My Life as a Glacier Guide

Words by Kathleen Baker, Photos and Film by Gretchen Powers

Kathleen Baker works as a guide on the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska. She talks to people about the landscape and climate change, where they can see and touch retreating ice. But the important work in a dramatic landscape isn’t the only thing she’s taking away from her tenure here.

The sun has just started to make its way over the mountains after a long winter. It kisses my skin as it peers past the Chugach range.

In this moment I forget how numb my fingers and toes feel, how tired my body is, and how dearly I miss my friends.

As I’ve stumbled through life there have been moments that I have bottled up and kept inside my soul for later reminiscing.

I have begun to realize my moments of pure bliss have been surrounded by absolute discomfort. I know I am not alone in this, for each person who has spent a night shivering in their sleeping bags, put on half frozen mountaineering boots, pushed through exhaustion, and forced down yet another peanut butter and stale bread sandwich knows the grit it takes for those first tracks, epic summits, and the passions we chase that fill us with light even when the world seems so dark.

No matter the reason, big or small, it is all for the pure celebration of wildness that surround us and how it makes us feel whole.

Each person who has spent a night shivering in their sleeping bags… knows the grit it takes for those first tracks, epic summits, and the passions we chase that fill us with light…

The difficulties and discomfort are far outweighed by not only our personal moments of bliss and clarity but also the overwhelming sense of accomplishment. These are the moments that change us, allow us to grow, and build our character. They push us to work harder, play with more vivacity, and lead us to the most unexpected of places.

I found myself standing in the Boston-Logan Airport white-knuckling a one way ticket to Alaska. I was chasing these moments of discomfort in order to understand something that is much greater than the small college world I had been living in.

I was chasing these moments of discomfort in order to understand something that is much greater than the small college world I had been living in.

I moved away from everyone I loved in search for a love for myself. After a year of darkness I was searching for the light I felt during those memorable moments of bliss that I had nostalgia for.

This is ironic, because where I moved to experiences five months without direct sunlight, so I guess the joke was on me.

There is no doubt that the landscape I have learned to call home is spectacular in every way possible. I feel so small compared to the grand peaks that surround me, their jagged edges piercing into the sky.

To my surprise, Alaska has taught me to appreciate the smaller details of nature’s beauty, rather than the grandiose landscape that spreads out before me.

Rather than chasing one spectacular view after another, I found myself feeling the stray rays of light during the simplest moments of my time here.

Rather than chasing one spectacular view after another, I found myself feeling the stray rays of light during the simplest moments of my time here.

Alaska has graciously taught me that it should not be the place that you are located in that brings you happiness; it should be yourself, because you cannot be constantly chasing those first tracks, summits, and sunrises.

May they remind you how much you love the wildness that the world brings you, make you feel alive when you need it most, and may that be that extra special part of your day.

However, it is important to understand that this beauty is everywhere, no matter where you may be.

So after four years, the spectacular views may have dulled, but when the sun begins to peer past the giant mountains that surround me, and my eyes adjust to the bright light that appears far north and the steam from my coffee warms my cheeks, I feel whole.

Watch Gretchen’s Film: Kathleen Baker, Glacier Guide


Kathleen Baker spent summers for the past four years as a glacier guide in Alaska and just finished up a year as a full time guide on the Matanuska Glacier. She graduated from St. Michaels College with a degree in environmental science and chemistry and is passionate about educating youths about climate change. When she isn’t on the ice she loves chasing her pup on bike, skis, and foot! Find her on Instagram @tkbakes.

Gretchen Powers is a mountain gal transferred from Vermont to Maine to Alaska with a passion to document the world around her. Her storytelling abilities shine through her breathtaking stills and documentary films. When she isn’t behind her camera she enjoys a steaming cup of hot tea, hiking with her pup Ella, and knitting! See more of Gretchen’s work on Instagram @gpowersfilm and on powersprovisions.com.