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random tales from strange lands this is a tale of my attempt to follow the summer to different parts of our world and how it appears to me

Glacier Country

NEW ZEALAND | Saturday, 10 May 2008 | Views [708]

What better way to get your day started than hiking & climbing up a glacier?  We had two to choose between even!  What luxury!  We decided to drive a little further north before indulging in such wonders and tackle Franz Joseph Glacier. 

Before we said goodbye to Fox Glacier village we followed a small sign to a vantage point for our highest peak – Aoraki/Mt Cook.  We had only the briefest of glimpses of it from the east side a few days earlier, so why not try out luck from the west?  And we struck it just right this time! There were only a couple of lonely clouds, adrift in the blue expanse above us.  No way were they going to spoil the vista this morning. J  A simple circular table was inscribed with numerous arrows and names for nearby mountains, glaciers and rivers; among them Mt Cook and Mt Tasman, neighbouring peaks, and the two highest in the land. 

The West Coast Highway from Fox to Franz Joseph lead us through lush, untouched native rainforests - apart from the curving black scar of the tarmac we cruised upon.  An obvious contrast of the old and new worlds of New Zealand. 

Time had taken its toll on the Glaciers too; our guide pointed out where the terminal face of the ice had hovered in past decades.  A grim reminder of the power of a warming climate.  Consequently the first stage of our glacier adventure was a hike across the grey field of scattered rocks before we could climb upon the ice.  The icy river beside us was littered with car-sized chunks of ice – a result of the collapse of several tonnes of ice from the glacier face only a few hours earlier.  We felt lucky that it hadn’t occurred while we were exploring around up there!

Our guide, Donkey, ensured we all had our crampons on right and then went ahead, cutting steps into the ice with his axe.  It was a bit strange to be walking on the ice with spikes protruding from beneath our feet; how safe were they for preventing us sliding away to our doom??  Pretty damn good it seemed :)

Donkey lead us away from the main path up the centre of the glacier, instead towards the northern edge, where he crept to the lip of a giant ice cave and chipped off some couch-sized chunks of ice.  It was spectacular to see these pieces cut loose and plummet to the rocky floor with a crash that boomed off the walls around us.  I also tried hacking away some pieces of glacier, but with much less success than Donkey.  But I did get to pose with the axe, looking like an amateur mountaineer. 

On our trip down, the path almost disappeared - there was a giant gash through the ice as if some careless Ice God had swept his axe through the glacier.  We were supposed to walk through here??  We could only shuffle along sideways, squeezed between the claustrophobic walls of eerie blue ice. 

And then before we knew it, we were out and saying our farewells to the ice.  On the hike back to the van, a couple of American girls decided to test the waterproofing of the jackets by posing for photos in the middle of a freezing waterfall.  Result: waterfall 1, Americans 0.  But they came out smiling anyway; another crazy story for their travel tales no doubt!

Tags: adventures, moutains



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