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Ice Age: Glacier Hiking 101

When did I think I would hike a glacier? When hell froze over. Appropriate, right? Okay, don’t feel bad if you didn’t realize glaciers were still in existence. There are actually only a handful of locations around the world to climb one, so today, Kim and I hiked the icy paradise in Franz Josef, New Zealand. Before letting us hellions loose on the ice, the guides provided us with some ultra stylish equipment. From head to toe this included: hat, rain jacket, gloves, over trousers, wool socks, hiking boots, crampons, and fanny pack (aka bum bag).

To reach the glacier itself we took a shuttle bus, hiked a steep inclining path through a rainforest area, walked across a flat glacier valley covered in rocks, and finally, conquered a winding mountain path to reach the terminal face of the glacier. It’s strange to be in such an environment because one minute you’re walking on rocks and the next minute you feel like you’re in Antarctica. Surprisingly, the time spent actually getting up to the glacier was probably the most strenuous part of the day. Another surprise was how warm it was on our way up. Many hikers (including myself) shed a few layers and hiked the mountain in just a t-shirt. (Don’t worry, Mom. I put my coat back on when we reached the ice.) The path we took included several sets of chiseled ice stairs and a path that resembled an ice maze. Blue ice caves, glistening ice crystals, and sparkling waterfalls made the scene more picturesque than a postcard.

The secret to walking on the glacier without tumbling down the slick sheets of ice was our crampons. These little guys are metal shoe spikes (resembling a bear trap) that attach to your hiking boots for traction on the ice. By putting your weight on the shoes with each step the cramp ons were able to dig into the ice for a stable walking surface. We felt quite like little wilderness trekkers while walking around with these on. Our buddies at REI would be proud.

So after trekking, hiking, and stomping on ice all day, we saw something incredible. It truly was like a scene straight from the movie Ice Age as the glacier sparkled in the sunlight. It was nearly perfect. The only thing missing? That lovable crazed squirrel.

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