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Glacial Guiding in Alaska


An atypical summer intern, Olivia Holbrook ’23 has spent the last two months living in a tent in Alaska, exploring a 27-mile-long glacier, and waking up early to watch the sun rise over expanses of flowers and ice, an experience she described as “phenomenal.”

As a guide for Alaska’s Matanuska Glacier, Holbrook lives with other interns near the glacier’s touring site where she provides tours and ensures that visitors stay safe while on the trails. Her primary duties include educating tourists on glaciology, regularly checking the trails, and cooking meals with other interns. She said that, through giving tours, she has better learned how to manage people and match tours to people’s ability levels.

Holbrook learned about the opportunity from her academic advisor, Assistant Professor of Geosciences Catherine Beck, who knew about Holbrook’s passion for both glaciers and the outdoors. An intended geosciences and art double major, Holbrook is considering returning to the job in the winter and again in a couple years to do research for her geosciences thesis. Moreover, she said that at the internship, her geosciences coursework helps her “give fun facts about the glaciers that nobody else would know.”                     

about Olivia Holbrook ’23

Intended majors: Geosciences, Art

Hometown: Baltimore County, Md.

High school: Hereford High School

read about other students' summer internships

“My parents instilled [in me] a love for the outdoors, and I’m very grateful for it,” Holbrook said. She has gone on two programs with the National Outdoor Leadership School. From backpacking in Wyoming to mountaineering in North Cascades National Park, she has developed outdoor technical skills that have helped prepare her for Alaskan glacial guiding. Her love of nature and the outdoors ultimately led her to majoring in geosciences and her guiding position.

In her free time in Alaska, Holbrook hikes the glacier. She said that she has traversed Matanuska in both height and breadth; her current record is nine miles along its length and about six miles up its gully. Describing one hike with a vertical component, she said, “I had to use my ice axe to chop into the tundra, so I didn’t flip off backward, but when I got high enough, I could see all the clouds parting, and it was really trippy because all the flowers were covered in dew, the glaciers were emerging, and all the huge peaks were around. It was amazing.”

After she graduates from Hamilton, Holbrook plans to continue working as an outdoor guide for a few years. Noting a lack of geologists with all the necessary technical field skills to work in particular environments, she hopes to help others conduct geologically informed research. It’s a great way to combine here appreciation for geology and love of being outdoors.

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