Fox Glacier & Lake Matheson
14th May 2013 18:42
Leaving my camera behind was a pretty stupid thing to do. Not entirely unexpected though, given my previous track record. At the next stop off point, I wandered down the coach to speak to the driver. This set in motion something I wasn't expecting at all, and something I'm sure would never have happened back home! The driver told me to give him the key. He said he would take it back down with him the following day, hand it over to another driver halfway along the route, and get him to drop it at the hostel. I should phone the hostel and ask them to open the locker when they receive the key, then drop the camera off to the information centre where the coach leaves from the following morning (checking first with the information center that they would't have a problem with this). The driver would then pick it up from there, bring it up halfway again, then hand it over to my driver who would give it to me when he reached Fox Glacier... Believe it or not, all this went off without a hitch! Two days after I arrived, I met the coach in Fox Glacier, and there was my camera, safe and sound. Thanks Kiwis!
Fox Glacier is 13km long, which is slightly longer than the 10km Franz Josef glacier, some 23km further North. I had heard that recently it had become impossible to access the Franz Josef glacier by anything other than helicopter, which obviously would have made the whole thing a fair bit more expensive. Fox was still accesssible by foot, which basically decided for me which one I should visit.
The Fox Glacier Guiding company offer a multitude of trips to the glacier. When walking (and not riding in the helicopter), you have the option of a half day walk (requiring a "moderate" level of fitness"), or a full day walk (requiring "good" fitness). Now, "good" is probably the last word I would have used to describe my fitness as at the time, probably not even "moderate". More like "shockingly bad" to "woeful". But, I'd come to Fox to go on the glacier, and I wanted to make sure I spent the longest time possible up there! If I'd have collapsed from exhaustion, they could have airlifted me out of there anyway...
The morning of the hike, we were fitted with crampons (spikes for your boots), walking poles, coats, boots, socks, bags and any other equipment we thought we might have needed. We were then herded into the old school, renovated bus (nice touch), and headed off on the short trip to the bottom of the glacier. I have to say, it wasn't exactly a bad view.
We began by walking up stairs carved into the ice by the staff, who apparently get up there at 7 every morning to prepare the way for the hundreds of tourists arriving that day. Exhausting work, but at least they rotate so they're not doing that every day!
Continuing further up the glacier, as you reach a less steep section where there are no steps in sight, you are shown how to walk correctly with the crampons on your feet. When going uphill, walk "like a duck" and point your feet out to the side, when coming down a hill, bend your knees SAS style, legs wider and dig in hard with each step. And try not to get too distracted by the views and lose your footing!
It was warm at first, with the sun out... but when we stopped to eat our lunch it went in. Despite wearing a long sleeved top, a t-shirt over that, and then a fleece, I was still cold. Who would have thought it, standing on a huge chunk of ice?! The guide had a spare coat stashed away in their rucksack that they lent me, along with some super stylish gardening looking gloves.
After lunch we continued our walk further up the glacier. Luckily, my legs weren't aching or anything and I hadn't collapsed either, so any worries I'd had about my fitness I needn't have had! We passed the point where the guide said the half day walk would have returned, and I definitely made the right decision, as we carried on further up to the really cool stuff.
Tall walls of ice surround you as you climb further up, only to reach huge crevices sinking deep down as far as you can see. The glacier is apparently receding at the moment due to there having been unusually dry weather in the country for that time of year. It was actually the driest February on record while I was there... lucky me! As an aside... I also got very lucky with the weather in Australia too. Having passed through Bundaberg, I kept in touch with the girls I met in the dorm there, and they'd all been evacuated due to flooding, they sent me these eye opening photos.
After arriving back in town from the glacier, I decided – being the glutton for punishment that I am – to walk to Lake Matheson and check that out. It's famed for having a brilliant reflected view of Aoraki/Mount Cook and Mount Tasman, which I was obviously keen to photograph. So, after a 7km walk on tired legs, and a further 1km around to the far end of the lake, I was sadly disappointed! The view was still nice, but unfortunately just a little cloudy, which obscured the peaks! Ah well – you can't win them all.
But then... a slight break in the clouds! They didn't magically disappear or anything, but at least I briefly saw the peaks! Not so bad after all!
I could always have got up the following day (I'd deliberately scheduled a rest day after the hike!) and walked back for sunrise, but..... it would have meant getting up, and it also would have meant walking the round trip to the lake again. I decided I was quite happy with the pics I had!
I'd stayed past sunset where I was, as I thought the sky would have been more spectacular. This meant walking back around the lake, surrounded by forest in the growing dark, with just a dim headtorch to light the way. It was quite unnerving, to say the least. I could hear noises around me that I'm sure I wouldn't have heard in the daylight! My pace quickened, and I was soon back at the (also dark) road. At least there were fields either side of that though, so some light from the sky could be seen. But I had another odd moment, when I was sure I heard a faint voice behind me. I looked around and thought I could see a dark sillouhette approaching. The shadow grew closer, until eventually I could make out a guy jogging along in complete darkness, occasionally singing random song lyrics to himself to pass the time. He passed me, nodded, and vanished into the distance. Nothing weird about that at all...