Kt Miller readies to climb a tower, putting her mountaineering skills to work

© Sue Halliwell/Polar Bears International

10/14/2015 2:31:53 PM

Getting Techy in Churchill

Getting ready for our field season in Churchill is a mixture of organized chaos, hard work, and excitement. Each year we arrive in Churchill, Manitoba as the last touches of fall color linger on the tundra. It's been almost two weeks since we arrived and the colors are mostly gone now. A few snowstorms have painted the town white, casting a glow and alluding to the fast approaching polar bear season, or bear season, as the locals call it. Each day the town buzzes with a few more tourists than the day before, and news of polar bear sightings are passed around like a town-sized game of telephone.

In addition to hosting the Climate Alliance group, the PBI team has been preparing the technical gear for our Tundra Connections and Polar Bear Cam programs. Both will start streaming LIVE in just a few weeks.

It's been a learning experience for me over the years. I've been shadowing PBI's Director of Field Operations, BJ Kirschhoffer, trying to understand the puzzle his technical mastermind puts together each year to make everything work up here. It's truly fascinating. After four years I'm finally starting to wrap my head around it.

One of the first steps in the setup process is making sure our Internet network is functioning. This year, the process included adding some equipment to a tower at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre.

I was psyched to get to use some of my climbing skills during the tower updates! When I'm not working with PBI, I do a lot of climbing and ski mountaineering. I love rope systems and used to teach technical rescue— so tower climbing is right up my alley. It was really fun to use crevasse rescue systems and mechanical advantage to haul equipment up the 200-foot tower! We've also been working on wiring equipment and updating technical gear on the Tundra Buggy® Lodge, Buggy One, and Cape Churchill Tower. This will all contribute to higher quality live streaming later in the season.

When I first started working with Polar Bears International, I didn't know what to expect, and I certainly didn't think I'd be using my mountaineering skills for polar bear conservation. There is actually a surprising amount of crossover between the two. In a way going on a ski expedition in the mountains is really similar to going on an expedition on a Tundra Buggy®. You have to be alert and aware, hypersensitive to safety, mentally prepared for the worst scenario, and able to problem-solve under stress.

That is one of the things I love about my job. It's exciting to work with a passionate team to pull off a technical marvel. Our hope is that through these LIVE programs we draw awareness to the plight of the polar bear, inspiring action on climate change worldwide. But for me it's about more than that.

Don't get me wrong I've grown to love polar bears, but my true love is skiing. However, the future of the polar bear represents the future of us all. If we can preserve polar bears for future generations, we will preserve the ice and snow we love to ski and climb, as well as everything else around the world.

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