Everest on Snapchat is Way Cooler than You Think

Nearly every year, someone scores another first on Mt. Everest — first to snowboard off the summit, first to climb it in under ten hours, first to host a rock concert at Base Camp. This year Eddie Bauer athletes Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richards will become the first to Snapchat the world’s highest peak, posting near-daily photos and short videos to the social media site. Already they’ve captured stunning views of the mountain from a high-altitude helicopter, yak trains ferrying their gear into Base Camp, and brief views of their life on the mountain. And over the next three weeks, they’ll cover their push to the top. It’s all part of their #everestnofilter expedition, and its goal is to shed light on both the high drama on Everest as well as the mundane preparations that are essential to a successful summit bid — something Ballinger and Richards know well.

Ballinger, owner of Alpenglow Expeditions, is one of the U.S.’s premier high-altitude mountain guides, having summited Everest six times and become the first American to ski from two different 8,000-meter peaks. Richards, a longtime photographer for National Geographic, managed one of the most impressive high-altitude climbs ever, having summited Pakistan’s Gasherbrum II in the dead of winter. He and his partners nearly died on the way down after getting swept away in an avalanche. A year later, he suffered severe shortness of breath, perhaps a panic attack, while climbing Everest, and had to be evacuated from the mountain. All of this history will play into their Snapchat “story,” as they call it, as they tackle what is becoming the world’s most infamous mountain. We caught up with them in Base Camp.

Why Snapchat?

Adrian Ballinger: When Cory and I decided to go back this year, we wanted to share our story with as many people as we could, because Everest could use some good press. I’ve spent the last eight seasons on Everest getting involved in everything from Discovery Channel reality-TV documentaries to feature films to working with Instagram and blogs. And my experience with those other forms of media is that it’s become very curated. It’s allowed a sort of whitewashed view of climbing Everest. With Snapchat, you have to take the photo or video in the act itself, and you have to post it right away. You can’t edit a photo later and then re-upload it. You can’t put together different pieces of video. You can’t think for days about the caption you want to put on it. It’s all instant. And I think that allows a really different look into Everest than anything that’s ever been done before.

Will constantly filming during the climb change the decision-making process? For example, what happens if there’s an avalanche and people need rescue, do you continue filming?

Cory Richards: I think Adrian and I both have enough experience to know when to put the phone away, when it’s appropriate to be filming ­and not — when Snapchat is a relevant tool and when it is a distraction. But drama does drive traffic. There’s no arguing that. But the point of documentation is not to capture drama, it’s to tell a story. I would hope that we would do it tastefully should something like that unfold.

You’ve both been to Everest before. Has documenting it via Snapchat changed anything about the way you view the mountain?

Ballinger: With Snapchat it’s been really interesting trying to figure out what we want to share and then what is interesting from the viewers’ standpoint, because people can direct message us back. So they’ll often send us questions telling us about Snaps that they liked or others that they want to see. The raw beauty of the mountains certainly seem really popular. And also the weird things that are probably so normal for someone like me, who lives in a yellow tent seven to eight months out of the year. So things like pooping in a plastic bag [to prevent solid waste on the mountain] is the most normal thing in the world to me, and it turns out it’s not for the rest of the world.

Richards: When I’ve gone on assignment shooting still photography, it’s, like, long game, you know. You’re thinking about nuanced images and nuanced moments that can carry an audience through a narrative, and that starts from the time you leave home to the time you come back. With Snapchat I find it’s more frenetic. You’re trying to cram, basically, a science lesson or a sound bite into a very small time frame. And that’s definitely altered how I approach moments. Like thinking, “This is the moment I want to talk about, but how do I do it in this amount of time?” It keeps you on your toes, and that’s fun. It’s also exhausting. By the end of the day you’re brain is literally fucking fried. And then we’re dealing with, “Okay, is the WiFi working? How do we get it up? Okay, now I’ve got to send it through Whatsapp.” With Snapchat my brain has a hard time slowing down.

What are we going to see coming up as the climb progresses? Do you have specific stuff in mind?

Ballinger: The thing that keeps bringing me back to this mountain year after year is watching this total fundamental, painful, human struggle that we, by choice, put ourselves through. So much goes into standing on top of the mountain. I think people know that, but I think it’s been hard to capture it. Whether it’s in the tents or on the slopes, climbing, moving, vomiting — whatever it might be — I hope we can get some of that across.

How do the logistics work for you guys, with WiFi and camp resources?

Ballinger: I’m attempting to summit without oxygen with Cory, but we are attached to my Alpenglow Expedition team. Alpenglow has a small team with clients, and we’re sharing resources like Base Camp tents, gear, and things like that. But tomorrow Cory and I leave and we probably won’t see those guys for another week to ten days. The big challenge we’ve had thus far is using their satellite Internet to send those Snaps. Snapchat actually takes a large amount of bandwidth, and so everyone has to get off the WiFi while one or two people are sending their Snaps. It takes 30 or 45 minutes to send a two- or three-second Snap. So despite the fact that satellite technology has gotten to the point that it allows us to do this, it’s still a huge, time-consuming process.

 

Cory, the last time you were at Everest you had to get evacuated due to a shortness of breath, perhaps a panic attack. What’s it feel like coming back?

Richards: I have a lot of personal feelings around the mountain itself, around the way my previous trip ended. A lot of that was tied to my experience on Gasherbrum II and getting swept away in an avalanche. This trip is really, really personal to me, and some people are like, “Well, if it’s so personal why would you share it the way you are?” The reality is that I just don’t think of it in those terms. I’m coming back because I love climbing. I love this area. I like climbing with Adrian, and this summit has always been a goal of mine. I have no concerns about a recurrence in anyway, and the reason is because after a failure like the last one… I always refer to failure as sort of the foundation for success. They’re building blocks, you learn from them. I’ve restructured my whole life in many ways, and now I know I’ve done the work. I’ve put in the time. I’ve done the training. I’ve picked the right partner. Now that we’re here it’s just kind of putting one foot in front of the other and whatever happens, happens. I’m totally content with whatever outcome that brings.

What’s Everest like this year? Is there a pall hanging over the mountain after the last two years’ tragedies?

Richards: I’ve been on the South side Base Camp for several seasons in the past, and there isn’t a dramatically different feeling. One of the things that I’ve always noted about Nepal, and it seems like Tibet as well, is that there is sort of a ‘life goes on’ attitude. They’re tragic developments, and they affect things, they affect people deeply, but there is sort of an, “Alright, I’m moving on” attitude. I think there’s an awareness, but not necessarily a somberness. It’s interesting because, you know, a lot of times the Everest industry can get shit on pretty hard. And oddly enough it’s a huge economic driver here. People need to understand that a lot of Nepal’s money — a huge piece of it — is based on Everest tourism.

Ballinger: I definitely don’t feel a sadness or a pall over the Base Camp. If anything I feel like this a sort of “All for one” deal. Obviously it’s early, but right now what I feel is everyone, from clients to professional climbers to guides to commercial outfit owners, everyone wants a win for Everest. I don’t know if that sounds funny, but it really feels that way. Everest has had a tough couple of years. There’s been a whole bunch of tragedy around it and for the people who love this mountain, especially the locals. I really feel there’s a universal hopefulness that we’ll have a good season this year.