Mountain-top moments: Girls* on Ice

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“I am a lot stronger than I thought I was. These 12 days are some of the best in my life, and the memories and teachings I gained will support me for years to come.”
– Kootenay Girls* on Ice participant Eden

This summer, an adventurous group of girls* traversed an icy glacial expanse, hiked to gorgeous vistas, camped in the alpine, and were immersed in science and art under the guidance of an amazing team of mentors in a unique program.

After a couple of days getting outfitted with gear and connecting to place and each other, the teens and their leaders headed to the alpine of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park for a week of exploration through the Girls* on Ice (GOI) Canada program.

The youth acquired new scientific observational skills, learned about relationships between organisms and their surroundings, and spent time reflecting on personal interactions with the mountains through art and building self-confidence in difficult terrain.

The 10 Kootenay Expedition participants, ranging from 16-18 years old, all agree it was a life-changing experience. Eden joined because she wanted to connect with others who are also passionate about science, art and nature.

“The best part was being immersed in nature with such incredible people for so long,” says Eden. “What inspired me the most was seeing how science, mountaineering, and art could be combined.”

Nicola loved meeting other people her age who like being outdoors in the mountains, and “getting to spend eight days in the alpine and really observe all the nature, and spend time with the amazing people on this trip.”

The moment that inspired her most was the day spent on the glacier. She shared that it left her empowered to take on other large mountain expeditions in the future.

The glacier day was a highlight for many of the participants.

“The best part of the expedition was glacier day! Waking up to the stars, looking out from the top of the glacier, and then wading knee deep in the sunset was incredible,” reflected one youth.

Students left the program with more confidence exploring the mountains, and a passion to protect these landscapes. They also found a deeper sense of belonging with each other and within themselves.

“During the trip I developed a sense of belonging,” shared one youth. “I really learned how to bond with my peers on another level and how to appreciate the presence of a positive team. I learned that I do have a place and an important role in the world, even if I am not exactly sure what it is yet.”

The Kootenay Expedition could not have happened without the incredible group of women who coordinated, prepared and led the team. From research scientists to wildlife biologists to outdoor adventurists, GOI seeks to surround participants with positive role models who showcase what is possible for career and adventure opportunities.

Holly Han, one of the Kootenay Expedition instructors, is a glaciologist. She works at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, focusing on predicting the Antarctic Ice Sheet’s contribution to future sea-level changes.

Holly taught the students the basics of glaciology on the Kokanee glacier. This included how to form research questions, collect, analyze and display data; and how to deliver the story of one’s science. She also mentored the students’ science projects, and shared how science is done in the real world.

“I also shared my perspectives on similarities and differences between arts and sciences, and how I personally think that a climate scientist needs to have a heart and humanity in doing their science, as climate change is a social, economic and justice problem,” says Holly.

Heather Shaw, the High Elevation Monitoring Program Manager with Living Lakes Canada, gave a lesson on high elevation lakes and stream systems which included looking at biological parameters (bugs) from lakes and streams, as well as measuring different chemical parameters in Kaslo lakes, and surrounding tributary streams.

“The girls* were engaged, and asked impressive and thought provoking questions,” says Heather. “I could tell they all had a passion for the outdoors, and were motivated to understand the environment around them.”

WIldlife biologist Isobel Phoebus has been involved with GOI for several years now. She found the combination of mountain adventure and scientific learning was a perfect fit.

“The first time I discovered Girls* on Ice Canada, I was blown away by their expeditions. For years I’ve been contemplating how I could someday combine my passion for nature, science and mountain adventure. Now I’ve found the avenue where that happens,” says Isobel.

*While we acknowledge our name is imperfect, we want to clarify that Inspiring Girls* Expeditions welcomes cis girls, trans girls, and any girl-identified youth, as well as non-binary and gender non-conforming youth.

With support from National Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC), BC Hydro, Arjay R. and Frances F. Miller Foundation, Engineers and Geoscientists of BC