Elevating the expedition.

Mountaineers Adrian Ballinger and Emily Harrington have scaled many of the most renowned — and feared — mountains on Earth. In exploring frigid and unforgiving altitudes that most humans visit only in the comfort of a pressurized jet cabin, one piece of equipment has become essential to them: their iPad.

Step 1

Preparation

In high-altitude climbing, extensive planning isn’t just about making it to the top. It’s about getting home safely.

180 - 270 days  |  0 - 4600 m

Taking on a peak like Mount Everest or Ama Dablam, which Ballinger and Harrington have summited many times, involves months if not years of complex and careful planning. Before leading a trip with their Alpenglow Expeditions group, they study terrain and weather patterns, plot routes, decide where to camp, and manage equipment and supplies. Not long ago, they relied on outdated or inaccurate paper maps to inform their plan of attack. Sometimes maps of these areas didn’t even exist. But now with iPad and the Gaia GPS topography app, they can see remote mountain regions in great detail.

“Five years ago, it was hard to even get a paper map of some of these places. Now with the iPad it’s remarkable how much we can plan ahead.”

Adrian Ballinger
Step 2

Acclimatization

Preparing the body for what comes next.

42 - 56 days  |  4600 - 5600 m

  • Base camp
  • Camp 1
  • Camp 2
  • Camp 3
  • Summit

Elevation and available oxygen

Atmospheric pressure falls as altitude increases, reducing the amount of oxygen available to climbers. The amount of oxygen at 6,100 meters is less than
half that at sea level.

Relative O2

6,100m
0 M 6,100 m

Despite what the name suggests, base camp is far from the base of the mountain. On a typical big climb, Ballinger and Harrington and their team will helicopter in at around 2,700 meters — roughly the highest one can go without acclimatization. From there it’s a seven-to-eight-day trek to base camp at 4,900 meters. This is where they’ll spend several weeks letting their bodies build up red blood cells to adjust to the lower oxygen levels.

Base camp is also where Ballinger and Harrington use their iPad to start blogging, posting photos, and making updates on social media. In the past, recounting their story would have had to wait weeks until they returned to civilization, but now they can edit and upload photos and videos right from camp on the iPad.

Soon they begin a series of exploratory trips, establishing several progressively higher campsites in preparation for a big summit push. In these “rotations,” they return to base camp after climbing and spending nights at the higher camps. These preparatory climbs allow their bodies to adjust to the physical challenges of climbing while experiencing the punishing lack of oxygen.

Only the essentials come along. Including the iPad.

At each stage of the climb, Ballinger and Harrington reduce the gear in their packs. So as the climb becomes more difficult, they’re carrying only the most essential tools. And because it’s a crucial part of how they navigate the mountain safely, the iPad makes it all the way to the top.

Step 3

Summit Push

Years of training, months of planning, and weeks of exertion all culminate in the final ascent, a four-day climb that starts at base camp.

4 - 5 days  |  5600 - 6400 m

“Reliability, battery life, and the ability to handle heinous weather are a few reasons why iPad is always in our pack.”

Adrian Ballinger

Beyond the grueling exertion and low oxygen levels, unexpected weather can be a climber’s nightmare. A sudden violent whiteout can easily bring a climb to a halt. So Ballinger and Harrington need to rely on the waypoints they’ve marked on their iPad — essentially, digital breadcrumbs marking the best possible route. “On a bad-weather day we’re checking the iPad every few minutes to make sure we’re on track,” says Harrington. “Sometimes we even keep it in our hands.”*

Ballinger and Harrington use iPad and the Gaia GPS app to plan, navigate, and chronicle their ascent. GPS communicates directly with satellites, allowing them to use it anywhere. And the light, thin design of the iPad makes it easy to take along.

“In a whiteout, being able to see where you are on the mountain can be a matter of life or death. iPad is the only way to tell where we’re going.“

Emily Harrington
Step 4

Reaching the Summit

For climbers, it‘s more than a dot on the map. It’s a lifelong dream.

1 day  |  6400 - 6812 m

Even for experienced climbers, the summit is never guaranteed.

“I’ve only summited about 50 percent of the mountains I’ve tried,” says Ballinger. When they do reach the summit, it’s an incredible moment — but then there’s the matter of proving it. “Chronicling” an ascent requires convincing evidence for government agents and mountaineering organizations. Ballinger and Harrington use Gaia GPS on their iPad to find the exact true summit point and to drop a geotagged pin for the world to see. By planting this virtual flag they create a verifiable record that they were there.

Scaling the world’s highest peaks isn’t something that can be made completely safe. It will always be difficult, and it will always come with a lot of risk. And that’s how it should be — after all, part of the allure of extreme climbing is the fact that not everyone can do this. But with the iPad, Ballinger and Harrington can navigate those breathtaking heights a little more carefully. And because these expeditions have been made at least somewhat safer, Harrington says, “We’re willing to try new routes in more remote places now.”

Kilimanjaro 5895 m

Ama Dablam 6812 m

Mt. Everest 8850 m

Ballinger and Harrington use iPad to find the exact summit and verify their ascent.

“These are powerful and life-changing experiences. And I love getting to share them with others”

Adrian Ballinger

4,600m