On top of the world: Engineering alum pushes his limits by summiting Mount Everest
He has visited 94 countries. Swam with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa. Slept in a tent in the Serengeti. Hiked in the Amazon jungle and in the Congo with mountain gorillas.
Engineering alumnus Mark Ballard’s bucket list is heavily adventure-based. His most recent? Well, you may have heard: he climbed the highest mountain peak on planet Earth.
For Mr. Ballard, B.Eng.’11, reaching the top of Mount Everest wasn’t about joining the more than 4,000 climbers who have done the same; it was about his constant need to push himself. That, and striving to be the best version of himself.
“I’ve always tested my own limits,” said Mr. Ballard, who is originally from St. John’s but currently works in Norway as a drilling engineer/supervisor.
“I see the tallest mountain in the world as the pinnacle achievement for a climber. Although it is not the hardest mountain in the world, Mount Everest is the highest. I believe everyone always wants to be at the pinnacle of what they do, so that’s why it was important for me.”
Mr. Ballard began his ascent on April 4. While most of the trek was a blur, he has some vivid memories of being on the south summit. He says he remembers the beginning of the summit night was “tough” and wondered whether or not he had the strength to make it to the top.
He dug deep, though, and found the inner strength he needed by thinking about his family and friends back home and how they were rooting for him. He also recalls a memorable storm that night.
“One of my most vivid memories of the experience was on summit night turning into China watching a thunder and lightning storm,” he said. “Viewing a lightning storm from above, looking down, was truly incredible and a sight I will never forget.”
On May 22 Mr. Ballard summited Mount Everest and was literally and figuratively on top of the world.
“I felt proud and exhilarated,” he said. “In the beginning, my adrenalin was through the roof. Once that came down, I was freezing.”
While reaching the peak was definitely a highlight, it wasn’t the most significant moment for him.
“The biggest highlight for me was when I was on the south summit and I realized that I was undoubtedly going to make it to the top,” he said.
“It’s difficult for me to find the words to describe it, but in that moment I experienced an overwhelming feeling of happiness.”
Hundreds in the queue
Due to the crush of oncoming climbers pushing towards the summit, Mr. Ballard only had a few moments at the top before he had to descend.
He says the climb back down required much more focus than the climb up.
“I was stuck in a long lineup for a couple of hours on the way down,” said Mr. Ballard.
“It was hard to stay focused standing still in the cold. The rest of the way down was smooth sailing with respect to lines, but it was still necessary to remain absolutely focused since one little misstep could mean a disastrous fall.”
When Mr. Ballard thinks back on the seven-week expedition, he doesn’t focus on those two hours.
He remembers what it felt like to be at the south summit and the moment when he knew he was going to achieve what he set out to do: stand somewhere very few humans have ever been.
He remembers the lightning storm, what it felt like to stand on the tallest point on Earth and the friends he made along the way.
“Everyone has their own Everest,” he said.
“For me, climbing the highest mountain in the world has given me confidence in my abilities. It has taught me that whatever comes next, I know I can handle it.”