathering data on 11 separate expeditions that can inform scientists, governments and educators. Their journeys have extended from the delta to the vast Makgadikgadi Pan, where the horizon stretches for miles over the bone white earth. The project also includes partnering with local and national governments, NGOs and communities to create protected areas and establish cooperative-led sustainable businesses.

And this is just the beginning. Going forward, ROLEX and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, both known for their unstinting commitment to daring, excellence and scientific precision, plan to focus on supporting groundbreaking scientific research, expeditions and solutions. Their Perpetual Planet Expeditions will revolve around three important sites that serve as the driving forces behind all life on Earth: mountains, oceans and rainforests. These dynamic and extreme locations are crucial to the continued survival of life on this planet, but are most at risk from man-made destruction. With this focus on interconnected systems, the partnership promises to shed light on some of the most remote and inaccessible places in the world, and what we can do to protect them.

ROLEX and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC join forces. Both are involved in Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s legendary summit of Everest –ROLEX supplying the vital time-keeping equipment and national geographic publishing the historic photos.

The dive by the bathyscaphe Trieste, crewed by Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh, to the deepest point in the oceans, in the Mariana Trench, using the ROLEX Deep Sea Special watch.

ROLEX equipped the Tektite I and II (1970) underwater scientific programmes. The Tektite II laboratory was home to an all-female team of divers, including Sylvia Earle; their missions were the first to undertake in-depth marine ecological studies.

True to its passion for underwater exploration, ROLEX took an active part in the historic Deepsea Challenge expedition of filmmaker and explorer James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar), in partnership with the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY, back to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

The partnership between ROLEX and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC is enhanced as ROLEX becomes partner for the national geographic Explorers Festival, where the prestigious ROLEX NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Explorer of the Year Award is presented.

The partnership announces the launch of Perpetual Planet Expeditions, which will explore the world’s most challenging habitats. The first of these expeditions takes place on Mount Everest. The team behind it install a weather station that will give accurate readings for scientists monitoring climate change at high altitudes.