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Climber Emily Harrington; Photograph courtesy The North Face

Everest 2012: Climber Emily Harrington on Vertigo, Expanding Her Horizons, and Where She Loves to Climb

Emily Harrington never thought she would climb Everest (learn more about our 2012 expedition). Even as a volunteer instructor at the Khumbu Climbing Center in the shadow of Everest—which teaches Nepali climbers technical skills in rock and ice climbing, as well as safety and leadership—the thought did not occur to her. The 26-year-old is a woman on the rise the sport climbing world. She is driven to climb the hardest lines she can. And Everest’s Southeast Ridge is basically “a walk-up” … some 29,000+ feet to the rooftop to the world. But the alpine conditions will be a whole new challenge. Follow her progress on Instagram (emilyharrington). Below, Harrington tells us about why she’s attempting Everest, how she’s expanding her horizons, and where she loves to climb.

Adventure: First thing: Let’s get one thing cleared up. You are afraid of heights?
Emily Harrington: I’m not actually afraid of heights when I am climbing. I am afraid of standing on the edge of cliffs. I get this weird vertigo. I can see myself falling.

A: What’s your sweet spot in climbing?
E.H.: I mostly do sport climbing. But I’ve started ice climbing and mixed climbing.

A: Do you ever go without ropes?
E.H. I’ve done some deepwater soloing. And even that is kind of scary. You have to fall just right into the water.

A: How did you get started in rock climbing?
E.H.: Growing up in Boulder, Colorado, I fell into it by coincidence. I started climbing an artificial wall when we were at a lake for summer vacation. I begged my dad to take me to the climbing gym. He took me to a kids class. Then I joined a junior climbing team.

A: Were there many other girls climbing at that time?
E.H.: Not as many as there are now. It was just beginning, this generation of young kid climbers. I was in the second generation of super young kids to start climbing. I remember watching Beth Rodden climbing as a teenager.

A lot of girls are into competition climbing—more than boys. I don’t really do competitions anymore. I started to see it as more part of my childhood. I’d done all I could do in that area.

A: How are you feeling about climbing Everest? It’s not like the super tough rock climbing you focus on.
E.H.: It’s really new for me. I don’t know what to expect at all. I’m going into it with an open mind. I hope I learn a lot and experience a lot. I never thought I’d do anything like this. But I surprised myself. I’ve never liked the cold, and I’ve been so wrapped up in sport climbing. But as I get older, wanted to experience all kinds of climbing. I want to experience and understand what it’s like to go alpine climbing.

A: Did you have to pick up some new skills for this climb?
E.H.: I didn’t really have to pick up new skills. It’s kind of just walking. It’s going to be about how we deal with altitude. I’ve been focusing on being healthy and running and hiking. I live in Boulder, so that’s pretty high. But the Khumbu icefall, where you walk across ladders, I’ve heard that’s the most dangerous part.

A: This Southeast Ridge Everest team is all about mentoring…. Is there someone you think of as a mentor?
E.H.: Probably Hilaree O’Neill. She’s the other woman on the trip. She’s been doing this kind of thing for a long time.

A: You volunteered at the Khumbu Climbing Center. What was that like?
E.H.: It was amazing—and definitely one of the coolest things I have ever done. The Khumbu region is a really powerful and overwhelming place. Helping with the school was amazing … the culture, the people—it was all really rewarding.

A: Did you start thinking about Everest on that trip, after all you were in its shadow?
E.H.: Nope.

A: What’s your goal with rock climbing? To climb the hardest lines?
E.H.: Yes, that’s my goal, for the next few years. I’ve taken my sport climbing outside. This trip is a break to do something different. I haven’t taken this long of a break in a long time. It will be good to lay off the tendons and joints. Have a different mindset. Connect with a different community.

A: Where’s your favorite place to go rock climbing?
E.H.: Right now – Spain. Like everyone else. We go to the same place as Chris Sharma. We bought a van and are leaving it at his house over the summer. The climbing is good, so, so good. We’re going back in the fall. I’m already looking forward to it.

A: Where do you dream of going rock climbing?
E.H. : I really want to go to Africa … Madagascar or something. There is good big-wall climbing there.

A: What’s something outside of climbing that you love to do?
E.H.: I love running. I get into it. I ran cross-country in high school. I do the Boulder Boulder 10K every year. I used to ski and I’ve started learning how to surf. There are a lot of things I like to do outside of climbing. And the Bar Method … it’s so hard. Great for core strength really.