Celebrating Women in the Cryosphere

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

JUNKO TABEI, JAPANESE CLIMBER

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.

GHANIMAT AZHDAR, QASHQAI ACTIVIST

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.

ALL-WOMEN ANDEAN CLIMBING TEAM

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.

YOUNG WOMEN IN STEM

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, AMERICAN SCIENTIST

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

An All-Woman Climbing Team in the Andes

climbing-chachacomani
Ascending Chachacomani (source: Griselda Moreno)

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.

Sunset in the Bolivian Andes (source: Griselda Morano)
Sunset in the Bolivian Andes (source: Griselda Moreno)

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.

Making offering to Pachamama (Earth Mother) and the apus (Mountain Lords) (Source: Griselda Moreno)
Making offering to Pachamama (Earth Mother) and the apus (Mountain Lords) (Source: Griselda Moreno)

The group started out in the Quimsa Cruz range on 28 July, staying there through 7 August. Traveling from their base camp at 4,400m, they climbed a new route up Torrini (5800 m). The second stage in the Cordillera Real, from 10 to 19 August, included ascents of Chachacomani (6100m), Janq’o Uyu (5520m) and Jisk’a Pata (5510m). The final stage, in the city of La Paz, involved a meeting on 22 August with students at the Catholic University of Bolivia, discussing issues of mountain protection, climate change and glacier retreat. On the last day, 23 August, they participated in a program with teachers and schoolgirls which linked climbing and self-esteem, and addressed issues of female empowerment. Carolina Adler, the president of the UIAA Mountain Protection Program, took part in the Janq’o Uyu ascent, as well as the last two days in La Paz.

Dawn on Chachacomani (source: Griselda Moreno)
Dawn on Chachacomani (source: Griselda Moreno)

The group is preparing a documentary film about their expedition, and preparing their next climbs, scheduled for November, which will take place in Ecuador. And they are waiting for the selection of the 2016 UIAA Mountain Protection Award winner. That will be announced October 14 in Brixen, Sudtirol, Italy during the 2016 UIAA General Assembly.

GlacierHub interviewed Lixayda Vasquez, one of the participants in the project. Vasquez comes from Cusco, Peru. In addition to Spanish, she also speaks Quechua, a major indigenous language of the Andes.

Lixayda Vasquez (source: Lixayda Vasquez/Facebook)
Lixayda Vasquez (source: Lixayda Vasquez/Facebook)

GH: What do you see as the significance of all-woman climbing expeditions?

LV: I think that what is most important is to stop seeing mountains as a place where only strong men, the ones with “big muscles,” can go. In recent times, many women in my country have wanted to explore new experiences for themselves, experiences which take them outside their comfort zone. They leave this zone, filled with myths and a whole machismo complex. And they discover that when they go outdoors, they enter a wonderful world where they never feel alone, because they are connected with nature.

It’s not necessary to go to the mountain in expeditions that are composed only of women, or only of men. The best way is for men and women to complement each other. We can remember that men and women are parts of the same world. And we can both bring our distinct contributions to make this world better.

 

Lixayda Vasquez, on her 21st birthday, on the summit of Cotopaxi, Ecuador (source: Lixayda Vasquez/Facebook)
Lixayda Vasquez, on her 21st birthday, on the summit of Cotopaxi, Ecuador (source: Lixayda Vasquez/Facebook)

GH: As a climber who speaks Quechua, have you ever used Quechua on an expedition?

LV: Quechua once saved my life.

I was with a group of friends from the climbing club in Cusco. We were trying to ascend Chicón, a snow peak in Cusco. It was already dark when we were returning to our camp near a village. A group of people came up towards us. Some of them were very drunk. They thought that we were the thieves, the ones who had stolen their alpacas several days earlier.

They were ready to kill us, burn our bodies and bury us there, where no one would ever find us. That is what they told us. We were terrified. We tried to explain that we were climbers, but none of them had ever heard of that.

We were in that situation until I said the magic word: chicarapuiku [We are completely lost]. As soon as I said that, they all calmed down, and finally they listened to us.

 

Lixayda Vasquez leading an ascent of Ausangate (source: Lixayda Vasquez/Facebook)
Lixayda Vasquez leading an ascent of Ausangate (source: Lixayda Vasquez/Facebook)

GH: You are from the mountain city of Cusco, and you have seen the snow peak of Ausangate since you were a little child.  How have your connections with mountains changed over time?

LV: I had the good fortune to spend a lot of my childhood in the town where my grandparents live, very close to the high Vilcanota Cordillera. When I looked out my window there, every day I would see imposing mountains, and Ausangate was among them. I would spend hours gazing at them and imagining myself up in them. When I was 19, I got to know a group of rock climbers, and we arranged for a mountain guide to teach us about mountain climbing. That changed my life. I’ve never stopped climbing since then. When I was 23, I fulfilled my dream of looking out from the summit of Ausangate and recognizing the towns and valleys of my childhood. Now, a more mature person, I plan to live connected to the countryside and to the mountains. I will ascend what the mountain lets me ascend.

 

Lixayda Vasquez will participate next month in an expedition of Mujer Montaña in Ecuador, where she will pass through other Quechua communities and ascend other Andean peaks. You can follow her on Facebook.