When we were in Patagonia visiting glaciers on a regular basis, one thing we really wanted to do was hike on one. Believe it or not, taking part in that in Argentina and Chile was really expensive and beyond our budget for that part of the trip. We told ourselves that if it fit into our New Zealand budget, we would definitely take advantage of it.
When we drove up the west coast of the south island, we knew both Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers were looming. These glaciers are both a bit unique in that they sit between a rainforest and a beach and ocean, not exactly where one would think they’d find a glacier.
One thing Megan talked about wanting to do for a good portion of the trip was learn how to rock climb; it’s just something that has really interested her and something she wanted to learn how to do. We were planning on taking an introductory rock climbing course in Queenstown, but the weather didn’t cooperate, and we had to scratch it.
When we looked into our options for glacier trekking on both glaciers, ice climbing was one of them. The thought of not only walking on a glacier but climbing one intrigued Megan (I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive), and after she talked me into it, we decided to give it a shot.
After meeting up early and getting all our gear, we were off to the glacier. We had a short hike ahead of us to the glacier face, and then it was time to put our crampons on and get started.
After about an hour or so of hiking on the glacier, we got away from all the other tours and came into an area of crevasses and walls, where we were set to do our first few climbs. The guides went about setting up all the safety ropes as we eagerly watched and got psyched to try it out for the first time. They set up two different climbs in the same area, both about 10 meters (30 feet) straight up. It didn’t look very high at first, but when actually getting up there and getting started, it felt much higher. Also, it had been raining nonstop for the previous three days, making the ice extra hard and much more difficult to get our ice picks and crampons wedged in to support our body weight.
Even though the first few were tough for everyone in our group, it was great fun scaling the side of a glacier, and our guides were great in encouraging us, telling us that right now the conditions are making much more difficult than normal, and we would descend the glacier for our next few climbs where the ice was a bit softer.
After the first two climbs, we descended down the glacier a ways to get to an area where the ice was softer. The guides both informed us that it would take much less effort to get our ice axes and crampons into the ice but that the climbs would be more difficult, higher, and more technically challenging. We were all a bit apprehensive because while the first few were really fun, they were quite difficult and more physically challenging than any of us had anticipated.
One of the guides took off before the rest of the group to get the ropes started so we wouldn’t have to wait a long time. When we approached, we turned a corner and saw a small speck on top of a huge wall. That speck was our guide getting everything ready for our 20 meter (60 feet) climbs. Yikes.
We sat down and had some lunch to get our energy back up while the guides finished setting everything up, then it was time for our next two climbs, both about twice as high as the first ones. The softness of the ice made a huge difference in the ease of getting stabilized to hold our body weight, and I cruised through the first half of it, thinking how much easier it was. Then fatigue set in, and it seemed like hours before I reached the top. Upon finally reaching the top, though both exhausted, it was a huge sense of accomplishment, and we were rewarded with great views of the entire glacier and surrounding valley of rainforest. The fun part of absailing back down came next, which was super cool and added another activity to our ever-growing to-do list.
After climbing both, it was time to start descending back down, and our guides informed us that we were taking a detour. Though everyone was exhausted, we were so glad we took the detour as we went down tiny, narrow staircases that our guides had made as we went along, through maze like passageways and through wee crevasses of thick, bright blue ice that was simply brilliant.
All in all it was a very successful day. We completed two activities that were completely new to us, and we both may have found a new hobby in climbing. While it was very challenging, it was also really, really cool, got the adrenaline going, and was just a completely new activity. We are definitely going to keep our eyes open for rock climbing availabilities and give that a shot at some point down the road.
Have you ever gone ice climbing before? If so, where? Comment below to share your story.