How a powerful Tahoe couple celebrated their wedding


One of northern California’s outdoor couples just achieved one of their greatest feats: a destination wedding in a small Ecuadorian seaside town with 110 guests in defiance of the coronavirus pandemic.

Oh, and on the side, they helped lead around 40 wedding guests on a mountain climbing excursion up to 19,347 feet from Cotopaxi, the tallest active volcano in the world and one of the most high peaks of the Andes.

Emily Harrington and Adrian Ballinger are two elite mountain athletes living in North Lake Tahoe with their oft-Instagram dog, whose name is Cat. Harrington, 35, is a professional climber and skier who tackles big wall goals in Yosemite Valley. Ballinger, 45, is a sponsored mountaineer who has guided some of the world’s tallest peaks for 20 years and has climbed Mount Everest eight times.

The two have been together for almost 10 years and moved to Tahoe from Boulder, Colorado four years ago – Better Mountains, they say. Together, Harrington and Ballinger have built an enviable lifestyle, traveling to some of the world’s most rugged and remote places in search of high peaks and snow-capped slopes, sometimes setting records and redefining their respective sports.

For their wedding, which took place on December 11, they chose to return to Ecuador, a place they had visited early in their relationship where Ballinger had been rock climbing at high altitudes since he was a teenager. The jagged spine of the snow-capped Andes range soars into the sky just a day’s drive from tropical Pacific beaches with low-key surf breaks and laid-back coastal hamlets. Each time the couple returned to the country, the regime was the same: up, ski down, go to the beach, start over.

“On our first trip here, we made a joke that if we ever got married we would in this rambling little seaside town,” called Ayampe, Ballinger said. “So nine and a half years later, we’ve finally done it, true to our original plan. “

Mountain guide Adrian Ballinger and professional climber Emily Harrington pose for a portrait in 2018.

Léa Suzuki / The Chronicle

The couple had hoped to get married a year ago but the pandemic has forced a postponement. To ensure the safety of the event, guests and staff had to be vaccinated and tested before their flights.

The guest list included some of the world’s best mountain athletes: solo mountaineer Alex Honnold, ski mountaineering couple Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison, pro freeski skier Michelle Parker and mountaineer Timmy O’Neill, for n to name a few.

So it’s no surprise to anyone that the bride and groom have designs on their guests focused on high-altitude goals rather than inactive beach days.

“We are people who need and love activities,” Ballinger said. “Everyone had to at least go surfing or do something with us. “

The highlight – outside of the wedding ceremony, of course – was a guided group hike to Cotopaxi, a conical stratovolcano whose upper flanks are covered in snow. Harrington and Ballinger thought maybe a handful of guests would join them. But dozens signed up on several acclimatization hikes to lower peaks in early December, and by the start of the real ascent the group had grown to 42, a mix of pro and beginner athletes, some of whom had never shod before. crampons previously.

“It was just amazing that so many wedding guests were ready to come a week early to go rock climbing,” Honnold said. “It speaks to that kind of marriage.”

On the day of the summit push, the winds were strong. The climbers covered every patch of skin, bowed their heads, and trudged along.

“The conditions were quite difficult. Perhaps the strongest wind I have ever experienced anywhere, ”Honnold said.

Emily Harrington on Cotopaxi.

Emily Harrington on Cotopaxi.

Provided by Emily Harrington

As she made her way up the mountain, Harrington worried about the group’s occasional hikers.

“Did they hate him? Were they okay? Would they regret it? she wrote in an Instagram post afterwards. “I think the answers to these questions were to be interpreted for the moment …”

About two-thirds of the group made it to the summit for photos and celebrations under the bright sun above a vast expanse of cloud stretching from the summit in all directions. No one got sick or injured, Ballinger said. At the top, he, Harrington and two friends locked in skis and made their way down the snowy slopes. The rest got out on foot.

For his part, Honnold enjoys a happy feast of suffering, and the journey has taken him to the highest peak he has ever reached. “It was comprehensive and a bit of character building which is perfect,” he said.

Last Saturday, a few days after the trek, the entire 110 guests gathered on Ayampe beach under an overcast sky for the ceremony. Cat the dog wore the couple’s wedding rings down the aisle on his collar. One of Ballinger’s friends, an Ecuadorian with whom he had climbed K2 and Everest without oxygen, officiated.

A dinner reception followed, and later the couple’s favorite DJ played dance music the next morning.

The wedding guests dance at the after party.

The wedding guests dance at the after party.

Provided by Rosser / Lebeau Photographie

“It was a lot of work, and we are really grateful,” said Harrington, voice hoarse two days after the party. “Everyone was really happy. No one was hurt. It was surprisingly perfect.

Most of the guests returned home the next day, but 12 stayed a week of kitesurfing with the newlyweds.

On Friday, Harrington and Ballinger will travel to Panama – both – for their honeymoon: an intensive week-long surf camp.

“If we’re going to have a beach vacation, we’re going to get better at surfing,” Ballinger said. “We don’t relax very well.

Gregory Thomas is the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of lifestyle & outdoor. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @GregRThomas