Adrian Ballinger had the opportunity to board a plane, fly to Ecuador, and climb a 20,000-foot mountain within 72 hours.
The ticket has already been paid for; All he had to do was say yes.
One problem: He was 17 and had to convince his parents not to say no.
Ballinger told them he would never get that chance again.
You said yes.
“It really got me on this journey, this once-in-a-lifetime journey,” Ballinger said with a touch of sarcasm.
He has been to Ecuador more than 35 times and has climbed the peaks of more than 100 mountains around the world that are approximately 20,000 feet high. Little did he or his parents know.
Training in Las Vegas
Ballinger is one of the most skilled mountaineers in the world, one of four Americans who climb Mount Everest and K2 without additional oxygen. He and his fiancée, five-time national climbing champion Emily Harrington, trained in Las Vegas for a big summer climb in Pakistan.
Climbing isn’t as natural to Ballinger as it is to Harrington, and she coached him through the process.
“He listens,” said Harrington. “It’s very data-driven. He always wants to know why, why. Sometimes I say, “Just do it.”
You chose Las Vegas because it’s one of the few American cities where you can go climbing in winter. Red Rock gives you the opportunity to choose from more than 2,000 routes. The Fall of Man in the Virgin River Gorge across the state line into Arizona offers an extremely challenging and steep via ferrata with Interstate 15 below. Traffic makes it difficult to hear the person in charge of the rope.
“When you take falls, you take really big falls.” Ballinger said. “You’re very independent there, but many professional climbers would say that a single limestone wall over the highway – it’s called the Blasphemy Wall at Virgin River Gorge – is the best single wall in the United States for that style of climbing. ”
The climb was so demanding that Ballinger took more than 45 days to complete it.
Ballinger, 45, developed his passion for climbing after moving to Massachusetts from his native England at the age of 6. Ballinger often hiked in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and first tried climbing when he was 12 years old.
Even so, Ballinger thought he would eventually become a doctor, graduate from Georgetown, and then get into medical school.
Then he sat down with his parents again. A year off, said Ballinger, and back to school. A year that has almost turned 25.
“My parents weren’t very impressed with my decision at the time,” Ballinger said with a laugh, “that I’ll live with peanut butter, jelly, and bean burritos and climb the world instead of going to medical school.” You have come to this over the years. “
Ballinger has made quite a career between the sponsorship and his Lake Tahoe-based expedition company, which ran hikes in 38 countries on six continents in 2019. He plans to open an office in Las Vegas, but Red Rock has not been granted tour permits for at least two years, making him wait.
Conquering Everest, K2
Patience and perseverance are essential for mountain climbers, and Ballinger has climbed the summit of the world’s highest peak eight times in 13 attempts. His first attempt at Everest in 2008 fell short, but he made it to the top of the 29,032-foot-high summit the following year – for 45 seconds.
One member of the team quickly became disoriented from high altitude brain edema, which is akin to serious motion sickness. A Sherpa quickly snapped a photo of Ballinger on the summit, and the team then began the descent, which lasted almost two days. The sick person recovered.
In 2010, Ballinger was invited by Sherpas to help them install the ropes on the way to the summit, and he spent 45 minutes on Everest as the sun set. He called it “the most significant peak of my life”.
“Of course it’s breathtakingly beautiful,” said Ballinger. “You look out and see the entire Himalayan area and the curvature of the earth in the distance. Its magical.”
Another type of magic took place there two years later when it met Harrington at 21,000 feet. She was with another team and he showed up with an espresso machine.
“We connected through our love for coffee,” said Ballinger.
They chatted, exchanged numbers, and kept in touch. She also did the Everest summit and enjoyed the view for 20 minutes.
“It’s a pretty surreal place,” said Harrington. “It’s a busy place, which is really interesting because it’s one of the most remote places in the world, or you’d think it was, but it actually isn’t.”
Then there is Everest
However, climbing Everest on the border between China and Nepal without additional oxygen is a rare achievement. Ballinger achieved this in 2017. The final stretch was 23 hours and covered 2,000 vertical feet and less than a mile and a half on foot.
“When there’s something I’m good at, I have a deep willingness to suffer,” said Ballinger. “Climbing Everest without oxygen is more of a long-term pain treatment over months and apparently no progress.”
While K2 is not as well known on Everest, it is more difficult in many ways and is nicknamed “Savage Mountain”. Ballinger said the additional elevation of about 700 feet makes Everest more challenging, but K2 – located in northern Pakistan – is unlike anything it has experienced.
Ballinger, who peaked in 2019, said he would never take clients of his expedition company because it is so dangerous given the rock and ice falls and the ongoing danger of avalanches. His own journey was disrupted by gastrointestinal illness and a series of avalanches that sent about 95 percent of climbers home.
His team and one other stayed, and conditions improved enough to complete the hike.
“I’ll never go back to K2,” said Ballinger. “The mountain for the first month and a half, it really felt like we didn’t belong there.”
However, Ballinger proved a long time ago that he belongs to the mountaineering elite.
He followed his passion rather than the safer route to becoming a doctor, but isn’t that the difficult path mountaineering and climbing are all about?
“You’re just never going to be that good at anything if you don’t really enjoy it,” Ballinger said. “The frustrations will be too big. Money is great, but money gets old. “
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at [email protected] Follow @ markanderson65 on Twitter.