Adrian Ballinger and Emily Harrington, who met on Mount Everest and have grown used to being thousands of miles apart while separately attempting death-defying missions, aren't exactly a typical couple. So when it was time to get married, they did more than drive to city hall.
Rather than an invitation to a hotel ballroom, the family and friends of Harrington, a rock climber, and Ballinger, a mountaineer, were invited to hike to the summit of Cotopaxi, a 19,347-foot volcano in Ecuador, before joining them for a beach wedding.
In all honesty, they didn't think many people would take them up on it, the couple said. Ballinger's expedition company, Alpenglow, originally had space for 12 people. That ended up ballooning to 42 of the couple's closest friends and family, among them some of the world's top adventure athletes.
"It gained its own life and an energy and ended up being a complete highlight of the whole wedding," Ballinger told ABC News. "The fact that those people spent nine days together and fought really hard in really difficult weather and conditions; we were bonded."
The pair spent the last year planning the destination wedding from afar due to the coronavirus pandemic and thought that maybe summiting a volcano a few days before exchanging vows would be too stressful, so they'd originally planned to just do a few days of hiking and skip the summit.
But then, Harrington said, "I was getting FOMO about it, and I didn't want to have FOMO at my own wedding."
So starting in early December, up they went to the summit.
While Ballinger is a professional altitude mountaineer and Harrington has summited Everest, it was the first high-altitude experience for many on their expedition, particularly among their professional rock climbing friends, including Alex Honnold of "Free Solo" fame.
"Basically a bunch of rock climbers who climb like 5.14" -- an extremely difficult level of climbing -- "had this really deeply suffer-y experience at high altitude," Harrington laughed.
"It was an incredible adventure -- strong winds made for pretty real conditions but the photos sure look nice," Honnold posted on Instagram, noting that it was the highest mountain he had ever hiked.
The adventure didn't stop when they reached the summit. Harrington and Ballinger, whose home base is Lake Tahoe, skied back down Cotopaxi.
Four days later, they were on the beach in Ayampe, Ecuador, to exchange the vows they wrote.
"Our life is very much built around love and commitment in a traditional relationship way, but then also adventure and how to support each other in adventure and how to make sure we always have big adventures together, and so the wedding ceremony was very much based on that idea," Ballinger said.
Barely a year into their relationship, Harrington and Ballinger took a trip together to a mountain and the beach in Ecuador. They started joking that if they ever got married, they'd do it in Ecuador. "Obviously we love the country, but it's a completely kind of ridiculous idea," Ballinger admitted.
So when the time came, years later, to actually get married, they figured they had to try.
They wanted to have the wedding on a beach so it wouldn't be mountain-related but offered the Cotopaxi trip to share "the opportunity to see the mountains, which is actually what brought us here in the first place," Ballinger said.
Their wedding day was kicked off with a traditional Tibetan Buddhist ring blessing by their friend Dorji Sonam, a Sherpa from Nepal who secured a visa days earlier and had never before seen the ocean.
They were married by two of their closest friends: the Ecuadorian mountaineers Esteban "Topo" Mena and Carla Perez, the first Latin American woman to summit Everest and K2 without supplemental oxygen.
Mena and Perez are "an inspiring couple" to Ballinger and Harrington both for the strength of their relationship and because they helped inspire the pair's love for Ecuador.
After the ceremony, the party was on -- and on and on, until the sun came up the next morning. Their party featured DJ Alex Cruz and a tattoo parlor, where the couple got a matching tattoo designed by Harrington that depicts Cotopaxi and Ayampe. Several other attendees also got the tattoo to permanently remember the trip -- including Harrington's parents.
This spring will mark 10 years since they met. Since then, Ballinger became one of about 200 people to have summited Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen, while Harrington became the first woman -- and fourth person of any gender -- to free-climb the Golden Gate route of Yosemite's El Capitan in one day.
Harrington said of their relationship, "I felt like I kind of realized who I was by being with him -- or like, I felt like I was allowed to be who I was, and I didn't feel like I needed to be anybody different."
Ballinger said he has learned from his wife how to have "the confidence to be more open and vulnerable," which has made him a happier and better person.
While they've experienced many adventures, both separately and together, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to experience something new when they spent two months at home, the longest stretch they'd been together in one place at a time.
"It actually was super powerful and the silver lining for me, and I think for us, of how much we enjoyed that, like, we didn't need all the crazy travel or the crazy media stuff or big goals," Ballinger said.
"We were really content just being together at home," Harrington added.
Now they have the new adventure of marriage to experience together -- after getting lots of rest on their honeymoon -- between surfboarding lessons, naturally.
"When I was younger, I just thought relationships had to be hard and had to be a lot of work and there was a lot of struggle," Harrington said, "and I think that's probably partially true, but with Adrian and I's relationship, it's more fun and more easy than the other stuff."