The Franz Josef Glacier

Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
Trip End Jun 18, 2011

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Friday, October 1, 2010

After a lazy day around town yesterday, we woke up today feeling very excited about the day ahead! Apart from going on our hike, today also marks the mid-way point of our time in New Zealand and is the longest I have ever been away from home! Its crazy to think that we have already enjoyed half of our time here and only have another three weeks left; it also really makes me miss my family and appreciate how much they mean to me. Our hiking trip tpday was leaving at 10:30am and would last about 4 hours, with 2 hours actually on the ice. We got to the hiking centre and got kitted out with our gear for the day: boots, woolly socks, over-trousers, coats, hats, gloves and a funky little bumbag with our crampons in. After getting ready we all piled into the bus that would take us to the carpark near the glacier. There were about 20 people in our group and we had two guides, Brooke and Tay... two ballsy girls with pick-axes over their shoulders who you wouldn't want to mess with! They were brilliant and we spent most of the day with Tay, who came from Cornwall and could swing a pick-axe like a machine!! Once we got off the bus we made our way along the path which we had walked along a few days earlier. However we suddenly verred off to the right and took a 'secret adventurers' path which lead us through the forest. I love it when the guides say things like that because I immediately turn to Tom and say 'ohh this isn't for normal people... only adventurers like us'. Brooke, who was leading us at the time, had legs like tree trunks and was walking at quite a fair pace so we really had to work hard to keep up with her. Once we had come through the forest we came out on the valley floor in front of the glacier. At the back of our group were an older American couple who almost got left behind; they really struggled with the short walk from the carpark to the valley floor and when they finally did make it they insisted on setting up a full set of camera equipment including a tripod. Having already waited for them to catch up with us, our guide asked them to come and join the group so we could move on. But they just wouldn't come over to us, they were insistant that they would get the lighting and angles right for their photos. She called them three times but they wouldn't budge an inch until they had got their photos; we had only been walking for about 5 minutes of a 4 hour trip and could practically still see the carpark! Tom was beginning to get really annoyed at them because the longer they took the less time we were going to get on the ice. Once they finally came over the guides split us into two groups, one which wanted to go slower and one which wanted to get a bit of a move on. We opted for the quicker group and gladly left the American couple to get as many photos as their hearts desired. It took about 30 minutes to walk up to the terminal face of the glacier across the valley floor and as we walked towards it we couldn't believe how imposing it was. The closer you got the more you could see the beautiful spearmint blue colours in the ice and the less you could see the top of the glacier, your whole field of vision was occupied by the huge face of the glacier. As we got right to the front of the glacier we went around the right hand side and stepped over the barrier that keeps everyone else from stepping onto the ice. Tay, who was in charge of our group asked if anyone didn't want to continue or had any health problems she should know about before we carried on. Everyone said they were fine, apart from one poor guy from Cambridge who admitted to having asthma, a bad back and was recovering from a broken knee. His name was Andy and he had been run over by a lorry. He was doing okay though with the hike and Tay told him to shout if he started struggling... I didn't fancy being in his shoes as we went on to the ice! From here we had to climb up the mountain of gravel on the right of the glacier, a path had been cut into it to make it easier but it was still hard work to get to the top. From the top of this section of gravel we were high enough to step on to the ice, but first we had a stop to put our crampons on. Crampons are a row of metal spikes that you tie to your boots and allow you to walk on the ice without falling. Once we were all ready to roll, we walked over the last few rocks and on to the ice. Without quite knowing how, I had found myself at the front of the group and was the first person to walk out onto the glacier. It was a wonderful moment. All the gravel and rocks fell to one side and we were walking on a mountain of blue ice! Ahead of us were huge turrets of ice standing straight up out of the floor, big blue curtains of ice sweeping in layers across the glacier and little pot holes full of the most incredible blue water that ran for meters and meters down into the glacier. I can't really descibe what it looked like because I have never experienced anything like it before in my life and I have no way of being able to compare it to any other place I have ever seen. We walked across the top of the ice for a few minutes and then went down into a gap between the ice sheets and into a very thin corridor of ice. I took my gloves off to feel the glacier; it was so smooth it felt like marble but because it was a sunny day the ice had melted slightly and the outerlayer almost felt slimey. Inside the ice you could see frozen streams of bubbles and air pockets that looked like strands of DNA trapped in the ice. Tay was pick-axing her way through the ice and cutting us steps to walk on when the ice became very steep. We stayed inside the ice for about half and hour before we climbed out and came back on to the top. By this time we had reached the highest point of our trip, about a quater of the way up the glacier. From here we had 360 degrees views; down into the valley, up to the highest tips of the glacier and to the left and right of the ice fields. We had a quick break here as we had to wait for the other group to catch up with us, this gave us time to have some lunch and take some photos. The guide even had a flask of tea and I was deliriously happy to be offered a brew. I think I can safely say that eating cookies and drinking tea on the side of a glacier certainly ranks as the most incredible lunch I have ever had! Standing on the ice and looking around me was utterly breath taking. I felt so proud of myself for having got there. From reading about the Franz Josef all those many moons ago back in Wales, we had managed to actually get here! I was stood on the glacier and I had never been so overwhelmed by any sight in my life. We came, we saw, we'd conquered!! As we were sitting having a bite to eat, two little Keas came down to us and followed us around for a while expecting to be feed. We were told that Keas have the IQ of a 12 year old child, I don't know if I quite believe this but they definetly aren't camera-shy and we got lots of good photos of them. Once everyone had taken all the photos they wanted we started our descent of the glacier. We took a different route back which lead us through some really narrow ice corridors and down some steep ridges. Once we came off the ice and had taken our crampons off, the only difficult part left was to get down the gravel hill again. From here we were left to go at our own pace to get us back to the bus. We chatted with our guide Tay for a while and asked her what it was like to live in New Zealand.... expensive was the unanimous answer! Once we got back to bus and had given back our kit at the hike centre, we booked ourselves into a really site in town called the Rainforest Retreat for the night. After such a long day we were very grateful of the fantastic showers at the campsite!! We finished the day by having a lovely tea and relaxing in the tv room. What a brilliant anniversary we have had!
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