Sunday, February 22, 2009

Glacier Hike - Franz Joseph, New Zealand

28th-30th Jan

Before I arrived in Franz Joseph I phoned ahead and booked what looked to be the best hostel going by BBH ratings. Booking was a long drawn out process as the Kiwi girl on the other end of the phone didn’t seem to understand a word I said. It doesn’t seem to matter if I say my name is Ray, Raymond or bleeding Rasputin nobody seems to understand me the first time. For this booking I had to resort to police mnemonics.

Kiwi: I am sorry could you repeat that name please.
Me: Its Ray that’s R for Romeo, A for Andy, Y for Why don’t you bloody understand me I am speaking English!

I arrived at my Back packers in Franz Joseph at about 6pm. An English girl was on reception and when she heard my voice she said – ah yes you must be the Irish guy who phoned earlier. The Kiwi girl said there would be an Irish guy arriving who she couldn’t understand. Just as well the English girl could.

Once I had booked in I had to decide what to do tomorrow. I knew I was going to the Glacier but I did not know how or for how long. I started asking round via phone texts to people I knew had already been here. The 3 options were:

1. Don’t do a guided hike but simply walk to the base of the glacier and take photos. I immediately dismissed this option. I did not come all the way to New Zealand to not walk on a glacier.
2. Option 2 was a half day walk which took you onto the ice for about 2 hours
3. Option 3 was a full day hike which had you on the glacier for at least 5 hours.

The problem with option 3 is that it was described in the brochure as adventurous and for fit people. I was neither!

I still had not decided by the time I went to bed after a ‘couple’ of pints at the local bar.

Early the next morning I went round to the guide place and booked myself onto the full day hike – what the hell you only live once!

DM was going to come with me but we decided to leave Taz behind as it may prove to be too risky:

DM explaining to Taz about the risks

Poor Taz – don’t worry we left one window slightly open and some water for him to drink – I am not cruel!

At 9am I went back to get kitted out along with over 40 other people who would be doing the hike with me. A looked around at the other people trying to gauge how fit they were from age, weight and height. I saw enough old, fat or tiny people to ensure that I had nothing to worry about.

Each person was given an overcoat, leggings, hat, gloves, boots and most important of all ice crimps for putting on the boot soles. Then it was onto the bus and the 10 minute drive to the start of the hike. To get to the bottom of the glacier meant that we had to walk at least 2km from where the car park was – over some rough terrain as well.

Before we started walking up through the valley to the actual glacier we were put in groups of 11 – 4 groups in total. Rather than have the guides decide who went were we were asked to assess ourselves in terms of how fit we are. The ones who thought they were the fittest would be in team A. They would be ascending the glacier the quickest. The next 2 groups would be for people who thought they were quite fit and the last group would be for the people who wanted to take it nice and slow. They would still get there – just not as quick as the others. Guess where I went – Group D!

After we had sorted our group out our guide Kevin asked us to introduce ourselves to the rest of the group. I knew I had chosen the right group when the first guy introduced himself

‘Hi I’m Steve, from Ireland and my biggest drinking injury was….!’

And so it went round the rest. Each saying there name, where they were from and what there biggest drinking injury was. I thought I had them stumped when It came to my turn:

‘I’m Ray from Ireland and my biggest drinking injury was breaking my Elbow’ I looked smugly around me thinking ‘Beat that’. The next guy beside me said well Mine wasn’t a drinking injury but I did have a motorcycle accident and lost my foot which was sewn back on. Okay he beat me!

It turned out that most of my group were from a Kiwi Experience bus. As well as Steve there was 3 cork girls (all nurses), and 5 English Guys – one Doug was well into his 50’s. It was going to be an interesting hike

We started our walk to the glacier which went through forested areas as well as rivers and rocks. By the time we got to the actual glacier we were all quite poopped. At the bottom of the glacier we were shown how to put on are crimps then it was up onwards and upwards onto the ice.

Are we nearly there yet?

Upwards onto the glacier

DM helps with the icepick carrying

It soon became apparent thet some people were fitter than others on our group. One of the English guys – a big guy called Steve was not enjoying himself at all. I thought it was great and not half as bad as imagined.

We went through Ice caves:

And crevices:

and up steep ice stairs:

Getting further and further to where we would stop and have lunch (which we had to have prepared ourselves) One of the Cork girls Midge had already munched through about 2 chocolate bars by this stage.

It was soon after Lunch that Steve gave up – he just was not enjoying himself so Kevin was able to put him in a group that was already descending the glacier.

The crew minus Big Steve

The rest of us went on up the ice sheets getting into ever steeper crevices.

Everything was going great until our Guide Kevin decided to try to get past us all by scaling a vertical ice wall:

2 Seconds after this photo was taken he slipped and fell to the bottom dislocating his shoulder!

In all credit to him he carried on with the rest of the trip even though he was in agony. One of the Cork girls offered to give him some pain killers which he refused more out of Pride then common sense.

The journey back down the Glacier was more dangerous than on the way up. Partly this was due to being tired but also because Kevin had decided to go at a breakneck speed so he could get down in time. I nearly went over on my ankle a couple of times. Eventually we all got off the glacier and started the long march back to the bus which seemed to take an eternity (why is does it always seem twice as far when you go back down a path!).

Finally we were in the bus and heading back to the hostel. It was exhausting but I think that was because of the time not the distance or the effort – I am really glad I did the full day.

That night we all met up again in the Kiwi Experience peoples hostel to partake in some beverages. Kevin even turned up to say that the Nurse had looked at his shoulder and he should be back at work again next week!

The next morning I had planned to go and do a half day Kayak at Okirito Lagoon which is supposed to be a very famous wetland area in New Zealand. Sadly it started raining so I decided it would not be a good idea to be out on a lagoon so I started on my way to Wanaka via sight seeing stops like Fox Glacier and the blue pools on the way.

Facebook pics

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