I did not expect to find myself on top of a glacier.
Glaciers are, universally speaking, fairly Epic. You really don’t need to be on top of one to appreciate it.
Besides, doesn’t that sort of stunt require dangling precariously above frozen crevasses with ice picks for hands?
Fox Glacier sits frozen on the west coast of New Zealand’s south island. (‘Sits’ is actually wildly inaccurate, as glaciers are constantly moving… but that’s hard to tell when you look up and see nothing but a giant wall of ice.)
As one of the most easily accessible glaciers in the world, Fox Glacier offers a unique chance to get an up-close view. No ice-picks-for-hands required.
Day #10,293: You know it’s gonna be a good day when the morning begins with waterproof MC Hammer pants and alpine-style hiking boots.
Because the glacier is constantly in motion and huge chunks of ice can unexpectedly calve, scaling the glacial face is frowned upon and a really stupid idea for people who don’t know what they’re doing (ME).
I like to think I’m a spry young whippersnapper, but I was sweatin’ in my glacier gear by the time we reached the top.
Before slipping out onto the ice, Mr. M & I strapped on crampons, The World’s Most Awkwardly-Named Gear. Crampons are the Death Match version of the Fisher-Price rollerskates that I used to velcro on over my shoes in preschool.
Instead of plastic orange wheels, they have viciously sharp metal spikes on the bottom to keep you from slipping and sliding across the ice.
Making our way onto the wet, electric blue was magical. It almost seemed as though the purplish-blue hues were trapped within the ice.
It was overwhelming to be a little speck of human in the midst of something So Massively Massive. (It’s a little like being a little speck of human in the midst of the Universe, but slightly easier for me to wrap my head around.)
We stood silent over the ice, breathing in chilly air and watching the sun cast otherworldly shadows deep within the glacier. For something that moves at a, well, glacial pace, the ice is a surprisingly dynamic place… groans and drips and shifting prismatic colors.
It was such a different experience getting to know the glacier up close and personal. I was a little sad to leave. (And a little exhausted from cramponing around- it’s a word now- but ‘exhausted’ is not a good reason to throw in the adventuring towel.)
After we’d trekked back down to base camp and shed our Hammer pants, Mr. M & I decided to walk the 90-minute path around Lake Matheson.
Lake Matheson was created when Fox Glacier retreated 14,000 years ago. Today, it’s a gorgeous place to spend a few hours just enjoying nature’s details. The earth smelled wet and mossy and alive.
New Zealand is made for being outdoors.
One of the South Island’s iconic images is the view of Mount Cook reflected in the lake.
The clouds pretended not to know what we were there for (we have that problem sometimes), but it didn’t matter one bit.
There’s a saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees- that getting caught up in the details obscures the big picture. But when the forest- or glacier- is so dramatically impressive, the details make that monumental beauty accessible.
Sometimes, it seems, the details are the big picture.
Explore my next day’s adventure… spelunking with glow-in-the-dark insects & monster cave eels!
Details of the Day: I booked the Fox Trot Half Day Walk with Fox Guides Glacier Guiding and was really happy with the choice! Our group was small, and the guides were really friendly (as most Kiwis are!). They’ll loan you waterproof pants, hiking boots, and crampons. I booked a half-day glacier trekking excursion, partly to save a bit of $$ and partly because I wanted time to explore the rest of the Fox Glacier area. Four-ish hours was more than enough time to have quality one-on-one time with the glacier, and both Mr. M & I were happy with the decision.
Dressing the Part: As you might guess, glacier trekking can get a bit chilly- especially if you’re visiting during New Zealand’s winter months. Be sure to wear at least three layers on top to keep from getting too frosty. (We visited in the Southern Hemisphere’s winter and was happy I rocked long underwear and a pair of pants underneath the Hammer pants.)