Ahh… it’s so good to sit down and rest my weary legs. I’ve just eaten a delicious rib-eye steak, salad and chips, washed down with an LLB at the Landing Bar here at Franz Josef. Before that, I spent around 5.5 hours walking, climbing, clambering and sliding over Franz Josef glacier. It was certainly worth the pain though. A gorgeous sunny day, almost too warm, as you’ll read about shortly.
We caught a bus from the town out closer to the glacier. The bus was almost full, and later we’d split into three groups. Our guide was a tall skinny guy called Zack. From the carpark there was a short trip of around 1km through the rainforest, until we reached the valley left by the glacier. Flooding occasionally, we would need to walk 2.5km along a massive river of rocks, all different shapes and sizes, to reach the start of the glacier itself.
This is where it started to get tough. We fitted our crampons before scaling some enormous piles of loose rubble, to reach the ice itself. Up and down steps carved into the ice we climbed, occasionally with a rope to hold onto. The sun is blinding, reflected off the ice, so I was glad I’d bought a $20 pair of sunnies.
Zack told us he’d be taking us on a new trail that had been carved into the ice just three days ago, with exciting scenery, and even a trip through a short blue cave. Unfortunately with the newness of the trail came a number of downfalls. The steps were incredibly steep – some of the shorter in the group needed a hand to get up. Oh yeah, and the guide got a bit lost. We had to do a bit of backtracking, going backwards down some more incredibly steep steps, inching backwards along a crevice only just wide enough to walk through.
Eventually we reached the high point, catching up with another of the groups from our bus. Clearly they didn’t go the same way as us – Zack had to do a fair bit of work on some of the ice steps to make them usable. After a much needed break, another opportunity to take some photos, and a drink of some glacier water, it was time to head back. We seemed to be going ok for a while, until we had some bad news.
Parts of the trail consist of deep crevices that have been packed with ice to form pathways through the ice. One such crevice had clearly been affected by the warm weather, and the ice that formed the floor had dropped away, leaving a huge 6 metre crevice. It was impassable. We had to do some more backtracking to reach the route usually taken by the people on the full day hike, and begin our long and tiring descent into the valley.
The good news is that we made it all out safely. It was such a fantastic experience, I’m really glad I took the chance and did this hike rather than just a scenic pass-by in a helicopter. There were some truly awesome things to see on the way!