I had been to glacier before, in Canada, and climbed the hard, round-shaped ice. It was cold and slippery. But here at Franz Josef Glacier, everything is different. This Glacier is about 12 kilometer long and on both sides of the mountain ranges are lush vegetation and waterfalls. Mary and I joined a guided group. Despite seeing pictures of people standing on ice in their shorts and t-shirts, we arrived in layers of fleece and windbreaker.
Our group was large, about 50 people. We were divided into two and later, as we reached the foot of the glacier, further divided into four, each with a guide. I urged Mary to join the first group, so we could go faster and reached the highest designated point first. Mary smiled and complied—she’d rather go with a slower group and take more pictures.
Our guide Julie was young, energetic and beautiful. She was born in Switzerland, she told us, and had been in New Zealand for 6 years. She walked in the front, telling us facts about the Franz Josef and constantly using a pick ax with a long handle to open the trail for us. She said their team would be up in the morning every day to fix the trails.
“How fast do you think the Glacier move in a day?” she asked us.
“Two inches,” one said. “Five meters a year,” another raised his voice.
Julie smiled and shook her head. “It moves four meters a day!” she announced and showed us how they had changed the trail up the Glacier from left to right as the season changes. “Franz Josef and Fox Glacier are two of the three glaciers in the world that have vegetation by their sides,” she said with pride. Fox Glacier is just around the corner and is 20 kilometers long.
We climbed the steep ice stairs, hanging on to a rope and went down a narrow “corridor” that had been only opened for tourists for two days. Mary and I edged through the narrow path, taking pictures of each other touching the ice.
Julie took off her long-sleeve sweatshirt and walked on the ice as if it were plain, flat ground. We moved our heavy gears carefully and hang on the rope that Julie constantly re-enforced. We took a break on the top level of our climbing and took in the spectacular views above, below and on both sides of us.
The walk down was as challenging, if not more, as the climb up, but just as enjoyable. The image of the shining glacier and lush plants side by side seemed surreal, even as we witnessed them with our own eyes. What an eye-opening experience and fun.
More to follow.