Thursday, February 18, 2010

globetrotting: me vs. franz josef

i climbed a glacier and i am proud to report that i did not fall off.
a few days into our trip here (new zealand), we took a half day climb on franz josef glacier, the second largest glacier in the country (about 11 km long). we booked our guided hike via, which may very well be the only company that organizes these trips into the glacier. as i understand it (and i may be wrong), individuals are not allowed to hike the glacier without an experienced guide.

the morning of our hike, we were given a waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, hiking boots, wool socks, and a fanny pack with crampons inside. the gear was a little old and tattered, particularly the hiking boots, but at the very least,the socks seemed clean, and everything fit reasonably well.

i was excited and a little fearful at the same time. our hike was rated for the moderately fit person, and warned that the guides were not responsible for the particularly uncoordinated. now... i exercise. i go on bike rides and walks with my husband on the weekends. i can walk long distances without trouble. but i'm not sporty, nor am i really a nature person. i hate getting dirty, and most importantly, i am uncoordinated. not to mention, i was just barely beginning to recover from a nasty cold that i had ever so conveniently developed the moment i got on the plane to new zealand. so, the point is, i wasn't quite sure that i qualified as a moderately fit person.

once dressed, the large group was herded onto a bus, and driven to get closer to the glacier, about 10-15 minutes. from the carpark, it was another 20 minute walk through a rainforest-y area until we arrived in the glacier valley. there, the group was split into three groups of thirteen, basically divided by fitness level. since i was still sick, i wanted to be in group three, with all the senior citizens, but that group had gotten too large, so we ended up in group two.

glacier valley

after another forty minute walk (about four km/ 2.5 miles) on the rocky terrain, we were nearing the climbing part on the terminal face so we put on our crampons. crampons are basically just strap on contraptions for your shoes with jagged spikes so that you don't slip and fall to your death on the ice. useful on the ice,a big pain to walk with on rocks.
hiking boots + crampons securely attached

our next task was to climb up to the terminal face. i balked a little. i wondered if i was going to be on the news as the first idiot tourist that lost her balance and killed a bunch of other tourists as i fell down the slope.

the pictures below somehow make it look less steep. it was very steep. i was sure i was going to feel it later. luckily, parts of the slope had been carved with steps. the guides go out every morning to assess the conditions and carve out steps in the more difficult places. on the side of the steps/slope, they had a rope attached, and for safety, we were instructed to hold on as we progressed, and not to take any pictures.

groups hiking before us
a closer photo of the most challenging part (you can't see it, but this is the part with the rope)

turns out the climb up wasn't so bad. there were parts that were tricky, a little scary, and required extra effort, but overall i found it surprisingly... doable. i am not sure how long it took to get all the way up, but once we got to the "top" and were able to walk more leisurely (our guide often had to stop and hack away at more ice) and take photos.

 our guide doing all the hard work for us    

the journey on the ice was breathtaking. after we reached the furthest point of our journey, we were given plenty of time to take photos enjoy the scenery, and have a snack.

to get back down, we trekked back a slightly different way, but we had to use the same slope down that we used on the way up. i found this a little scarier, but the crampons were really excellent on the decline.  this is probably a good time to mention that during this entire 4.5 hour excursion, the husband is just casually walking along, as if this was just another stroll on a flat, well-paved track.  clearly not any kind of physical challenge for him.

  the husband casually takes photos on the decline, not seeing the need for the mandated rope- holding.

about an hour later, after making our way back through the valley and rainforest area, we were back on the bus and on our way back into town.

turns out that i am a lot more fit than i realized. i didn't fall. i didn't lose my balance. the next day i didn't even feel sore. not that it was exactly easy for me- it was definitely something new, challenging, and exotic.

it was a great day.


  1. Wow!! It looks amazing there and you certainly had a great time. I am jealous. I wanna go now :)

  2. Amazing!!! And I'm so glad you didn't die. That would have been a shame.

  3. You did it! After all that wondering if you were going to be able to do it. Very cool. Maybe it was all of the stair climbing you did before you went ;-) haha.

  4. Amazing photos! :o Wow, it really makes me want to climb it but I'm so uncoordinated I'd probably fall down hehe.



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