Glacier Climbing – Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

The day started early and we ate a healthy and filling breakfast. Today we are attempting to climb Franz Josef, the worlds` steepest and fastest flowing guided glacier.

We went to the meeting point where we were suited up in fashionable blue Gortex jackets and heavy brown steel toed boots. A thick pair of woolly socks and our ice talonz completed the outfit but not before sticking on some blister tape. This was going to be a long day.

We jumped onto the bus and rode the 10 mins to theglacier. We received some quick instructions before splitting into smaller groups, some more advanced than others. We ended up in a smaller group with Bill (from up the hill) as our guide. Just before we headed off, I realized that I had lost my mittens already but gave up after 10 minutes of looking. Bill suggested we make it a team effort and with all of us looking it only took 2 minutes and they were found!

At first, my legs were not happy about the steep steps I was inflicting on them. After about 20 minutes, they were warmed up. I forgot all about the burn that was pulsing through my thighs and calves.

After climbing rocks and boulders, we stopped to attach our ice talonz onto our boots. This would keep us from slipping and sliding around the thick ice. They were metal and the spikes on the bottom were quite sharp. Bill reminded us that if we wanted a deeper grip, we should be more meaningful with our steps, pounding our feet into the ground.

We learned how to use our ice pix and I thought “oh this is the fun part!” We could carve out stairs as well as use the picks to anchor ourselves as we swung around corners. We could also use the pick to keep our balance as we carefully maneuvered up and down the slushy ice stairs.

We climbed for a while and I thought about winters in Canada. Back in the day when I would walk across icy snow fields on my way to school, the morning sky still dark. We stopped and ate honey sandwiches for lunch washing it down with crisp clear glacier water from meters away.

The trek really got good as the ice became more clean, the rocks and dirt becoming less and less. Now we were trudging through snow, looking up at majestic ice pillars shaped like ice cream cones. Looking down, I saw the clear blue holes filled with mirror-like water. It was so clear you could see down so far…oh so far.

Sometimes we would have to carefully balance our way over bridges made of ladders and wood. It was a little unnerving as I looked down, way down into the deep blue ice crevices. They seemed to crack into the middle of the earth. The sun came out and began melting the huge chard’s towering over us drop by drop.

We edged and shimmied through narrow ice paths, our shoulders sandwiched between the slippery wet ice walls. All of a sudden…Snap! My ice talonz broke. But resourceful Kenneth helped me reattach it before I could fall down again. Yes, I slipped and fell, not once, but twice. I have the bruises and cuts to show for it as well.

Maybe the pinnacle of the climb for me was the ice caves. In the thick cloudy blue ice there were snowflakes frozen in time. They were so delicate. I have always wanted to gaze at the intricateness of the snowflake only to have it melt away before my eyes. Now I could get a really good look.

We crawled and slid through round tunnels hollowed into the ice, emerging through smooth glass like archways. In the caves, the blue ice almost glowed. It was like a magical ice castle with passageways and windows to no end.

We reached our peak and I sighed as I took in the stunning view. On my left were gushing waterfalls tumbling down the rocky cliffs and rainforest filled with lush greenery. Back past the mountains, the ocean smiled knowingly at me. I filled my lungs with a deep breath of fresh clean glacier air and smiled at the nature before me.

The climb down was just as challenging as the ascent but by now our muscles were tired. Our feet were aching with the promise of blisters to come. I thanked Bill for being so patient as well as helping us with our photos and gathering up the fresh glacier water to drink.

By the end of our day, we just couldn`t wipe the smiles off our faces. We were spent but so filled with the experience and proud of our accomplishment. To tell you the truth, in the beginning I wasn`t all that excited about this climb. We all know how I feel about the cold but man, it was well worth it!

Now it is time to take it easy and nurse by sliced up hands and bruised up body. So Canada, I escaped your winter this year but still had a taste of the cold ice and snow, but this time, on my terms.

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