March 3, 2015 (Tuesday) - Did a beautiful drive today from Franz Josef Glacier lodging (JAG Alpine Retreat), stopping at Fox Glacier, and continuing on to Wanaka. Although the ever present rain hammered us most of the night (how can it rain so much?), by morning there were only scattered showers and miraculously when we stopped for our 90 minute hike to the base of Fox Glacier, the clouds parted, the sun warmed up the valley floor and led us on a well lit trip to the glacier. Only a few months ago, they were able to lead hiking tour groups up onto the glacier, but not with marked recession of the ice, it is deemed too dangerous and only helicopters can transport tourists onto the glacier for a on-ice experience. We were disappointed by that and the price of the helicopter trips ($300 for 25 minutes total - 20 minutes in the air back and forth with only 5-7 minutes on the ice). The walk up the valley to both Franz Josef and Fox glaciers was a wonderful experience however, with sheer towering mountains forming the glacial valley, tumbling, roaring melt waters in the stream, and the towering presence of the glacier high in the valley. The melt stream was not the expected trickle but a roaring, angry torrent filled with the milky grey glacial silt-laden water rushing down the valley impatient to meet with the sea. Tremendous power with the ice and the melt water grinding the mountain rock downward, downward, always downward.
Photos below show the Fox Glacier at the head of the valley with characteristic blue ice and melt pool at the base. This current glacier is only a fractional remnant of its previous greatness. As recent as 200 years ago, most of this valley was filled with ice and it is predicted that within 60 years no ice will remain - yes, the earth is warming! The second photo shows the steep walls of the glacier valley and the glacier fed river, milky white with glacial silt. The walls of the valley are so steep because of the grinding erosive action of the glacial ice and rocks it carries, but also due to the very hard rock forming these mountains the valley walls don't collapse.