#12 Walk on New Zealand’s Franz Josef glacier

The night before I went on the Franz Josef glacier I saw a couple shivering over the hot soup offered by the hostel. “Have you just been on the glacier hike?” I said, going with the obvious conversation-starter (the others being “Have you just arrived?” as people walk into the dorm carrying all their bags and “Are you cooking dinner?” in the kitchen.)
“Was it fun?”
The girl shuddered, “It was freezing.”
“Oh, ok, but was it fun?”
The girl looked at me as though I was not quite comprehending the situation. “It was freezing.”

Bearing in mind that I hate being cold, and especially wet and cold, I packed for the trip in the same way I would pack for an Arctic expedition. I took every piece of warm clothing I own, including my thermals, much to my guide’s amusement. And, of course, as a result of that the sun shone all day.

I’m getting used to the fact that if you want to do something cool here you have to wear a silly outfit. It’s kind of like an off-set scheme. You want to have fun? Ok, but you have to look stupid first. So we donned the obligatory knee length jacket, waterproof trousers and huge red bum bags which contained our crampons, and set off.

Working the bum bag look.

Seeing the glacier for the first time was pretty amazing. Even though it’s receded a lot in the last few years, the sheer size of it is still incredible. The first part of our walk was over rocky ground, which not too long ago was covered in ice.

An impressive first view.

Before setting off we had to put ourselves into groups according to how fit we thought we were. It was so funny to watch most of the men rushing to group one, while the rest of us mingled around group three and four, with no one wanting to admit they belonged in group five. It was like school all over again. However by the time we reached the ice it was interesting to see how the groups changed as people realised it was actually a lot more difficult than it looked. As a result of being by myself I got shunted around the groups to make up the numbers and eventually ended up in group three. After going through the rigmarole of fitting our crampons and taking off/putting on layer we were finally ready to go.

We all followed our guide Jeff in single file, with his warning that one step out of place could have us falling through the ice ringing in our ears. As we went he checked the ice in front of him by hitting it with an ice-pick and it was quite a scary sight when it gave way sometimes. Walking on the ice felt really strange at first. Even though logically you know you’re not going to fall because of the crampons, it takes a bit of time to get your head around it. But as soon as you do it’s almost easy to forget that it’s ice you’re walking on.

Follow the leader.
Ice hiking made easy.

The trek was made easier by the fact that the guides (who had obviously had a very early start) had hacked steps into the ice at difficult points. So it was just a case of using ropes to haul ourselves up and squeezing through crevices which were feet taller than us. And for those of you who are constantly trying to reassure me that I don’t have a big bum – I was the only one who got wedged into a crevice. The shame. I thought we might have to all stand and wait for the ice to melt around it but luckily I managed to haul myself out. Note to self: Stop eating cake.

Does my bum look big in this?

The views were absolutely stunning. In the end I just had to stop taking photos of every amazing thing I saw or I’d have done nothing else. As we got further up the glacier, the ice became more blue and everywhere we looked there were beautiful patterns caused by the ever-changing shape of the glacier. We stopped for lunch and had a perfect view back down the valley.

Not a bad lunch spot.

Afterwards the guides became very excited when they discovered an ice cave and we all had the chance to slip and slide through it on our stomachs (with thankfully no stuck bottom incidents).

Everybody breathe in.

Jeff then decided we had proved our worth and were good enough to continue climbing without steps. He was also determined that we should be he group to walk the highest on the glacier – just to prove a point to group one. It really was an incredible experience,with over six hours on the ice. I’ve been wanting to do this ever since I saw someone’s photos of it eight years ago and it was worth the wait!

That’s #12 done and dusted!
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