My depressing hostel room was a rather disappointing ‘splurge’ on an actual bed for the night. A few unrelated semi-interesting facets about this ‘backpackers’ that I stayed in, as they call hostels here:

  • Upon receiving my key at check in and popping outside to move the van to a dubiously skinny parking space the owner had directed me to next to the recycling tubs, I promptly dropped the room key down into a stormwater drain when fishing the van key from my pocket. I was obliged to beg a hanger from the owner so I could lay down on my belly on the roadway in the diminishing sunlight to retrieve it (which I was luckily able to, as it had only fallen a few feet down).
  • My room, and indeed, the entire hallway, had been chokingly fumigated with some sort of low rent Febreze, making it somewhat hard to breathe (and prompting me to keep the window open even when biting insects came out) and featured a mattress with grimy spots that looked suspiciously like possible bedbug nesting sites. I tried very hard not to touch anything and kept my belongings hung up wherever possible.
  • It did offer a hot tub which had actually been a highly enticing factor when I made the booking, but it was in a rather inauspicious little area on a deck with a bedraggled tarp strung over it.  Already outside shivering in my bikini, I investigated: upon tugging the cover slightly to the side I saw that the cover liner had become totally waterlogged with at least a dozen or so gallons of hot tub water and was now soaking IN the tub like half a large vinyl teabag…. Nevertheless, it was steamy and reeked reassuringly of chlorine –that’ll kill anything, right?– so I shoved it out of the way enough to squeeze myself in for a small soak.  It was actually quite soothing and almost indulgent, so long as I kept my gaze directed away from the trash cans, threadbare tarp, and sodden decrepit cover.
  • A very funny and personable English ski instructor (the English are, after all, world famous for their ski resorts, ahem) who was the country killing time while awaiting approval of his American visa to assume his teaching position in Tahoe struck up a little chat with me in the kitchen, marking the first actual conversation of the entire trip that I’d had with a fellow traveler. Lewis has since become a source of invaluable travel tips that manage to reach me precisely two days after I’ve gone through the area in question.  Hi Lewis! 🙂

The next day, despite the vehement protests of my complaining muscles and creaking joints, I’d signed up to do a guided trek ON an actual glacier – a different one this time, the Fox Glacier, a smaller and less touristed one. The assembled group was outfitted with loaner wool socks; heavy, well-oiled leather hiking boots; and a set of crampons, which we were strictly admonished to immediately place away in our bags to avoid sticking either ourselves or each other. (Coats and packs were also offered to the under-prepared).

We were loaded into the bus, schlepped off to the glacier, and led through the rocky, gravelly valley to its frosty tip, where we were instructed in proper crampon application (very tight across the instep, all straps tucked in) and glacier walking safety (stomp down hard to jam the crampon pokers in to get a nice solid bite; pant legs tucked into socks to prevent tripping hazards; stay a bit back to avoid the flying ice chips emanating from our intrepid guides, who continued to whack away with pickaxes to redefine the ice steps as we slowly and cautiously ascended).

Fox Glacier

trekking along. this reminded me how little I like being herded along in a tour group - it chafes at me to have to tromp along slowly behind others, moving at someone else's pace.

getting my crampon groove going - dead sexy!

bundled up in most of the clothes I brought into the country, ready to make the ascent

It was, I think, exactly what you’d imagine – quite cold; slippery; amazingly sculptural; colorful in unexpected places (such astonishing blues!); a little vertigo-inducing as we went higher and higher on the narrow stairways that the company guides take turns re-carving each day.  And dirty!  The glacier picks up a lot of crap as it ebbs and flows, so it had considerable grit and debris and sharp pointy rocks embedded in it.

the day's designated step cutters - members of the trekking company assigned for the day to go cut fresh steps in the ice for the tourists

one of our intrepid guides

getting pretty high up, by now, actually - that's the Part II of our tour group, led up a different way, but on TOP of the glacier also.

this was as high up as we went. I know there's virtually no scale on this, but trust me: it was pretty far up.

the world famous mountaineer! (my sherpa took this photo)

going down? WAY more scary. you could see just how far and steeply you could fall - not to mention how much sharp stuff you'd scrape against along the way. I was stomping HEAVILY on those crampons and making much use of my stick.

It was a really interesting experience to walk on top of this endangered ice leviathan. Part of me worried that we were harming the glacier – surely all these groups, all this ice hacking, over time could help accelerate the diminishment of it? It was also amazing to imagine that the glacier had, a before the turn of the prior century, filled the valley, and they used to bring horse-drawn wagons up to the glacier’s top – presumably with exposed nails in the hooves and wheels for extra traction?