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Friday, 03 February 2012

Crevasses and Ice Caves, Franz Josef Glacier Hike

Written by  Abigail Latham
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Dscf2359I awoke early on a warm January morning. The sun rose, coloring the sky with washes of pinks and oranges. The streets were deserted apart from a few intrepid travelers who were heading towards the Franz Joseph glacier store. It was from here that our adventure began. Backpackers gathered eagerly, waiting for an experience of a life time. Kit was handed out, tried on, adjusted and packed up, along with personal belongings. Jackets, boots, crampons, all carrying the Franz Josef logo, were passed around with excitement and apprehension. On the advice of a guide I reluctantly donned my shorts, worrying slightly about frost bite.  Apparently jeans can easily become water logged and stick to your legs, making you more likely to freeze.
Franz Joseph is a picturesque little township on the west coast of New Zealand’s south island. Backpackers flock there to experience a day of hiking on the glacier. Snow melt runs off the glacier, creating a cloudy blue river, which trundles past the town. The glacier, named after Franz Joseph I emperor of Austria in 1865 is 12km long. It is located in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park amid lush temperate rainforest.
We all boarded the red glacier guide bus, which took the winding roads to the beginning of the trek. Excitement ran through the group as we were given an initial briefing by Iain who would be our guide for the day.
We tramped through the lush New Zealand rainforest. Palm trees and ferns overhung the muddy track. Native birds such as fantails and robins flitted along beside us, singing their happy songs. Somewhere in the distance a babbling stream could be heard. On emerging from the forest we crossed the shingled wasteland to the foot of the glacier. The stones appeared to be speckled with gold dust which glittered as the sun’s rays caught them. Water ran off the glacier in cascades and flowed to the main river, churning up silt as it went. The mass of ice towered above us, simmering blue in the morning sunlight. Small groups of hikers traversed the ice, like ants in the distance.
The group gathered at a sign which warned people not to climb on the ice without a guide. A single red rope, barred our entry, horror stories about individuals who had ignored the warnings circulated. People took photos. We waited for further instructions, staring up at the glacier in awe.
Dscf2359After being split into smaller groups we crossed the threshold and tramped onto the glacier, a mixture of grit and ice crunched beneath our boots. We trundled on, pausing to catch our breath as the slope got steeper and steeper. Iain advised us to put on our crampons. Knots were tied and retied; tight enough to hold without cutting off the circulation. Then apprehensively we stamped our feet, testing each step, checking that our boots gripped the ice.
For the rest of the day we explored tunnels, crevasses and ice caves. The glacial landscape changes almost daily with the glaciers unusually fast flow. There was a huge gap in the ice; where the glacier had cracked and shifted slightly, making a crevice for us to explore. Inside the ice was dense; the giant blue sides loomed above us, creating a shadowy pocket. The air was freezing, our breath turned to mist and the blueness of the ice was reflected in our faces. We all piled into the small space, squeezed around corners and climbed over chunks of broken ice. I was wearing a rucksack on my back; the red glacier guides bum bag on my front, contained my lunch. We had come to the narrowest part of the tunnel. My cargo doubled my size, making me momentarily stuck between the icy walls.         

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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