Around 35,000 adventurers attempt to reach the 19,341-foot peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa each year, and yet almost half end up turning around. The trails take hikers through five different climate zones as the air gets thinner and thinner. In 2012, a world record was set when mountaineer Kyle Maynard crawled to the top.
Maynard was born with congenital amputation, a rare occurrence that caused his arms to end at the elbow and his legs end near the knee. His first serious climbing experience was with a 100-foot peak in Atlanta, near his hometown of Suwanee, and he protected his limbs with just bath towels and heavy-duty tape as he crawled over the rocks and dirt.
“It was really hard and painful, but also breathtakingly beautiful at the top,” he said. “I just wanted to know what it looked like.”
Through connections with the Scottsdale nonprofit K2 Adventures Foundation and co-founder Kevin Cherilla, he met Barb and Brett Boutin at Orthotics Specialists in Phoenix who crafted special carbon fiber orthotics to cover and protect his limbs in anticipation of his Kilimanjaro summit. Then Flagstaff outdoor company Kahtoola was brought onboard by Cherilla to create crampons to help him grip the icy terrain near the peak.
“We love being able to take on a special project and do something different,” said Kahtoola founder Danny Giovale. “It was a great design challenge for us.”
Giovale came up with a model that, instead of attaching to shoes, was able to be strapped onto Maynard’s orthotics. With his custom-made crampons, Maynard became the first quadruple amputee to climb Kilimanjaro sans prosthetics and he made it to the top with a team in 10 days. Several years later, he also conquered Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America at 22,841 feet.
“Without (the crampons) I would still be sitting halfway up Kilimanjaro right now,” he said with a laugh.
Adversity proved a small mountain to conquer in his case.
The theme for this year’s Flagstaff Festival of Science is “Engineering Solutions” and explores innovations that are improving our quality of life and advancing science. Maynard, who has taken a sabbatical from climbing to travel as a motivational speaker, will give the keynote presentation to kick off the 28th annual festival Friday, Sept. 22, at 7 p.m. in Ardrey Auditorium on the Northern Arizona University campus.
“We are so fortunate to have such amazing keynote presenters and it is important to us to have these world class innovators have a Flagstaff connection,” said Bonnie Stevens, who has been the festival coordinator for the past two decades.
As usual, each of the over 100 events that are planned for the jam-packed 10-day celebration are free to attend. Stevens estimated that 17,000 people take advantage of the opportunity each year to attend the workshops and activities.
“You can’t possibly go to everything,” Stevens said. But that just means attendees will have to pick different activities to check out the following year.
The list of events includes guided nature hikes, a workshop with hands-on dissecting, open houses with organizations across town, a teen science café, archaeology digs and so much more.
Flagstaff is a natural area to study different sciences due to the extensive forest, geological features and dark skies that the city is known for.
“This community values our scientists and you can tell by the numbers who show up to these events,” Stevens said. “It makes us all so proud of what we have in this region, and to be nationally known as a place that values science and science education.”