Franz Joseph Glacier Climb

New Zealand, RTW: 2007-2008 — By on March 4, 2008 4:00 AM

The Franz Joseph Glacier is a 12 km (7.5 mile) long glacier located in Westland National Park on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It is unique in the fact that it descends from the Southern Alps to just 240 meters (780 feet) above sea level surounded by lushness of a temperate rainforest. Due to strong snowfall it is one of the few glaciers in New Zealand, which is still growing as of 2007, while others, mostly on the eastern side of the Southern Alps, have been shrinking heavily, a process attributed to global warming. The glacier is also located on an active fault line. This is the only fault line that can be seen from outer space.

I had never seen a Glacier before and could think of no better way to experience one than to hike on it! I decided to do the full day “Glacier Adventure” hike. There was about 50 of us on the guided tour and they broke us into groups of 10. We were all given a rain jacket, beanie, mittens, wool socks, hiking boots, and crampons. Crampons attach to the boot and has metal spikes on the bottom making walking on the ice possible.

We started the hike at 10 am and did not finish until 6. The 8 hour hike/climb was absolutely amazing and was probably the most challenging hike I have ever done. There had been several days of rain resulting in flooding on the straight path that we would normally have hiked to the bottom of the glacier where the tour begins. Instead we had to do an extra hour of hiking up and around the flooded area. We did have to cross part of a river and the water level was above my boots, resulting in wet socks early on which was less than ideal! Once we were on the ice, our guide used a steel ice cutter and he literally had to cut a path for us at times. He also chopped ice in the form of steps to help us climb easier. There were many very steep areas that we had to climb via ropes. There were times when I was surprisingly hot and other times when we walked through narrow passages surrounded by sheets of ice that I was so cold! We were able to go deep into the glacier where we saw very cool ice formations, waterfalls, and plenty of challenging and varying terrain making for an unforgettable experience!

The ice was like glass and one girl fell and sliced her leg. Another girl fell and broke her leg and had to be airlifted by helicopter! Miraculously my clumsey self made it out with no injuries except for the enormous blisters I got on the back of my foot due to boots and socks that were too big for me! My feet hurt the majority of the hike but “mind over matter” pushed me through to the end.

The Māori name for the glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere (‘The tears of Hinehukatere’), arising from a local legend: Hinehukatere loved climbing in the mountains and persuaded her lover, Tawe, to climb with her. Tawe was a less experienced climber than Hinehukatere but loved to accompany her until an avalanche swept Tawe from the peaks to his death. Hinehukatere was broken hearted and her many, many tears flowed down the mountain and froze to form the glacier.

I am completely exhausted after today’s adventure and I need a massage and a hot tub! Tomorrow I am catching a bus in the morning and going 5 hours South to Wanaka where I plan to relax all day!

To see all the pictures of my hike on the glacier CLICK HERE!

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  1. Michael says:

    That is SO awesome, girl! I can’t believe I didn’t stay longer and go with you.. but I went to the doctor yesterday who said I have strep throat, so it’s good that I’m home!

  2. KG says:

    Way to go Kelly! Looks like you had one of the few ‘clear’ blue sky days that blesses the West Coast. Mary’s secret umbrella has followed you!! Your photos are awesome.

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