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Finding Romance in the Ups and Downs

Friends describe Adrian Ballinger, a mountain guide who has summited Mount Everest eight times, as a magnetic person with a zest for life, and especially for coffee.

“I carry this portable espresso machine on all my expeditions,” Mr. Ballinger said. “It looks like a tiny bicycle pump.”

It was on one of his expeditions to Mount Everest, in 2012, that he met Emily Harrington. Their paths crossed at Camp 2, a colony of tents at 21,000 feet. Mr. Ballinger was on his way down and Ms. Harrington, a professional rock climber, was preparing to summit. He liked her immediately, and offered her an espresso. Later, they sat next to each other at a dinner party in one of the tents. (Yes, there are dinner parties on Mount Everest.)

“There was very much a natural connection like, ‘Wow I want to go adventuring with this person,’” said Mr. Ballinger, 45, the founder of Alpenglow Expeditions, a company in Olympic Valley, Calif., that runs mountaineering trips around the world.

He soon headed home to Olympic Valley, while Ms. Harrington stayed on the mountain, which she eventually summited. But they kept in touch daily. “We were nonstop using Instagram and WhatsApp,” Mr. Ballinger said.

After Ms. Harrington arrived back in Boulder, Colo., her hometown, the two planned a camping trip in California. “We were dirt bagging and living out of our cars and not showering, not exactly a typical first date,” said Mr. Ballinger, who grew up in Worcester, Mass., and graduated from Georgetown.

The “date” lasted for nearly a month. “I remember it being easy and fun and adventurous and feeling like I was falling in love,” said Ms. Harrington, 35, who graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Credit…Rosser/Lebeau
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Soon after, Ms. Harrington packed up her Subaru Outback and moved in with Mr. Ballinger. She said that in some ways, the move scared her, but she is used to doing frightening things. “It just felt right,” Ms. Harrington said.

Since then, the couple have been busy either planning adventures or recuperating from them. In 2016, they climbed Cho Oyu, a 26,864-foot peak on the border of Nepal and Tibet, then skied down. And in November 2020, six months after Mr. Ballinger proposed, they drove their beat-up Ford Econoline van named Sketchy Betty to Yosemite National Park, where Ms. Harrington became the first woman to free-climb the Golden Gate route up El Capitan in under 24 hours, as Mr. Ballinger cheered her on.

“He has a lot of enthusiasm and optimism no matter what is going on around him,” Ms. Harrington said of Mr. Ballinger, whom she calls her “robot of positivity.”

The couple, who now live in Tahoe City, Calif, said they weren’t in a rush to get married until they started thinking seriously about having children. Ms. Harrington said she likes the idea of one child while Mr. Ballinger, always up for a monumental challenge, wants seven.

While still negotiating that, they were married on Nov. 26 in Olympic Valley, Calif., with Logan Talbott, a friend who was ordained by the American Marriage Ministries, as their officiant and only guest. The bare-bones ceremony took place outdoors at a picnic table in the base village of Palisades Tahoe, a local ski resort.

Days later, the couple left for Ecuador, where they climbed Cotopaxi, the second highest peak in the country, with several friends. Then, on Dec. 11, they had a second wedding celebration, this one on the beach in Ayampe, Ecuador, with 120 guests, all vaccinated. Their dog, a Catahoula leopard named Cat, also attended.

The bride and groom were led through their vows by Esteban Mena, who is known as Topo, and Carla Perez Ruales, whom Mr. Ballinger described as “two of the best high altitude climbers on the planet.”

In her vows, the bride said, “I may say that you’re a robot but I’ve felt your love for me since the beginning and was never made to doubt it.”

In his, Mr. Ballinger made this promise: “I commit to getting up first and bringing you coffee in bed every damn day. I’ve done it for nine-and-a-half years and I’m not going to stop now.”


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