A Mountaineers Guide To Climbing The Fox Glacier In New Zealand
New Zealand’s West Coast glaciers on South Island are amongst the most accessible glaciers anywhere in the world and are therefore becoming a popular choice for the expanding interest in applying mountain climbing techniques to glaciers.
With holidays to New Zealand offering some great bargains if you look in the right places, a trip to one of the world’s most unusual destinations is now something that is easily within reach for those who are looking for an unusual and exciting adventure.
The longest of the New Zealand West Coast range is Fox Glacier, quite literally a slow moving river of ice which descends over eight thousand feet from the Southern Alps to the West Coast. Coming to an end in a temperate rainforest zone, the unique range of climate combinations means that Fox Glacier moves up to ten times faster than valley glaciers located elsewhere in the world. As with all glaciers, Fox moves in two motions, advance and retreat, depending on the amount of snowfall and degrees of melting. Fox was advancing for over a century until 2009 but is now in a retreat phase.
The terminal face of Fox presents a relatively easy walk from Weheka (Fox Glacier village), which is a major, well appointed tourist centre catering for the thousands of visitors who make the journey. However, only a small proportion of those who visit decide to fully take on the exciting prospect of actually climbing the ice walls.
A typical climb begins with a guided walk up the valley which takes just under an hour and in itself requires a reasonable level of fitness. A further hour of more strenuous hiking is needed before the actual climbing can begin.
Ice climbing skills utilise all the usual equipment and techniques for climbing more typical rock based mountain side, but also includes a range of tips and tricks that the highly qualified guides will help you learn.
Of course, the panoramic views present vistas which are unparalleled elsewhere, with water filled crevasses reflecting brilliant blues and the Southern Alps striking a horizon beyond compare. Many New Zealand holidays offer the options of a day’s ice climbing with full instruction and all the equipment you need provided.
The helicopter option
For those of us who prefer to take things slightly easier whilst not missing out on the action, the most exciting way to experience the glacier and ice climbing is to travel in by helicopter. Missing out the long slog of the walk and hike, the chopper takes you up onto the ice in a matter of minutes, with the bonus of tremendous views of the Southern Alps including Mount Tasman and Mount Cook, which is New Zealand’s highest, also offered.
When you’ve been dropped off on the ice pad which is half way up the glacier, you continue on with an ice climb in some regions that are not always accessible on foot. It goes without saying that after a great day’s climbing you get a second helicopter return flight back to where you started.
Image credit to Shoops2011 from Flickr
Author | Amie is a travel blogger who enjoys to write about her New Zealand Holidays she has experienced, and sharing them with like minded people.