Ok, so I have a lot of favorite places in New Zealand. I live here after all, and I could live anywhere in the world. In fact, some of my closest friends frequently give me a lot of crap for the fact that I have so many favorite spots, to which I reply, why have one when you could have dozens? Right?
Many of them I’ve told you about already or share daily on Instagram. And there are a few you’ll never hear about from me. After all, we all have to keep a secret or two.
But of them is fairly obvious – the mighty Fox Glacier on the wild west coast of the South Island. And while it’s fairly well-known, I want to check my two cents in for goo measure because I love it there!
Snaking down like a perfect river of blue ice off the back of Mt. Tasman and Aoraki/Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak, along with neighboring Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier is outstanding to see.
But it’s even better up close and personal. Touch the ice. Drink from the streams. Climb into ice caves – can’t beat that!
Fox Glacier is special because it’s one of the only glaciers in the world that drops down into the rainforest below while most others are up and around the peaks of the mountains.
But that’s not why I love it – for me, Fox Glacier is remarkable because it has such a local and family vibe to it. It still feels like authentic New Zealand. It feels real. And while Fox Glacier Guiding has been running glacier guided walks on the ice for almost 100 years it still doesn’t feel like Disneyland.
Fox is also really accessible.
Normally, for us mortals, our only way of experiencing glaciers is from a nice safe viewpoint or guided walks. I always thought that accessing glaciers belonged to experienced mountaineers and ice-climbers because of the technical side to them. Let’s be honest here, if someone is going to fall headfirst into a crevasse, it’s going to be me.
But of course New Zealand takes that to the next level – where you can not only do guided hikes on these magnificent glaciers, you can also helicopter up to them and land on the ice! How awesome is that?
There is just something amazing about walking on and exploring a glacier. And hot damn, aren’t the views from above pretty rad?!
So I did a heli-hike on Franz Josef Glacier a few years ago and have done a helicopter scenic flight on Fox Glacier a while back, but I was itching to step onto the ice for a real adventure. Those were a nice little introduction and teaser, but I was ready to learn more about climbing on the ice and taking it to the next level. I wanted to truly experience Fox and know what all these adventurers are talking about.
I learned to ice-climb in Finland this winter and was looking forward to the next opportunity to wrap my hands around an ice-ax. I feel like being able to use an ice-ax automatically makes you a badass, right? Or climbing out of a helicopter onto a glacier wearing a harness and carrying ropes? Too cool for school.
Just call me Jon Snow. Or Sir Edmund Hillary. One day, guys, one day.
But I digress.
While you can do an epic Fox Glacier heli hike with Fox Glacier Guiding, if you are like me and are looking for some bigger and longer adventures on the ice and want to be up there all day, I would go for their new Extreme Fox Heli-Hike.
With the Extreme Fox, you get to learn how to use ice climbing gear and equipment, and go and forge your own path around the glacier – so awesome.
From descending into caves and moulins (ice holes) to climbing and rappelling down ice walls to learning how to set anchors and ascend pitches, it’s so epic. It felt like my first proper mountain experience.
It can be as mellow or extreme as you want, and for me I wanted a nice healthy balance in the middle somewhere. Gone are my wild days in my early twenties unfortunately. Though I did ask If I could jump in one of the ice ponds.
Never grow up entirely guys.
The sun had just started to rise creating beautiful golden beams between the surrounding peaks as we helicoptered down to the glacier after overnighting at Chancellor Dome Hut (an amazing story for another day guys).
The light was just hitting the ice when we landed; strapping on our crampons to begin an epic day-long adventure around the glacier, we set off. For the most part we saw very few other groups and only then they were far away, so it really felt like we had the place to ourselves.
Away from my phone and all my worries, it was so amazing to disconnect with the world and reconnect in one of the most outstanding natural landscapes I could ever imagine. God guys, doesn’t this place look unreal?
For me, I love being on glaciers because it is like you can see the whole journey from the mountains.
You start at the sea and then follow the beautiful braided blue rivers along the valley before you arrive at the foot of the glacier where huge chunks of ice fall down into icebergs below – watch out. Then you journey along the ice for 13 kilometers towards to the tops of the mountains where four glaciers converge together before finally arriving at the mountain peaks covered in snow. Top to bottom, it’s one epic journey.
At the risk of sounding cheesy, to me glaciers, especially Fox, are alive.
We got very lucky and one of the first things we discovered as we started exploring was an ice cave. Don’t jinx it and mention them though on your hike! Because glaciers change and move so much, you never know what you are going to find.
Down below the ice glows bright blue as pure water trickles as a stream down through the ice. Just don’t trip and fall into the water like me. It’s frosty and filled with glacier ice cubes!
Luckily I was wearing merino wool which dries fast, and hopping to and fro along the ice cavern and caves with wet knees, it was an unbeatable introduction to the Extreme Fox. It’s amazing how long these ice tunnels go on for.
From there I learned how to use my ice ax properly (not just hitting everything which had been my strategy up to that point) and even rope into my harness and set anchors into the ice and ascend pitches along beautiful ridges.
Am I even using the right lingo here guys?
Anyways, as long as it’s safe and stable, you can go so many places on the glacier.
That’s the beauty about these places, they change overnight and are different every time you visit them. One day there is a huge cave, the next a beautiful high ice arch, another huge moulin or ice hole. You never know what you’ll find.
We spent all day on the ice exploring to the point I found myself saying that I didn’t want to leave, which like, never happens when I am doing physically demanding things.
To me, being on a glacier and learning how to traverse it and climb properly is an experience that I’ll never forget. But be careful, I think I’ve got the bug and am already counting down the days that I can go back and climb some more!
Fox Glacier, stay awesome!
Does the Extreme Fox sound like an adventure for you? Have you ever hiked on a glacier or done any ice-climbing? Spill!