Interview with Alpinist Adrian Ballinger

Ballinger at Everest Base Camp, April 10, 2009. Photo courtesy of Adrian Ballinger /

Recently, I had the good fortune of crossing paths with world-class alpinist and Everest guide, Adrian Ballinger, and arranged an interview. As you will see, Adrian has been living his dream as a climber, skier, and high-altitude alpine guide for over 15 years. He climbed Everest for the first time in April of this year, and the experience will be featured during the next week on the Discovery Channel’s show, Everest: Beyond the Limit. He runs a succesful business making others’ dreams of summiting some of the world’s most dangerous peaks come true. We’ve asked Adrian about what inspires him, what scares him, and what motivates him to continue his quest to push the limit, to define new boundaries, and discover the truth within himself. We not only admire men like Adrian, we cherish the contributions he offers us with every climb, every journey, and every summit. Adrian teaches us that we can always climb higher, dream bigger, and go farther than we ever thought we could. And that is what we are all about. Here is what he has to say.

Who is Adrian Ballinger? What moves you and has shaped you?
A mostly homeless mountain guide with a passion for climbing and skiing big mountains, and enabling others to share in the experience. The last 15 years of my life have been focused on finding ways to visit big peaks throughout the world. I love rock climbing, ice climbing, alpine high altitude climbing, and skiing – as long as it is in the mountains, I try to excel at it.

Where do you come from (origins) and what influence has that place had on your life?
My family started off in England and I lived there until I was six. From there we moved to New England, and that is where hiking, climbing, skiing and mountaineering started for me. My first trips were backpacking in the White Mountains with my father. This quickly went to the next level of technical rock climbing and mountaineering with my best friend growing up, Greg Childs. He was like my brother (I spent summers and many winter snow days living with his family) and my hero – he already climbed and skied when I met him, and I spent the all of my teenage years just trying to keep up with him (unsuccessfully for the most part).

Ballinger on the summit of Everest, May 21, 2009. Photo courtesy of Adrian Ballinger /

When did you discover you were born to climb?
I loved climbing from the very beginning – hiking as a kid and then climbing and skiing as a teenager. But I was never very good at any of it. I think that is a big part of where my passion came from. I was really average at all of this stuff as a kid. I just kept at it, coming back beaten up, scraped and bruised after every day in the mountains. But I knew it was something special for me. It challenged me way more than school or traditional sports.
And it just kept going from there. When I was 17 I had the opportunity to climb my first high altitude peaks, in Ecuador. I summited Cotopaxi (19,347 feet) and Chimborazo (20,565 feet). On Cotopaxi I got really serious altitude sickness, vomiting and hallucinating most of the way up, and needing some serious help from my teammates to get back down. I swore I would never do it again. Five days later I found myself back up high on Chimborazo and loving every minute. My body broke through whatever barrier it had to the whole thing and felt so strong. And that was it. I knew I needed to keep doing these big peaks, preferably by more and more technical routes. That was 15 years ago and I’ve been climbing full time ever since.

Why do you climb? What drives the need? When you hit the wall, and it seems you cannot go any further, what keeps you going? Does that keep you going in life too?
I don’t know exactly why I climb. I know it combines a really huge physical challenge, with a big mental piece (making good decisions in dangerous circumstances with incomplete information) with an emotional side (figuring out how to motivate our bodies when we should shut down from exhaustion or fear). I haven’t found anything else in my life that is so “holistic”. When I am in the mountains I am completely focused, and every part of me is challenged to its limits. I thrive on that sensation and can’t imagine living without it.

What inspiration do you draw from these climbs?
Climbing obviously feeds me in a really powerful way. I love the movement, the challenge, the possibility of failure, and the constant management of risk. I try to take the same approach with the rest of my life, with mixed results! I am also really inspired by the people I climb with. Many of my clients put a lot on the line to climb big peaks. They make huge sacrifices in the rest of their lives. I think not doing this professionally or “full-time”, and then still needing to put out maximum effort come summit push, is really difficult. People suffer super-hard out there sometimes, and often they succeed and pull off a climb not even they knew they could. Being a part of that is the best. I cherish it equally with my own climbing accomplishments.

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