After a quiet night playing Killa pool in the Monsoon bar ("It rains, we pour") we were as prepped as we could be for a day on the Franz Josef glacier. An early wake up had us at the glacier centre by 8, armed with peanut butter sandwiches for our lunch. It was lucky that we were early for once since Josh & I managed to be the only ones to forget the green cards we'd been given to confirm our booking the day before. Idiots.
After a quick safety video and collection of our kit - jackets, boots, hats, socks & crampons all provided - we set off in a bus to get that little bit nearer to the base of the glacier. It started a little overcast but by the time we had gotten off the bus and had a short wander along a leafy trail to the base of the glacier moraine, the sky was cloudless and painted blue. We were then divided up into groups, and having been warned that the first group might not have as much time to take in the scenery as they would be moving at a faster pace we used this as an appropriate excuse to hide the fact that we just weren't feeling that fit and chose the second group. In the end, this mattered very little, since we never moved at much of a pace and neither did the first group in front of us! On our way to the foot of the ice the guide pointed out a huge waterfall on our right, seeking to give any keen bungy jumpers a fright: the huge waterfall on show was 140m tall and the famed Nevis Bungy which would be waiting for us in Queenstown would be 134m. Gulp.
It took another 40 minutes to get to the stage where crampons were necessary to help stabilise us on the ice. Cue a 10 minute session as everyone fiddled about to get this new bit of kit on. Since I had already done some glacier walking before, I smugly put mine on pretty quickly and was then put in my place as the instructor pointed out that my ties were twisted. Nice one, Dan. The crucial issue of ice axe or axeless reared its head and I couldn't resist the chance to take one - despite the instructor's warning that most people just found it got in the way - something I stubbornly conceded a couple of hours later!
It didn't take long for anyone to find their feet on the glacier - due in part, because crampons are designed to make it all easy but it also lent a lot to the fact that our guide, and all the others before and after us, chipped away at the ice with pickaxes to make man-made steps for us to use! It definitely reduced the risk of injury or falling into crevasses (something we all wanted to avoid) but it was a little strange to remove the need for any technique when walking, which can be half the fun when getting used to wearing crampons and using them efficiently. No complaints though for the views and the fact that it meant we could calmly meander our way up and capture kodak moments at will. It all just meant that we could just keep chatting away with everyone without feeling under any pressure to rush up the glacier.
Pretty early on, a loony Frenchman passed us in hiking boots, sliding about on the ice with little control but making decent progress nonetheless. Our guide quickly intervened to let the guy know he was pretty unsafe right then and that he would continue to struggle without crampons. To his credit, he nonchalantly turned back, slipping and sliding his way out of view, but in all honesty I liked his style - avoiding the hefty cost of the guided tour and throwing caution to the wind. Admittedly, I would have chosen a better place to embrace my free spirit than on a glacier that stretches 11km and is the fastest receding glacier in the world. Each to their own...
All day the scenery never ceased to amaze and our walk took us through slim passages in covered-over crevasses and through natural tunnels in the ice. It really was spectacular. After lunch, we soon hit the highest point we'd get to and in no time we were making our way back down. Our 8 hour journey was over much quicker than we expected and once back, we were a a little drained (more from the early wake up call than the day's hike) and very ready for a dip in the hostel's spa pool.
Josh & I then grabbed dinner at Speight's Landing House just down the road, before a failed attempt to find the $7 jugs of beer rumoured to be at a bar 10 minutes away. As always we resorted to drinks in the room, and the cheap & cheerful tasman beers went down well with our new favourite drinking game: Questions. ..
The deal is, you get asked a question and have to ask a new question to someone else in the room. If you hesitate before sending another question on, you have to drink and answer the question.
It works on two levels: getting you in a hyper, giggly mood; and encouraging you to drink to avoid embarassment. Needless to say, it was both very revealing and a hilarious end to our day.
Next stop: Wanaka, which meant some skiing in Treble Cone and our last night out with the girls on our current bus. We were massively up for it!
Over & out
Dan / Burge