Ice Climbing the Franz Josef Glacier

ice-climbing-franz-josefIf you find yourself on or anywhere near New Zealand’s stunning South Island – do not miss your chance to climb the Franz Josef glacier.

This stunning glacier situated within New Zealand’s Westland Tai Poutini National Park is unique (alongside it’s fellow Kiwi glacier ‘Fox’) in that it descends from 2700m above sea level within New Zealand’s Southern Alps to less than 240m above sea level amongst the luscious green of the rainforest.

Franz Josef glacier climb

Iwas extremely nervous the morning of the glacier climb. I’ve never been too much of a hiker… given the choice between a steep incline and a nice amble along even ground, there’s no question as to my choice. And to top it all off, I have always had an inability to walk on snow, ice or any other form of slippery surface. My feet decide they no longer like each other, head off in opposite directions and I inevitably end up arse over tit wishing the ground would swallow me up.

Franz Josef Glacier New Zealand

Despite my dysfunctional feet – I was determined to conquer that ever-moving hunk of ice. So we rocked up at the Franz Josef Glacier Guides centre, slipped into a pair of very attractive waterproof trousers and a bum-bag, squeezed my unpredictable feet into heavy duty hiking boots and told them to behave. Then we were on our merry way.

When I did my glacier climb back in 2011 we were able (much to my dismay at the time) to hike from the very bottom to the top over the course of the day. Since April 2012 however, due to the instability of the terminal face (which I am standing on in this photo – worrying) all glacier climbs begin with a helicopter ride that whizzes you straight up to the ice. I’m pleased I was able to experience the climb in it’s entirety – and that’s high praise coming from an anti-walker.

In the photo to the right, I may be smiling but this was mainly to mask the pain. We hadn’t even made it onto the ice yet and already my feet were misbehaving. I love my dear old dad, but i’ve never quite forgiven him for subjecting me to the genetic hammer-Ham toes. So my poor team were forced to wait on the ice whilst I taped up my entire feet to mask the blisters which had already formed. They were more blister than feet and we still had the entire climb to go.

Once I was all taped up, with my heavy duty crampons attached to my boots and my ice axe in hand, we began the climb. Despite the pain, my goodness did I love every single moment.


As we made our way up the side of this massive mountain of ice it felt like entering another world. The further we ascended the more dramatic the ice became. As we meandered through the frozen maze, our guide talked us through the history of the glacier and it’s ever-changing nature.

The glacier is constantly moving. Every single day, the glacier guides venture out onto the ice to cut new walkways, ice steps and stepping lines. This means that you could climb the glacier every day and it never be the same.

Franz Josef Glacier

Peter, our guide, was brilliant. He really knew his stuff and made the climb not only staggeringly beautiful, but fascinating. To walk behind him as he chiselled his way through ice canyons was a real privilege. My worries about the climb didn’t even enter my mind as I found myself shimmying through ice crevices, jumping over surface breaks and crouching under icy bridges.

Franz Josef Glacier Climb New ZealandPerhaps the Franz Josef Glacier Climb was the experience that ignited my thirst for adventure. It made me realise that I can do whatever I put my mind to. If I want to conquer my fear of inclines – I can do that. And you can do it too.

At the beginning of the day you are able to place yourself within whichever group you feel best suits your ability. These groups range from slow and leisurely to fast-paced. I was planning on going for the slowest option possible, however, on realising that the slow group consisted only of people over the age of 75 I decided I should dig deep and have a word with myself. I opted for the slower of the ‘medium paced’ groups and it was perfect.

 This experience was a true adventure. It was new, it was exciting, at times it was dangerous and at all times it was staggeringly beautiful. Most importantly however, I will forever take pleasure in telling people how me and my dysfunctional feet successfully climbed a glacier.

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Ice climbing franz Josef glacier