Celebrating Women in the Cryosphere

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we selected five of our favorite stories of women in the cryosphere:


Source: Tabei Kikaku

On May 16, 1975, Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei became the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain at 8,848 m. Tabei is also the first woman to climb the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each of the seven continents.

GlacierHub spoke with Helen Rolfe, co-author of “Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei,” a 2017 memoir published by Rocky Mountain Books that honors Tabei’s life experiences— inspiring readers to “Ganbatte,” a Japanese word used to encourage someone to “do your best.”

Continue reading Japan’s Leading Woman Climber by Maria Dombrov.


Source: ICCA Consortium

For centuries the Qashqai people of Iran have been stewards of the pastures and forests of their mountain homelands. Last week, researcher and PhD student Ghanimat Azhdari, a global steward of Qashqai culture as well as mountains, perished when Iranian security forces mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian International Airlines jetliner, killing all 176 people on board. The accident occurred during the most recent period of military provocation between Iran and the United States.

The Qashqai are an Indigenous group of nomadic pastoralists in southwestern and central Iran that tend to herds of goats and sheep. Born the daughter of a local Qashqai leader, Ghanimat Azhdari was a PhD student at Canada’s Guelph University, where she worked on using satellite imagery to map Indigenous cultural sites. She hoped this would foster bottom-up conservation efforts centered on Indigenous knowledge and support. She was 36 years old.

Continue reading Indigenous Activist Among Those Killed by Grennan Milliken.


Mujer Montaña—“Woman Mountain” in Spanish—participated in a recent project of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA), in which women climbers from Latin America and Europe carried out ascents of peaks in two mountain ranges in the Bolivian Andes. They established mountaineering records, achieving first all-female ascents and opening new routes. They met another goal as well,  promoting exchanges between people of different cultures and worldviews. And, in their distinctive way, they built awareness of mountains in the context of climate change—a key goal of the UIAA’s Mountain Protection Award Platform, which supported the project.

This project, supported by a number of government agencies and tourism firms in South America and Europe, brought together the members of Mujer Montaña, a Latin American group founded in 2013, with representatives of the Women’s High Mountain Group of the French Federation of Alpine Mountain Clubs (a UIAA member since 1932). In total, four women from South America and eight from Europe took part in the project.

Continue Reading An All-Woman Climbing Team in the Andes by Ben Orlove.


Source: Alexandra Ravelo

One day last June, something rare took place on Interior Alaska’s Gulkana Glacier— a dance party. As a treat for the final day of Girls on Ice, a glacier-based science education program for teenage girls, instructors lowered each of the nine girls into a crevasse, two at a time, and they used ice axes and crampons to climb out. The day was chilly and the winds were picking up, and the girls started dancing to keep warm. “They were dancing and laughing and shining,” said glaciologist and Girls on Ice instructor Aurora Roth. “I want to hang on to that forever. That’s why I do what I do, to see girls shining in the outdoors.”

Girls on Ice began in 1999 when a team of two instructors and five teenage girls spent a week exploring the South Cascade Glacier in Washington. In 2012, a group of graduate students from the University of Alaska Fairbanks decided to adapt the program to Alaska. Each June, eight or nine girls join up with female mountain guides, scientists, and artists to spend a week on the Gulkana Glacier studying glacial processes, creating art, and exploring themes from climate change to socially-prescribed gender roles. “The wilderness setting and single gender field team inspires young women’s interest in science and provides a challenging environment that increases their physical and intellectual self-confidence,” states the program’s mission statement.

Pervasive and dangerous gender imbalances in the geosciences necessitate this focus on girls’ physical and intellectual self-confidence. M Jackson, a glaciologist and environmental educator, is troubled by gender dynamics in the sciences today. “While there are women in glaciology, it is not simply an issue of metrics, the number of women in the field, or the number of women-authored publications. I can tell you from personal experience that out in the field on glaciers, in years past, I have almost always been the only woman on the team. This is changing today,” she said.

Continue reading Shining on a Glacier by Rachel Kaplan.


Robin Bell is a renowned geophysicist, the natural science which concerns itself with the physical processes and properties of the Earth. She has accumulated many accolades for her discoveries in Antarctica and Greenland, which include sub-glacial lakes, rivers that flow uphill, and a volcano beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet.

Bell is the current president of the American Geophsyical Union. The AGU is an international organization, which includes 62,000 scientists from 144 countries, making her the de facto top earth scientist in the world. The sensitive polar regions Bell studies are warming quickly, a symptom of climate change wrought by emissions from mankind’s activities. She is acutely aware of her personal contributions to the problem; her fuel-intensive polar research and a demanding travel schedule.

 “I just want to set an example. If I am telling people this is an issue, I should be acting like it’s an issue.”

For many Americans, even those convinced of the science, climate change is a problem requiring collective action and thus excuse themselves from making personal sacrifices to reduce their personal emissions. Some say individual efforts to curb climate change, like eating less meat or cutting down on their air travel, are largely symbolic and too small to make any meaningful impact. It is notable, however, that the world’s leading earth scientist is not allowing collective inaction to absolve her of personal responsibility.

Continue reading Robin Bell Walks the Walk by Peter Deneen.

Read More on Women in the Cryosphere on GlacierHub:

GlacierHub Writer Tsechu Dolma Wins Major Award

Samar Khan Becomes First Woman to Cycle on Biafo Glacier

A Woman’s Place Is at the Top: Interview with Hannah Kimberley

Diane Burko’s New Exhibit, New Book, New Focus

Junko Tabei, Japan’s Leading Woman Climber

On May 16, 1975, Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei became the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain at 8,848 m. Tabei is also the first woman to climb the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each of the seven continents.

GlacierHub spoke with Helen Rolfe, co-author of “Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei,” a 2017 memoir published by Rocky Mountain Books that honors Tabei’s life experiences— inspiring readers to “Ganbatte,” a Japanese word used to encourage someone to “do your best.”

Tabei, Majima, and Kitamura (with guide, top right) climbing Vinson Massif in Antarctica, 1991 (Source:  Courtesy of Tabei Kikaku).


GlacierHub: While compiling ”Honouring High Places,” did you have any moments where you were particularly moved by Tabei’s words?

Helen Rolfe: Always. Tabei learned so many life lessons in the mountains that are easily shared in this book. The outstanding references for me are from when she was young and realized her deep passion for the mountains (Chapter 2: The Meaning of Mountains, climbing Nasu-dake), and on Everest, the shift in how she felt about equipment being left on the mountain— from a sense of comfort (Chapter 8: South Col) to action (end of Chapter 9: The Summit).


GH: What do you think was going through Tabei’s mind as she climbed to the top of Mount Everest?

HR: Tabei solely focused on the job at hand. Then, on the summit, a moment of gratitude and relief, then back to the necessity of climbing down safely.

“We’ve arrived!” Junko Tabei on the summit of Mount Everest makes her historic radio call to Advanced Base Camp, May 16, 1975 (Source: Courtesy of Tabei Kikaku/Ang Tsering).


GH: Through ”Honouring High Places,” readers learn the accounts of Junko Tabei, her physical and mental strength, and her passion for the environment. Please comment on her appreciation for mountain ecosystems.

HR: Chapter 9: The Summit. It’s all there. Another highlight of her passion for all mountains is that in addition to climbing Everest and the Seven Summits (first woman for both feats), she pursued climbing the highest point in every country in the world, no matter the elevation. While she did not succeed in stepping foot in every country, she climbed hundreds of peaks of all sizes.


GH: What sorts of additional information did you learn about Tabei through her husband’s and friends’ perspectives?

HR: That Tabei loved life, loved the outdoors, truly believed that nature and the outdoors is the key to healthy living, believes in national parks and preserved natural environments, that goal setting is crucial and that simply placing one foot in front of the other is the way to get started.

Team of all women on Mount Tomur, 1986 (Source: Courtesy of Tabei Kikaku/Ladies Climbing Club).


GH: To my understanding, you were never able to meet Junko Tabei. If you had the opportunity to speak with her now, what would you say?

HR: You are correct, I never met Junko, but I spent the month of April in Japan this past spring. I had the pleasure of retracing Junko’s early days in her childhood town of Miharu and at Nasu-dake. I enjoyed getting to know Junko’s husband, Masanobu, and family and close friends. It was the trip of a lifetime, and full circle for the writing of “Honouring High Places.”

If given the chance, I would share with Junko the same words I tell Masanobu and her family and friends: that it was a privilege to write her life story, and that I feel grateful to Junko and the Tabei family for trusting me to do so.

Writing this book was a beauty and a challenge, and I embraced every second that I put into it. There is only one first English telling of Junko’s story, and I had the honor of being the author involved. I am truly blessed. I am one of many that Junko has deeply inspired.

Tabei on the way up to Pico Bolivar, 4979m, the highest mountain in Venezuela, January 2008 (Source: Courtesy of Eiko Tabe).


GH: Do you have any additional comments or thoughts about Tabei that you’d like GlacierHub readers to know? 

HR: Junko’s story is an important part of mountaineering history. It allows the reader into the Japanese climbing culture that most North Americans know little about. Her achievements were certainly a step forward for women, and for humankind in general.

Her voice became one of environmental advocacy and mountain climbing for all… anything to get people active in the outdoors.

Junko was a shining star.