Learn More
Mar 20, 2024 by Megan Michelson

Meet an Athlete: Adrian Ballinger

Photography by Griffin Mims

Home Base / Tahoe City, California.

Activities / Skiing, backcountry skiing, rock climbing, mountaineering, guiding.

Why Adrian

A prolific mountain athlete, Adrian Ballinger has climbed high altitude peaks around the world—and skied off many of them. He has topped out on Everest and K2 without supplemental oxygen, and in 2011 he became the first person to summit three 8,000-meter peaks (Everest twice and Lhotse once) in just three weeks. In 2022, he notched the first recorded ski descent off Makalu, the world’s fifth highest peak. Makalu was his fourth complete ski descent of an 8,000 meter peak, and his second first descent of an 8,000-meter peak. As an IFMGA- and AMGA-certified mountain guide and the founder of Alpenglow Expeditions, an international guiding outfitter, he’s helped others reach the same heights, too. 

These days, Alpenglow Expeditions leads more than 30 guided international expeditions a year on peaks from the Himalaya to the Andes, as well as local backcountry and climbing outings and educational courses closer to their headquarters in the Lake Tahoe area.

If you can do some of your altitude training at home, terrain like this gets more manageable.

My whole focus has been trying to introduce more people to sports and activities in the mountains. Not everyone is going to climb Mount Everest. But people may want to go snowshoeing in Tahoe or experience skiing outside the ropes. Those activities are entry points to bigger adventures.

Specialized Skills

Ballinger is known for pioneering the use of pre-expedition acclimatization with hyperbaric tents to reduce trip time for his clients, making rapid ascents a new reality. “I was spending seven to eight months a year in a tent on the side of a mountain,” he says. “It wasn’t sustainable. I was looking for a way to shorten a trip while still capturing the essence of an expedition. It turns out that idea resonated with people who were looking to find a balance between normal life and expeditions.”

When I climb with Adrian, he has this amazing positive outlook, even when it feels like things aren’t going your way. He is always taking in information, always curious. He has this ability to compartmentalize emotions when tough decisions are on the line so that he never gets too attached to the outcome. But his positivity is biggest strength. Also his passion. I often say, ‘We walk to the mountains until we can no longer,’ and that’s something I’ve heard from Adrian.

Sean Kristl General Manager, Alpenglow Expeditions
Adrian is much more than a high altitude mountaineer.
Adrian has stood on the summits of 18, 8,000-meter peaks.

What's Next

Ballinger and his wife, pro climber Emily Harrington, are busy raising their young son, Aaro. “Being a dad is a huge new challenge,” Ballinger says. “I’ve also been focusing on goals within rock climbing, which has the added benefit of keeping me closer to home. One of my dreams is to freeclimb a route on El Capitan.”

Adrian's Rapid Ascent System approach to guiding involves more buy-in from guests, but delivers a more authentic experience.