Glacier Hiking in the Southern Alps

by Brian Carroll on May 5, 2012

Post image for Glacier Hiking in the Southern Alps We arrived into the small town of Frans Josef on the Thursday night before Easter with one goal in mind, hiking Frans Josef Glacier.  To give you some background on the area, the Frans Josef Glacier runs 7.5 miles through the Southern Alps and while there are a few hiking paths that run adjacent to it, the only way to actually hike on it is through a single company in the area certified to lead such walks.  While usually making a booking this time of year wouldn't be an issue, the fact that it was Easter weekend and the weather promised to be sunny (which is not all that common out here), proved to stall our plan a bit.  All this meant was that we'd have to wait another day before doing the hike, so in the interim we kept ourselves busy by checking out a few nearby hikes that provided panoramic views of the area, as well as a visit to a natural thermal spa for a nightcap. The next morning we prepped for what would be a four hour glacier excursion.  In all, there were about 50 people who would be going on our hike, broken up into four different groups based on the pace and altitude they wanted to ascend.  Since I wanted to see and do as much as possible, Nuria and I opted to go in the first (quickest) group. The scenery involved in actually getting to the base of the glacier itself was quite varied and unique.  The first 10 minutes found us meandering through a rainforest, followed by a 30 minute jaunt along a rocky plain that ultimately took us to the foot of the glacier.  As we put on our raincoats and tied our cramp-ons down, our guide informed of us of our fortuitous timing of sorts - due to recent glacier erosion (which could create precarious conditions), walking treks like ours were going to be suspended indefinitely at the end of the week.  Moving forward, the only tours that would be offered would be "heli-hikes" - basically hikes that would only be accessible through helicopter transport. Anyways, once we got on the ice, it was much cooler (no pun intended) than I had anticipated.  And the first thing it reminded me of for some reason, was Superman's Fortress of Solitude.  The height of the gorges and variety of blues in the ice made it pretty remarkable.  Additionally, as we followed our guide, he took us through some very narrow spots that required chopping a path with an ice pick and as a hiker, the need to really contort your body in order to squeeze through some crevices - honestly, at one point, I didn't think I'd be able to make it (Note to self: do more yoga...).

Some of the spots were very narrow

In the end, it was a pretty memorable experience, and quite honestly, not as cold as I thought it might be.  Wrapping up at Frans Josef, we packed our belongings and made our trek toward our next main stop- Queenstown, New Zealand.

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