Saturday, April 5, 2008
Glacier Hiking in New Zealand - sounds pretty awesome, and it definitely was!
Hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier was probably the most exciting and impressive experience of my entire trip. I'd never so much as seen a glacier before, let alone spent six hours hiking around with boots and spikes and a guide with an ax. We divided into groups of roughly ten based on fitness and desired pace, and we set off - starting on steep steps that are carved into the ice daily, some with hand-ropes to hold onto for safety. It took a little while to be able to trust that the spikes would keep me from falling on my face, especially in parts where the ice steps went down. We stopped to take in the views and pass through caves and take pictures of each other. The ice on the bottom half is pretty dirt-covered and much less astounding than what we saw once we got past that point. Higher up the ice is beautiful. It's a bright clear deep blue color (something to do with what happens when so much snow is compacted with high pressure), with ripples of white on the surface. After stopping to have lunch at one scenic point, we started to hike around the glacier in parts that didn't already have steps cut in. Sometimes, this meant we ended up standing around for a little while as our guide used his ax to cut into the ice so we'd have places to put our feet. He liked to make it challenging, and often we had to turn around and help the person behind us, if we were crossing over a crevice or near a hole or just had to take a really steep step up. We were having a blast with everything he threw at us. We got to our limit, though, when he found a ridiculously narrow cave and spent 45 mins carving a way out of it for us - meanwhile we were getting increasingly cold standing around on the glacier. Normally, the temperature is only 2 or 3 degrees colder than in town, so we were in shorts and t-shirts with our other layers in our backpacks, but once you stop moving it starts to feel a lot colder. Eventually we all made it through the crazy cave, although it did involve calling in the help of the guides for the other two groups behind us. We'd been really lucky with the weather, too, since most of the day was bright and clear despite forecast rain. Only when we'd taken off our spikes (called "crampons") and walked the 45 mins back to the path (that lead to the parking lot to the bus that took us back to town) did the rain start -- perfect timing.