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Trip Report - Part 3 – 3 weeks NZ/1 week Sydney/Blue Mtns. – Dec-04-Jan05

Trip Report - Part 3 – 3 weeks NZ/1 week Sydney/Blue Mtns. – Dec-04-Jan05

Old Jan 25th, 2005, 01:49 AM
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Hi, Sharon,
Kodi says hi, and to say she is having a wonderful time in NZ. I printed off Part 5 of your report this morning before meeting her at 9:00 am.
It has been great meeting up with someone from the Fodors website. Sorry we couldn't meet - next time!
Dot
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Old Jan 27th, 2005, 07:25 AM
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Trip Report - Part 7

So what kind of crazy nuts climb glaciers in torrential downpours and strong winds? Tourists like us, I guess, who only have one chance to do it. So throwing caution and good sense literally to the wind (at least in my husband’s opinion), the rest of us decided to go climb a glacier in the middle of a 24 hour period that saw more than 1.5 metres of rain come down. And what a climb it was!!
The guides warned us that because of the weather, the front of the glacier was very very steep. Honestly, having never seen a real glacier up close and personal before, I had no perspective to compare “steep” to, so I just took their word for it. I think my general impression of glaciers was these gently rolling, snow covered masses of ice, sliding down (and sometimes back up) between mountain peaks. Franz Joseph is actually an advancing glacier at this point in time, but has gone through various periods of advance and retreat. Obviously, it moves quite slowly, but they measure its movements and say it can move more than a meter in a day – which is faster than I would have imagined; I thought the movement would be pretty much imperceptible.
We were not the only nuts who decided to go ahead with the climb. The bus to drive us to the beginning of the hike into the glacier was actually full! But let me backtrack for a minute:
Getting ready to climb involves getting all your equipment together. They tell you to dress in layers on top and you can wear shorts or lightweight pants on the bottom, but no jeans because if they get wet, they get much too heavy. So on top, we each wore a t-shirt, sweater and sweatshirt (which were all the layers we had since it was supposed to be summer in NZ) and on the bottom shorts or pants. Then they gave each one of us waterproof Gortex pants and jacket with built-in hat and hood, one or two pairs of wool socks, hiking boots, crampons (those sharp metal things you put on the bottom of your shoes to climb on the ice) and gloves. The guides also each had ice axes. You put on everything except the crampons which you put in a pack around your waist since you don’t need them til you get to the glacier.
Then we took the a short bus ride – maybe 5 or 10 minutes – to the parking lot for the start of the hike. We started hiking on some paths through the woods – still in the pouring rain. It wasn’t particularly cold, just pouring and windy. One of the guides said that if it had been cold, we would have had penguins in our shorts (which I thought was a funny expression). After about 20 minutes or so (don’t quote me on the timing, everything was kind of a blur), we came through the woods to a clearing and could see the glacier in front of us. It was huge and looked right in front of us, but they told us it was actually 3 kilometres away.
The guides tell us to divide into 3 groups based on ability. This was clearly not very scientific since all they did was ask who wants to be in each of the 3 (fast, medium, slow) groups and then randomly split us up when the groups weren’t even. But it really didn’t matter much anyway…
So now we start the hike to the bottom of the glacier. As we hiked, we passed some interesting signs. The first one said “Danger” and had a picture of a stick figure falling into a stream. We climbed over some barrier ropes there and kept going. It was mostly across wet pebbly ground and there was one real stream we had to cross where the guides helped us across. It was probably about shin depth but deepening rapidly as the rain kept coming. It was probably about 10am by this time. We passed someone from DOC (Dept of Conservation) coming back towards us. After a while as we approached the glacier, we came to another sign. This one said “Extreme Danger” and had a stick figure either being buried by an avalanche or falling ice – I’m not exactly sure which, but whatever was falling on the poor stick figure looked pretty nasty. Then we climbed over some more barrier ropes. We reach the bottom of the glacier and it was pretty much straight up vertically – and it was blue!! Yep, a real rich medium blue color! They said it was because of the way the light was refracted that made snow and ice look white. But this was truly an incredible sight!!
Ok, so now here we are at the bottom of this monstrous piece of ice and the guides teach us to put on our crampons. All around us, the rain is pouring, the wind howling and waterfalls are pouring over the mountains and down the ice. The guides said that on a clear day, probably only one of the waterfalls would actually be visible; I think this must be what they mean about what happens in Milford on a rainy day as opposed to a clear one.
The guides take their axes and start chopping out steps for us to climb up. At certain points along the way, they’ve put ropes into the ice for us to hold onto as we climb – which most of us do for dear life! The crampons work great and I make sure to really jam my feet straight down into the ice – which is really hard with water pouring down over it – to get the best traction I can get. The climb up is careful and slow; there are some spots where we climb over crevasses – which is a bit scary. (I think the tall people - I’m only 5”2” - definitely have it easier going across these crevasses with their long legs.) The guides help us at the tougher crossings. All the while, the guides are up there chopping ice to make steps. Almost as fast as they chop them, they’re washed away by the torrents of rain streaming down the glacier (which means that all the steps have to be re-axed for the trip down since they’re pretty much gone by then).
After quite a while of climbing pretty much straight up (had absolutely no conception of time), we stopped for a short rest. We hadn’t made the top of the glacier where supposedly it levels off and there’s a nice snow covering), but there was no way that we were going to have enough time to do it – our trip was only a half day climb and it was already clear that it was going to take more than that). There were people who were on a full-day trip (not with our group) who did continue up; there were also some who were supposed to fly onto the glacier by helicopter and then climb, but all flights were canceled because of the weather.
Anyway, the climb down was very slow; I think it was actually harder going down than going up because, with the steepness, you’re trying to keep your center of gravity back so you don’t fall down the face of the glacier! We had to stop at a number of points while the guides cut out more steps. When we finally reached the bottom, we took off our crampons and started on the hike back to the woods and bus. Well, several hours had passed since we’d hiked in and there were now a number of rushing rivers that we had to cross to get back. The one that was shin-deep one at the beginning was probably up to my hips by now and the others which hadn’t even existed before were swollen and raging. At several crossings, the guides linked together and helped us across. The water was moving so hard and fast that I could feel my feet being pulled out from under me – that was a really frightening sensation, a feeling of no control at all.
We eventually made it back to the woods and then the bus. Rather than feel exhausted though, I think there was a general sense of exhilaration. They took us back to the hiking centre for some hot chocolate. It was there that we discovered, as we started taking off our waterproof jackets, pants, etc. that we had been totally and completely soaked through all our layers right to our skin. And we hadn’t even realized it!!! Amazing!
David was waiting there to pick us up and confessed he’d called from the B&B to make sure no climbers had fallen off the glaciers while we were gone. We drove the ¼ mile back to the B&B where Bernie (our host) had us take all our soaking wet clothes off in the hall and threw everything into the wash. We took hot showers and collapsed around the fire.
One thing I’m sorry about is that we didn’t take our cameras up with us because we figured they’d be destroyed because of the weather. It never even occurred to us to bring one of those disposable waterproof cameras – which would also have been great on the jetboats. So – unfortunately – we don’t have any photos to document our adventure!
As you’re traveling around NZ, almost everywhere touristy you go, you’ll find people with digital cameras jumping out to take your photos – the gondolas, the agrodome, even waitomo. Then of course, they display them and try to sell them to you for outrageous prices! But here – where we really would have loved a photo on the glacier – they didn’t take any. Oh well. So we bought some really cool postcards of Franz (I figured since I climbed him, we were on a first name basis now) and will do one of those “we were here” “x”es.
We did have a great dinner and slept exceedingly well – and it was still raining. Obviously, trying to go to Lake Matheson to see Fox was a no-go. The next morning we were to drive up to Greymouth (where major sections of road were flooded from all the rain) to catch the Tranzalpine across to Christchurch.
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Old Jan 28th, 2005, 09:27 AM
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Hi, Sharon,
What an exciting adventure on Franz! You have a great turn of phrase that holds the reader.
How are you surviving in the heavy snowfall? I hate to tell you but NZ's temperatures are on the improve, and for this week it has been very warm throughout the country!! We were talking about the weather at school on Thursday and the general consensus is that the weather in the last few years has been more settled late January, February and March. It has certainly been hot and beautiful in Wellington this week.
Looking forward to the next instalment of your trip.
Dot
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Old Jan 28th, 2005, 04:28 PM
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Hi Sharon. Your ice climb sounds like something my husband and I would have gotten ourselves into. You sound pretty hardy.

I'm reading your trip report and taking bits out for my own trip. Thanks for taking time to put it in words. We're doing 4 weeks in Aus and NZ, but unfornately, only 11 days of it in NZ (2 - 14 Mar). When I get all the details down I'd love it if you and the others who have recently been there could critique my itninerary and offer any suggestions. I've read just about everything everyone has said and it's beginning to come together. Even looked at the tidal charts and the sunset times for the Catlins. I'm not used to getting into such detail when planning a trip - we usually pick up a Lonely Planet and wing most of it - but don't want to do that with my Mom and Aunt. Plus, it'll take the stress off if I have some idea of what I should do and when.

Do you know if it's necessary to make reservations for your tours (Milford Sound/Dart River/TSS Earnslaw) or can you do that the day before or at the location?

Dotty - so glad to hear the weather's taking a turn for the better. Our friends from Nelson (too bad they're here in the States now), say Feb/Mar is harvest time, so the weather should be fairly good - of course, they hate hot weather.

Janice
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Old Jan 29th, 2005, 06:06 AM
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Hi Dot - Well, I guess we didn't hit the weather as well as we could have, but it did make for some exciting adventures! And, chilly or not, we weren't gonna let that stop us from getting our Tip Top fixes as often as possible! What's funny is that as we look throught all our photos (I'm trying to put together a digital album), there are so many pix with beautiful blue skies - even tho we don't seem to remember seeing quite as much blue sky!! But the camera doesn't lie, I guess.
The snow's stopped falling for the time being. New York City's not actually in any snow belt so we don't usually get too much of the white stuff - altho we'll often get a few good storms each year. There are other areas like upstate NY and where kodi lives up north that can get some snow pretty much every day! But the thing is that because they live with it all the time, they're much better at surviving, plowing, etc. In NYC, an inch or two and people all over are panicking; so you can imagine what 1/2 meter does!!
Hi Janice: Glad you're enjoying the report. I also don't usually make lots of reservations ahead of time and like to wing it. But because of the time constraints in NZ, we didn't want to miss the stuff that was most important to us. As a result, we booked pretty much all the tours well in advance. And since people were being turned away in most places, it worked out very well for us. I would strongly suggest that if possible you book activities like the Milford Cruise, Dart River, the Hangi, Taieri Gorge, wildlife tours (albatross, penguin)etc. You wouldn't have to book stuff like taking the gondolas, going to the thermal springs, etc. I don't think you'll need to prebook the Earnslaw if you just want to take a ride on it, but we did the BBQ lunch, so we prebooked that as well. The problem is that if you only have a limited amount of time in each place and you have certain things you really, really want to do/see, I wouldn't take a chance on getting shut out.
When we were in Sydney and the Blue Mtns at the end of our trip, we didn't prebook anything other than accommodations - and didn't have a problem. I don't know about the rest of Oz tho.
I'd love to see your itinerary when you're ready!
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