Skip to content

Walking on Thick Ice


One of the items on my “must do” list for New Zealand was hiking on a glacier. We headed down to Franz Josef from Greymouth and arrived in time for a half day hike on the glacier. The cheaper option was a walk to the terminal face of the glacier and up the ice a bit. The other was a heli-hike that flew up higher on the glacier, returning you to town after a couple hours on the ice. I had originally planned to only do the half-day hike since it was cheaper and I could move on down the coast the next day but after hearing recommendations about the heli-hike I had to change my mind.An American girl from the bus and 7 others joined me on the heli-hike and it was amazing. I would have been happy with just the helicopter ride above the glacier but having a couple hours on the ice just made it so much better.The ride up the chopper hugged the hills, banking and turning giving us incredible views of the valley and the glacier itself. I have a feeling the pilot was having a great time coming down the valley to where we would start our hike as he pulled some sharp turns then dropped the struts lightly onto the ice. We clambered out and anxiously waited for the rest of the group to be ferried up.After a bit of instruction from our guide Brendan we had donned our crampons and set off onto the ice. Walking with 10 spikes on your feet takes a bit of getting used to but was very liberating once it clicked. Although it definitely wasn’t recommended you could literally run around on the ice. The ice was 40-100 meters thick in some places but could be paper thin in others. There could only be a small opening or a bit of water underneath or a massive cavern that you probably wouldn’t get out of. Walking in a single file line behind the guide was fairly important as none of us wanted to test out their crevasse rescue techniques.Our itinerary included anywhere we wanted to go. Brendan showed us a few neat spots on the flatter part of the ice then took us in random directions towards the larger seracs further up the glacier. For those that haven’t read much about glaciers or mountaineering, seracs are the towers of ice that are left freestanding when 2 crevasses intersect. They range from small enough to step over to enormous blocks of ice that would crush the group if it fell.IMG_3873The rest of our time was spent wandering through, under and over the ice doing our best to stay upright on the steep sections. One of the girls bailed a few times on the downhill sections but the rest of the group did well. If we hit a section that was too steep to scale, Brendan would chop out some steps and we’d cruise on through. Sometimes it’s just not possible to continue. About half way we got a bit stuck and after a few minutes of Brendan climbing around on the ice like a monkey, we gave up and headed back to a previous track and went a different direction.I tried to get into the front seat for the ride back but everyone was seated to balance out the chopper so we were back to our assigned seats. The view was again stunning and the ride exciting. The helicopter seemed to defy the laws of physics rising straight up and peeling off sideways during our flight.Back on the ground again with a big grin on my face, we wandered off to the hostel to get cleaned up and ready for the Australia vs New Zealand Rugby game at the local pub.[gmap]