Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Blue Christmas

One difficulty we have been having about spending Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere is thinking about Christmas or feeling Christmas when it’s summer.  We’ve talked with other tourists and we just are moving forward and Christmas is happening despite what we do or think.  It’s actually quite an interesting experience. 
We are just pulling out of the Franz Josef village after sleeping hard as rocks from our all day excersion on the Franz Josef glacier.  It was there that we started to get in the mood for Christmas.  It was cold, icy and such a vivid blue.
The day starts at 9:15 getting all set up with the gear – overtrousers, raincoats, hat and gloves and crampons.  While the weather forecast is fine, Franz Josef is a “warm” glacier which means it is melting significantly and one is likely to get wet – so gear is essential to be comfortable all day.  I also felt at least 3 layers were necessary!
Crampons were new to us.  These are like golf spikes on steroids – another Jurassic Park comparison.  These tied to your shoes and cut into the ice to keep you upright.  Cut is really a liberal term – it also required a bit of stomping to make it happen.  But they work well and here they are…                                                                     image The play begins with a 45 minute hike to the terminal face of the glacier.  (Yes – it was before we put the crampons on.  They work really well on the ice, but a pain to walk on with the rocks!)  The walk was 2.3 kilometers.  It doesn’t look that far, but it’s an optical illusion with the scale of the glacier.  Can you see the people who look like little ants ahead of us???  The goal for the day is that “dirty” patch of ice in the upper left hand corner.imageNow crampons on, scale up a ladder that’s laid across a rock face and then up at set of stairs in the ice.  There is a group with this guide company that starts at 8 am carving stairs for these tours.  THey do this every day because this is an active glacier.  For those who may not know, a glacier is when the winter snow accumulates more than the spring thaw can remove.  The new snow packs down the previous year’s snows and gravity starts pulling it down the valley.  The top of the glacier, the ice blocks are 40 feet tall and are moving at 8 meters a day.  At the bottom on the glacier, it is moving at 2-3 meters a day.  Franz Josef is presently in a retreating mode which means it is melting more snow than it is accumulating – so the overall effect is the terminal face is moving backwards up the valley.
Here’s the view at the top of stairs.  100 years ago, the glacier was at the larger hill in the middle of the picture – it’s where the river zigzags the second lime to the left.  You may be able to see the hills behind this where the tree line changes dramatically.  That was likely where the glacier was 300 years ago.  Now look to the green pasture in the far back right hand corner – that was about 10,000 years ago.  The lake behind it was formed by the glacier carrying a large rock mass and then pressing it into the earth.  Then it was 18,000 years ago it was estimated that the glacier ran all the way to the Tasman Sea (not shown in this picture!)                                                       imageOkay enough natural history – here some pictures of the glacier itself.  Wonderfully we had two cameras.  We made great pictures crawling through crevasses and holes in the ice.  Then there was also those vistas from the beginning and end of the day.  Half of the pictures are now a permanent part of the Franz Josef glacier because there was that moment when my fingers were swollen and frozen and I just couldn’t catch the camera as it fell into a hole.  So, instead of a blend of our pictures these are all from James.  Enjoy!image imageimage imageimage Sorry – sneak one in from me that I took with James’ camera – the only one we have of him!                                                         image The way back to base was on top of the glacier and certainly much faster.  Notice the people (ant-like) ahead of us.
I’m blue I lost my camera, but I’m glad for the day and the memories it gave.  For all of James’ pictures, check out…


Theresa said...

Oh crap, That's a shame you lost your camera. I bet there were great pics on it.
I can see why they call it a dirty glacier and it's all such an interesting formation. Thank you for the history lesson, that's really a fast rate of loss on this one. Predictions as to when it will disappear entirely?

Life Looms Large said...

That looks like quite the adventurous glacier trek!! Some of the pictures in your gallery of carved ice stairs and knotted ropes look pretty slippery.

Sorry about your camera! (Is that a memorial photo of it that I spy in your hand, over a hole in the ice?) At least if you were going to lose a camera, you lost it doing something very memorable.

I had that experience of my hands getting too cold to work once when I was kayaking. I didn't feel very cold, but I guess that's a beginning sign of hypothermia. Luckily the group I was with had pogies - which are neoprene mittens that fit over your hand and the kayak paddle so your hands can stay warm while you paddle.

Thanks so much for sharing your adventures with us! Your trip looks so fun!!


PS: And Merry Christmas. I can never figure out time-zones, but I think it will be Christmas for you really soon if it isn't already!

Jennifer said...

Predictions on the camera are about 24 hours before it was gone and likely 200 years before it reappears!

We are 18 hours ahead of EST - so say 6 hours behind your time, but the next day!

I'm glad you all are enjoying it!

charlotte said...

Fantastic photos! I never stop to be fascinated by ice and all its shades of color. I've never been on a warm glacier, walking on a glacier for me is something very cold. Crampons... One can't do without them, but I have had several pants ruined by them. For the time being, mine are resting in the attic together with the ice axe, waiting for the kids to get older, so that we can go on grown-up hikes again.