Walking on Thick Ice

23rd April, Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Manda writes:

A trip to the glaciers was the plan for today. It's amazing to think that the ice is actually moving - not so rapid that the eye can see but significant enough to transport a plane down to the bottom. Apparently, in 1943, a plane crashed into Franz Josef glacier and six and a half years later it had travelled 3.5 km down to the bottom - making the average speed, 1.5m a day.

Ian and I joined an organised tour where our chirpy guide, Kate, took us on to the Franz Josef glacier. Whilst we could get a good view from the valley, we thought that the best way to see more of the detail would be to actually walk on it. We took the only option available to us - the half day tour which lasted four hours. We had initially wanted to go for the whole day excursion but the group had already left. The other option, a helicopter ride, would have also been good but this was out of our price range.

Once we had been kitted up with gloves, socks, hiking boots, spikes and raincoat, it was time to head on. A bus took us to the start of our trek where we crossed rainforest and a stone-filled valley. An hour later, we arrived at the terminal face (base of the glacier). The group was then split into two - fast paced or moderate speed. We opted for the fast one as we are both fit (at least we thought we were!) and there was a better chance that we'd get to see more interesting formations if we got further up the glacier.

Heading up further into the glacier.

Walking on ice was a strange feeling initially as I wasn't sure how well the spikes would work. After a while, I realised that these things really did grip the ice well and moved on rapidly to keep up with the rest of the group. Although the uphill stretches were hard work in places, I found them relatively easier than the downhill ones. On the way down, gravity takes over and every step you take has to be a quick, confident yet careful one. This can get tricky!

Every now and then, Kate would use her axe to carve a step out where the slope was too smooth and steep. I managed to get a good photo of Ian with Kate's axe in the background. It looks like he is being attacked by it (I've developed a nack for taking jokey photos of Ian!).

It's behind you!

We were on the ice for about two hours and in that time we saw lovely ice formations and walked through spectacular blue caves and crevasses. The scenery was amazing and as usual, we took lots of photos.

A cravasse

Manda standing in a cravasse.

We heard on Kate's radio that two people had dropped out from the other group. They were having problems negotiating the slippery slopes. It can be disconcerting when your foot slips every now and then and this was probably too much for them. It just goes to show that walking on thick ice can be just as difficult as walking on thin ice!