Fox Glacier hike

Trip Start May 18, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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wilderness backpackers

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Monday, November 21, 2005

We woke up this morning to an excellent view of Mount Cook, its peak finally visible after yesterday evenings heavy mist in the Southern Alps.

After the short drive back into the village we checked into the Alpine Guides Fox Glacier office by 9am for our All Day Fox Glacier hike. The cost had risen from $85 to $95 as of October 1st, but we used a five dollar discount voucher from TNT Magazine, but a BBH card gets you the $90 price also.

By 10am we were kitted out with boots, raingear and instep-crampons (a couple of inches worth of spikes to strap in front of your boot heel) and were on an old bus heading for the glacier car park.

Again, as we witnessed yesterday, there were people in the car park feeding the Keas (fat mountain parrots) despite the signs reminding everyone not to. These birds get used to human contact all too easily and stop hunting for food themselves. Feeding them ultimately leads to their demise.

The walk started off quite uneventful, as Jorgen and I had done this part before when we ventured out to the terminal face yesterday. Once we got past the safety rope and up to the start of the ice trek things started to get more interesting.

We were issued with alpenstocks (which are simply wooden sticks with blunt spikes on the end) and were now ready to attach the quarter length instep- crampons to our boots. Our first steps on the glacier were up manmade ice steps, chiselled out with an axe. Throughout the day hike Brian (our guide) was constantly maintaining the paths and steps as we walked them on the glacier, with his double pointed axe. It was not a good idea to stand too close to him as there were always ice chips flying around when he swung that axe.

During the course of the hike, which was at a very slow pace with lots of stopping, Brian explained a couple of facts about the glacier to us:

1) The glacier ice looks blue in places where it is denser. Harder ice refracts the light differently to soft snow and the resulting reflected light appears blue.

2) The Fox Glacier is moving relatively fast compared to other glaciers, at about 100cm per year. It is currently advancing, as more snow is accumulating at the neve (or top) than melting at the bottom.

3) There are only a couple of places in the world were glaciers are found at sea level among temperate rainforests. Here in New Zealand (at Fox and Franz Josef) and in Argentina.

After lunch it really started to rain but our hike became more enjoyable as we explored crevasses and walked up to the pinnacles of the lower icefall. I was really impressed with the ice climbing we saw, it's something I wouldn't mind trying myself. The ice screws they use to secure themselves to the ice wall only stay safe for a relatively short time, as the ice melts under pressure. Makes for an exciting climb!

By the time we started heading back most of us had wet feet as the boots were not completely waterproof. It was timed just right as no one felt so wet they were miserable, but glad that they were now heading back down the glacier. I used my own hiking boots, which turned out to be a big mistake as they took two days to dry completely. It's much better to use a pair provided so you can hand them in and forget about them at the end of the hike.

By 3:30pm we were back on the bus heading into town, and here endith the strangely titled 'All-Day' Fox Glacier Walk.

Having spoken to two people who hiked on Franz Josef glacier, although it costs more ($135 approx) there are reasons why it is more popular. Namely it has more dramatic features to see, such as taller crevasse walk throughs and a narrow bridge across a very deep crevasse. Neither day walks offer a visit to an ice cave, as these are not usually found this low down the glaciers.

And so onto Haast, our rest stop for the night where we would hopefully be able to get all our wet things dry again. The rain did not relent all the way during the drive, which had TROGDOR's wipers on full pelt for most of the way.

On arrival at Haast (the smallest town I've stayed in so far in New Zealand) we checked into the only BBH hostel there, the Wilderness Backpackers ($20 for a 4 bed dorm room). These prices are for BBH card holders, membership is $40 for one year. If you are not a member you have to pay a little extra, usually only a couple of dollars, unless you whinge enough like Jorgen did today.

We cooked lentils with rice and broccoli for dinner, and rounded off the evening with a game of Settlers. I taught a Swiss chap to play and he managed to win on his first game.
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