Today we went hiking on the Franz Josef glacier. Due to the dangers of hiking on the glacier (among others, rockfalls, avalanches, and hidden crevices) it must be done with an experienced guide. We did a half-day tour with Franz Josef Glacier Guides, a very good company that provides very knowledgeable guides and all the equipment necessary.
We started off hiking through the valley leading up to the glacier. Apparently it’s been retreating at a very quick pace the past decade. The glacier is very much alive, and can move up to 70cm per day. When we finally reached the terminal end, we crossed over ropes with very scary warning signs and began our hike up a tall field of loose rock which actually contained the glacier underneath. Once we reached the ice, we got a quick lesson in how to attach and use our crampons, and took to the ice.
There were patches of very deep blue ice, but according to Nikki not enough. This was partially due to it being the dry season, and partially because earlier in the year there was a big rockfall that covered the ice in dust and debris. Our guides had to cut steps into the ice in some places. We also walked through a crevice that was so narrow we had to keep one foot in front of the other and shuffle forward.
The guide was very knowledgeable and showed us numerous features of the constantly moving ice, such as waves that are caused by the wind and sun, and pockets of air that form right under our feet from the immense pressure of the ice flowing down from above. We also stood on a valley that will soon break and expose the river flowing underneath. It’s interesting to think of how powerful the glaciers that covered North America must have been, if even this (relatively) small glacier is so powerful.
Our tour also included a free pass to a glacial hot pool (just a large hot tub) so we took advantage of that and relaxed for a while. Then we got drinks at a bar with an incredible view of the Southern Alps. All in all, a fun and interesting day on our first glacier.