Alumna sets sights on world’s tallest peak

By Krista Habermehl, MA'05

Everest Tn

Only two years ago, Illina Frankiv had never set foot on a mountain. Today, she has successfully summited some of the most formidable peaks in the world, and now has her sights set on the Earth’s tallest – Mount Everest.

“(Climbing a mountain) has a very clear definition of success. You either make it to the top, or you don’t. And when you do, and you’re coming down, it’s the most exhilarating feeling that lasts for quite a long time after you’re off the mountain,” said Frankiv, BSc’11, MES’13. “When you come back down to society, nothing seems difficult after that. Everything seems manageable, because you were on the mountain alone and you could have died – but you didn’t. You succeeded. When you’re at sea level, everything’s a piece of cake.”

Climbing Everest is part of a bigger challenge – the Seven Summits – where climbers tackle the tallest mountain on every continent. Richard Bass was the first person to do so in 1985; Junko Tabei became the first woman in 1992. In total, only 417 people have climbed all seven; 71 have been women.

Frankiv hopes to increase those numbers by one. She has already ascended two of the seven and plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro (the tallest peak in Africa) in September and Everest (the tallest in Asia) in April 2018.

And to think it all started with Mount Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) in Alaska, the tallest mountain in North America.

“When we climbed that, I didn’t really have the intent to do the Seven Summits, or Everest, at all, but I found a friend who was willing to climb Mount Aconcagua (tallest peak in South America) with me. After summiting that, we made the decision to climb Mount Everest together.”

Frankiv, who works as a project manager for Jones Lang Lasalle’s renewable energy group in San Francisco, Calif., had never tried mountaineering prior to moving to the West Coast in 2014. A new friend simply offered to take her climbing and she accepted.

The first mountain she ever climbed, Mount Rainier, has an elevation of more than 14,000 feet and is the tallest mountain in the state of Washington. It is one many mountaineers train their entire lives to tackle. Frankiv prepared in two months.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I knew it was pretty big and was just trusting my friend to lead the way. We started from nothing. I had no gear, no knowledge. We sat down and for multiple days we searched for used and new items. We compiled – like MacGyver – all this gear together. At the beginning, I was wearing these silly boots and snow pants that were meant for skiing,” she explained.

Frankiv also spent time researching mountains and weather patterns, to help her recognize her environment during the climb. In terms of physical training, she admits to not doing anything special beyond staying active.

“I’m a weekend warrior. I do century bike rides (100-mile rides) on the weekends. I’ll do swims in the (San Francisco) Bay and run. So, I’m always doing something active – not with the intent to train for a mountain, but just because that’s what I do. And that’s still my belief. I don’t, per se, train for the mountain; I just keep up my fitness level to a certain state.”

Frankiv successfully summited Mount Rainier in three days. She later learned how difficult a climb it was, as the mountain has dangerous crevasses, or cracks in the snow, that climbers can fall through if the snow covering is too soft.

“Thank god that didn’t happen. And so, we came down and I just had this realization of ‘Oh my god, I just did this.’ It was very hard, but successful nonetheless. I thought it was due to luck rather than endurance and skill. So I went on to climb a few more ‘14ers’ (14,000-foot-tall mountains) in California, Oregon and Washington and realized I did have a knack for it.”

As she began to climb more, Frankiv’s confidence in her abilities increased. She began to take on greater challenges, such as climbing solo and planning and leading her most recent climb in January up Mount Aconcagua in Argentina with her friend Olga Pushkina.

“It was the two of us; we climbed it unguided. It was amazing because there were so many things on that trip – we were two young females, unguided, relatively new to mountaineering, no porters, basically self-sustained. The whole trip was supposed to take us 14 days, but we made it up in five days and round-trip in seven. We were successful all around.”

On the descent, the pair decided to climb Mount Everest together, also unguided, but for a team of Sherpas who will provide logistical assistance, carry equipment and help set up camp. Although a year out, Frankiv is currently fundraising and seeking corporate sponsorship to help raise the $50,000 required to climb the famed mountain and is already planning the logistics of the climb.

Mount Everest – known as Sagarmāthā in Nepal, Chomolungma in China – rises 8,848 metres (29,029 feet) above sea level as part of the Mahalangur Range of the Himalayas. Four of the Earth’s six highest peaks – Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Cho Oyu – call that range home.

For four decades after its first known summitting in 1953, by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, Everest remained inaccessible to most, with only about 200 total assents completed by professional climbers and large national expeditions by 1987.

By the 1990s, however, commercial expeditions exploded the numbers of successful climbs. Today, more than 7,000 people have scaled Everest. During the 2016 spring climbing season, 640 people summited. Five people died – lower than the average of eight deaths each season since 2000.

In total, the trip up and down Mount Everest should take 30-40 days, but Frankiv hopes she and Pushkina can pull it off in less time based on their track record.

“I love all the preparation that comes into play right before. I’m starting to plan this climb a year ahead. It’s a big deal. It requires a lot of resources and money. And so, that part of it, I like,” said Frankiv.

And for Frankiv, the feeling of success comes during the trip down – not when she reaches the top.

“It’s the most unsatisfying feeling. You get there and think, ‘Great, I’m here, there’s no more up.’ It’s the most inhospitable place. It’s very cold. It’s very windy. You still know you have hours and hours to descend. You’re happy that it’s over and you’ve achieved it, but the exhilaration from your success comes on the way down – when your blood is infiltrated by oxygen and you can think straight and you can breathe normally – and you look at all the stuff that was behind you the whole time.

“It’s these gorgeous landscapes. I get to see places that most people will never get to see. And that’s what you realize. I am in this amazing place, and I was just on the top of this mountain and, in some cases, the top of the continent.”

To learn more about Illina Frankiv, BSc’11, MES’13, and her Mount Everest climb, visit