Lots of couples ski together.
Very few start from the top of the sixth-highest peak on Earth.
The two mountaineers from Olympic Valley, Calif., scaled the Himalayan peak, elevation 26,907 feet, in just four days of climbing and two weeks total from the time they left their Lake Tahoe-area home and returned.
Also during the trip, Ballinger became the first American to ski from the top of three of the 14 peaks in the world that reach above 8,000 meters.
The trip was a demonstration of the light-and-fast philosophy behind trips Ballinger operates through his guiding company, Alpenglow Expeditions.
It was also a chance for Harrington, a five-time national champion sport climber, to add another 8,000-meter peak to her resume.
She summited Mt. Everest in 2012 and last year, along with Ballinger and two others, attempted to ski off Makalu, a trip that ended just short of the summit.
Unlike Makalu, however, conditions on the summit of Cho Oyu were warm and calm.
It meant the 45 minutes Ballinger, Harrington and Pasang Rinji Sherpa spent on the summit were unusually comfortable and pleasant for such a high peak.
“We had kind of a perfect day,” said Harrington of the conditions. “I feel like it is something I will probably never experience again in my life.”
Ballinger, who has summited Everest six times, called it, “one of those special moments.”
But even as they basked in the glow of remarkably mild conditions there was still the matter of skiing back down.
And at the top of the world’s tallest peaks ski conditions are never ideal.
From the summit to the snowline, an estimated 2,500 meters below, the couple encountered variable conditions with everything from breakable crust to ice-hardened snow.
“If we were making six or eight turns in a row without stopping we were totally psyched,” Ballinger said.
Skiing with heavy packs they made their way down away from the rope line they used on the ascent.
That meant most of the descent was what skiers would consider no-fall terrain where one mistake could send a skier tumbling at the mercy of the mountain
“It was just the two of us out on this huge slope,” Harrington said. “If something went wrong it could potentially be a total disaster.”
The trip down also included a stop at their camp to pick up gear and trash.
They traveled according to the leave-no-trace ethic which meant hauling out everything from used oxygen canisters to human waste, which they carried in plastic bags.
“Everything freezes, strap it to the outside of your pack and carry it down and dispose of it,” Ballinger said.
In addition to traveling fast and light, Ballinger and Harrington documented the entire journey in a style that’s helped raise their profiles as mountaineers.
They use Snapchat, Instagram and other forms of social media to document the highs and lows of adventures.
It’s helped Ballinger promote his company, a guiding service called Alpenglow Expeditions, and helped Harrington increase the number of people following her career as a professional climber.
“It makes us feel like we have more of a purpose if we get to share the stories,” Harrington said.