Newfoundland’s own Mark Ballard becomes the latest proud island sun to summit Mount Everest, in a season of crowded climbing and tragic loss of life
At over 29,000 feet, Mount Everest is the highest mountain on earth and the granddaddy of them all for adventurers and mountaineers looking for the next great high, quite literally.
The Nepalese excursion has seen over 4,000 men and women reach the summit since Sir Edmund Hillary became the first climber to reach the summit with sherpa Tenzing Norgay in May of 1953. Southlands native Mark Ballard added his name to that list earlier this year.
“Everest, I’ve always been kind of curious about,” Ballard shared from his home in Norway. “You learn about it when you’re a kid. These people have done it and there’s kind of an amazement thing.”
Reaching the summit
Ballard completed the seven week trek, reaching the summit of Everest on May 21st, in a season that saw a record number of permits issued for the ascent and 12 confirmed fatalities.
Photographs circulated of massive queues of climbers waiting to ascend or descend particular stretches of the mountain, a rarity in past years which could have proved fatal for some.
Ballard, whose first ‘big mountain’ came when scaling Kilimanjaro in 2012, attributes the upswing in loss of life to a number of factors.
“You get the inexperienced people that in that situation, in that area, it’s the technical part of the mountain. It’s a very exposed part of the mountain. I mean there’s thousand meter drops on both sides and you get inexperienced that are scared and you get queues like that and that’s kind of disappointing and frustrating. I think if you had experience as one but technical people with good technical skills there I don’t think you would see as big of a problem as what it was this year.”
Ballard physically began preparing for his climb six months out, training his body for the rigors of the climb for three hours a day, six days a week. But everything from the technical, to cardiovascular, and the crucial do’s and dont’s of mountaineering require years of training and study.
“It starts with physical training and making sure cardio and strength are right. It really is back and legs and that is the big thing. So that’s kind of the physical part but it’s a lot of experience as well,” Ballard shares. “And that’s kind of fine tuning. That comes from different mountains. Whether it’s glove combinations on the ropes, the socks you want to wear, the boots. It sounds kind of funny and it sounds kind of trivial that that kind of stuff at that altitude and that cold and that weather can really be the difference between, not life and death, but losing fingers and frostbite and stuff like that. So that kind of comes as you get more and more climbs. You start to realize how your body and the equipment that you use react to the cold and the height.”
In terms of what shocked him, Ballard admits he was prepared physically, pushing his body to top form to ensure elite performance, but the mental exertion of seven weeks on the mountain did prove challenging.
“I think physically for sure I was prepared. Of course there was times I was tired. It wasn’t easy. But I thought it was easier than I expected. I thought there would be parts where I would be really struggling and I never got to that which I was really grateful for, but mentally for sure it was way tougher. I don’t think there’s anything that I could have prepared myself for that.
“Everyone has bad days or days where they miss it home. You’re seven weeks, you’re in a tent and even simple things like not being able to stand up to get dressed or not being able to warm up when you really want, and eat the same food over and over again, it can wear on you. That for me was kind of the toughest thing, trying to deal with that.”
Joining Al Hancock as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to reach the summit of Everest, Ballard is as inclined as any to impart some knowledge on what to expect for the always unpredictable climb.
“The goal with Everest, start up small, do what you need to do to build up for sure is one piece of advice,” he says. “Start with your 5000 meter mountain, 6,000, 7,000, do the proper training for it. But for me what I think the biggest thing when I look back on it and see all was the companies. Be very careful who you choose as an operator that you want to climb with and don’t just necessarily go for the cheapest one.
Top to bottom
“And that being said I was careful with my company that I climbed with. They were awesome when it came safety, they were, all top to bottom, I’d say one of the best or the best teams on the mountain. I highly recommend them, but there are companies there that you can tell that are just not in it at all and you’ve got to be careful on who you pick. As you seen it can be a life or death situation based on that.”
Follow the well-travelled Mark Ballard on Instagram at whereisbaal