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Fox Glacier (mint anyone?)

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Arriving amid more sheets of driving rain and clad in jeans and rain jackets, we huddled in our prospective tour operator's cafe and debated the appeal of trekking for several hours on a large block of ice in the pouring rain and chilly wind with shit visibility and another long drive ahead. Ultimately we decided we shoudl really man up and that we would probably regret it if we didn't go. How often do you get to walk on a glacier after all?

An excellent, excellent decision.

Luke, our guide, a caricature of the youthful ourdoorsy kiwi: flowing golden locks; matching golden tan; calves the size of tree trunks; leather walkabout hat sealed to his head; and boundless enthusiasm, kitted us out with leather boots and waterproof trousers and raved about the glacier when viewed in these conditions; the normally glaring sunlight which turns the ice a blinding white is absent, allowing the beautiful seams of denser ice to glow blue. the run-off, instead of being a small stream, was covering a massive area of the valley floor, adn the air resounded with the thunderour groans of huge blocks of ice being rolled along in its flow. An already enormous cave, never there under normal conditions, was growing on the face of the glacier, and an excitable Luke practically pranced with the anticipation of seeing massive sheets of ice fall from the cave ceiling to the river floor. meanwhile we trekked up hundreds of steps carved from the valley side through the rainforest adn scrambled over treacherous rocky crossings throgh torrents of water until we eventually emerged at the edge of the glacier and strapped on our crampons to begin the ascent. An immediate drop on the ambient temperature saw the whole group scrambling to remove waterproof layers and don warm ones without letting too much rain in, while we all practiced our stamping technique - essential if you didn't want to join once member of our party, on your arse at the bottom of a crevasse feeling pretty bloody silly. As we climbed up ot the top of the ice flow I couldn't help feeling rahter intrepid - a sensation massively hightened by the inclement weather which made everything slightly uncomfortable and challenging, and probably improved the experience. The gritty view through sheeting rain to ice, rocks and river as made more peculiar by its backdrop of luscious temperate forest, and without exception we were thrilled to be up there. By the time we started the trek back we were drenched, andwalking in captive puddles - the knackered leather boots doing a good impression of a one-way valve, but everyone was far too elated to care. Throwing caution to the wind we waded knee deep through the streams, and when one was deemed too dangerous to cross we diverted downhill and reverted to childhood as we scrambled down muddy banks, muscled through trees and bushes, and squelched along ankle deep bogs. Just as we emerged at the valley floor, muddy, soaked and very pleased wiht ourselves, an ENORMOUS chunk of ice peeled off the cave roof and crashed dramatically to the floor, splashing water metres into the air and sending Luke into raptures of delight.

Back in town we dried off, warmed up and wolfed down a much needed pub meal and decided to put more miles behind us on our journey south.

permalink written by  Alex Kent on December 12, 2007 from Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand
from the travel blog: On the Varieties of Nature
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