Can You Visit Mount Everest? Mountaineer Adrian Ballinger Gives The Scoop — EXCLUSIVE
Last May, I — along with countless others — waited with bated breath to see if Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richards would make it to the peak of Mount Everest. As someone who's always wanted to visit Mount Everest, I was glued to my phone following updates. It was the second year the pair documented their climb on Snapchat, through the EverestNoFilter account, and it was a year of redemption for Ballinger, who didn't make it to the top in 2016. This time around, Ballinger made it to the peak, marking his seventh Everest summit — and the first time, he did it without supplemental oxygen.
This Everest climbing season, Ballinger is getting back to guiding climbs with his company Alpenglow Expeditions. He'll be bringing a team on a rapid ascent of both Everest and nearby Cho Oyu (the sixth tallest mountain in the world), which they aim to do in under a month. For context, a typical ascent of Everest alone takes around 70 days.
Those rapid ascents aren't for an everyday hiker, and, indeed, Ballinger won't even let lesser-trained climbers on that trip. As a seasoned climber who's been going to the Himalayas for two decades, Ballinger has a good idea of who should and shouldn't be trying to climb Everest. But, he tells me in an interview for Elite Daily, there's something for everyone at every level of mountaineering experience around the famed mountain.
1. Climbing Mount Everest
If you're looking to climb Everest itself, Ballinger has a list of requirements (which Alpenglow also requires of clients). Before making an attempt, you should have at least 30 days of experience in crampons (the things you attach to shoes to walk on ice and glaciers), 10 days of rock climbing experience, and you should have summited at least five 6,000-meter (20,000-foot) peaks, one 7,000-meter (23,000-foot) peak, and one 8,000-meter (26,000-foot) peak.
It sounds like a lot — and it is! — but that's because you really should be prepared before trying to climb the highest mountain in the world, both for your safety and the safety of the guides and Sherpa (i.e. the people from the Himalayan region who aid climbers and set routes) helping you. Also, Ballinger notes, it's a lot more fun to climb when you're not freaking out about how to walk in crampons.
"It is a doable goal if you’re willing to put the time and effort in," Ballinger notes, adding that people with unlimited time and funds can get those requirements done in a year. Typically, though, he sees clients do it over three years. But he is passionately adamant about getting experience before going for Everest, as climbers lacking experience can make the mountain so much more dangerous.
Ballinger is a noted fan of climbing from the North side of the mountain, which is through Tibet and China. (The South side is Nepal.) He believes it's a safer route, in large part because of the Khumbu Icefall on the South side (see the video above for an idea of how terrifying that area is), which "has just gotten too dangerous, probably because of climate change and also the increase in the number of climbers going through the route" over the past decade.
2. Climbing Other Mountains In The Region
"There are lots of good places to build experience [to be ready for Everest], but Nepal is one of the great places to build experience," Ballinger says. There are "trekking peaks" around Mount Everest in Nepal that have cheap permit fees, so you won't need to break the bank as much as you would for Everest, and there's not a lot of bureaucratic red tape to get through to climb (which there is for Everest).
Ballinger's three favorite mountains in that area are Island Peak, Mera Peak, and Lobuche Peak, which are an easy approximately 20,000 feet tall and don't have too many extreme dangers like avalanches and icefalls. "They are so beautiful and so perfect for building mountain experience," he says.
3. Hiking (Or Driving) To Base Camp
Hikes to base camp are actually a pretty popular option, and they're doable if you're a decent hiker ready to put in work. This is when you'll want to head over to the Nepal (South) side of the mountain, where guided hikes can take eight days to two weeks to get to base camp at 17,250 feet. "It is some of the coolest hiking you can do anywhere around the planet," Ballinger says. "It's something I recommend everyone to do."
Meanwhile, on the Tibet (North) side of the mountain, China has built a road all the way to base camp, so you don't need to hike there. Still, it'll take six days to get there so you can acclimatize to the higher altitude. Ballinger says China is working on more tourism infrastructure in the area, which could make the North side base camp even more accessible, like in the Alps. (This could either be good or bad for the climbers, Ballinger reasons, depending on how it's managed.)
4. Experience The Culture
"There’s something really special about these cool villages and interesting culture of the Sherpa on one side and the Tibetans on the other side," Ballinger says about the region around Everest, "and at the same time, you have some of the most beautiful mountains and mountain valleys you’ll see anywhere on the planet."
Ballinger's favorite part of being in the region (outside of climbing) is visiting the village of Phortse in Nepal, which is where the Sherpa he works with are from. "When we’re on Mount Everest, it’s only the men, right? There’s very few female Sherpa currently — although hopefully that will change. So we have this very one-sided experience," Ballinger says. "And then I get to go to this village and meet their wives and kids and hang out and eat local yak or nak yogurt and drink tea and just see how their real lives are. I just love it."
He says that even if you don't have the relationships with Sherpa that he does, "you still get that feeling in visiting these towns and seeing these traditional ways these people are still living, and being a part of it. They’re incredibly welcoming and open." In fact, many lodges in the area are actually parts of people's houses that were converted for guests.
No matter what your skill level is, there's something beautiful to experience around Mount Everest. Get exploring!