A beautiful Sunday Walk...on a glacier!
12.05.2013 - 13.05.2013 13 °C
We were up early to have breakfast and get to the trekking centre for our days walk on the glacier: we were really excited!
The shop was well organised with tours going out at regular intervals. It was soon our turn but not before I had chance to peruse the gift shop and spot the cabbage palm seeds I had been looking for since I had seen them in a gift shop in Ta Pui (and stupidly not bought them).
We were called into kit room, given boots and socks, crampons, hats, mitts and rain jackets there were even bags available for those who didn't have their own. Once ready we put the crampons, jacket, hat and gloves in our bags and climbed aboard the bus. It was only a short journey out of town to the glacier area but we actually crossed over tectonic plates in the process: the fault line runs across the valley, this in turn means the mountain ranges surrounding the glacier are growing at the rate of a humans figure nail...which apparently is very fast! The outcome of the plate movement and mountain growth, along with the slow fluctuations in the size of the glacier which supports these mountains is that the mountains are very prone to rock fall.
We made our way from the carpark up into the surrounding rain forest scrub: the valley has over 11 meters of rainfall each year, with 50cm of rainfall bei g recorded in one day alone. Thankfully today was not one of those days: the sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in sight!
You can't climb up the front of the glacier because that is its most dangerous area: prone to collapse at any moment, blocks the size of double decker buses fall off the front on a daily basis. Instead we approached the glacier from the more stable left hand side. Climbing down to the glaciers height we put on our crampons and extra layers and made our way up onto the ice; via the stairs which had been re-dug that morning by the digging crew which start their day at 7:30am cutting steps into the glacier for the days tours: sections are too steep not to and the half day trips take a set route presumably to save time. The steps either corrode away after a couple of days or move as the glacier moves: the corrosion is normal: the top layers get warmer and the glacier gets thinner as it travels down the valley, the movement is the fastest in the world: the glacier moves up to 2 meters a day. It takes snow only 60 years to go from the top to the bottom of the glacier which is pretty quick in glacier terms (apparently)
We climbed the stairs, surrounded by walls of sheer ice, at first glances the glacier was dirtier than we expected it to be: covered in dust and rock fall debris even in the centre (the rocks fall on the glacier higher up and then travel down on top of it) the dust apparently gets washed off when it rains. although its been cold, the weather has been dry of late so the glacier is a little dirtier than normal when you look at it as a whole. A closer inspection, however, reveals a glistening bright white colour and in gaps and crevasses a colour gradient from the bright white to a beautiful blue and then darker shades to black. It was amazing, I kept having to remind myself that we were actually walking on a glacier; we have done so many amazing things on this trip that you start to think its quite normal! I find myself regularly reiterating to myself how unique an experience is, just to make sure I don't take it for granted.
We trekked about the ice looking at water fall like features, watching a couple of small (thankfully) rock falls, admiring the view: standing in awe at our surroundings. We stopped for lunch: pitched upon a rock, unfortunately when the crampons had been in martins bag they had pushed down on the lid of his tin of tuna causing it to leak in the bag, at the same time one of the pears had also been crushed causing a nasty smelly mess in the bottom of the bag: nice! We sat on a rock, eating tuna and cheese crackers and admiring the view. After this brief stop we were back on the move, the glacier is so cold, especially the accompanying wind that whips through the valley with it, that you quickly get cold despite the sunshine. We admired some more features, including clambering through an ice tunnel before it was time to exit the glacier using the stairs we had come up at the beginning. As soon as we were off the ice we removed our crampons and immediately felt the change in temperature: it was amazing how much cold must have been coming from the glacier.
Walking along the path back to the carpark we chatted to the guide; an outdoor educations student from Invercargill, she clearly loved her job and the outdoor life.
Back in town I bought myself some cabbage palm seeds for the garden: they are really hardy and grow pretty much anywhere here so I hope to plant one at the end of the driveway. The cabbage palm is instead of an Australian style postbox that I would love to bring back if it wasn't for the fact it would cost a fortune to post!
Back in the van we made the short trip to Franz Josef the more comical cousin of fox glacier, we pitched up for the night in the campsite, made tea, which tonight included a purple cauliflower mash which was interesting, we did the laundry and then went to the local pub we had spotted on the way in. I thoroughly enjoyed a cider whilst Martin had a beer and we shared an amazing sticky date pudding whilst we wrote blog updates: a lovely end to another wonderful day.