The One Man Way: From High-Altitude Mountaineering to 5.13 Rock

Adrian Ballinger is one of the most accomplished mountaineers of all time. Now he is focusing on trying to climb 5.13.

First, know that Ballinger has been climbing for 25 years, so he’s no slouch. But the switch from rock climbing as a side dish to starter and its 5.13 climbing goal will be fun to watch.

Attention, climbing world: a limit pusher in one discipline focuses on another.

“I started when I was 12, living in central Massachusetts,” said Ballinger, 40, now based in Olympic Valley, Calif. “I’ve been conducting since I was 15, and in college I was a rock guide.”

But since age 17, when he summitted his first 20,000+ foot summit in Ecuador, Ballinger has focused on the mountains.

Climbing as training

More than ten 8,000m peaks later – including six of Everest – the Eddie Bauer-sponsored mountaineer, who leads the Alpenglow Expeditions group of guides, still incorporates rock climbing into his training, but that’s not not his goal.

Ballinger in its natural habitat. Photo by Mark Stone

“I’m on the rock every summer because it’s a passion, but also because those motor skills – balance, movement and center of gravity – translate to the mountains, where I spend a lot of time on the rock. in crampons,” he said. . “But it’s always something I squeeze in between big mountain training.”

Summit of Cho Oyu

In other words, he spends most of his time building a huge cardio engine: running and cross-country skiing, depending on the season.

He adds that he never planned or expended repeated concentration and effort on a single route. But climbing straight remains a passion.

“Plus,” he added, “I’m dating [pro rock climber] Emily Harrington, and she takes me to the rock.

Aim to Climb 5.13

For about 20 years, he estimates, Ballinger’s climbing skills peaked at 5.12 climbing ability.

This rating – part of Yosemite’s decimal system, which ranges from 5.5 to 5.15 with sub-ratings for 5.10 and higher – is a very advanced escalation, of course. Watching Ballinger lead an overhanging granite route at Donner Summit earlier this month, it was clear that his sub-optimal climbing parameters were vastly different from mine, or almost anyone at the Minneapolis gym than I frequent.

Ballinger trains near Donner Summit, his home cliff. Photo by Alex Kurt

Still, he said, he wants to climb his first 5.13 when he and Harrington visit Kentucky’s Red River Gorge all November.

“Ratings aren’t that important to me, but there’s something about 5.13, that’s the start of elite ratings,” he said. “You can’t climb it by being off the couch or being a strong recreational climber. This requires training and focused effort.

After an informal survey of climbing acquaintances, Ballinger set his sights on a sustained, crisp, stiff 13a called Snooker.

“It’s incredibly aesthetically pleasing, and it’s challenging for the level,” he said. “In other words, no one is going to say ‘oh, that’s soft, that’s not really 13a’.”

New training regimen


For his first real dedicated rock workout, Harrington trains Ballinger through a core strength routine (“it’s important for stiff rock,” he said), suspension drills (twice a week; he uses resistance bands for weight loss, for now), pull-ups (twice a week; “when I came back from Everest [in May]I couldn’t make one”), and endurance reps on the rolling wall in the couple’s garage.

They also go bouldering in Reno three to four times a week.

“It’s important for building power, rather than endurance, which has been my whole life’s focus,” he said.

A balanced climber

Ballinger also said the new routine was weird.

“We had snow here last week, so part of me thinks I need to train for the ski season, strengthen my legs and build a lot of endurance,” he said. “But I’m excited at the same time. I’ve been climbing forever, but I’ve never really pushed myself into it.

The “lightning ascent” of the peak of the Himalayas is a record 8,000 meters

With unprecedented speed, Adrian Ballinger and Emily Harrington reached the sixth highest peak in the world today (Saturday October 1), just ten days after leaving their home in California. Read more…

He said so many climbers – including guides – focus specifically on one discipline, whether it’s bouldering, sport climbing or high altitude mountaineering.

“My goal is to have a mountaineering life, and that includes all of that for me,” he said. “I want to be really good in the high mountains, but I also want to be a good technical climber. I want to get better at climbing and enjoy everything I can get out of it.