"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home."
Wendell Berry

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Franz Joseph Glacier

For the trip down to the glaciers, I joined up with Greg from Connecticut and Jason from California. I'd met Greg while we were both drenched in Abel Tasman, and Jason was coming from weeks of surfing in Raglan when we chatted him up on the bus.

We had hoped to join a group to hike up on the Franz Joseph Glacier, but alas, more rain. Instead, we decided to take a self-guided walk as close as we could get to it, which was around 1500 feet away because of the flooding and probability of river surges.

The walk to the glacier--around 5k--was pretty amazing itself. We crossed this dire-looking river of gray, surging water, with huge chunks of the glacier floating on by us. We each stuck a hand in to test it. Cold enough to kill you within a few minutes. We walked through a rainforest along the highway. Crazy.

And then...there it was. Even in the rain, even so far away, even having receded a crazy amount in the last 100 years, the thing left all of us speechless. Well, okay, we all said, "woahhhhhh." Truly magestic and huge and a shattering testiment to how miniscule we humans really are. Franz Joseph glacier is currently receding, and that's in response to the amount of snowfall it received five years ago--which is pretty impressive, considering it takes most glaciers at least 15 years to respond. We hung around for almost an hour just staring at it.

The rain had been big and sloppy, but not unpleasant, just long enough for us to get a good look at the glacier, and seeing we were satisfied, Mother Nature decided to really let loose shortly afterward. It was much colder by the glacier--no tropical downfall like I'd seen in Abel Tasman--and pretty soon the wind really picked up, too. This was probably the most severe weather I've ever been out in. We were completely doubled over against a wicked* headwind, the icy rain needling into our faces. Again, nothing was waterproof.

Miserable, Greg and I ended up hitching** back with a lovely Spanish couple who took pity on us. Jason was more adventurous and kept exploring the trails in the rain. On the way back, we pumped ourselves up with talk of hot showers, a dip in the hot springs, and chucking our wet clothes in the dryer. HA! Instead we got back to the hostel to find the power out, and commiserated with wine and other damp backpackers.

Unfortunately, I couldn't stay another day, and I left Greg and Jason to their own adventures, as I was headed to Wanaka for Christmas. I do wish I could've gotten up on the ice and trudged through those mystical blue caverns, but the view from afar had it's own sort of appeal, and was worth it anyway.

*Wicked? Clearly I've been hanging around the Brits and the Kiwis for too long.
**Don't worry! Hitching, weirdly, is actually really safe and incredibly common in New Zealand. It's usually tourists who pick other tourists up, but Kiwis often oblige, too. Don't think I'd ever do it alone, but with a guy it was easy.
***That last image was of the glacier from the bus as I was leaving.

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