Thursday, January 12, 2012

12 January 2012: Franz Josef glacier

Remember that three week period without rain that Franz Josef had been experiencing?  Well, we awoke to rain, rain, and more rain.  The rain was variable in its pace: a light drizzle enroute to the Franz Josef glacier, steady and blowing at a 45 degree angle during our hike on the glacier, then heavy during our trip to Queenstown later in the day.  Ah, Mother Nature is certainly an interesting character!

Our morning began early today.  Angela Broyles (International studies) Skyped with the Balmville 3rd graders this morning at 7am (1pm EST) and answered questions about the types of animals we’ve seen (especially kiwi!) and the type of climate New Zealand experiences. The Balmville students were excited to speak with Angela and she did a fantastic job handling the ‘tough’ questions!

Franz Josef glacier, one of two glaciers in the region (the other is Fox glacier) that is readily accessible, is a rapidly-moving glacier found just 15min outside of town.  The glacier is formed from the compaction of the 50m (150 ft!) of snow that falls annually atop the mountains outside of town and which slides down the Waiho River valley at a staggering 1m/day!  Only permitted guides and persons are allowed to climb on the glacier, so we joined the Franz Josef Glacier Guides for a half-day trip up the glacier.  Before tackling the glacier, we obtained gear to keep us dry and safe during our climb: waterproof pants and jacket, gloves, hats, heavy climbing boots, and crampons (metal spikes that clamp to the bottom of boots and are used to jam into the ice of the glacier).  Although some of us were dubious of the rain gear, it became apparent immediately that it would not be a waste: rain fell for 2 hours of our 2.5 hr adventure!

The trek to the glacier began with a 2.3km walk up the Waiho River valley to a large mass of rocks and boulders found below the terminal face of the glacier.  One hundred years ago, the glacier was located within 500m of the beginning of our trek; however, elevated temperatures have hastened the retreat of the glacier (despite the huge amount of snow contributing to it).  After reaching the mini-mountain of stones, we were instructed on how to attach our crampons, and then we were off to climb on the glacier!

The glacier is largely composed of ice, but in many places, the ice contains rocks, boulders, and other debris that can make the ice look ‘dirty’.  Our guide, Chris Abel (a.k.a., ‘Avatar’ due to his height and apparent possession of tail), chopped steps into the glacier using an ice ax and told us tidbits of information on the glacier.  After passing through an incredible ice cave with cool-blue colors streaked through streams of white and clear ice, we learned the curved portions of the cave were formed as the result of wind eddies eroding away the ice.  Chris also told us about how significant rainfalls (e.g., the glacier received 1.5m of rain in 1 day!) contribute to the accumulation of rock debris on the glacier, and also told us how paths over and through the glacier need daily maintenance or re-routing due to the glacier melting or shifting during its progression down the river valley.  The students had a fantastic time, although some were scared to fall into the occasional crevasse that we came across, and lots of great pictures were taken of the glacier!  One of my highlights from the trek was the arrival of a Kea (Nestor notabilis), one of the two alpine species of parrots that inhabits New Zealand.  Kea are known to wreak havoc on rubber stripping found on cars and for picking through unattended bags, boxes, etc., discovered in their alpine homes.  The kea that visited the glacier today seemed to be interested in the ice axes being used by another group, but it allowed me to get a few pictures of it nevertheless!

Ready to climb Franz Josef glacier!

The giant mountain of rocks and boulders that had to be climbed to reach the glacier. Look closely and you'll see a string of people on the mountain.  That's one large hill!

Time to put on the crampons!

Crampons? Check! Ok, NOW we're ready to climb the glacier!

Dr. Moran in a super-neat ice cave! Check out the curved features of the cave.

Taking off the crampons and taking a break. Joe Santangelo (Business) poses with our group mascot, the Balmville School bee!

My star of the show: a Kea!

1 comment:

  1. Great blog on the Glacier! Very glad you enjoyed the trip!
    The team at Franz Josef Glacier Guides