We set the alarm for 7 on Monday. It was cloudy, but at least it wasn’t raining. We made ham sandwiches and got some snacks and clothes together for the day ahead. We walked to the Franz Josef Guides location and met up with the 31 other people who were doing the full-day guided hike. After signing in, we went through an assembly-line process to collect rain pants, boots, wool socks, crampons, rain jacket, hat, and mittens. Luckily the weather was supposed to be good, so the jacket, pants, hat, and mittens were for warmth/necessity only. From there they bused us to the trailhead, and we started hiking up to Franz Josef Glacier. They split us into three groups of 11 people, based on our self-assessed agility, and to reduce the “visual pollution” of large groups on the glacier. Stephanie was a little nervous about the crevasses and ice caves, so we went with group 2. Each group had a guide, ours was led by Jimmy, who was being trained by Kruddy (nickname for his longer M?ori name).
We crossed the ropes at the end of the public trail, and started hiking up a part of the glacier that didn’t look much like a glacier, as it was covered with a thick deposit of gravel that had washed out of the glacier several years back. This made the initial ascent, via a series of switchbacks in the gravel, much easier. Once we got to the top of this mountain of gravel, we put on our crampons and took our first steps on the exposed ice. It was a lot crunchier than I expected, like a bag of ice cubes from the supermarket that’d frozen into a solid block.
For the next several hours, Jimmy and Kruddy led us on a trail up about 1/10 of the glacier’s total length. Frequently they’d stop to widen the trail or dig out a step in the ice with their massive pick-axes. We each had smaller ice-axes, primarily to give us a third point of contact, but also to make us look good in photos. The further up the glacier we traveled, the more dramatic the features in the ice became. Eventually we came to our first crevasse, a narrow passageway, 20-30 meters long, that in some places was not wide enough for both feet side-by-side. It was here that the ice was the bluest. Even I was a little worried about being claustrophobic, but it turned out to be more awe-inspiring than anything else. Later we ventured into an ice cave that had only opened up the day before. We got to it by climbing down a steep series of steps with a rope anchored into the ice for support.
The changeability of the glacier was one of the most interesting aspects of the trek. Since the glacier is moving one meter a day, its features are constantly morphing and melting. If we came back in a year, we’d be led along a completely different route, with entirely different features. Of all the different activities we’ve undertaken in New Zealand so far, I think this has been my favorite. Partly because it was so different from anything I’ve done before, and partly because the glacier was so beautiful.
Want more? I’ve posted a follow up with some additional glacial goodness: Franz Josef Glacier: a portrait