Squaw Valley couple launches YouTube channel featuring athletic exploits
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As conditions on Mount Everest deteriorated in 2012, Squaw Valley’s Adrian Ballinger and his team decided against a push for the summit.
Before leaving the mountain though, Ballinger, a decorated climber and founder of Alpenglow Expeditions, met a young woman he nicknamed “Danger Mouse.”
Days later as Ballinger licked his wounds in a hotel in Thailand, he learned that the woman he’d met — Emily Harrington, who playfully gave him the moniker “StikBug” — and her team had successfully conquered the world’s tallest mountain.
That meeting on the side of Everest would spark a relationship between the two that has seen the pair take on summits, big walls, and backcountry skiing across the globe.
Recently, the two launched a YouTube channel featuring their adventures along with what it takes to be a couple that pushes the envelop of human experience.
“We’ve been thinking of doing some sort of YouTube channel for awhile, because it seems like one of the next ways for athletes like us to share our stories,” said Harrington. “I was getting a little bit frustrated by the fact that we didn’t have any professional projects that we could do together because we have different sponsors, and so I thought it would be fun if we just took this on as our own thing that we could be in charge of — where we could tell our story how we wanted to and it could be something we could do together.”
Ballinger and Harrington’s channel, titled DangerStikTV, explores the couple’s relationship as they train, travel and prepare to take on individual goals.
“We want the episodes to sort of focus on how we share this life together,” Ballinger said. “And also how we prepare for these big independent goals — these trips that we do separately because we are really two different athletes even though we cross over a little bit.”
The two have set formidable goals for 2019. Ballinger plans on climbing K2 without supplemental oxygen, while Harrington will seek to become the third woman to free climb El Capitan in a day.
Conquering El Cap
For big wall climbers few names resonate like Yosemite’s El Capitan, and this summer Harrington plans on joining the short list of athletes to have free climbed the iconic monolith in less than 24 hours.
“I want to free climb it in a day,” said Harrington. “Doing it in a day is kind of like the ultimate test for big wall free climbing, and doing it on El Cap, there’s no bigger stage in the world to do that.”
As Harrington prepares to free climb El Capitan, the YouTube channel will capture her training leading up to the event. She’ll also have a secret weapon supporting her on the climb, Alex Honnold, who famously made a free solo ascent of El Capitan in 2017.
“Having a partner is super important,” said Harrington. “You need someone who can move really quickly up there and there’s no one who moves as fast or as efficiently as (Honnold) does.”
The trip up El Capitan will be the ultimate test of skill and endurance for Harrington, requiring her to pull together 20 years of experience on rock walls.
“It’s fascinating because it combines everything I’ve learned as a climber and big wall climber, and mountaineer over the last two decades,” she said. “And it sort of culminates in a day.”
Back into thin air
Climbing some of the world’s tallest peaks is one thing, but doing it without supplemental oxygen brings a massive set of other challenges.
In 2017, Ballinger set out to summit Mount Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen, and though he successfully summited, he called it the most difficult athletic endeavor of his life.
“It was definitely the hardest athletic thing I’ve ever done by far. It’s taken a couple of years to get back to the point where I’m excited to try another one without oxygen,” said Ballinger on the Everest climb.
“It was brutal. Above about 27,000 feet for me, things get really, really difficult. My brain, it doesn’t work very well. It was really hard for me to make decisions and I slow down a lot.
“It’s hard to describe except to imagine walking across the Squaw parking lot and it taking three to four hours. Just imagine moving that slowly yet still having to keep moving — that’s where the challenge lies.”
Recharged from the Everest climb, Ballinger is now fixed on taking down the world’s second tallest mountain, K2, without the use of supplemental oxygen.
The lead up to the climb and the ascent itself will be documented on the two’s channel as Ballinger and a small group set out for the Karakorum range later in the year.
Capturing it all
As Ballinger and Harrington train for their challenges, the YouTube channel will attempt to show what it’s like for the two as they push to do what few others have, while also showing the same struggles and ups and downs that each couple faces.
“Our goal is to have a relatively real time look at our lives, but also for it not to be just about adventure … there will be some time dedicated to that, but we really wanted the YouTube channel to have a larger reach,” said Ballinger.
“As a relationship, we kind of deal with all of the same challenges everyone else does, like how to spend time together, how to balance being apart and then being together and how jarring that can be. We hope people have a lot of interest in that stuff, just like how our relationship functions throughout this crazy life of adventure and travel that we live.”
DangerStikTV currently has three episodes out, which introduce Ballinger and Harrington. Upcoming episodes will focus on the two’s trip to Japan, which provided a unique opportunity to a couple that has spent much of the past decade globe trotting.
“For both of us, it was the first time we’d ever been to Japan, and it’s pretty rare for the both of us to visit a new country together, so we had to do a little bit of the tourism thing,” said Harrington on what audiences can expect from upcoming episodes. “We spent a few days in Tokyo, we climbed in a couple climbing gyms, which was super cool. And there’s a lot of culture, travel stuff as well as really amazing skiing.”
For viewers the channel provides a unique glimpse into the lives of two of the area’s elite athletes, contrasting the couple’s passion for a set of sports where a mistake can be the difference between going home to one another or not, with a lighter, sillier side between the two.
“That’s the only way our lives work, having that balance of humor and seriousness in what we are doing and realizing how lucky we are that we get to do these things,” said Ballinger. “But also acknowledging that sometimes it sucks too and sometimes it feels like a job, even though it’s like the best job in the world. We want to show that.”
As Ballinger and Harrington create content for DangerStikTV the two said the process is ever evolving, but the idea is to show roughly five to seven minute clips of the two’s adventures from places like Squaw Valley to the Himalaya.
“We’re looking for people’s suggestions of what they want to see more of in our lives,” said Ballinger. “We’re interested in seeing what people are looking for.”
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at email@example.com.