KELSI FRANZEN (Girls on Ice Cascades 2002)

If there ever is an experience that I shall remember, it will be Girls On Ice. Growing up with two mountaineers for parents, I had become familiar with the North Cascades through camping and hiking trips with my family, but never had I gotten a chance to get quite as intimate with the rugged and often misunderstood landscape of those mountains as with Girls On Ice.

I was a participant in the summer of 2002, one of the earlier years of the program, when I traveled with seven other high school-aged women and two instructors up to the South Cascade Glacier in the North Cascade mountains of Washington state. Often, as a young girl, I felt like I hadn’t quite found my place on this planet, that my journey was not on the course my heart wanted it to be. I had grown up with exposure to the outdoors, but I had felt hesitant to truly engage with the environment on my own. But Girls On Ice changed all that. The whole process of experiential learning in a wilderness setting was what my young mind needed. Traveling nearly 12 miles up an unmarked trail with enough supplies for 10 days was in itself a challenge, but what I found was that I could rely on my fellow women to encourage and push me forward toward our destination. Once we reached the South Cascade Glacier, we had the opportunity to stay in an old fire-lookout, whose outhouse had a view of Mt. Baker that many would pay millions for! My journeys on the glacier were the most exhilarating! Learning about how a glacier forms and transforms itself through movement by the means of science experiments we conducted was fantastic. Exploring the terminus of the glacier was a unique sight as well, where we learned not only of the glacial processes, but other processes like global climate change, that affect the recession rate of glaciers and ice not just locally, but worldwide. Climbing to the top of the South Cascade Glacier was a symbolic experience for me, because it allowed me to look out across the vast expanse of ice that lay underneath my feet and made me realize just how much we humans can change things we sometimes rarely even notice. Glaciers are one of those entities that few of us may witness in our lifetimes, but that given a chance, you stand in awe and appreciate. But will they be there for our childrens’ lifetimes? We all have a stake in glaciers. Girls On Ice was an experience I shall never forget. It gave me the opportunity to be more self-reliant in the wilderness, as well as encouraging me to make connections between natural processes like glacial recession with human-perpetuated processes like CO2 emissions. Living and learning among a group of young women truly was inspiring for me as a young girl. The Girls On Ice experience has helped solidify the pathway that I was so longing to find as a young girl. Now, seven years later, it’s nearly 2009 and I am finishing up my degree in Environmental Education at Western Washington University. With inspiration from Girls On Ice, I am now becoming a teacher that will educate young kids about environmental issues through experiential learning. I aim to continue telling the story that Girls On Ice so beautifully began telling to me as a young girl – that we, as young women, can change the way we look at ourselves, at the landscapes surrounding us, and how we can change the world. Thank you, Girls On Ice, and thank you, Erin, for this opportunity, may Girls On Ice continue to inspire young women worldwide and show the potential that we have in being stewards of this magnificent planet.


At some point or another, nearly everyone has heard talk of the fabled “once-in-a-lifetime opportunities” and the ever-elusive “life-changing experience.” At the age of 16, I was naive enough to believe mine was a long way off…but that was before I was accepted into Girls on Ice 2006.

Girls on Ice is a camp where 10 girls go backpacking on Mt. Baker for 10 days with female glaciologists and mountain guides. I was immediately attracted to it because my two sisters and I were raised by our mom in a community that is predominantly prehistoric in its opinions of gender roles. Another aspect of this program I was interested in was the scientific focus of the trip. We would be studying, climbing, and just having the opportunity to experience glaciers. This trip seemed made to fit my interests of the time, and I couldn’t sign up fast enough.

By far the hardest part of the whole experience was placing your trust in the hands of eleven complete strangers, whom you would be isolated with for 10 days. The five-mile hike, the 50-pound packs, and the physical stress that comes from being at nearly 6000 feet in elevation seemed easy in comparison. The fact that we had to trust each other, unconditionally, from the start, was oddly relaxing, it was both an equalizer and a safety net. In addition, by putting myself in a group of people dedicated to their interests while isolated from modern distractions, my own interests and goals became clearer. I realized that I want to study environmental sciences, particularly volcanoes and glaciers.

This was not the only benefit I gained from this camp. Each night we had the most phenomenal discussions, comparing art, science, and religion; and my favorite, nature vs. wilderness. They would have been amazing even if it weren’t for the perspectives the other girls brought from their homes all over the U.S., and even from Spain. I still remember most of the arguments we made, and they have continued to help me throughout my schooling, and in my job as a wilderness trail crew member for the USDA Forest Service in my hometown.

Girls on Ice 2006 had a profound effect on me, because I am more relaxed, more dedicated, more thoughtful, more outgoing, and stronger than I was before the camp began. Looking back, I don’t think I would recognize myself when I came back. Who would have thought that the most defining experience of my life would have occurred before I was even a senior in high school? Definitely not that 16-year-old girl from a small town in rural Washington.

In all my life, there has been one quote that has truly caused me to rethink the direction of my life. I first heard it during Girls on Ice 2006. Months later, it was still with me and I used it in my CWP (Contemporary World Problems) report because I found it powerful. “We did not inherit the land from our fathers. We are borrowing it from our children.” This small quote changed my life.