Franz Joseph Glacier: wind-blown but spectacular

Franz Joseph Glacier

from 27 October

The wind nearly knocked me over as I struggled to walk across the rocks and toward the looming glacier ahead of us. Eventually the rocks piled into high hills, and the path wound steeply this way and that, leaving us to zig-zag our way up one side and down the other.

As I pushed forward against the wind whipping around the mountain and back into the valley, I was all too conscious of the sharp drop at my side. One strong gust of wind, one wrong step… but I tried not to think about it.

After a 45 minute trek, I crossed over the rocky hills and reached the glacier’s bottom. There I strapped a pair of crampons to my hiking boots, which dug sharply into the ice for traction.

It’s been over a year since I’ve seen snow or ice, so I felt a strange contentment tramping through the crevices. Still, the sights were spectacular, and like nothing I had ever seen before.

The guides used ice axes to chip into the side of the formations, creating stairs to scramble up and over, deeper into the glacier. Ropes were screwed into the ice to steady ourselves during particularly steep ascents and descents, but most of the time we were left to climb freely across the ice and newly cut paths. With the sunshine warm at my back, it was easy to see why the water flowed freely in places, and why the ice beneath my feet quickly turned to slush.

Franz Joseph glacier is one of only three in the world that comes down to such a low altitude above the sea, and it is also one of the fastest moving glaciers. Even being on the glacier for just a few hours, it was immediately apparent to me just how alive the ice was, with rocks intermittently falling into the valley and water constantly rushing past.

The glacier is retreating due to warm temperatures, and geologists anticipate with current weather trends, 90 to 100 years from now the glacier may no longer exist. It’s humbling to think such a large mass of ice, spanning over 11 km, may disappear if not in my lifetime, than in the next generation’s.

The guides turned the group around at the half-way point of the normal trek due to extreme winds, and so we began our reluctant trek back to the car park, where we debated how to spend the remainder of our day. I was disappointed, especially upon hearing how amazing the last few hours would have been, where we could have had the opportunity to walk inside the glacier, in hollowed out caves, rather than simply on top of it and between crevices. Still, I tried not to let what I didn’t see mar my appreciation for what I did, and all in all, it was a great day.

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