A Guest Blog Post by MacKenzie Price
MMG Intern and graduating Hackley School senior
Reporters and newscasters are quick to offer up daunting statistics. More than 250 people have died climbing Mt. Everest, others have lost limbs, big and small, to frostbite. And fewer than 200 have climbed without supplemental oxygen.
But as viewers to the life’s drama, we enjoy championing underdogs and athletes, and reporter statistics like those seem insignificant as we convince ourselves, sure, maybe that’s true for other people, but not these guys. It’s the same mentality that lets us believe we won’t be the ones to crash our car while texting, or break our leg jumping off that roof. It’ll be someone else, someone we don’t know, but not me.
So it was with that mentality that I followed Eddie Bauer alpinists Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richards on social media, as they live snapchatted their ascent of Mt. Everest. The duo documented their highs and lows using #EverestNoFilter. I fully expected both of them to summit the treacherous mountain, despite the fact they were climbing without the aid of extra oxygen. As a fan and a follower, there was no doubt in my mind they would succeed in their quest; I found both Adrian and Cory very amicable, so it never occurred to me that they wouldn’t summit the mountain. Unfortunately, oftentimes we forget that amicability doesn’t make us or those around us invincible.
Both climbers are experienced to say the least. Adrian Ballinger has summited Everest six times as a guide, helping others with the climb through his adventure sports company, Alpenglow Expeditions. Cory Richards has summited two other mountains without oxygen before, Gasherbrum II and Lhotse. Nonetheless, both were exhausted by the time they made camp right before Everest’s “danger zone,” the last rest stop before the final summit.
No longer able to digest solid food, they survived solely on Soylent, a nutritious health drink providing them with the sustenance of a full meal. Despite their oxygen depletion and freezing extremities, both aspired to achieve a feat only 193 climbers of more than 7,000 have achieved: summiting Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen. The pressure was on as thousands of followers watched anxiously, myself included, as Adrian and Cory broadcast their final preparations for the summit push on Snapchat. In the end, Adrian chose to return to camp after realizing his body was failing him, freeing his friend and climbing partner Cory to successfully summit alone.
The team’s final decision to split up wasn’t an easy one. But after consulting Strava, the athletic progress app that the climbers used to closely monitor their health in real time, Adrian knew that he wasn’t well enough to make the final 100 yards to the summit safely. He also knew that Cory would have a better chance of summiting without him “dragging him down”. So, rather than summit the mountain, Adrian chose to end his journey early. It was ultimately the right choice; prioritizing health and safety is a policy all climbers should have, and was a policy Adrian not only practiced, but demonstrated to the world. His snapchat infamy cast him as a role model to the public, and through his decision he taught followers that safety, even while ascending a deadly mountain, is the number one priority.
Most importantly, Eddie Bauer’s team taught us why the “invincibility belief” is all wrong. We fall victim to it often; we believe that just because we like or know someone, they will succeed, and are invincible to the hardships that fall upon countless others. We like to think that if you work hard enough and deserve it, you will achieve your goal 100% of the time. In some ways, this type of thinking makes us more optimistic and goal-oriented. But it also corrupts what we think when we fall short of reaching a goal. Our immediate mindset is, well, that person is a failure. Maybe they just didn’t deserve it or work for it. But that’s not really true at all.
The real lesson that Adrian and Cory taught us is that not reaching a certain goal doesn’t mean you didn’t work for it, and most importantly it doesn’t mean the journey getting there was a failure. The duo’s climb still was, in their eyes and mine, a hard earned success. Cory was able to push through and summit without oxygen and Adrian, despite not summiting Mt. Everest, had a breathtaking journey that he was able to share with thousands of viewers.
In any case, climbing almost all of Mt. Everest without oxygen is still an incredible feat of athleticism, one that amazes me today. And in doing so, both climbers taught us some important lessons through their Snapchat stories. Cory Richards taught us about determination and personal strength as he summited the mountain. Adrian Ballinger taught us about health, sacrifice, and self-worth as he chose his health over endangering his own life and the lives of others. Both climbers were equally courageous in their journeys and conveyed equally important messages to the thousands who watched with anticipation. They made it; they survived the treacherous Mt. Everest with their health, their friendship, and their spunky attitudes intact. Well done, boys, and congratulations on such an incredible adventure.