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My Glacier Guiding Summer


Olivia Holbrook ’23 is spending her second summer working with a glacier guiding company in Alaska. In this first post, the geosciences major shares what she loves about her summer job. See below for her latest update.

August 9, 2021

I always tell clients that the glacier they see today will not be the same tomorrow. When I am about 70 years old, Exit Glacier will be gone. The other day, I had clients come in and ask if the hike to the glacier totaled four miles, because they had read that in a tour guidebook. Today, the hike to the glacier is about five-and-a-half miles. The difference is astounding.

The glacier does not just lose mass from the bottom but from all angles, kind of like a deflating balloon. The access points are becoming too steep, so tours are taking longer and longer as the glacier recedes from the sides. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to run up almost any local peak and see a glacier, but quite soon that will not be the case.

In the Pacific Northwest the heatwave has caused massive melting of glaciers in the North Cascades so much so that standard mountaineering routes are too crevassed out and impassible.

ice hole Alaska
Close up of an ice hole. This is about a foot wide. Photo: Olivia Holbrook '23

There is a daily reminder of how much Exit Glacier melts. In the middle of the glacier, a pole placed by the local geologist measures the ice melt from the top of the glacier. Over the past week, about a foot more of the pole has been exposed due to melt. Melting is standard, but it is the rate at which this melting occurs that is cause for concern. Climate change will continue to affect me in my day-to-day life because I want to be a big mountain guide after I graduate, and standard routes up peaks will no longer be safe.

July 22, 2021

I first thought about guiding in Alaska after reading an article about a Hamilton alumnus working at Exit Glacier Guides while I was applying to colleges. My freshman year, I connected with a glacier guiding company in the Matanuska Valley of Alaska through my geology professor Cat Beck. I worked on the Matanuska Glacier for one summer and quickly fell in love with guiding — it combined my passions of science and the outdoors while being active all day.

 Details shot up close on the Matanuska
Details shot up close on the Matanuska where I worked last summer. Photo: Olivia Holbrook ’23

This summer I’m working at Exit Glacier Guides as an ice climbing and ice trekking guide. I hike up the Harding Icefield Trail every day and spend about seven hours on the ice, hiking up with stops for interpretation. I also trail run after work, so the moment I sit down I fall asleep! It can be quite arduous at times — clients can be difficult, and the weather can be damp as Seward, Alaska, is considered a temperate rainforest. We call rain liquid sunshine! But the job is very rewarding. I tell people about the glaciers, and show the evidence of climate change firsthand. Everything I learn in the classroom can be applied when I tell clients about glacial maximums, the type of rock that surrounds Exit Glacier, and how glaciers form and recede.

alaska seaplane
Ski plane on Harding ice field. Photo: Olivia Holbrook ’23

Another thing I love to tell people about is the Harding Icefield. Exit Glacier originates from the Harding, which is about the size of Rhode Island and looks like Antarctica, a huge mass of ice that is 3,000 feet deep. I’ve taken a ski plane up onto the icefield — just one of many experiences I have had living part-time in Alaska.

I have guided Hamilton students, including Meg Manning ’21, a fellow geosciences major who works for Apogee Adventures. The community of Hamiltonians who work in Alaska is small but growing. Maya Weil-Cooley ’24 is working on the Matanuska Glacier this summer and will be visiting me for an end-of-season trip before we return to Hamilton in the fall and share a quad in Eells [Residence Hall].

alaska - holbrook '23
Belaying clients into a crevasse about 40' deep. 

Often, the best times are after work — ice climbing, running the local peaks, and glissading (fancy term for butt sliding) down snow slopes with extreme alpine environments zooming by. 


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