Over the past nine years, professional climber and mountain guide Adrian Ballinger summitted Earth’s highest mountain — Mount Everest — an astonishing six times, with two coming in the span of just three weeks. An avid adventurer, what particularly sets Ballinger apart from the budding crowd of climbers annually taking to the Nepalese peak rests with his unique approach to each climb. For instance, Ballinger and climbing partner Cory Richards made headlines last year after Snapchatting their way to the summit, making use of the peak’s 3G wireless network access along the way.
This year, the courageous duo intend to stray from jumping on social media for their upcoming climb, instead opting to lean on upgraded biofeedback tech, innovative coaching, and simply taking a better assortment of clothing. In partnership with Ballinger’s climbing company Alpenglow, the team plans to tackle the challenging climb on in early April with a hopeful summit day around the end of May. Though, despite their frequency on Everest, Ballinger still understands what a daunting task it is to even set foot there.
“What a big undertaking Everest is,” he told Digital Trends.
Look good, feel good
Although Ballinger and Richards will no doubt indulge in a few climbing selfies this time around, they aren’t necessarily aiming at style points for their outfits. In partnership with Eddie Bauer, the two plan to test and wear new products and designs not yet available to the public. Last year, Richards made it to the top while Ballinger turned back (without supplemental oxygen) just two hours shy of the summit after getting too cold. Because of this, staying warm has been a big part of this year’s preparation with Eddie Bauer.
“I have really been working closely with Eddie Bauer and Cory to make sure my gear is as absolutely as warm as it can be, while still not getting too bulky or just having too much weight and not be able to get up there,” Ballinger added. “The gold standard for altitude warmth is down.
While they already plan to wear lightweight down suits, any additional weight they might have the ability to shed adds up over time as they work their way to the summit. So, any minor upgrades the two make with Eddie Bauer to add warmth to their outfit, it’s imperative they also attempt to reduce weight and bulk. Sometimes, simply changing a size has the ability to have a significant impact.
“Part of our design process has been to sit down and look at what kind of layers worked and what didn’t,” Richards told Digital Trends. “We start to look at different fabric options, stitching patterns and all these things that have a minute impact for climbing but cumulatively, they become the difference between success and failure. Last year, for example, I was using a medium and that was just too big. This year I am using a small. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it really makes a difference at the end of the day.”
Give time time
Aside from their clothing, the two also plan to use Garmin Fenix 5 watches to monitor their biofeedback along with Strava to comprehend the information. Working directly with Strava, Ballinger and Richards improved and built their profiles by committing more time and more information to the platform. The decision to use Garmin tech on their wrists was done so each had access to more accurate tech and a longer battery life. Last year, for instance, Richard’s watch died during the climb.
These guys are highly motivated climbers so it is import for them to keep that energy in reserve, I am kinda holding the reins alot
“I want to get the most accurate bio data I can,” Richards said. “Strava allows us to digest what exercise at altitude actually means. One of the things Adrian and I experienced last year was the biofeedback and information actually lent itself to a culture between us where we compare things that aren’t necessarily comparable. There’s no way to typically look at this because our heart rate and genetic makeup are totally different. That is where tech transformed in a very strange way that I never anticipated.”
Due in large part to this fact their numbers aren’t ripe for comparison, the duo turned to one more improvement for their upcoming climb: New coaches.
A friend can say no
“We are treating climbing Everest differently,” said Ballinger. “Traditionally high Alpinism has never been treated like an elite sport. It’s been guys going out, or women going out and just suffering as hard as they can and whoever suffers the best might end up on top of whatever the specific peak is.”
Now, the two treat summiting like the elite sport it is. For their upcoming Everest climb, they turned to Up Hill Athletes founders Scott Johnston and Steve House to provide them with the kind of high-quality coaching they’ve built their careers on. Aside from the impact each coach’s extensive climbing and teaching experience have had on Ballinger and Richards leading up to the bid, they’ll also have access to daily data collected by Strava and Garmin to offer real-time feedback while the pair ascends Everest.
“Their pace data, moving speed, vertical gain, and relative heart rate are all available to us to see and react to on the fly,” Steve House told Digital Trends. “We are going to be tracking all of this throughout the entire expedition as they go up the mountain.”
In order to acclimatize, each climber must come back to camp to rest for a few days before proceeding further up Everest to adjust to higher elevations. During this process, the coaches have the ability to see exactly when each climber achieves a higher fitness. In theory, Ballinger and Richards’ pace and vertical climb rate should increase while their heart rate lowers during the same amount of work. Using this date and prior experience from past summits — along with their successes and failures — the coaches are able to compare and make educated assessments on the fly.
“Seeing the data I can say, ‘this is normal, everything is going according to plan,’” added House. “But if I see any of that data dropping off, for instance, if their heart rate is too high for that workload or their moving pace becomes too slow for the heart rate, I can tell them something is going on. In most cases, the cure is simply just to come down, recover and rest.”
I sort of hold the reins a lot because they want to go but I keep the big picture in mind
Aside from a fitness standpoint, climbing Everest takes a serious psychological toll on climbers and remains one of the key areas House and Johnston focus on in preparation for the journey. As pre-climb jitters begin to set in, it’s up to the coaches to alleviate that anxiety and remind them to stay focused on properly training.
“The most difficult thing is when people get excited or competitive and they increase the pace too hard,” House said. “The recovery is so difficult at these elevations because there’s so little oxygen. These guys are highly motivated climbers so it’s import for them to keep that energy in reserve. I sort of hold the reins a lot because they want to go but I keep the big picture in mind.”
It all comes down to summit day
Despite the extensive training, high-quality clothing and gear, and intensive coaching sessions, summit day is all that truly matters. Of course, having access to real-time fitness data and being able to adapt on the fly helps Ballinger and Richards accomplish their lofty goal but it the final stretch of climbing Everest remains one of the most challenging obstacles in any sport — extreme or otherwise.
“It really does come down to using all of this information to make the last 40 hours possible,” added Richards. “That is what all of this is about. That is your race day. It’s not even about the days leading up to it.”
Everest No Filter plans to offer viewers access to its Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and Strava accounts to give anyone the ability to follow along as Ballinger and Richards attempt to conquer Everest yet again. As mentioned above, the duo plan to begin their ascent in mid-April with a hopeful arrival at the summit closer to the end of May.