It’s a pinnacle achievement for any adventure junkie, yet no Newfoundlander has ever set foot on the summit of Mount Everest before.
Mount Pearl native and O’Donel graduate Mark Ballard is hoping that when he attempts to scale the world’s largest mountain this summer, he’ll be the first.
“Everest was always something, in high school, that I was fascinated by,” said Ballard. “I thought it was cool, but never that it was realistic.”
But now Ballard will have his shot to achieve that goal in July of 2019. He won’t be the first Newfoundlander to make the attempt — Newfoundland author and adventurist T. A. Loeffler has attempted to scale the peak before — but should he be successful he’ll have gone where no Newfoundlander has gone before.
Ballard, who currently works as an engineer in Norway, got his start climbing when he accompanied some friends summiting Mount Kilimanjaro near the end of 2012. After that first climb, he was hooked.
“I really enjoyed that, it’s nothing compared to Everest, but it got me started,” said Ballard. “It kind of became a passion to do the big mountains and it’s been a build-up for me; higher and higher and harder mountains.”
Since that first climb, Ballard has attempted and summited some of the world’s largest peaks, every year working to scale a more challenging mountain. It was after a failed attempt at summiting Denali last year when he set his sights on Everest. “We didn’t make it to the top of Denali, unfortunately the weather was terrible,” said Ballard. “But I felt really good, it was kind of a warm-up for me and I felt like I could make it.” Everest will be Ballard’s sixth climb and his fourth larger expedition. Of course, scaling Everest is a far cry away from hiking the summit of Gros Morne. The sheer scale of what he is attempting gets lost on some, Ballard noted. “I find it funny, a lot of my buddies, when I’m home a lot of people say ‘well, good luck on your hike,” said Ballard, laughing. It will take anywhere from six to nine weeks for Ballard and his group to reach the summit, including nearly a week just to reach the base camp. It will likely take another three to four weeks to establish additional camps up the mountain with food, fuel and oxygen and to acclimatize to the high altitude before Ballard can attempt at reaching the summit. Working against him will be below freezing temperatures, altitude sickness and the threat of frostbite. It’s a physically demanding and dangerous climb. As part of his preparation Ballard has been committing some two to three hours a day to prepare himself physically for the long, arduous ascent to the peak. And while there are more difficult mountains to attempt, K2, for example, which borders on China and Pakistan — a climb Ballard called “suicidal”— Everest represents the apex of peaks in terms of height. There really isn’t anything higher to climb, leaving Ballard look
ing for other thrills to occupy himself with. “I do a lot of skiing so what I’d really like to do is some back-country skiing in Antarctica,” said Ballard. That icy landscape represents another final check on Ballard’s bucket list, having visited 92 countries in every continent across the world — with the exception of Antarctica. “The highest mountain there you can climb up and ski down,” said Ballard, laughing. That travel and adventure bug will certainly keep him busy. “Every country I’ve been to offers something different,” said Ballard. “I’ve yet to get bored of travelling, put it that way.”