Glacier Hike

Trip Start Nov 21, 2008
Trip End Mar 31, 2010

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Where I stayed
Couchsurfed and stayed at a hostel

Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Franz Josef Glacier is a ten minute bus ride outside of the very small town bearing the same name. I did the full day walk which I believe consisted of about 6 hours on the glacier. Like I said we had a short bus ride to get to the foot of a very rocky plain with a river running through it. There are mountains on either side and the glacier cascading down from the heights of the mountains to the valley floor in the distance. It was easy to see how the glacier had carved out the earth leaving behind all of the rocks on the flat plain and pushing the land up on either side to create the mountain ranges. The distance to the ice was an optical illusion as it looked maybe 500 meters away but was, in reality, it was 2.3km away. The actual glacier itself was also quite an illusion as it looked like you could climb to the top in a day, but when you get closer the whole landscape stretched out. Looking at it from the beginning of the walk you just can't see the depth of the scene. We had to hike through the jungle for about 30 minutes because the run off from the glacier had put a river right in our paths. Then we walked through the rocky plain for about another 30 minutes. The company I was on the tour with gave everyone massive hiking boots, rain jackets, hats & gloves, and rain pants. When we got to the foot of the ice we attached these metal spikes, called clamp-ons, to our boots to give up grip on the ice. It often rains on the glacier but  much like the rest of my time in New Zealand it was surprisingly sunny and clear. It was a little chilly and at times I wore all of the layers. I was, however, comfortable in the shorts I was wearing.
We split into groups and were assigned to a guide. The guide I followed was a young woman, probably about 25 or so. She swung her pic axe the entire day making steps in the ice for us. I was impressed at how tough and strong she must have been to do that. The guides have to be on the glacier at 6am to carve out steps for the hikers before they get there every morning. This is necessary because the glacier moves and changes daily. At the foot the ice can move a meter a day, at the top, up to 10 meters a day.
The whole experience of being on a glacier seemed almost bizarre to me. I've learned about them in school and despite living in very cold conditions back home I never pictured glaciers in present day. They seem so archaic, something that carved the earth millions of years ago. True, but they continue to do the same every day. On the ice I realized several times how happy and thankful I was to be experiencing things like this.
Throughout the day we climbed up, down, sometimes with the help of ropes, through cracks and crevices. At times it felt dangerous and it made me think that they would never let you do something like this in America. I appreciate the fact that I am responsible for myself. At one point during the hike our guide led our group through a crevice that had just cracked the night before. It was such a slim fit between the walls of ice that I found it a challenge mentally and physically. Walking sideways I had to take off my backpack and the entire front and back of my body was pressed against either side of the ice, which of course was freezing cold and soaked my clothing with run-off water. I was the first to go through after the guide and at one point I thought I was going to get stuck. I had to use momentum to push my body through the tight fitting space. At one point I tried to turn my body forward facing and the width of my hips wouldn't allow me! I made it through, as did the rest of my group, although I don't know how some of the guys made it through.
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