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We ROCKED Fox!
February 9th, 2010 by Kate
Franz Joseph Glacier from afar
Franz Joseph Glacier from afar
Fox Glacier from afar - the part on the left is where we hiked, but you can see it actually "flows" down the mountain from another area before heading westward - massive!

Fox Glacier from the car park - the part on middle right is where we hiked, but you can see it actually "flows" down the mountain from another area before heading westward - massive!

The west coast of New Zealand is absolutely beautiful.  Rough, wild, and very wet.   The coast quickly gives way to mountains, and then really big mountains, in a relatively small amount of space.  It is a temperate rain forest – meaning it rains a TON.  I’m talking rain 290 days a year, with 3 meters (9 feet!) of rain on the coast, and up to 9 meters (27 feet!) of snow up on the highest peaks.  The storms brew over in Australia, and then gain liquid and speed as they head towards NZ.  The mountains are so tall they form a giant wall and the storms just let loose – creating the most bizarre mix of fern filled jungle and massive ice glaciers. 

The glacier field is enormous, and during the last ice age the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers actually jutted out past the coast up to 3 km into the sea!  The paths they cut down to the sea are now mostly beautiful canyons, but drive up just a few kilometers from the beach and you reach the “terminal face” of the massive, living, moving mountains of ice.  

We saw some totally amazing glaciers in the Canadian Rockies too – but only one was really accessible to us non-mountain climbers.  You had to pay a ton of money to take a very strange mega-bus onto the glacier and then get out and walk around with, oh, about 300 other tourists in a very small area.  Not really our cup of tea, plus it was out of our budget.

Now the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers were totally a different story.  Both of the glaciers were climbable with guides, and since we totally blew our budget in New Zealand anyway, we figured what the heck (and as Tessa added, with global warming and all – when might we get the chance again…?).  So we called up one of the local outfitters, hired ourselves an experienced guide, and headed up Fox glacier!

The hike towards the terminal face of the glacier wasn’t bad at all, a nice wide and flat hike.  BTW the terminal face is the part that you see from below the glacier – like the front of the train coming down the mountain.  The terminal face is one of the most dangerous parts of the glacier as it is crashing forward and being dragged under itself all the time.  It is also one of the most impressive parts of the glacier to see, as even from a safe distance you are looking up at a piece of ice that is as tall as a 50 story building – but its solid ice!

This is about 1/5th of the terminal face of Fox Glacier.  Look in the lower left side of the photo and you can see a bit of greenery and some dark spots - those are people that area standing about 300 feet back from the face.  The dark hole on the lower right is a cave with a river running out of it, you could drive 2-3 tractor trailer truck through that cave at the same time!

This is about 1/5th of the terminal face of Fox Glacier. Look in the lower left side of the photo and you can see a bit of greenery and some dark spots - those are people that are standing about 300 feet back from the face. The dark hole on the lower right is an ice cave with a river running out of it, you could drive 2-3 tractor trailer truck through that cave at the same time!

Oh but then we had to hike UP the mountain next to the glacier so we could get up along side of the glacier away from the terminal face – and that hike just about kicked our butts!  It was quite an advanced trail, there were ladders at some points because it was so steep – and our legs were like serious jelly by the time we got to the ice. 

We hiked up and over the mountain along side of the glacier ot get to a point where we could get on the ice.  We're about 400 feet above the 500 foot glacier at this point!

We hiked up and over the mountain along side of the glacier ot get to a point where we could get on the ice. We're about 400 feet above the 500 foot glacier at this point!

We put on our “cramp ons” and then followed our guide Melisa to the glacier’s edge.  To tell you the truth – the edge of the glacier where it grinds the begebbers out of the mountain rock didn’t really look much safer to me than the terminal face.  There was a “rock” the sized of the Children’s Museum building being dragged along the top and side of the glacier.  I am sorry, but a rock that big is not a rock – it is a mountain itself!  But truthfully, the glacier was so big that it looked like a rock – which is freaky.

This is where we climbed on to the glacier - can you see the tiny black dot in the middle - that is our glacier scout!

This is where we climbed on to the glacier - can you see the tiny black dot in the far upper left corner - that is our glacier scout!

 fox ktp

Earlier in the day, ahead of the guides, the outfitter sends up some glacier scouts to access the conditions on the ice and cut some paths in the ice for us to follow so we stay on the most “solid” ice.  I put that in quotations because not a whole lot of it seemed very solid.  And where it did feel solid, it was as often as not just a few feet away from a huge crevasse or a Moulin (a hole then funnel created by the melting ice). 

This is a "moulin".  We threw chunks of ice down it and never heard them hit the bottom... see Jeff's boot for scale - they can be as small as a tin can or large enough for a car to fall in...

This is a "moulin". We threw chunks of ice down it and never heard them hit the bottom... see Jeff's boot for scale - they can be as small as a tin can or large enough for a car to fall in...

The big pieces of ice behind Tessa were about 30 feet high and really looked like GIANT waves about to crash.  The dark areas in between the waves led to the abyss...

The big pieces of ice behind Tessa were about 30 feet high and really looked like GIANT waves about to crash. The dark areas in between the waves led to the abyss...

You could hear huge crashing sounds coming from deep below the ice, and our guide said that you can see the difference in the ice (and the cracks and moulins) on an hourly basis sometimes.  It was amazing and awesome and scary and totally cool all at the same time.  The terrain was SO foreign and massive – I really felt like I was on an alien planet.  The compacted ice creates formations in shades of white to turquoise blue, something I was surprised to see.  It was by far one of the most different things I have ever done, and like being in the ocean, it really humbles you to the power of Mother Nature.

Thank goodness Tess had on her trusty legwarmers - they were the perfect ice trekking accessory!

Thank goodness Tess had on her trusty legwarmers - they were the perfect ice trekking accessory!

 

fox fam on glac

fox family big glac


4 Responses  
Auntie Krissy writes:
February 12th, 2010 at 6:43 pm

I’m thinking… I could NEVER take Jack on that hike, moulins and all!

I love how you are picking up the local lingo… “car park”, instead of parking lot, does sound so much more civilized, eh?

Nana Wells writes:
February 16th, 2010 at 10:53 am

Oh family, your bringing back memories of our Alaska travels and the awesome glacers we vieved from our “Cruise West” boat.
All your smiles, says the skiing was terrific.

Cricket Bourget writes:
February 19th, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Well thank you!, I don’t believe I would have enjoyed learning so much about glaciers from a Discovery Channel documentary! The striation patterns are so beautiful; it looks like fine marble. What a lovely experience. I enjoyed the read!

Marion writes:
February 21st, 2010 at 2:10 am

Awwww….how much do I love that you posted something on my birthday???!!! Of course I know you didn’t do it intentionally but still…makes me think you’re thinking about me. Hey…it’s been a while since I’ve looked at your blog since I’ve been in Gala planning HELL! But now it’s over and I can enjoy your travels again. Yay me! :)

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