Hiking the Franz Josef Glacier

With crampons on we were ready to explore Glacier Franz Josef from within. The Māori name for the glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere (‘The tears of Hinehukatere’), legend says: “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.” Luckily for us, there was no avalanche that day.

The glacier is located at a national park where everyone is free to go explore on their own, but we opted for a full day guided tour. Our guide, Niki, told us that some people go by themselves, but there are constantly changes on the glacier that make it unsafe unless you know what you’re doing. It felt safe for me at all times and we were very lucky with the good weather which apparently doesn’t happen to often.

The day was perfect! Sunny with a just enough wind to cold us down while we were going up the ice stairs. The water running along the glacier creates little and big holes in the ice. Some of these “caves” are deep and you need special equipment and a light to go further inside.

Even though I got a little wet and it was freezing, the most exciting part of the hike for me was squeezing and sliding through tight blue ice caves and climbing down near vertical walls of ice.

We learned that glaciers are constantly changing shape and moving. The lower layers of the ice flow and deform under the pressure, allowing the glacier as a whole to move slowly. The upper layers of glaciers are more fragile and form deep cracks known as crevasses. This cracks can be very little or huge.

The sounds of the glacier really made the experience even more amazing. There were frequent creaking and groaning sounds coming from within and every once in a while we heard a loud boom. These were coming from large pieces of ice falling off of the glacier into the water.

With our group

Until next time, cheers!

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