Day 20/35

Franz Josef Glacier

It has been raining hard all night long. Sometimes it even rained harder than hard. I have set my wake-up call at 06:15 just to be certain, but it’s pooring outside so I can gladly stay in bed until about 9, then I’m fed up with it. I spend some time relaxing, just reading a bit and resting. This mandatory resting period has good timing. The weather forecast is better then I thought. It should be dry by the end of the day. Some rain showers are predicted for the next few days.

Sometimes it’s dry for a while but then it starts raining again. Around 13:00 it has been dry for a while and a blue sky is approaching from the ocean. This is totally unexpected. Now it’s a couple of hours earlier than yesterday when I arrived and by the look of it I can start walking the Robson trail. A total of 12.5 kilometers, well over 5.5 hours along the glacier through the rain forest up to a viewing point above the glacier. I can see the photographs already in my mind. A nice shift of perspective to see the glacier with all its cracks and hopefully vivid blue ice from above instead of from the bottom looking up.

The first half hour is quite easy going and ends with a suspension bridge over a glacial river that looks a lot wilder, because of all the rain, then yesterday. Just in front of me, a woman is walking a good pace. Somewhat further we have to cross a stream of about 2 meters wide. The water is not that deep and there are a lot of stones spread across. I have to watch not to slip. The woman watches me with interest going first and doesn’t dare to continue herself.

I just hope that this stream will not further grow with all that rain. On the other side, it has already been raining for 24 hours and I would have expected to see some sign if it was dangerous.

It’s easy to follow the route but there is actually not a real trail. I have to manouvre over stones, rocks and roots all the time. On some place I walk through a kind of sunken path of around 1 meter deep, probably eroded by water. I can barely pass through. At other places the route is very steep consisting primarily of large slabs of rock where you have to find your way without sliding. Like this…

Franz Josef Glacier

They almost go vertical and at some places, water is running down them.

Soon I’m being overtaken by a runner who’s only wearing a shorts. Doesn’t seem very smart to me. If he trips and breaks something he immediately has a serious problem on his mind: hypothermia.

I hear the helicopters again for the first time today. This is a good sign, apparently the visibility is good enough for flying.

Somewhat later I encounter a man, I talk with for a while. He tells me that the view is magnificent but I still have some time to go and that it becomes much steeper further down the road. Even more steeper…? I have already been walking for an hour now and it has been quite difficult sofar. I think that my photostuff is a significant factor. These sometimes move in a direction I don’t want to go. In the distance I get a glimpse of the runner running on bare rock. Jezus, I still have to go that far???

A couple of times I seriously think about going back. There doesn’t seem to be any end to it and the bag is really weighing down on me. Pulling in my belly and strapping even more tight, in that it stands on my hips instead of hanging on my shoulders. The upper strap I also tighten up so that the bag doesn’t sway outward so much when I make a move.

It’s really hard going and I start wondering what I started and how much longer it’s going to take. I have to cross several streams and am glad that I’m wearing watertight shoes. There are also 3 supension bridges and a couple of steep passages with wooden stairs and protected wooden trails.

The air is very moist and I see waterfalls coming down along the rockwall. The glacial melt river disappears slowly in the distance. After a while I encounter the runner again. I ask him how long I still have to go and he tells me that I’m already more than halfway and that the view is very beautiful and that one can come very close to the glacier. Ok definitely have to push through then.

After a while I enter a kind of flow and hopping from rock to rock becomes more automatic. The bag seems to way less as well now.

Most of the time I’m looking down to see where to put my feet. Slipping away is very easy. Sometimes I have a look around at the rainforest which is very beautiful here. So many possibilities for photographs, but not now. First I have to find out where this ends, so that I know how long it will take to get back to the car.

Once I stop because I have been climbing rocks slabs full with grooves. These have been caused by the glacier in a time that it was much larger than it’s now and reached up to here, most probably during an Ice Age. I think I’m a couple of hundred meters above the glacier now.

The trail goes very steep up here and a couple of times I really have to climb. Luckily there are many fissures in the rocks and trees and roots along the route to have enough grip.

The helicopters have stopped flying again: no customers or bad sight? It occurs to me that there is a lot more moisture hanging above the glacier lately. The sky is visibly closing down.

There is not a single moment that I’m feeling unsafe. But it is very easy to misstep or slide away, so I have to stay focussed all the time.

Then I walk into two guys that are on their way back. According to them it won’t take that long anymore, only 15 minutes or so, maybe a bit longer. They tell me that somewhat further the trail is very slippery and that the view on the glacier is not so good. I’m already 2.5 hours on my way and under no circumstances I’m going back now, not now that I’m already so close.

The last part appears to take another half hour and takes a lot of climbing. These are large rock slabs with water running over them and they are indeed very slippery. But here there are also enough ways to keep grip. About hundred meters before reaching the viewpoint it starts raining. What a timing. The view indeed is not that good. It’s much farther away than I expected and the surrounding vegetation is also a bit to high for an open view.

There is a very steep path running down here, but there is a large sign next to it saying that there is no way down and you have to return. Does this mean that it’s impossible to go any further or that you have to continue a bit further for the viewpoint, but from there it’s not possible to go any further?

Maybe 100 hundred meters down provides for a much better view, the beautiful view the runner was talking about. But the path is very, very steep and I don’t actually know if it’s a path after all. Maybe the path ends after 20 meters in a sudden drop-off of a couple of hundred meters.

It sucks that it is raining now. If it was still dry and the sun was shining I could leave my stuff here to try the trail for a bit. Now everything is slippery as hell and I most certainly don’t want to keep walking in the rain for much longer.

Has the runner gone down here and did he really have the better view? I do’t know and I’m not going to find out now either. The only thing I can do is shoot a couple of photograph very quickly and get the hell back down. It starts raining harder and I really have speed up things.

There’s a table with a couple of benches and I climb it to setup my tripod. The camera is already getting wet before I can shoot the first one. But luckily it can cope with a bit of wet as long as it doesn’t get wet too much. I take a couple of photography quickly, in the now streaming rain.

Franz Josef Glacier

The view on the glacier is diminishing by the minute.

Franz Josef Glacier

Looking down I notice a lot more vapour in the valley. I hope not ending up in fog later, because then it could be difficult to find my way back down. The streams can also expand because of all the water. I had better go back as soon as I can. Luckily I reminded in the last minute to take my rain protector for the camera bag. I pack everything quickly and head back down. Hopefully the trees protect me for most of the rain, but I’m afraid I will be getting very wet…

Following the trail back is easier in a way because gravity now helps instead of working against me. But I have to watch out even more, because going down slipping away is much more easy. It’s starting to rain harder and there is coming more water on the trail. Not that deep but here and there the trail is becoming a kind of stream, apparently because this is the most easy way down.

After the first suspension bridge it even starts to rain harder. I check my photo equipment a couple of times and everything seems to stay dry. I’m becoming wetter by the minute myself though. I have been able to keep my shoes dry for a long time, but these are starting to get wet on the inside as well. Because I still have to walk for a couple of hours, I keep a couple of goals in mind that I can tick away later one by one: the various bridges, the car, the hotel, a hot shower, a nice coke and a hot meal. Especially that last one I already look forward to. But for the next few hours I have to keep walking this heavy, wet walk on this slippery trail.

Walking goes much faster than the way up, but the steep and wet parts in particular take shitty climbing that’s much more difficult than climbing up. I had a little hope that the way back would go much faster, but that thought is killed very swiftly. It doesn’t go quickly at all.

Every time when I think that I can not become any wetter, time proves I definitely can. It’s really a long way down and it starts raining even harder. Big drops and very many of them. During most of the route I walking under the tree but during the last part I am really bombarded by water. While crossing the streams I don’t try to keep my boots dry anymore. They are already completely wet. On the way up there were a couple of places where I had to go down which means that now I have to climb these again. Here I really feel how much more difficult this is than descending. After well over 2 hours I arrive at the last suspension bridge. Now it’s only another half hour going to the car.

Completely soaked I arrive at my hotel and enter the shower with all my clothes on. Really delicious! Immediately washed al my clothers. Problem is though that I already washed my other clothes this morning and that now everyhing is wet. Haven’t got any dry underwear anymore either. Then I just have to switch to swimming pants, which is the only thing dry left and a sweater I had in the car. Hereafter I get my coke (the first one during this trip) to replenish my sugar supply, followed by a nice Indian Curry that’s a bit disappointing though.

I really didn’t now what I begun this afternoon, well over 12 kilometer of which one half climbing and the other half descending did’t promise to be an easy walk in the park, but what a gruesome hike this has become. Had I known this upfront, I would have stayed cosy in my bed reading. 5.5 hours of tiresome treading for a couple of shitty photographs. Too bad the weather was in my way. I really would have like photographing the route itself.

On the other hand, now in hind side, I can laugh about it. In the end it’s another funny story. I expect a lot of pain in my muscles during the coming days. I can already feel it coming…

Maps, Charts & Downloads

GPS Map with color coded altitude information

Color coded distance/altitude chart

Color coded distance/altitude chart, New Zealand Late Summer 2011, Day 20

Download the original gpx file gpx file here.