- Base camp
- Camp 1
- Camp 2
- Camp 3
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.
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.
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.”*
“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.”