I spent the spring semester of 2010 studying in New Zealand through the ISEP program. I used this blog to keep an account of my school experience and as a record of the adventures I found. Hopefully it can serve two purposes: to have kept my friends and family informed of my travels and experiences; as well as to serve as a reminder of how important the study abroad experience is, whether it's in New Zealand or not.

22 May 2010

Easter Break - Friday 9/4/10 - Franz Joseph

We're up early the next morning and I put on my ice playing clothes while my dad makes me breakfast. We get to the Franz Joseph Glacier Guides office at 7AM, but it turns out only the helicopter tours are open until 7:30AM, so we wait around for a while. I'm figuring I've missed out on my chance since we didn't book in advance and I still can't make up my mind if I want to go or not. It's not that cheap, but as my dad keeps pointing out, when will I get another chance to walk around on a glacier? The woman tells us they put together a few extra tours since the night before because they had so many people asking for them. So I manage to get myself on an 8:30AM tour with almost no trouble. We go back to the hostel to wait until it's time for me to leave. I rethink all I have packed for the day and have no idea if I'll need any or all of it. But I end up taking it all anyway. At 8:15 we head back to the Glacier Guides office for me to check in. They start our half hour introduction/preparation before we leave for the glacier and my dad leaves just before they tell us we all have to take raincoats for the day, which sucks because I have a wind jacket in my bag and now I really don't want to carry it, but oh well. So we go through and get all the equipment they tell us we'll need, but I skip out on the over-pants. I thank myself for buying some nice new hiking boots that are waterproof so I don't have to put on their old, dirty, smelly, uncomfortable looking ones. Finally everyone has everything together and they put us out on a big red bus with our guides and we're off to meet the glacier. I'm not sure what to expect, given that I've only ever seen a glacier on TV. We have about a half hour walk in along a forest track until we reach the glacial river. Even then we have to walk a little ways before we see the glacier itself. It's actually quite an impressive sight. Here we are, sweating in the sunlight along a riverbed and there's this giant thing of ice and snow coming down from way up in the mountains. As we're walking they stop us now and again to adjust our layers and tell us a little about this incredible piece of nature. The glacier was given its first European name by the German explorer, Julius von Haast (who loved to name things after himself, such as the Haast pass and the town of Haast), however, perhaps because he was looking to score some brownie points, named the glacier after emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. Before this, the glacier had to the Māori name Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere ('The tears of Hinehukatere'), arising from a local legend: Hinehukatere loved climbing in the mountains and persuaded her lover, Wawe, to climb with her. Wawe was a less experienced climber than Hinehukatere but loved to accompany her until an avalanche swept Wawe 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. Franz Joseph and Fox glacier are unique in the world (there are almost no others like them) in that they are extremely close to the ocean and are, depending on who you ask, in temperate or sub-tropical rain-forest. The glaciers have been retreating since 2008, which really just means the front is melting faster than the top can replace it. In fact, the glacier is melting on the surface at about 10cm/day. However, the catchpoint up in the mountains gets about 45meters (147.6ft) of snow/year. That is quite an incredible amount, no matter who you are. This amount of snow fall means that both the Fox and Franz glaciers are still moving quite quickly (for a glacier that is), about 10 times more quickly than most valley glaciers. We have to climb over a giant rock pile on top of ice that spewed out during the last major break in the glacier. Apparently it happened a few years before and they were doing tours at time. They found out far enough in advance that it was going to happen and they were able to get everyone helicoptered off the glacier before a big piece broke out of the middle and the a bunch of rock and water came spewing out. As I look down and across the glacier, I can see tons of little guides working away on different stairways and tracks. All I can think is: Oompa-loompas. We finally make it to the ice and attach our crampons (something I'm quite proficient at thanks to my OPRA training, and the guide is impressed). Our guide is a nice young woman, pretty fresh from college, who used to do this as a summer job, but now does it year round. I spend most of my time talking to a girl about my age from Devon England and a man a bit older than us from South America (Brazil?), who's been here for some time now, but is just getting ready to head home for the first time in four years (he's been traveling quite a bit to a lot of places I can't remember). Our guide brings us through a little hole in the ice, over a stream, which one girl promptly falls in. It turns out she's incredibly afraid of heights and who knows what all else, so a lot of time is spent getting her to move along with the rest of us. We break for lunch and our guide goes off to find one of the other guides. Once we think she's left us here for good, she appears and tells us about how the boy guides were making her cut stairs for them. It's time to turn back and head home. But we get one more adventure before the end. Down a steep staircase, along a flat plane, and toward a crevasse that includes a tunnel. We wait a while for several guides to create a staircase down for us. Those that don't want to go through the tunnel walk along the edge of the crevasse and wait at the other end. Our guide carries our bags for us if we want to go through, it's a slithering tunnel it's so narrow. We all pass through and work our way back to the giant rock pile that marked our way onto the glacier. Here we take off our crampons and start on our walk back to the bus. I've been so warm the whole time it's hard to believe I was on a glacier. And with all the melt that happens during the day, the staircases that were made on our way in are already almost gone. They have to make new ones every day, which explains why their arms are all so big. We take one last look back at the glacier just before we head back along the forest track to the bus. As we walk through the trees I see a cute little Fantail flitting around on the branches and point it out to the girl I'm walking with and the thing dive bombs my face, turning just before it hits me. Once back at the guide office we turn in our equipment and head our separate ways. I wait for forty-five minutes outside the office before deciding my dad has forgotten our plan to meet and heading back to the hostel. Just before I leave though, the man from New York we met in Able Tasman shows up. He had been on the bus since 7:30 that morning from Able Tasman and he got here at 5:30. A ridiculously long time for that trip to have taken. He's looking to get a guided tour and I give him all the advice I can before heading back to the hostel. My dad and I eat dinner, get settled in our new room. I read while he tests out the newly fixed hot tub and we both settle in for an early night. He spent the day taking an endless hike up the mountain alongside the glacier, only to get to the viewpoints when the clouds had decided to settle in, so he never got a very good view of the whole thing. But at least he managed to keep himself busy while I was flitting my way around the ice kingdom.

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