Welcome home from the top of the world

Adrian Ballinger and Emily Harrington returned home two weeks from the day they left Tahoe after attaining their goal to summit Cho Oyu, the mountain known as the Turquoise Goddess, in record time.

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Speaking from his home in Squaw Valley, Ballinger had been home less than 48 hours, where he’d returned from the top of the 26,906’ peak five days prior. Ballinger said, “I am happy to be here. We’re a bit jet lagged, still processing the climb and really, really hungry.” Admitting exhaustion, Ballinger was bright, positive and upbeat. He was on a high, overjoyed and elated that the trip was a smashing success. All of the prep, all of the training and all of the logistics favored the team on their whirlwind adventure. “It was an amazing summit day. It was warm and sunny, there were very few climbers on the mountain and we got to ski the whole way down,” said Ballinger.

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Before leaving for his trip, Ballinger explained that they were tracking the weather carefully and that Sept. 30 looked to be an ideal day for their summit. There were 115 climbers scheduled to ascend that day. Ballinger and Harrington decided to pass and to wait a day and climb on Oct. 1. “It was amazing. There were only 12 other climbers on the mountain,” Ballinger said. He explained that Cho Oyu is one of the most popular mountains to climb with over 400 climbers that attempt to summit each year.

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“Normally, climbers do progressive pushes. We carried all of our equipment for one single push. Our backpacks and gear were heavy. It was an 18-hour round-trip day,” said Ballinger. According to Ballinger the couple did well acclimating at 18,000’ and 21,000’. He attributed this to their training regime, preparation and use of hypoxic tents for the months leading up to their trip. He said once they climbed above 21,000’, “It got harder and harder.” Ballinger explained that they were prepared both mentally and physically for these challenges.

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Camp 1 was at 21,000’ and Camp 2 was 23,250’. The couple began their journey from Camp 2 at 11 p.m. It took two hours to prepare and get their gear ready. Leaving camp at 1:00 a.m., they reached the top of Cho Oyu at 8:15 a.m. and spent 45 minutes on the summit. “We looked out and saw the whole Himalayan mountain range. Tibet on one side and Nepal on the other,” said Ballinger of their magical moment on top of the sixth largest peak in the world. “Then we skied all the way down the mountain. It is more physically difficult than skiing anything at Squaw. You need to make hundreds of jump turns all the way down due to the challenging snow conditions and steep terrain. It was like Crossfit with a plastic bag on our heads,” explained Ballinger with a chuckle. “We started to ski down at 9 a.m. and got to the bottom at 4 p.m. We packed up our gear and walked down to base camp, arriving at 8:30 p.m.” They re-warmed their bodies and slept for 12 hours. When they woke they headed back to Tahoe.

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“This was very special for sure,” said Ballinger. After this trip, Ballinger is more excited than ever to offer clients of a certain physical ability the opportunity to explore rapid ascent summits of this nature. “I love the idea of figuring out how to be more efficient on the mountain and achieve bigger and bolder objectives,” he explains. “It was an ambitious project and to be so successful feels wonderful,” said Ballinger who has summited twelve 8,000 meter peaks prior to this climb. It has been three years since he has stood on a peak of this height.

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What’s next for Ballinger? After a large steak and salad dinner upon returning home, he’s already contemplating a 2nd summit attempt of Everest without oxygen in the spring (he did not complete his first attempt), but that’s down the road. In the short term, Ballinger and Harrington are heading to Red River Gorge, Kentucky for a month of climbing. Then he will return to Tahoe for the winter where he will focus on his business, Alpenglow Expeditions, guiding people on outdoor, winter adventures and sharing his passion and love for the mountains in one of the most beautiful places in the world that he calls home.

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Pushing the limits · Duo attempts 27,000’ rapid ascent

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Priya Hutner
Priya Hutner is a writer, personal chef and meditation teacher. Having moved to the mountains from Sebastian, Fla., she embraces the Tahoe lifestyle and loves to ski, hike, paddle and swim. Priya is the owner of the Seasoned Sage, a business that prepares organic meals and facilitates workshops that promote a health-conscious lifestyle. Priya writes feature articles about music, art, food and recreation. She loves to immerse in story. Whether jumping from a plane, eating obscure foods or hitting the Tahoe-Reno music scene, she is always up for adventure and experience. She is currently writing a memoir about her experience living on an ashram and working on a series of cookbooks. | priya@tahoethisweek.com