[image above] ACerS Fellow, Ivar Reimanis, unfurls The American Ceramic Society flag at the summit of Denali in June. Credit: Reimanis
The image shows how this story ends with Ivar Reimanis, at the summit of Alaska’s Denali on June 8, 2016. He is Herman F. Coors Distinguished Professor of Ceramic Engineering at Colorado School of Mines.
Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, is the highest elevation in North America, scraping the sky at 20,320 ft above sea level.
Reimanis, ACerS Fellow and former Society director (and a lifelong climber), fulfilled an ambition that struck when he was 19 years old with this 17-day climb.
According the National Park Service, about 1,000 climbers have registered to climb Denali so far this year, and 58% have achieved the summit.
“Technically, the mountain’s not all that hard,” he says, however, “There’s a luck factor.”
Nonetheless, the physical demands are daunting. Mountaineers carry 80-lb backpacks and 30-lb sleds loaded with gear and provisions, which forces a disciplined evaluation of the worth of each item carried. So when Reimanis contacted the Society to ask about taking a flag with him, the Society felt greatly honored and happily obliged.
“We were excited that Ivar thought to take the Society with him on this great adventure,” says Charlie Spahr, ACerS executive director. “We actually had run out of flags and quickly had one made to take with him.”
A series of upper camps at 14,400 and 17,200 ft help climbers acclimatize to reduced oxygen levels, which, at the summit, is about 40% the oxygen content of sea level. According to Reimanis, reduced oxygen combined with the physical exertion can cause sluggishness at high elevations.
The journey presented a number of challenges—his original climbing partners were forced to end their climb, and Reimanis connected with another “orphaned” climber to make the final ascent. The final push included some of the mountain’s biggest challenges, such as navigating a 55-degree slope of ice.
The Society flag gave him a boost as he neared the summit. “Telling you guys and having the flag of ACerS was really motivating,” he says. “I didn’t want to have to say I didn’t get to the top!”
The day of the summit, Reimanis and his climbing partner took about eight hours to climb from the 17,000 base camp to the summit. “Denali makes its own weather,” says Reimanis, and conditions when they got to the summit were a Denali-pleasant –5°F and 35 mph wind with clear skies.
Perfect for admiring the view and for flying the ACerS flag!
They were at the summit for about 40 minutes. Asked about the vista, Reimanis says, “That there’s nothing higher is pretty obvious!” Stunning images and a 360° video confirm that all terrain is below.
As with most strenuous endeavors that require perseverance, tenacity, preparation, and focus, the journey teaches as much as the achievement itself.
“I developed an appreciation for my family more than I ever have before. Being away for so long gave me an external view of things like I never had before. Similar with other aspects of my life, e.g., my research, I feel extra lucky to have the career I do, and I feel energized coming back to it,” he says.
Preparation for the trip involved five months of rigorous training (thankfully, he lives in Colorado), and he acknowledged the support of his family and his wife, Cathy, who was “deeply supportive.”
Reimanis also experienced a familiar feeling on the mountainside. “It’s a close, coordinated community, like the American Ceramic Society!”
Welcome home, Ivar, and thank you for taking the Society to new heights!