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Entries about glacier

Franz Josef

all seasons in one day 60 °F

Dawn and I woke up early and drove back into town. We checked in at the Franz Josef Guides lobby. Along with the other hikers, we were fitted with water-proof pants, a water-proof jacket, water-proof boots, gloves, hat, and crampons. We climbed into the bus and headed to the foot of the glacier.

Dressed for an assault on Siberia, we first had to walk several miles to the base of the glacier through a temperate rainforest. After about an hour we reached the foot of the glacier and were instructed on how to put our crampons on over our boots. The glacier was beautiful. It wasn't covered in gravel like the glacier we had seen 6 days ago, but a brilliant white and blue. The wind coming down the glacier was freezing cold. A slight rain fell, but it was hardly noticed. I couldn't wait to get started.

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The guides asked for everyone to divide into groups of 10 based on skill level. The higher skill level groups were going to grind out the path for the rest of the groups. Rain makes the glacier glassy smooth, and we had a lot of rain the night before. As people move over the tracks, their crampons chew up the ice and make it easier for the following people to make it through the glacier. I had originally planned on being in the 2nd or 3rd group (out of 5), but few people volunteered to go in the first group. Dawn and I decided to give it a shot. As we started up the mountain, I ended up being the first hiker leading the rest of the group behind the guide.

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The first thing I noticed about the glacier is that it was really cold to the touch. This may seem obvious since it is a block of ice, but walking across it you begin to view it as white rock. When used correctly, the crampons do a good job of gripping the ice. We began climbing up the glacier using the steps the guides were cutting with their axes. We climbed over the first series of ridges and began weaving through the crevasses in the ice.

Glaciers are formed by giant snow fields way up the mountain. Snow falls year round and is then compacted into ice. This compacted ice gets forced down the mountain as more and more snow falls. As the glacier moves down the mountain, the ice melts in the warmer air, rain, and sunlight. The water seeps down through the glacier forming holes, eventually draining into the river at the base of the glacier. The melting causes some areas to be weaker than others, and as the glacier moves, the surface shifts and slides to form huge cracks called crevasses. This is what we walked through.

The crevasses could rise 20 feet on either side of us. It was a little unnerving to walk between two walls of ice. The crevasses were never flat, so you had to constantly walk at an angle, careful to always get a good footing so you didn't slide down the glacier. Because the crevasses are the lowest points on the glacier, the guides like to keep the hikers moving through them (you can't really fall because you are already as far down as you can get). The fear is ice falling from above you, so you have to keep a look out for lose blocks overhead. We kept climbing and climbing and climbing.

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I realized why it was so important to have waterproof clothing. You were constantly squeezing between the blocks of ice. The surface of the glacier was wet as the exposed ice melted. My gloves instantly were soaked as I used my hands to keep my balance. When you did slip, you couldn't really catch yourself. The ice was very slippery, and if you could grab a block of ice, you had to be careful because they can be razor sharp. The wool did keep my hands dry and warm though.

After a couple hours of making our way through the glacier, we came to an ice cave. Shifting in the ice had formed a hollow in the glacier that could be climbed through. The ice was a deep blue in the cave. We were told that all the ice not exposed to the sun looks like this. As the ice is compacted and pushed down the mountain, all the air is squeezed out. With no air the ice acts like a crystal reflecting only the blue portion of visible light. The ice on the surface is porous and prevents light from passing through giving a white color. The cave was beautiful.

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We continued climbing for a little while longer and stopped for some lunch. I thought we would start making our way back down the glacier since we were supposed to spend 5-6 hours on the ice, and we had been climbing for 3 hours at this point. But after lunch, we kept climbing up. In fact we kept climbing up steadily for another hour.

We reached the high lines, the tallest point we would climb. When we reached this point, the guides realized a new crevasse had formed from the rain last night. They bounced around excitedly about a new ice feature. I guess after going up the glacier every day, new ice features add some excitement to the job. Our guide climbed to the top of the crevasse and began knocking ice into the gap. The newly formed crevasse looked like a very narrow "V". It was very deep, I couldn't even see the bottom of it. The theory was that you could knock larger chunks of ice into the gap and walk along the blocks to make your way through the crevasse. It was the same strategy we had been following all day, but the ice had been packed in over the past couple weeks. The guides worked furiously for about 20 minutes to knock ice into the gap. Dawn was first in line and the guide called for her to start making her way across the crevasse. I didn't really think it was wise for Dawn to boldly walk along a new path that the guides hadn't even walked through, but Dawn went on anyways. It was a tight fit for her, very tight in fact, so I knew I was going to have a tough time. I began making my way, shoving myself into the crack in the ice. I decided to follow the guide's advice to consider this "a rebirth" and force myself through the slippery, tight gap. Right at the tightest part the ice gave way beneath me. The ice only shifted down about 6 inches, but my body only slid down an inch, leaving me suspended between two very cold pieces of ice. I was stuck.

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I couldn't move forward because my feet couldn't reach anything. I couldn't pull myself up because I was between two slippery pieces of ice. Trying not to panic, I posed for pictures for the rest of the group waiting to make their pass through the crevasse. Dawn was calling frantically to the guide for help. Our fearless guide had a solution. He cut a piece of ice from the wall of the crevasse and pushed it down towards my foot. I was able to reach it and pull myself out of the gap. The above picture is actually just after I got unstuck and reached the wider portion of the crevasse (can't you see the relief on my face?). Once through the crevasse, I climbed up onto the ledge to thaw out. My hands were frozen from trying to push myself out of the gap. I tried blowing on them and sticking them in my armpits, but the heat hurt tremendously. I gingerly rubbed them on my shirt.

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As we waited for the rest of the group to pass through the crevasse, we took in the views of the glacier. The view was beautiful. Here is a view further up the glacier:

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Here is the view back down the glacier:

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My hands had warmed up by the time the rest of the group made it through the crevasse, so I was ready for the hike back down the glacier. The hike back was significantly easier as we walked along the top of the glacier back to the bottom (instead of winding through the crevasses).

On the way down the guide told me that since we found the new crevasse, we got to name it. Since I had become the most intimate with the new crevasse, he wanted my input. Claiming to be finished with that crevasse forever, the guide decided to name it in my honor: The Cold Sausage.

We reached the bottom of the glacier, but did pose for one last picture.

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We hiked back to the bus and turned our gear back in at the office. As tired as I was, Dawn and I still had to make it to Arthur's Pass that night. We had 240 km (150 miles) to drive. We grabbed some dinner and some powerade to rehydrate and hit the road. Tomorrow would be our last day in New Zealand.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 07:20 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains hiking glacier Comments (0)

Hooker Valley Hike & Driving to Dunedin

semi-overcast 65 °F

Before going to sleep, Dawn had expressed her interest in heading out on a pre-dawn hike to watch the sun rise over the mountains. It sounded like a good idea, but it didn't work out quite as planned. I woke up and got ready for the hike. However, Dawn found out she was able to get a spectacular view from the window in the room. She didn't feel the need to hike to watch the sun rise when she could view it while staying under the warm covers. She snapped some pictures, without even leaving the bed, and then passed back out. Since I was already up, I decided to sign-on to my computer and get some work done until she woke up.

We ate a quick breakfast and got on the trail before 8am. The base of the trails were located at a camp site further up the road, but there was also a trail from the village to the base. Looking to get a little more distance in and take time to enjoy our surroundings, we opted to hike from town. During the night, clouds had replaced the clear skies. One mountain in particular had very ominous looking clouds (which is why I posed like an orc coming down from Mount Doom—a Lord of the Rings reference), but overall the clouds provided a pleasant shade from the sun. After about 30 minutes, we reached the base of the Hooker Valley Glacier Hike.

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Our hike would lead us up the mountains, past the Mueller Glacier, over two swinging bridges, and finally arriving at the base of the Hooker Glacier. A good portion of the trail was along the old glacier bed, which meant we were walking over the rocks left in the glacier's wake. This can take its toll on your feet, but the views made up for any discomfort I felt in my feet. We shortly came upon the Mueller Glacier and walked up to a lookout to take a better look. In the valley of the mountains in the distance, we could see what appeared to be a giant pile of gravel with a lake and river flowing from it.

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The glacier was actually under the rocks and extended beyond our view up into the mountains. The large amounts of melting ice from the glacier formed the overflow in the lake, which then drained down to the larger lakes we saw yesterday through the river. The water was moving very fast, and created a roaring sound as it crossed under the swinging bridge and over the rocks. I couldn't suppress the thought of falling into the icy cold water and breaking every bone in my body as the force of the water slammed me into the rocks. Thankfully the bridge held as I walked across (although I swear I heard some of the ropes start to snap).

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The trail extended on, and we briskly climbed over the rocks making our way up the mountain. When we had stopped to look at the Mueller Glacier, two Germans had surpassed us on the trail. I was thrust back into the times of WWII, and I had the sudden desire to beat the Germans to the end of the trail. Dawn must have felt the same way, because without speaking a word, we both increased our pace to get back ahead of "ze Germans." Don't ask me how I knew there were German or even why I felt the need to beat them up the mountain, it was just something that had to be done. We stayed around one another for the rest of the hike up the mountain, but took the advantage when the German woman had to stop for a potty break in the tall grass. We smiled as we passed them, and the German guy smiled back, but I could see the competitive glint in his eye as he realized that we would reach the glacier before him.

After 2.5 hours of hiking, we reached the base of the Hooker Valley Lake. Chunks of ice could be seen in the lake, and little pieces floated by as they were washed down the river. It wasn't immediately apparent that we were on the edge of a glacier. Once again, it looked like a pile of rocks. The Hooker Glacier did have a distinct ege to it where the ice was visible. It doesn't look very tall, but the ice wall can be hundreds of feet tall (again the distance plays an optical illusion making the mountains and glacier look smaller than it is). Dawn snapped some pictures, we both ate some granola, and rested our legs before the hike back down.

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Everywhere you looked, all you could see were mounds and mounds of rocks. Little rocks, big rocks, round rocks, every type of rock imaginable. Most importantly, there were an infinite number of flat rocks. When you see a flat rock next to a lake, what immediately comes to mind? You must see how many times you can skip the rock across the water. It seemed that every person that came to the end of the trail threw a rock into the water. I don't know if it some ancient human instinct to do this, or if it is because there is nothing else to really do at the foot of the lake. A couple of kids next to us were throwing some of the larger rocks trying to break the larger chunks of ice floating by. An older gentleman standing behind us started complaining to his partner about how the kids had no respect for the lake. The rocks were millions of years old and the ice had been there longer than they had been alive. I started to agree with the guy, but then I saw the billions of rocks everywhere and changed my opinion. Isn't every rock millions of years old? For every rock that these kids threw into the lake, there was another million. The ice would melt within the next few hours as it went down the river. The kids weren't doing any real damage, I think the guy was just upset that the kids seemed to be enjoying the lake more than him (and hearing the constant ka-splush as the rocks were hurled into the water interrupted the moment of taking in the beauty of nature).

We made our way back down the trail, through the base camp, and along the trail back to the village. We ate a quick lunch. We still had 400 km (250 miles) to tackle before arriving at the Albatross Center in Dunedin, and we were getting a later than expected start.

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Leaving Mt Cook (A), we planned to travel south and eastward to get back to the east coast. We were going to stop in Oamaru (B) to see the Moeraki Boulders and continue onto Dunedin (C). Dawn had scheduled a tour of the albatross nesting grounds (the only human inhabited nesting grounds in the world) on the Otago Peninsula (D).

The trip down from Mt Cook offered some spectacular views. It was going to be several hours before we stopped again, so Dawn made sure I had the route down (follow the only major road going through the middle of the country until it reached the coast) and then settled in for a nap. We would come back to this region at the end of our trip to see the Franz Josef glacier, which is on the other side of the mountain range. The west coast is only 30 km away, but it would be a 5 hour road trip to get there. There are no roads that go over the mountains, the mountains are too steep and the roads too expensive to build. The stretches of untouched natural beauty is just astounding. Here are some of the views coming down from Mt. Cook.

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We were getting close to Oamaru when I had to come a stop. Dawn popped up (probably to chastise me for stopping before it was scheduled), and then she saw the reason I had to stop. The road was being used the herd cows to a new pasture.

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Again, the biggest highway in the country was being used to herd cows. This should give you an appreciation of how unpopulated this country is and how little people travel the long distances between the towns.

We eventually came to Oamaru and began looking for the roads to take us to the Moeraki Boulders. We got our first view of the east coastline, and of course the first thing you notice is that there are no houses, no beach front vacation homes, and not a single person on the beaches. It was as if the entire coastline was a national reserve that prevented humans from messing with it.

The Moeraki Boulders were not exactly something I was excited to see, but it was something to break up the long road trip down to Dunedin. We were in a time crunch, but Dawn claimed it would be worth it to take a stroll down the beach to see some rocks. The Moeraki Boulders are significant because they are spherical balls littering the short beach and shallow surf. The boulders are formed by minerals building up around a central core. Eventually these balls were covered by mudstone, and then eventually uncovered by the waves. Some of the boulders can be seen sticking out of the cliff line above the beach, several more of the boulders being carried out to see by the waves. Some of the rocks had burst open showing their calcite centers. We did end up taking several pictures, check out the photo gallery for all the shots.

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After hitting the road again, we finally came to Dunedin. The first town of any real size we had seen since leaving Christchurch. If I remember correctly, Dunedin was one of the first inhabited areas by both the Maori and Europeans when they settled New Zealand. The city wraps around a large bay created by the Otago Peninsula. We were headed out to the tip of the peninsula to see the only albatross nesting ground that humans can access in the world.

Usually albatross create their nesting grounds way out in the windy seas. They don't have any natural land predators and spend most of their lives out on the water (they only return to land every 2 years to lay eggs). Albatross use the swirling winds around Antartica to circle the bottom of the globe feeding on squid. They spend a lot of time off the rich feeding grounds south of Argentina. They mate for life, but only see their mates every 2 years when they meet to lay an egg. The first albatross originally came to Dunedin theoretically because of competition for good nesting sites and nesting material. I think we saw 7 total birds at the nesting grounds (I thought we'd see a whole lot more).

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When I think of an albatross, I immediately think of the Disney Rescuers movies. The lead characters rode around on an albatross that had trouble taking off and landing. After seeing these birds in action, I see that it wasn't just the bird in the movie, all albatross have trouble taking off and landing. This is because their wings are built for gliding, not flapping. They have a wing span of 11 feet (it's hard to think of a bird not larger than a goose having a wing span of 11 feet). They usually nest on windy places because they need the wind to take off. They don't land gracefully, rather slam to the ground in a crash landing. They are very majestic fliers though, rarely flapping their wings. We were lucky enough to see two of the birds flying around.

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It had been a long day. Before heading back into Dunedin, we watched the sun set over the bay. I was ready to curl up in bed and get ready for another long day of driving. Tomorrow we would take on the Southern Scenic Highway.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 20:31 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains animals hiking beach glacier Comments (1)

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