7am: My alarm clock rang, and I lept out of my cozy bed and ran into the hallway and quickly ran to the kitchen.  After breakfast, I threw on the warmest clothes I could find: thermal gear, a fleece sweater, and comfortable woolen socks. With a small group of fellow students, we walked to the glacier tours building. There, they outfitted us with even warmer clothing, but replaced my beloved socks with a more glacier-approved version. As we got ready, the guides briefed us on what we were about to see.

Franz Josef Glacier is the fourth largest glacier in New Zealand, and one of 3,100 in the country.  Due to recent seismic and thermal activity, sections of the glacier have fallen off and have made hiking onto the glacier too dangerous; the only way to travel safely is by helicopter.


I had never been in a helicopter before and I was ecstatic to experience one. As we began flying to the glacier, I was greeted with an exceptionally beautiful view of New Zealand's greenery juxtaposed with the glacier's white expanse. As we approached, I became more and more excited for what was to come. We exited the helicopter doors and -- after our hats were nearly blown off by the rotors -- we were instructed to put on crampons to help gain traction on the ice. Our guide informed us that since it sometimes gets up to 60 degrees during the day and under freezing during night-time, the glacier constantly melts and reforms, which causes the landmass to move at approximately 1 meter a day, also destroying any paths made the previous day. Therefore, each glacier hike is entirely unique. The initial walk up and down the ice steps already exemplified the beauty in natural settings.

Traveling deeper into the glacier, we started to hit some bigger obstacles: we crossed crevasses using rope and a special walking technique and performed (a very cold) version of caving.

Scenes which I never would have dreamed were glistened right before my eyes. The twists and turns of the ice caverns led to incredible iridescent arches that melted as we watched them. To our left were pools and waterfalls of melted glacier water (safe to drink and 100% delicious) and to our right were snow avalanches.  It was not uncommon to see banks holding back ice chunks melt and fall a few hundred feet.


I was in awe of everything around me. As we trekked back to the helicopter pickup, I thought about the previous three hours. There is so much to preserve and protect for future generations. Unfortunately, the direction we are headed in also means that there will not be too much to protect for the future.

As we entered the helicopter, we waved goodbye to the chunk of frozen water that have given us so much to think about.

If nature can accomplish building such a structure, I hope too that it can also protect itself.  I believe it is our duty to maintain what we were given and raise awareness about what could potentially happen if we do not stop polluting the environment to the extent that we do -- I now have a new visual for what it is that's at stake.

1 Comment

  1. Jasot Turbot

    Very nicely written, and very informative too! I would love to do something like that some day. David, you are a lucky guy, and it's nice to see how much you appreciated the experience. Thanks for taking the time to write this!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Author David Szanto Posted