The drive to FJ Glacier was pretty darn cool – every turn had new and interesting scenery, and –as everywhere in this country– so widely varied within the space of just 10 minutes’ drive.
I arrived at Franz Josef Glacier township about midday from Hokitika (what with all the stopping for picture taking), got my instructions from the i-Site people (who also helped to book me a walk ON the next day’s glacier, the Fox Glacier) and I headed out. There are a number of hiking trails around Franz Josef glacier, and I was determined to do a couple of them, and not just get out of the car, take a few snaps, and then drive on. First, I did the hike to as close as you can get to the face, through a high-walled valley filled with sediment and rocks from the glacier’s progress. You still have to stay pretty far away for safety’s sake, though, so I had to use the zoom lens to see very much.
Then I walked up a short, extremely steep slope for a bit of an overview.
Nice, but there was the lure of a longer hike – 5 plus hours, there and back, that promised to get you up OVER the glacier. I decided to give it a go. There was a warning sign at the beginning – experienced trampers in boots only, well-equipped, yada yada…. I had been told by the i-Site lady this trail was liable to be wet, so I’d cleverly outfitted myself in my Keens water sandals, packed all sorts of layers and a raincoat, food, and a couple of bottles of water, and off I went.
WELL. The next time they say ‘experienced only’, I will listen. This was not so much a hike as a full-body, all-limbs needed CLIMB.
For three (since I am out of shape and sedentary!) hours. ONE way. There were points when the trail was just…. vertical. At one part, I was completely confounded as to which way to go, as the only two options presented were nearly sheer boulder faces at least forty feet high. The trail was almost all rock, much of it under forest, meaning it was mossy, which especially when combined with wet feet from stream crossings, became as slippery as banana peels. I would only make it back before sunset if I kept brisk progress, I knew, but I also had to go VERRRRRRY carefully, because even a small slip could easily mean a broken ankle, leg, teeth, or noggin. And even though the trail was well-traversed (all sorts of people came perkily bounding out as I was going in – middle aged women, families with sullen teenage girls, a horde of Italian boys – I did not relish the idea of getting chillily stranded for the evening before DOC people came to haul my clumsy butt back to civilization. SO! I was very cautious.
But even so, it was an unbelievably hard job getting up the hill, and at numerous points I had animated internal arguments about whether I should turn back or not. Sheer orneriness (coupled with careful consideration that I was likely to be able to return safely) compelled me onward. Small as I am, I often had to really struggle to reach handholds or steps that seemed designed for giant Kiwis. At certain points I tossed dignity to the wind and sat on my ass, scuttling down rock faces like a particularly gimpy spider.
And at long last, puffing and sweating, I made it! The view was amazing – the glacier SO much closer than any of the other trails – and I was joined by a pair of curious kea – Alpine mountain parrots, famed for their friendly, inquisitive natures, propensity for mischief, and extremely sharp beaks which they often use for dismantling shiny bits of tourists’ cars. I rewarded myself with a mightily mushed ham sandwich, some restorative chocolate, and then – reluctantly, but as fast as I could go in the waning sunlight – retraced my weary steps.
I got safely back, was not EVEN the last car in the carpark (though it was close, and I had fretted the Kiwis would send out a search party before I could get back to reclaim the campervan) and headed off to Fox Glacier and my (rather grubby) hostel room to work.
It would be a solid week before I could walk, step up, step down, stand up, sit down, lean, or bend without grunting with the pain of strained muscles. That’ll learn me to stick to the moderate hikes and those intended for the elderly. 😉