Glacier Hunting

If you haven’t already, check out part one of my recent trip to see fur seals.

Some of you knew that one of my goals while in New Zealand was to visit glaciers as I study the mathematics of planet Earth. I succeeded, visiting the Rob Roy and Brewster Glaciers in the Otago and West Coast regions respectively. The first one I visited was Rob Roy, which was not too difficult to get to, but it was no walk in the park either. The scenery right at the beginning was stunning and I had to cross a cool wire bridge over a glacially fed stream to access the trail:

As you can probably tell, the water has this beautiful blue tinge to it from glacial run-off. What you can’t hear is the roar of the water coming down the mountain side, which was the soundtrack for the entire hike. Getting to the glacier itself was unreal. There was a stillness to the place that is hard to put into words and, no matter how many pictures and videos I have seen, I was not ready for just how enormous a glacier is. One feels so small standing in front of one, both physically and in terms of the geological timescale. Glaciers are the final remnants of the last ice age. I tried to capture the waterfalls that turned to mist before hitting the ground and the blueness of the ice the best I could. What I did not capture was the sound and sight of a chunk of ice breaking away. The sound went on for minutes before I, and the other onlookers, saw the chunk of ice fall and smash to pieces on the rock below. For m audience, these pictures will have to suffice:

While Rob Roy was amazing, it was definitely a more popular hike, therefore my next goal was to reach one more remote. Originally, my plan involved hiking up to an alpine hut, staying the night, and then continuing onto the glacier, but the weather chose not to cooperate. In order to access the trail, I had to wade through a stream, which was so cold my ankles hurt for about five seconds and then went numb. The main problem was a storm front was moving in for that evening threatening to dump so much rain that I may not be able to make it back across this stream for a couple of days if I chose to stay the night. Therefore, I chose to condense this trip into one long day, which didn’t seem unreasonable. For better or worse, much like Vermont, the West Coast of NZ seems to operate under the assumption that switchbacks are for wimps. This climb was like doing one-legged squats for 2.5km. Fortunately, the old growth forest around me was beautiful and somewhat distracted me from my physical distress:

Then, I broke out above the treeline and it is hard to describe how amazing the view was, though I am also terrified of heights, as Alex can attest to, and I had to make a real effort to not keep my eyes on the trail the whole time. That exposed ridge you can see above the river of clouds is what I had to walk across:

My original goal was to walk right up to the glacier, but the weather promised for the evening started rolling in early to the point I could hardly see anything around me, including the trail. Rather than becoming another statistic, I chose to hike back early, but not before catching some incredible distance shots of the glacier. While taking pictures, I got to hang out with the local Kea, alpine parrots unique to NZ. They are also known as thieving Kea because they are so curious and intelligent (apparently as smart as monkeys). So, while taking pictures, I had to keep waving them away from my backpack because they kept trying to take my stuff. It was both entertaining and annoying, but their lack of fear let me get some good shots of them with my camera:

Despite a cold, windy, wet trip back to the base of Mt. Armstrong, the trip to Brewster was amazing.

That’s it for writing, but I also created some videos to share with my former colleague, Jen Chavez-Miller, an amazing educator to whom I am indebted. She has a grant with National Geographic, allowing her to take students into the wilderness to be explorers, so this was my contribution to support their efforts. These are not edited, so they are not great videos, but hopefully you will enjoy checking them out here. Try not to laugh at my apparent suffering. It’s funny to think about all of the promotional videos from Patagonia, REI, etc. made up of beautiful shots and reflective looking athletes because that is only a very small portion of the experience. Most adventures are actually mostly suffering with some views and moments of euphoria built in to make it all worth it.

Next week, I head out on a four day backpacking trip, so I will have plenty more pictures and stories to share soon.

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