Iranian Climber and Glaciologist Based in Canada
Iranian climber Samira Samimi is a PhD student currently researching meltwater retention on the percolation zone of the Greenland Ice Sheet. When she’s not away from home and studying in the field, she spends her time climbing around Calgary. Before moving to Canada, Samimi travelled around Asia climbing and visiting remote places. We touched base with her after a climbing day at Back of the Lake in Lake Louise.
How long have you been climbing?
I started climbing and caving when I was I am 31 now.
Can you talk about going on expeditions while based in Iran? What happened with the Trango Tower trip? Can you talk about your glacier research? Why weren’t you allowed to head to Greenland back in 2017?
16. In Iran, there are many challenges associated with being a woman, especially around how we are supposed to dress and who we are climbing with. If I wanted to go climbing with a guy friend of mine, there would always be someone asking what our relationship was and why we were together if we were not married. Imagine a very conservative society that seeks to impose its values and rules on its entire population. Also, there was no rescue service of any sort, so we were always on our own, knowing no one would come for us in the event of an emergency. Climbing as a woman in Iran is complicated as it is an Islamic country. We don’t share sports with men and getting sponsors or getting government support is very selective and is sometimes even political. I left Iran after university to do the trek to K2 base camp. After that, I went to Nepal and started to work with Chris Szymiec as an expedition leader and never went back home. The Iranian team (all male) climbed the Trango Tower a year later. There was no female expedition. My PhD research is meltwater retention on the percolation zone of the Greenland Ice Sheet. The Greenland Ice Sheet has the potential to store meltwater in liquid form or refreeze it, and this can act as a buffer to the projection of sea-level rise. I am using geophysical methods to look at the water content in the subfreezing layers in snow and firn, so we can develop better models to project sea-level rise. I am allowed to go to Greenland. My Greenland Project was a nasa-funded project through the University of Colorado and was stopped in 2018, but there might be a possibility of going back to Greenland in 2019. It was a different story in 2017, because I am still holding an Iranian passport. The actions taken by the U.S. administration after the election to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. affected my trip. Iran is on the list of Muslim nations whose citizens are banned from going to the U.S.
The plan for going to Greenland was to take a U.S. National Guard flight on a C-130 from Albany, N.Y. to Greenland. Because I was not able to go to the U.S., I flew commercially to Greenland and was able to join my team to fly from there to my field station at Dye 2 on the southwest ice sheet.
What has it been like being an Iranian climber in Canada?
Canada is a multi-cultural country and it is more acceptable and normal to be a female climber here than Iran.
How much time do you spend on research versus climbing?
I try my best to achieve balance, but I spend more time travelling for conferences and expeditions for my research than climbing, but I always take my climbing shoes wherever I go. Lately, all of my climbing has been local, but I do have future plans to climb in Argentina and maybe even in Nepal and Pakistan.
What are some of your climbing goals?
I always wanted to climb Trango Tower. Also, the more I learn about Antartica and Patagonia, the more I want to see what those areas have to offer.
What is your advice to young women who are starting to climb?
Climb for yourself and have fun. Choose your own style and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing.
What is your dream route?
I don’t have a dream route. I believe every mountain peak is achievable if you prepare yourself mentally and physically. But I would like to continue my research and work in Antarctica and climb there.—Gripped
Opposite: Samira Samimi on Mardi Gras 5.11b at Back of the LakeAbove: Samimi climbing on Kid Goat with Yamnuska behind