Fox Glacier, New Zealand
Our 40 minute walk into the glacier was over a steep and rocky access path, with the grey glacier-water-river to our right and the icy white peaks high up infront of us. Once at the starting point of the glacier, we attached our crampons to our rigid plastic boots. The crampons are basically metal spikes, not only pointing downwards but also outwards around the edges. The glacier was not clear or white like I had expected it to be. Debris from nearby rocks and dust that falls within the snow flakes created grey bits everywhere. The glacier was very steep in places so our guides had used their axes to carve steps into our path, which nade it a lot easier. We firstly learnt how to walk up and down the steep sections, stamping our feet so that the crampons could grip the ice firmly and using our axes to maintain at least two points of contact whilst walking. Then, once we got to a vertical wall, we learnt how to climb it. You had to kick at the wall, so that just the spikes in the front of your boot gripped the ice. It felt strange to have the whole of your foot horizontal and not resting on anything. With an ice pick in each hand, you bashed away at the ice above you, to give you a good enough grip to pull yourself up. We had a bit of practice on a wall about 3 metres high. Then we went off to find some higher walls. Our guides attached long screws to the top of each wall, and a rope was passed to the bottom. In pairs we took turns to climb. One person had to belay, ie. control the length of rope from the bottom, so that if the person climbing lost grip and fell, they would not drop too far. The climber attached the rope to a harnass. Mike and I both took turns. At first I was so scared of falling and didn’t trust the harnass mechanism. Our guides were really good at helping our group with one-on-one encouragement, and they talked me through each step slowly as I started to build up confidence. I did slip several times along the way but also got less scared and trusted Mike with the rope. Abseiling back down was definately the easiest and most fun part. The hardest part was when there was a slight overhang in the ice, where it felt like you were trying to grip the ice whilst nearly upside down. We did a range of wall climbs, between 10 metres and up to 30 metres. I had to stop half way up the highest wall, just because I was too tired to go any further. My arms were aching from pulling myself up. My hands were sore from griping the axes so tightly. My calves were aching too. Most of all, the area around my ankles hurt the most, partly due to the inflexibility and tightness of the boots, and also because it is a strain on your ankles to keep your feet horizontal when there is no horizontal ground under foot! Mike did really well and made it to the top of the 30 metre wall. Only two people out of our group of six managed it. He slipped a few times and at one point he was hanging from just the axes! Also there was an overhang, making the last few metres really tough. By the end of the day, we were exhausted. Ice climbing is definately the most strenuous thing we have ever done before. It felt so nice to get out of the plastic boots but my ankles felt so sore, I was sure there would be bruises by tomorrow.