Fox Glacier, New Zealand (Aotearoa)
43° 30' S 170° 4' E
Apr 25, 2005 09:26
Distance 0km

Text written in: English

ANZAC Day on the Glacier

Today is ANZAC day - a national holiday to commemorate the ANZACs -- joint Australian and New Zealand soldiers who took terrible casualties under British command during the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey in 1915. It's now generally seen in both Australia and New Zealand as the pivotal event in the creation of national identities as opposed to their previous self-image as subservient possessions of the British Empire.

This morning we donned crampons for a guided hike up to and on the lower part of Fox Glacier. This was my first time on or near a glacier, but as a child Helen had visited a glacier near Banff, Canada with her mother. We walked up the moraine through a rainforest, which also grows up steep sides of the moraine. I think our guide said that this was one of only three places in the world where you can look down from a rainforest onto a glacier.

Our guide was Cornelia, an Australian with dual Oz/NZ citizenship. She guided 11 of us, of various ages, fitness, and enthusiasm levels with a gentle firmness that put us all at ease. Is it the words that the British, and the Aussies and Kiwis, use or the way they say it that makes everything they say seem so polite? It's what makes Monty Python so funny -- people struggling to maintain their decorum under trying conditions.

Also on our walk was a Canadian family from north of Toronto, retired schoolteachers and their university student son who was in NZ on an exchange. We compared US and Canadian holidays, shared travel stories and talked a little politics. He mentioned David Frum, the Canadian-born speechwriter who coined the phrase "Axis of Evil" for President Bush, and said that Frum had called Bush the least curious public figure he had ever met. Bush, he said, had no interest in finding out new things about the world.

On our walk we got to stomp around on the ice with our crampons and poke our walking sticks into little crevasses. We also learned a lot about geology and glaciology from Cornelia. The glacier has been advancing and retreating since the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago. When Captain Cook looked at the area from his ship offshore in 1760, he described a mountain range with a large valley covered in a "long white cloud." That cloud was actually Fox Glacier.

Currently, the glacier is moving downhill about 50 cm per day. The flow dynamics are similar to the lava flow we observed at the Kiluea Volcano in Hawaii in May of 2004, only much, much slower: the bottom moves faster, the top is slower and crusts over, and it spreads out at the bottom, pushing debris out ahead.

The rock at the site is predominantly schist, with adamite and quartz intrusions plus some shale that has tumbled down from the top of Mt. Tasman.

Photos / videos of "ANZAC Day on the Glacier":

Fox Glacier Village on the morning of our glacier walk. We rode in the buses to the terminal moraine and hoofed it from there. Setting out. Helen helpfully borrowed a lime green cap for easy identification from afar. Cornelia, our guide, holds the rope as Chris climbs through. Getting the knowledge from Cornelia. The Pink Triangle signifies, among other things, the safety zone here on Fox Glacier. If there was a rockslide or some sort of incomprehensible glacier disaster, the guides would say, "Hey, everyone go to the safety zone." And this is where we'd assemble. Safe. Getting close now. They really should sweep the rocks and rock dust off the bottom of the glacier for an icier, more "glacier" look, in my estimation. So, on the glacier. Large pinnacles of ice and rock. You had to be there. It really was quite cool. I mean it, it was really not very warm on that large slab of ice. Tenzing Norgay, left, and Sir Edmund Hillary, famed Kiwi mountaineer. Tenzing demonstrates proper crampon use. Crampon. Crampoff. The Cramper. In the background: the infamous "Hillary step," the most dangerous part of the climb here at 250 meters above sea level. "I seek ze unknown, I live ze unknown, I am ze unknown."

"Where will your next expedition take you?"

"Zat is unknown." No, no, the glacier is <i>behind</i> you, Tenzing! Poor Tenzing. Always pointing in the wrong direction. At last the summit has been reached! Now, where's the St. Bernard with the cask of brandy? Coming back down the moraine. El Capitan? How about El Capi<i>can't?</i> Can we get some brooms on this glacier? Maybe a Hoover? Clean it up a little? It looks like the side of a street about a week after a big snowstorm. Shrubberies, glaciers, mountain peaks, cascading waterfalls. They're all here for you.