Yukoner ready to rock Juneau climate change expedition

In a few weeks, Jutta Hopkins-LeCheminant should be hiking along Juneau Icefield's glaciers, working with scientists to collect data for studies about climate change. It will be a big change of scenery from the job she left three years ago, working as a network administrator within Whitehorse’s city hall.

In a few weeks, Jutta Hopkins-LeCheminant should be hiking along Juneau Icefield’s glaciers, working with scientists to collect data for studies about climate change.

It will be a big change of scenery from the job she left three years ago, working as a network administrator within Whitehorse’s city hall.

Since then, Hopkins-LeCheminant quit her job at the city, enrolled in a geology diploma at Yukon College and completed it, becoming one of the first geological technicians to graduate from the college.

“You only live once, so you might as well go for it,” said a smiling Hopkins-LeCheminant.

Geology has always interested the 41 year-old grandmother, but she spent her career in the IT field, before deciding to go back to her first love.

“So yeah, I went for it,” she said.

For the next two months, Hopkins-LeCheminant will work with a team of master’s and Ph.D. students working on climate change research on five different glaciers, trekking a total of 109 kilometres as part of the Juneau Icefield Research Program.

First she’ll take the ferry to Juneau, then hike up to the glaciers, ski across, hike down to Atlin and take a ferry back to Juneau.

“It’s all human-powered, which is kind of scary especially after I’ve been sitting in a classroom for three years,” she said.

To prepare, there is nothing like the Black Street stairs, she said.

But before she leaves, Hopkins-LeCheminant still has to fundraise to cover some of the costs.

She’s already raised $500 and received a $500 gift certificate from the Yukon Research Centre.

All the gear required for the expedition is expected to cost more than $5,000, money she can’t afford after spending two years in school.

“The college, the staff have been amazing, there are a whole bunch of people who loaned gear,” said Hopkins-LeCheminant. She is still looking for a number of items, as well as money to pay for the ferry.

To demonstrate how she’s raised most her funds, Hopkins-LeCheminant pulls out a bag of popcorn. “This is how I’ve made most of my fundraising, selling popcorn at school,” she said.

She’s made so much of the stuff at home, her children quickly made her move the popcorn production stand to her house’s basement. “My kids are like, ‘no more,’” she said, laughing.

The expedition will allow her to learn more about glaciers, a topic she’s interested in but that was only briefly talked about in her program.

“Seeing how the glaciers are disappearing, I figured ‘better see them now’,” she said.

Hopkins-LeCheminant isn’t completely new to geological expeditions.

Two summers ago she worked in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, for another scientific expedition. Her work consisted of getting the planes ready to go and ensuring the weather was good enough for pilots to fly safely, but she never missed an opportunity to have a chat with some of the scientists.

“Whenever there was a geologist on her way up or out, I would always kind of finagle them into showing them what they found,” she said.

Mary Samolczyk, one of her geology instructors, describes her as dedicated and enthusiastic. But geology is more than a passion for Hopkins-LeCheminant. The longtime Yukoner said it’s also about having a say in the Yukon’s future.

“As we continue towards the Yukon being a player in the mineral sector, I want to be part of the decisions that help shape what happens in the Yukon,” she said.

After two years studying geology, you start looking at the landscape very differently. For one thing, every change that affected the landscape is still there: in the rocks.

“It’s there, it’s there to discover and learn about!” she said. She thinks more Yukoners should learn about geology, as it is part of the territory’s gold rush history and the importance of the mining sector.

And it’s shaped the Yukon as we know it today. Back in the days of the Ice Age, for instance, the entire valley around Whitehorse was under two kilometres of ice.

“Imagine Grey Mountain was under ice,” she said.

Once she’s done with the Juneau Icefield expedition, Hopkins-LeCheminant plans to head back to school, to get the certification required to become a full-fledged geologist.

“My aspiration was to work in an assay lab and do rock analysis and then I realized that I could probably do a lot more,” she said.

To help Hopkins-LeCheminant reach her fundraising goal, contact her at jhopkins-lecheminant@yukoncollege.yk.ca

Contact Pierre Chauvin at

pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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