Franz Joseph Glacier

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April 6th 2015
Published: April 6th 2015
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Ended up in Franz Joseph, this small Alpine-type town near the Franz Joseph Glacier. Today we went on a guided walk to the base of the Glacier. At least some of us went all the way to the base. I went about two-thirds of the way from the car park to the Glacier before the winds got too cold and made me start to cough. Our guide took us to the middle of what would be a raging river during the spring thaw but now was a dry boulder strewn creek bed. There he proceeded to draw a map of the area in the creek bed, showing how the NZ Southern Alps were formed by the Australian tectonic plate diving under the Pacific plate. He said the mountains were still growing at about an inch a month, but that erosion was keeping pace, otherwise the mountains would be much, much taller. He talked of the different ice ages over the millions of years, the growing and receding of ice, how water seeping around the glacier acted as a lubricant and the pressure of the ice from the top made the glacier move down the hill dragging rocks with it and scoring surrounding rocks with vertical markings. He told us they get about a hundred feet of snow a year, that the snow is heavy and wet, how it packs into individual ice crystals that over the years and additional snowfall compresses until the ice is now layers. At his point the deeper layers are so compacted that any light shown onto it creates blue ice from refraction on the ice crystals and the trapped dust motes. He showed us on his map how the glacier was not only in between the mountains, but that there was also a 20 square mile field up to 1500 ft deep on the top which formed the basis of the glacier moving down the mountain.He then lead us to one of the two permanent waterfalls in the valley. After that we were set free to explore to the Rock field just below the glacier. I went about 1000 ft more and decided that the warm bus or even sitting on rocks in the sunshine was preferable to walking into the icy winds flowing off the glacier. When I got back I got out my journal to document the day. Remembered how the guide had told us the most important building in the entire town of Franz Joseph was the petrol station. We all laughed until he told us that geologists had discovered that the petrol station with it's 500,000 litre gas tanks is sitting directly on top of a fault line previously unknown to anyone. Just wanted to let everyone know that I am truly having problems describing this country. I have a pretty good vocabulary, but no matter how expansive my adjectives are, they are inadequate to describe the scenery here. Guess you all have to check it out yourself. From extreme stark majesty to misty peaks, lush rainforests to raging sea, towering mountains, milky white run off from glaciers, shallow ribbons of river in drying creek beds criss crossing the valley, boiling mud pots, steaming sulfuric vents, major cities and tiny villages, this land has it all. And most of it is indescribable, it changes moment to moment and even in the same places it is extremely different. Hope some of my pictures do it justice.


8th April 2015

Can't wait to see your pics and talk with you about your adventures.

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