Climbing Fox Glacier

After staying in Christchurch, we hit up Kaikoura next, with some success. The first day was fantastic – the other 3 got out onto a Whale Watching tour, saw 3 whales, some albatrosses and several dolphins. Marc and Alexandra then went skydiving, something that was high on their list of things to do in New Zealand, but hadn’t had the weather for so far. And we had a very tasty dinner. All in all, a very good day!

The next day the weather wasn’t cooperating, so the three unfortunately had their dolphin swim cancelled (one of my favourite memories here in New Zealand). That was very disappointing, but we still enjoyed the Kaikoura Peninsula walk before heading through the scenic Lindis Pass over to Greymouth, to spend the night there.

The next morning we drove up to Pancake Rocks, took in the sights, and then headed to a very soggy walk of Franz Josef glacier. The forecast for the next day was finally calling for some decent weather though…just in time.

We were headed to Fox Glacier to do some ice climbing! (note: A few pictures are courtesy of Alexandra and Sabrina)

And the forecast was correct. We got very good weather!

For getting onto Fox Glacier, on has several choices. You can do the half-day walk, which is the wimpiest and shortest of the options. You get about 1-1.5 hours on the ice. Many opt instead for the full-day walk, which gets you much further onto the glacier so that you see much more, and you spend 3-4 hours on the ice. Finally, for the most active and adventurous, there is ice climbing, which keeps you on the ice for 6-7 hours. We chose the ice climbing, and I was very keen on trying this, and had been for some time.

We were entirely outfitted in gear – crampons, ice axes, harness, helmets, gloves. The whole 9 yards.

After a bit of learning how to use crampons, which takes a bit of getting used to, and learning to trust our ice axe, which, if placed correctly, can easily support your entire weight, we got to climbing. Alex is in the pink, Sabrina in the distance, and I’m the one taking pictures…I climbed up to this point and was just hanging out with my crampons jammed into the ice.

Marc climbing the ice, sans ice-axes. He’s got a lot of bouldering experience, so he wanted the extra challenge. He managed to do 2 of the climbs with just his crampons and free-hands.

And me going up after a lunch break. Where I took my helmet off, and forgot to put it back on.

I survived. But felt silly afterwards when I realized I had left my safety gear behind. Oops! So did my guide though (who is belaying me at the bottom). Also, I felt a bit cold after falling ass-backwards into a waterfall while tying myself onto the safety rope. Silly me.

After several climbs, we descended into an ice cave.

Yes, I was enjoying myself a lot.

Sabrina making her way down into the cave.

All four of us crammed in – it’s not a huge spot!

Looking further down the ice cave. It’s actually a pretty decent waterfall here. And actually, right behind the ice wall we were climbing. Turns out the ice we were climbing wasn’t hundreds of meters thick, but pretty thin! But still very, very strong.

The ice was stunning to see. Blue, translucent and capturing dirt and bubbles.

Back to the surface of the glacier.

And to our final challenge for the day, a massive hole. It doesn’t look like much at this angle.

Once you get ready to be dropped in though, it looks much different.

A good perspective, showing Alex climbing back out.

Looking back up after I made my way down to an ice shelf. That’s the guide at the top.

Standing on an ice shelf…and getting soaking wet. I was probably 6-8 meters down right now, with another 5 meters or so to go to the bottom.

Marc climbing up on a line near where I was.

I climbed back out, but regretted not going all the way to the bottom. Here’s Alex making a climb out.

Since I had another chance, this time I’d go all the way to the bottom (and the only one of the 8 of us to do so!).

It was very pretty all the way down…and remarkably cold.

And wet. Where you get these huge holes in the ice…water abounds.

Then it was down to me to climb back out. Which proved to be considerably harder than any of the climbs I had done that day. That far down, the sunlight never reaches the ice. So it is ROCK hard to try and get your crampons and axes into. But the area I had climbed down had significantly narrowed – I was able to actually wedge myself using my back and that provided some leverage. I slowly made my way up. Once I got to this point in the picture below, I was exhausted (having climbed 10 or so meters already), but the ice up here had been in the sun most of the day – it was considerably softer and easier to dig into.

The four of us, having survived our full day on the Fox Glacier!

Definitely one of my favourite activities in New Zealand. Much like canyoning, you have to do all the work yourself, and you certainly get the feeling of accomplishment once you climb to the top of a wall, or get yourself out of a massive hole in the glacier. It’s tiring and hard work, but such a fun, unique and rewarding experience!

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