On May 23, 2016, less than a thousand feet from the summit of Everest, Adrian Ballinger’s energy reserves ran out. Ballinger was attempting his first ascent without breathing supplemental oxygen—he’d already been to the top of the world’s highest mountain six times in a climbing career that spans two decades—but on the knife-edge ridge near the top of the 29,035-foot peak, fatigue overwhelmed him.
Cold seeped into Ballinger’s body and he lost all feeling in his hands. Unable to operate the mechanical device on the rope that would support his weight if he slipped, Ballinger was essentially solo climbing Everest. On his right, the ground dropped away thousands of feet towards Nepal; on his left it dropped towards Tibet. Watching his climbing partner, Cory Richards, forge on ahead, Ballinger turned back, defeated.
Last fall, home in California, Ballinger went searching for answers, trying to work out why he had struggled so badly on that final summit push. He hired two coaches, Scott Johnston and Steve House, as advisers. Both Johnston and House are experienced mountain climbers themselves, and co-wrote a manual on strength and conditioning for climbers called Training for the New Alpinism before founding their coaching company, Uphill Athlete.