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In the lush rain forest land of the West Coast, you also encounter glacier country. The two most famous glaciers here are the Fox Glacier and the Franz Josef Glacier, with towns being named the same as the glaciers. These glaciers are unique in the fact that they go down as far as the rain forest, which never happens anywhere else - usually glaciers are either high in mountains or end in the sea. Here you also don't have to walk far to reach each glacier, as the towns are really close.

Since Franz Josef Glacier was the first and had the bigger town of the two, we stayed there. Most activities were booked full (as were hotels, but we did find a good room), the only one that was left was the most extreme one - Ice Climbing.



So on the next day we set out on an ice climbing adventure. We had 3 guides for a group of 11 people, which was a nice guide to person ratio. You are given all equipment, including crappy plastic boots, ice picks, helmets, etc.

The first part of the tour includes walking to the glacier through the rain forest. Once the base of the glacier is reached, we had to put on some extra walking gear that would let us walk on ice:



One of the guides left early so he can prepare a climbing wall for us. Preparing a climbing wall basically entails drilling in the hooks that let you swing in a rope in case you fall while doing the climb, and to do this somebody needs to be on top of the wall.



In some places we followed the same routes as do the regular glacier walk people. These guys don't do any ice climbing so often they have steps and the whole route cut out for them:



First off, we had some Ice Climbing 101 practice. In ice climbing, your tow goes straight into ice, and you can actually comfortably stand in an ice wall without the ice picks. You get two picks to climb with, and you need them to get up the wall comfortably, but your weight really needs to be on your feet.



After the practice was done, we climbed the ice wall. We climbed a total of 2 walls, in 6 places. Some climbs were far more difficult than others, the last climb we did had a small ice ledge, so you had to get over the ledge. This isn't actually too difficult, but since we're such novices, we ended up mostly pulling ourselves up with our hands instead of putting weight on legs, and by the time you're over the edge, you're exhausted, but that's just the first part of the climb, as you need to get to the top.

Here's a picture of one of the first, easiest climbs:



The second wall we did was also unexplored, so we were the first people who climbed up there. The way there was also unprepared, so our guide had to work with her large pickaxe to make way.

From the top of the ice walls, you can get a really good view of the valley below, where the glacier ends:



While others were doing the climbs, we could have a bit of rest here or there.



The whole tour was 8 hours total, and at the end of the day we drove further on the West Coast, until the small town of Haast where the road leads back across the Southern Alps through the Gates of Haast. We were actually quite lucky, as we got the last rooms in the town, and the next accomodation was after 120 km. The people who arrived in the same hotel 2 minutes after us weren't so lucky.

Haast has some really nice beaches, and is one of the first places white people came ashore on the west coast (most of it is rugged, gets hit by storms a lot, and is really rainy, which makes things difficult). We were also right about our weather predictions, doing ice climbing on the next day didn't look like such a great prospect:



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Thanks for sharing your trvelas, Elizabeth!My DH and I took my folks on an Alaskan cruise in 2007. Going to Alaska had been my dad's lifelong dream so it was very special to be there with him when he finally saw his first glacier, his first orca in the wild, his first train trip to the gold fields. Next May we're gearing up to do Hawaii (my mom's dream!) with my folks and our daughters. The memories you take when you travel with those you love are even more precious than pictures.


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