Monday, March 12, 2007

Ice Ice Baby

Sometimes I honestly can't believe my life. I'm afraid that I'll wake up and the past year will all have been a dream, that I didn't really do all the things I've done. A week ago I was full on camping while sunning myself on golden beaches, a few days later I was eating huhu grubs, and two days ago I went hiking on a glacier.

The Fox Glacier is one of a few glaciers in New Zealand. I had never seen a glacier before, so I didn't know what to expect. It's right in the Southern Alps, so even the drive there is incredible. At first view, it looks like a giant avalanche that's come down the mountain and settled.

It's dangerous to get close to it without a guide, so it's hard to tell just how massive it is from the lookout (or from any pictures I took). You can tell just a little from the picture below--those are people near the face of the glacier to give you some scale. Fortunately, we paid the big bucks for a guided tour, which was more than worth the money.

It takes a good hour to walk from the lookout to a spot where it's safe to step onto the glacier. The walk is pretty amazing, though, because it's actually through a temperate rainforest. I have been to rainforests before and I've seen ice before, but it was ridiculously surreal to be hiking through the rainforest, look to your right, and see a massive block of ice. The only other place in the world that has this combination is Patagonia, which has now been added to my list of places to visit.

I don't even know how to describe the glacier, but it's basically a winter wonderland of ice peaks. We had to don crampons and carry sharply pointed walking sticks just to make our way around. The topography is highly varied, and each day the tour company sends out staff to cut steps in the ice. Unfortunately, they only cut as far as the half-day walk goes, so since we were on the full-day walk, our guide carried a pick axe and carved our way around.

It's a little scary being out there, especially when our guide, Steve, told us to only follow in his footsteps because even walking a meter or so off the path to snap a picture could lead you to fall somewhere. The glacier is about 250 meters tall, and since it melts from the bottom up, you can't necessarily tell where is stable or not. Every once in awhile there's a loud crash, which is just ice falling. The crevices and holes are everywhere and even if you don't fall to your death, you can get stuck. Steve said that sometimes the only way to pull a person out is by tying a rope around their neck because all their other body parts get stuck. So I followed Steve very closely. (I should note that strangely, we did not have to fill out waivers before joining the hike. I love New Zealand.)

I guess you could say that I was walking on water the whole time, but there was one location where I got a good Jesus moment.

Despite the potential for seriously injury, it was stunning. Steve led us over peaks and valleys, and even into some crevices (that he assured us were safe). There is nothing like having a picnic lunch in the middle of a glacier. In front of you is endless blue ice, and to the sides are massive mountains with waterfalls running off the top, and behind is a stream of glacial water that's an icy gray color like nothing I've ever seen.

As Tal put it, "Being in New Zealand is like being in a postcard." There are so many views that that I'm sure must have been painted, because nothing real could be that beautiful. But somehow it is that beautiful, it is that breathtaking, and somehow I've been lucky enough to live it.

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