UPDATE: The pair will attempt the final push to the summit on Oct. 1. Follow their progress at facebook.com/TheTahoeWeekly.
What compels a couple to push the limits of their physical, emotional and mental well being to the extreme? Adrian Ballinger and Emily Harrington are the poster children for just that.
Emily Harrington | Jon Glassberg
At press time for this edition, the couple was preparing for a climbing adventure that takes extreme to new heights. They plan to take on Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world at 8,201 meter’s or nearly 27,000’ above sea level in record time. Cho Oyu means “Turquoise Goddess” in Tibetan and the peak borders Tibet and Nepal. “It’s a rare group of mountains,” explains Ballinger.
Adrian Ballinger | Mark Stone | EDDIE BAUER
Ballinger, founder of Alpenglow Expeditions, has summited Mount Everest six times and has climbed, skied and guided expeditions around the world. Not to mention he is the only American who has skied two 8,000 meter peaks, was the first person to ski Manaslu, the 8th tallest mountain in the world, and, in 2011 became the first person to summit three 8,000 meter peaks in only three weeks (Everest twice and Lhotse once).
“We both love the physical, emotional and mental challenges,
there’s something about this love of suffering. … In times of real struggle,
we learn a lot about ourselves and our partners.”
Harrington has completed numerous first female ascents, free climbed Yosemite’s iconic El Capitan and has summited Everest. She was on the USA Climbing Team and has garnered five US National Sport Climbing Championships and two North American Championships. In other words, these guys are badass athletes.
Alpenglow Expeditions have developed a unique program called Rapid Ascents, which combines hypoxic training and precise logistics to reduce time of overall time of expeditions. Ballinger has been focusing on breaking out of the norm of how mountains have been climbed. New technology has enabled climbers to climb faster and make rapid ascents. The plan is leave Tahoe and summit Cho Oyu in two weeks. Why?
Ballinger, who’s been mountaineering for the last 15 years, explains, “I spend 7 to 8 months of the year in a yellow tent. I love it, but I love being home and spending time with family and friends, so shortening those trips is good for my life and a compelling reason to climb these mountains faster.”
Ballinger and Harrington push their body to the limits not only while they are climbing but when training and preparing for a trip of this nature.
“We both love the physical, emotional and mental challenges, there’s something about this love of suffering,” he laughs. “Many of us live in relative comfort, and can control the temperature. In times of real struggle, we learn a lot about ourselves and our partners. Every single big trip, I swear I’ll never do this again. It’s not always fun at the time,” says Ballinger of undertaking trips with no oxygen or attempting a new ascent.
Ballinger climbed his first 20,000’ peak when he was 17. “I never thought I’d do it again and something about it made me want to do something taller,” he says of his love of reaching new heights.
Excited about upcoming rapid ascent Ballinger says, “Mountaineering and guiding have been done pretty much the same way since the ‘60s. Climb, get caught in a big storm, lick their wounds and go back to base camp and try again.”
Adrian Ballinger | Mark Stone
There are three factors that help Alpenglow Expeditions tackle their rapid ascents and take the art of mountaineering to new levels, he says: weather prediction, new technology and training methods and state-of-the-art gear.
Alpenglow Expeditions is working with Swiss meteorologists that predict weather conditions for commercial jets to get faster, more up-to-date information about conditions.
“We can be home training, wait for the perfect weather conditions and jump on a plane,” says Ballinger.
In addition, Alpenglow has been utilizing hypoxic tents to help acclimate to conditions on the mountains. “Hypoxic tents are a common training tool for Olympic athletes our guides and clients are now using them,” he said. “The tents go over our beds and simulate 21,000’ conditions. We also use a masks-based system while training on our stationary bikes. This way we are partially climatized instead of waiting at base camp for our bodies to climatize.”
Ballinger who travels with his hypoxic tent, says he and Harrington are currently sleeping at 17,500’ conditions while training for their upcoming rapid ascent and ride their stationary bikes for 90 minutes at 20,000’. The gear has also changed, everything is lighter, from boots, clothes, electric heating system for hands and feet, crampons and skis, Ballinger says they are carrying 30 percent less weight than climbers did a decade ago.
The couple plans to leave Tahoe, fly to San Francisco, land in Chengdu, China, take a flight to Lhasa, Tibet, and drive 200 miles across the Tibetan Plateau to base camp, climb 13,000 vertical feet (it takes 4 to 5 days to summit the peak) and ski down as quick as possible and return to Tahoe all in two weeks.
“As far as I know, the mountain has never been climbed in less than a month,” says Ballinger, who credits his company, the Sherpa’s, the team of people already on the ground and his sponsors for making this trip possible.
At press time for this issue, Ballinger and Harrington were waiting for word from the Swiss meteorologists for conditions to align to start the rapid ascent.
Ballinger is an Eddie Bauer Alpinist and CEO of Alpenglow Expeditions and Harrington is a North Face Athlete.