(Photo courtesy of Alaska National Guard)
“My love for the outdoors started with tough love,” says Zephyr Feryok, a 21 year old Mechanical Engineer at Tufts University. His mother, a career forest service employee in Sitka, Alaska, used to drag him out on sea kayaking trips through horrible weather while Feryok would beg for breaks without success. However, growing up in rural Alaska where the vast wilderness areas replace the neon lights and claustrophobic streets of the city played a major role in his attitude toward everyday life. Ever since he was a child, Feryok has hiking, climbing, hunting and adventuring whenever he could.
Now, I sit next to Feryok as he stares into the wood stove of the Tufts Mountain Club (TMC) Loj in Woodstock, New Hampshire. He scratches his blond, scruffy beard, places the ice axe that he has been sharpening on the table in front of us and takes a sip from his beer.
He has trouble pinpointing any part of his unusual childhood experience that really shaped his life. “The whole thing did…growing up in Alaska was more like growing up in the 70’s.” This rural setting with a conservative Alaskan mindset hasn’t been seen for a while in most of the United States. For Feryok, having an adventurous family, practical parents and amazing opportunities to get outside really inspired his adventures. He laughs roughly as he recalls one of his more memorable climbs on one of the ridges of Harber Mountain near his hometown. “I did the whole climb with an open beer in one hand… I managed to not spill… It was really dumb but really fun,” Feryok smiled and I could see his passion for climbing fill his eyes with excitement.
At Tufts, Feryok has been putting his engineering classes to work for a new research project that he hopes will really improve the way mountain rescue teams in Alaska and around the world respond to incidents. He explains, “Climbing has been shifting in the past ten years towards a light and fast motto. If you’re carrying lighter gear you’ll be moving faster, you’ll be up and down the mountain before bad weather moves in and you’ll be much safer.” However, mountain rescue still involves heavy equipment and can be a slow process. Feryok is hoping to reduce the weight that rescue teams carry by testing the anchor strengths of Dyneema, an ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene fiber. Climbers use the material to make anchors but Feryok’s research seeks to find the most efficient ways to use Dyneema to make rescue anchors in a safe manner.
His inspiration for this project started from his love for rope-work. Feryok grew up loving knots. He remembers his father teaching him knots and anchor building as a child. It didn’t take long before Feryok was hoisting himself up trees and climbing every rock face he could find.
Feryok explains that there is a lot of existing research on anchor strength, especially coming from Kirk Mauthner and “Rigging for Rescue,” a technical rigging company that has tried to improve the quality of equipment for their employees. Nevertheless, Feryok is looking to gather quantitative data in order to improve the already existing system and shed light on some of the new techniques that may have been developed years ago but haven’t been brought into common practice. He wants to get the word out about new systems and advancements in mountain rescue development with hard data in order to help people respond more efficiently to climbing and mountain accidents.
At this point Feryok’s project is fully funded through his Kickstarter and he is waiting for his custom jig to be completed by Tufts’ Engineering Department. The next step is to begin pull testing. Feryok’s motivation to help the mountain rescue community is prompted by some of his experiences growing up in the Alaskan wilderness. He recalls plenty of childhood friends that have been affected by tragic accidents in the mountains. For this reason, Feryok stresses his passion for this project. He looks at it as giving back to the people who save lives and make outdoor adventures as accessible and safe as possible–the same people that help him feel safe on the trips by which he is so inspired.
Follow Feryok’s research on his blog, here.