26 July 2011

Grey-Blue Ice

The western coast of New Zealand's South Island is a rainy place-- rainier, even, than the place we left to visit here. Before we arrived, we made a pact: if the weather was clear at the Franz Josef Glacier, we'd walk on the ice. If the weather wasn't clear, we'd walk to the ice. Steve did a little rain dance before we headed into the mountains.

It was partly cloudy when we arrived in Franz Josef, so we started with a short walk to Pete's Pond to get a view of the glacier in the distance.

The pond was frozen, and the glacial ice looked flat grey under the thick cloud cover, but there was no rain in sight. We hemmed and hawed over what to do-- should we wait for morning and hope for clear skies? We decided that the absence of rain was reason enough to cross the terminal moraine (I'm taking Steve's word that that's actually what you call the boulder field that leads to a glacier's snout; I apologize if it actually means something different, especially if it's the technical name for something gross like a cat's butt) this afternoon.

If the views weren't what we'd hoped for, we found unexpected pleasure in the way the Franz Glacier forest smelled-- honeyed, floral, salty, earthy, and grassy. Like so much of what we've seen here, the area is an odd juxtaposition of Alpine and tropical elements, with snowy peaks rising up over fern trees and palms. It was almost disappointing to leave the forest and walk across the rocks.

As we walked across the rocks, Steve commented on how unusual it felt to visit a glacier so close to sea level. I agreed, but then I realized that every glacier I've seen has been close to sea level. Southwest NZ, Glacier Bay AK, and the south coast of Iceland all have extreme enough climates that you don't need to scale a mountain to see an ice field.

When we reached the edge of the glacier about forty minutes later, we were rewarded with a hint of blue under all that white and and grey.

We snapped a few pictures, and turned to walk back. Of course, that's when the rain started. This time, we were prepared for it. We pulled on our gloves and our hoods, and stayed mostly dry.

I learned another survival skill out by the glacier, though. As we walked over the smooth trail, which has been meticulously cleared of larger rocks, I noticed a strange feeling in my legs. As I described it to Steve, it felt as though my muscles had somehow been drained of energy. He looked at me lovingly and sympathetically, the way you look at a child who mispronounces things, and explained that it was late afternoon and I hadn't eaten anything but a latte and half a banana all day. I was out of fuel.

Food isn't just stuff that's fun to make, pretty to photograph, and tasty to chew-- it's gasoline for people.

Who knew?

Location:Franz Glacier, New Zealand

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