Ice, Ice Baby: Franz Josef Glacier

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(Rewinding to April) I adrenaline-junkied my way through eight activities on my recent vacation.

One stood out as being the hardest: Ice hiking.

When we began gearing up with our trousers, thick ski jackets, helmets, boots, and crampons, I knew this wasn’t something to be taken lightly. One of the guides compared it to rock climbing on ice, except that you had to focus on height rather than going across.

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Well, to me, it wasn’t like rock climbing at all – it was ten times more grueling and exhausting.

Helicopter flight #2 of the trip was put into action. I was somehow detached from the rest of the group and pulled into the helicopter crammed with all the glacier guides, which meant I was the first to set foot on the ice and last to leave. Not shabby at all.

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We were given these large spikes to put on our boots the instant we hopped off the helicopter. Pretty badass. But then our glacier guide was off – again, no warning, just powering off and forward. We didn’t have a guide toward the tail end of the group, so I rounded us up, huffing and puffing.

The guides were carving mini ice steps for the steeper parts of the hills we were climbing, but even then, I felt dehydrated within a few minutes. It was tough getting used to walking briskly in crampons and large boots with metal spikes – pretty much limits your speed and walking style, to say the least.

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When we reached our first ice wall, we learned to both climb and belay the rope. The guide made it look so simple – in five seconds, he scaled the top of the wall and then hopped down.

The technique he taught us was interesting: it was a bit of a triangle method. You had to remember to keep your ice picks and hands directly above you at all times, whereas your two feet were spaced apart a bit so you looked like a triangle from afar.

We practiced using our ice picks first, and I sent ice flying into my face the minute I thrust it as hard as I could. It was a pain to wiggle them out of the ice each time, especially when hanging onto the wall. I found the ice picking part hardest, because the pick would sometimes slip or the ice would be too hard to even jab into, leaving you with dilemmas of where to jab your pick next.

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It was tough. Way more tough than it looked. When I finished my first climb, I thought it was over – I thought my body was giving up after that. I had powered through it, but with plenty of shaking, cussing, grunting, heavy breathing, and hair in my face.

But nope, we ended up doing about two or three more wall climbs. After awhile, I think we started feeling more BA, especially when the other ice explorer groups came by and took photos of all of us. With helmets and ice picks, I guess we looked more legit and hardcore. Looks can be deceiving.

I ended up slipping and dangling by the rope a couple times, which left a beautiful bruise on my thigh for over a week. I’m sure I humored the others in our group, especially since I became known as the loser on the tour who was always falling, messing up, or slowest at activities. Well, at least I tried. 😉

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Four hours in, we were urgently called to evacuate the glacier, since a storm was rolling in – and we didn’t want to be stranded up there overnight. We ended up only getting to explore one mini ice cave as a result, which I found to be way cooler. The next time I visit a glacier, I’m skipping out on the ice hike for sure.

Some of my greatest obstacles included the following:

(1)     The large fannypacks/bags we took with us. Yeah, it was great and all to have our lunches and water packed, but in the overall picture, it was hard as hell to balance on the ice even without that bag weighing us down.

(2)    A down jacket underneath the ski jacket. Seriously, I thought it would be cold. I was ROASTING. My hair was matted to my head, I was pouring with sweat, and my down jacket ended up being soaking wet from my sweat afterwards. Talk about gross.

But we all prevailed and made it away safely before the storm hit. It began pouring rain right as we boarded our helicopters, so it made for a really cool scenic flight.

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That night, our entire room (all of us who had been on the ice) ended up taking really long naps, staying up late imitating our tour guide while laughing hysterically, and watching the worst television ever – I mean, really, is New Zealand THAT behind?!

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But moreover: the ice was glorious.

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3 thoughts on “Ice, Ice Baby: Franz Josef Glacier

  1. I did a Franz Josef excursion too! I didn’t use ice picks though–yours sounds way more hard core. The part about you roasting made me laugh. Sounds awful. A unique experience though, huh? 🙂

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