As many of my friends will attest to, and as previously blogged, I have a bit of an adventurous streak. It is this part of me that is accountable for that ‘taking a chance’ on extreme experiences especially sports. If the experience is unique or involves a bit of danger, I just cant help myself. This has included Great White Shark Cage Diving, free diving, snowsports, bungee jumping, surfing, night kayaking, sandboarding, but the one I want to tell you about this week is Glacier hiking.
Yes that’s right, Glacier hiking! You can, as a non trained tourist, experience the wonders of a prehistoric ice giant. This is an unmissable experience available in a handful of countries around the world. My first experience was in 2006 in New Zealand but I have since returned in 2010 and tried once more in Iceland in 2014, but were failed by the weather. These experiences are either in the far northern or far southern hemisphere countries, such as Canada, Alaska, Iceland, Greenland, Scandinavia, Russia, Argentina and of course New Zealand.
The well-known glacier experience I will describe today was that of the Franz Josef Glacier in the south Island of New Zealand. Immediately hearing that it was possible to take a helicopter flight to the top of the glacier and then attempt a guided 8 hour tour of the inner workings of the Ice giant, I couldn’t say no to either.
The helicopter experience was the more expensive but worth the investment, as we were lucky enough to hit good weather and land on the snow-covered cap of the glacier. Exiting the helicopter was like jumping into water, we sunk straight into the un-trodden layers of snow, in some locations almost up-to waist height. Crunching through these huge layers of snow was a fun experience, it felt as if we were treading in uncharted territory.
The only thing I felt was lacking from the helicopter experience was actually getting up close and personal with the ice. I mean there was snow galore, but when you hear the word ‘glacier’, my immediate thoughts are of crystal clear or sparkling blue ice. It soon became apparent that in my mind that was what I really wanted to experience.
We were given a full safety briefing, including some prior horror stories of ice cracking, caverns forming, loss of belongings and even loss of life – it is that serious. A lot of the warnings revolve around the Glacier shifting, as they do either recede or grow daily. You suddenly realise that this is pretty dangerous and a true extreme experience.
Standing at the entrance to this ginormous ice structure you can’t help but marvel at its magnificence. The mere thought that it has existed over millennium, in some form or another, with such immense power that it literally shapes and defines the landscape. We donned our crampons (spikes), and headed onto the ice, Ice picks in hand!. The first hour is ice hiking at its finest, as the glacier rises though the valley, just getting up the first few levels takes time. The lower level Ice here is nothing special; it simply looks dirty and in some instances could be mistaken for rock. This was to be expected as the glacier is picking up all of the rock when it moves.
All of a sudden, the glacier around you starts to change, this was when we reached the lower centre of the ice giant. The centre is the furthest point away from landscape surrounds of rock and gravel and is fully at the mercy of the natural elements of sun, rain and wind. This Ice was what I wanted to see, but far more incredible than what I expected; its crystal clear exterior hides away a striking deep blue tinge, it’s unbelievable to look up close and personal. The real sense of uniqueness comes from the fact that you are surrounded by this type of ice, its below you, to your right, to your left and even if you’re lucky enough above you too.
Now that’s the highlight of this trip, if you are lucky, the glacier will show off its sculptures to you, anything from ice caves, to tunnels to arches and columns. I have been lucky enough to slide down a tunnel and then navigate a small cave to reach the next level of the hike. We have also traversed a sink hole, which had running water fall over 50ft down into the glaciers heart. Wow, just think of losing your footing falling down there, you’re literally gone! The glacier can move at any point and that gap into which you fell, no longer exists. The other as[ect that baffles me is that the sculptures we see today may not exist tomorrow – it’s an ever changing paradise.
The tunnels and caves fulfill the adventurous side but when you see a natural sculpture such as an archway or a collection of turrets it is mesmerising. It’s just incredible that hidden, deep away in this ancient marvel, such stunning formations reside. We were lucky enough to witness a moment of sun reflect off a crystal archway in the distance, which made the sculpture look nothing short of biblical. We also witnessed a minor shift in the ice which was followed by a loud cracking noise, a sound that is indescribable in the fear it installs – it resonates with even today.
I have also been unlucky enough to be hit by a rainstorm whilst in the centre of the glacier. In this scenario it’s not the rain that posed the greatest threat, although water on ice can never be a good thing, it was the cloud and mist that descends rapidly upon you. Not being able to see, more than a metre in front of you while traversing on ice is probably the most dangerous experiences ever. The mist did alter the experience somewhat, adding a haunting effect onto the hike itself, dramatising ever sculpture, and view.
One of my favorite wandering memory images is that of a glacier staircase. This was not a natural occurrence, but carved out of the ice by technicians every day to help in the climb. The image is intensified by the dark clouds overhead and the fact that we were the last group off the glacier that day. It’s simply haunting, and something that looks like a scene from a Hollywood film, not reality.
As our world is getting hotter, Glaciers are receding daily, and with this recession comes the dangerous part – essentially melting. Not that these magnificent creations will be gone on in our life time, or even our children’s life time, but one day they will be gone (that is unless we change things). Therefore the opportunity to experience them in all of their glory is becoming more and more dangerous and will become even rarer in years to come.
This continues to be one of the most exhilarating and awe-inspiring wandering memories in the collection.
The Real Extreme Sports collection now contains…