We arrived on a gloriously sunny afternoon with perfect visibility, but awoke the next morning to cloudy skies. Not what you want to see the day of a scheduled heli-hike.
Deeply disappointed, I glumly switched our reservation for a half-day glacier hike, not too keen about the prospect of spending hours on gravel instead of ice. I had so looked forward to walking through ice tunnels in that mystical world of blue ice.
At 10am, we were fitted with hobnailed boots, given Ice Talonz (crampons) and rain jackets. A short bus ride took us across Waiho river to the edge of the rainforest. We hiked through the lush foliage as it began to rain, emerging 10 minutes later on a wide plain of gravel moraine.
The terminal face of Franz Glacier was ahead 1.5 miles away, barely distinguishable in the fog. We hiked over the rocky riverbed in our stiff clunky boots. Thin ribbon waterfalls cascaded down cliffs jutting out of the rainforest–a strange juxtaposition of green ferns and gray moraine. Franz, Fox, and Venezuela are the only places in the world where glaciers exist at sea level.
As we approached the glacier, the walk became increasingly difficult–loose scree scattered over a sheet of ice caused many in our group to slip and fall. Stepping on large graywacke rocks provided the best stability.
Our guide from Franz Joseph Glacier Guides was a young gal who did a great job assisting us and providing just enough geological information. The glacier moves at a rate of three feet per day. Three years ago the glacier touched the ground, but now it has receded halfway up the mount like a half-frosted wedding cake.
To reach the glacier, we climbed ladders over bizarre rock formations and pulled ourselves up rocks assisted by ropes. After nearly two hours, we reached the ice!
We attached our crampons and tentatively took our first faltering steps. Within minutes we were running up and down practice mounds. Slick! We followed our guide up an ice staircase perfectly carved into the glacier, entering a magical world of ice castles and bottomless moats.
Brilliant white snow and vivid blue ice created a fantasyland of towering pinnacles, dramatic crevasses, and peculiar puzzling formations with cut-out designs that might disappear tomorrow. Jagged peaks of blue ice dusted with dark gray edges looked like art. We stepped joyously into this world, drank from pools of clear water, and squeezed through long icy canyons where walls on either side were 10 feet tall.
But the highlight was finding an magnificent ice tunnel. Looking through it, we saw the moraine valley far below. We were on top of the world! The air was clean, the views marvelous, and I was enjoying every minute of it. Until I heard the whirrr of a helicopter . . .
Then it hit me -– THIS was the experience I'd been looking for!
Results 1-4of 4 Reviews
August 13, 2007
From journal 2005 Trip to New Zealand
by Jenni P.
Brisbane, undefined, Australia
July 4, 2005
From journal Wanaka Delights
May 10, 2004
From journal Running around being wild in New Zealand
July 5, 2003
From journal Glacier hiking at Franz Joseph