- Cryosphere refers to any portion of the Earth's surface where water is in solid form, including glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, sea ice, snow cover, frozen rivers, lakes, and permafrost. The Cryosphere is closely linked to the Hydrosphere and plays a crucial role in the ecosystem and our everyday lives.
- I've chosen the name because Cryosphere encompasses a wide range of ice around the world. This blog is meant to chronicle not all glaciers, but those that I experience and photograph in my travels. My vision is to visit and write about as many glaciers and other ice forms as possible while I pursue knowledge and share experiences of a beautiful world of ice. I hope you enjoy the photographs and follow along as I go!

09 March 2018

22. Tasman Glacier via Ball Pass - 9 March 2018

The day it snowed in Queenstown, I figured my chances at an alpine crossing of Ball Pass had expired for the season. It was the one last major objective I had for my summer in the southern hemisphere so it was sad to admit that it may not happen. I was working for the New Zealand Census in Queenstown, living out of a van at a DOC (Department Of Conservation) campsite just out of town. I was close to the end of my work assignment and was itching to get out and explore more mountains and hopefully get on some more glaciers.

I had been eyeing the Tasman Glacier since before I landed in New Zealand. At over 23km (14mi) long and 4km (2.5mi) wide, it is the country’s largest glacier, and an obvious target if I were out checking off glaciers. I came across the Ball Pass hike online while researching the Tasman Glacier; the long alpine-crossing-style hike went up the Hooker Glacier valley, crossed just under Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest peak, and exited the next valley over, alongside the Tasman. The map put the route in very close proximity to the Tasman and Hooker glaciers, and even crossed the Ball glacier near the pass. With this one long hike I had a chance at visiting three more glaciers in one final grand tour of Mt. Cook National Park. If the trail were buried in snow, though, I would likely not make it through to any of the glaciers.

My last week of work saw mostly warm weather and the snow had all seemed to melt around town and the nearby peaks. I was watching the forecast for Mt. Cook every day – hoping for at least a few days of clear weather in which I could attempt the crossing. For the two days after I finished work in Queenstown, my friend Mandi invited me to stay at an Air BnB in town with her and four other ladies. We split the cost 6 ways and spent two nights walking distance to town with incredible views overlooking the magnificent Lake Wakatipu. From the first couch I had sat on in months, I enjoyed some spectacular sunsets out the massive front room windows.

Sunset over Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

Before we could get too used to spending more money than we could afford, we headed out of town. The girls had been planning two nights on the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s nine “Great Walks.” I was invited along and surprised to see there was still space for one more person on the track. The DOC only lets a small number of people stay in the campgrounds each night, with a few more in the cushy huts along the track (for $65/night per person), lest the trails be overrun by tourists. A cold forecast for two nights had us scrambling to gather enough gear and socks to keep all of the girls warm, but the weather turned out thankfully much warmer that the below-freezing forecast had read the day before we departed. While the track is often done one-way, with a 6 hour car shuttle or hitchhike from the other side, we opted for two nights in the same campground a few miles from the East trailhead. In addition to being the only option for available campsites on the trail, an out-and-back hike the second day allowed us to make the majority of the uphill hike with daypacks instead of our entire load of camping gear and food.

Hiking the Routeburn Great Walk

Waterfall along the Routeburn Track

We hiked all day and were rewarded with a viewpoint that granted us a view of the West end of the trail, some 1,000 meters below and 10 km or so away by trail, just as the clouds broke enough to catch a glimpse of said trail as well as a few peaks around us.

View along the higher elevation of the Routeburn track

We returned to camp late and had a lazy morning hanging out and practicing our headstands. We also met two more American girls who needed a ride to town, and ultimately around to the west end of the track where they left their car.

On the hike out I got a few interesting looks, mostly from older men passing by as I followed behind seven beautiful women all the way back to the trailhead.

The eight of us stopped in the small town of Glenorchy for some post-hike face stuffing at an amazing little diner. As soon as I sat down, once again back in cell service, I pulled up the forecast for Mt. Cook. Incredibly, starting with the next day were four images of big beautiful suns telling me to leave now before another storm rolled in the fifth night.
As soon as we finished our lunch I said goodbye to Mandi and my new friends, driving three hours to a campsite just outside Mt. Cook National Park. For many travelers in New Zealand, a Great Walk or two is the culmination of their entire trip and one of the most physically demanding things they will do. Roughly 18 hours after finishing the 3 days and almost 40 km on the Routeburn, I would begin another 4-day trip covering some of the most grueling terrain I have ever been through with one of the heaviest packs I’d yet carried. I guess you could say the Great Walk was just the warm up.

I arrived at the visitor center for Mt. Cook less than 10 minutes after they opened for the day. While Ball Pass technically needed no permit or camping fees, I was going solo and thought it a good idea to leave someone my plan, just in case. I also wanted to ask about route conditions and see if anyone else had been over the pass recently. The rangers showed photos of the route and, of course, immediately reminding me that an ice axe, crampons, and the skills to use both were required for this crossing. When I explained I had been working on a glacier for three season in Alaska, they relaxed and became much more helpful. One gentleman spent almost 20 minutes with me going over the best and worst parts of the route, as well as tips for crossing over the Tasman Glacier. The official route for Ball Pass actually only crosses Ball Glacier, up high near the pass on the East side, but I hoped to add on an entire extra day trekking across the Tasman’s moraine covered lower section up to the white ice. It looked easy on the map; some 4 km or so from what the ranger said was my best access point, plus whatever time I spent exploring the much more exciting uncovered ice. However, he also warned that the map was no longer accurate about how far the edge of the white ice stretched. By his estimates it would be as much as 7 km trekking over unstable rocks and boulders on a very topographically complicated active glacier. That meant I would be adding at least an extra 15km to the already 27km long alpine crossing. I also planned to do the reverse of the recommended route simply because I saw exploring the Tasman Glacier as more important to me than hiking up and over the pass. This meant harder route-finding through unmarked terrain, and the extra distance and effort would come in before beginning the climb to the pass and the hardest part of the route. Since I wrongfully assumed the trek across the glacier would be fairly flat and easy hiking, I failed to think too much about the potential added difficulty in the planning phase of my trip.

Trail to Ball Hut

After a short drive to the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint trailhead, I started hiking just before midday. I reached Ball Hut (which can be rented for a nominal fee) within three hours of easy walking and pitched my tent nearby (camping was free). The hut had an outhouse and a rainwater catchment to supply hikers with fresh drinkable water. I would camp close to the gully most people use to access the Tasman Glacier, currently about 120 meters (400 ft) below me. After a quick snack at camp I set off to scout out my route for the next day. I wanted to be as efficient as possible getting across the moraine to give myself more time to explore the white ice of the Tasman. I figured I would be much faster if I knew a good route down the scree slopes below the gully and how to navigate through the many crevasses right below the access point. Around the corner from where I stood the Ball glacier spilled down a steep slope to join the Tasman, creating a tumultuous, crevasse-ridden section of ice stretching out to nearly the middle of the Tasman and a few hundred meters “downstream.” Imagine a large calm river running along and a massive waterfall spilling in on one side. The same forces creating rapids and waves in water churn out crevasses and seracs in glacial ice spanning out from the tributary glacier. It just so happened the confluence of the glaciers happened just up-glacier from the access gulley, meaning the easiest way to get to the ice puts a person right in the middle the hardest section of glacier to navigate. If I could find a way through the crevasses now, it might save me a lot of backtracking and searching for a route the next morning.

Camp set up above the moraine covered Tasman Glacier

The scree slope down was as horrendous as I expected, loose rocks of varying sizes held together by dirt and sand, all randomly deposited by the glacier hundreds or thousands of years ago when it was much thicker. The loose till now slid under the slightest pressure, making the way down resemble more a day of skiing than mountain climbing. It was actually almost fun, so long as I didn’t think of how fun it was going to be to go back up later! A large shelf of stable rock waited only about 40 meters below camp, then another scree slope ran down another 80 or so meters or so to a shelf just above the glacier. As the ranger suggested, I followed that first shelf to near its end where a more gradual slope revealed a way down the next level of scree below.

Finally at the glacier, I spent a couple hours scrambling around the moraine covered ice and thinking I had at least a usable route, though not ideal, wandering through the worst of the crevasses. It still left a few obstacles in the distance before I could consider myself in the clear and get to the much more calm center of the glacier. On my way back toward the edge I found an exposed patch of ice with clear running water to cool off in and take a drink.

Cooling off on the Tasman Glacier

As I sat down I realized the sole of one of my shoes was flapping around on the heel, becoming unglued and likely soon to fall off completely. Not a great start to the trip I had ahead of me. On closer examination the other shoe was separating as well, and I was already considering heading back to the car the next day instead of making my trek. I had only spent an hour or so on the Tasman, but if my shoes started falling apart that might be all that I get out of this trip!

I began my hike back up demoralized, but hopeful that I had remembered to put a tube of superglue in my emergency kit, which was back at camp. As expected, going up the loose rocky slope was significantly less fun than coming down had been. Every step felt like I lost more altitude than I gained as rocks slid below my feet. The last short section would likely be the hardest part of the next day, assuming I had footwear to even start the trip. At least, I thought, traveling across the main flat-ish section of the glacier would be fairly easy…

Upon my return to camp I rinsed the dust out from inside the failing shoes, left them to dry and walked to the hut in my camp shoes (flip-flops) to fill up on water. Half way through filling my cooking pot, I noticed that the helicopter I had heard in the distance and assumed would simply fly overhead was becoming rather loud very suddenly. I looked toward the glacier just as the rotors rose up from the valley below and I looked right at the pilot, who seemed to be coming right at me. I was so surprised I must have either looked absolutely terrified or entirely puzzled, as if I’d never seen a flying machine before. It finally dawned on me that he was going to land as close to the hut as he could, and I had jackets and gear strewn about around me right where he wanted to be. I scooped everything that might blow away on top of my bag in one wide reach and dropped on top of it, remembering to grab my hat off my head just before a massive gust of wind hit me from the hovering helicopter. He landed only a few meters away from me, and several people with DOC vests on jumped out, one of them walking straight toward me. I assumed someone was missing in the area, or hurt, or something interesting. The man very nonchalantly introduced himself and explained, only when prompted, that they were doing some maintenance on the Ball Hut, as though I should have expected a helicopter to nearly land on top of me at any moment. He commented that it was their 9th and final inspection for the day, adding that they would be enjoying a beer in town in less than 15 minutes. I half-jokingly asked if I could come with, and they all got a laugh. I probably would have raced them to the helicopter if they had even joked about having an extra seat. I said goodbye and returned to camp to attempt some superglue repairs instead.

Helicopter taking off from Ball Hut

If you can't duct tape it, superglue it!

The glue seemed to hold even before it fully dried, and by the time I finished dinner I was convinced it might actually get me through another day. I had my doubts that I would be completing the entire trek over Ball Pass at this point, though.

The next day as I set out from camp, thick clouds hid the sun, keeping temperatures cool in the valley compared to the intense heat of the day before. The glue on m shoes had seemed to dry, and I made quick work of the scree slopes down to the glacier.

Pointing to the gully I scrambled down, and will eventually have to go back up

At the last minute I abandoned my planned route from the day before and backtracked down glacier as soon as I got to the ice, skirting all the way around the entire section of crevasses and rough sections. This proved to be a better way, and I quickly made it to the middle of the Tasman and turned up glacier. The clouds hid the surrounding peaks from me, but also kept me cool as I climbed and descended hill after hill of ice covered in loose rock. The rocks became larger, and soon I was literally hopping between boulders bigger than most New Zealand trucks. I have always enjoyed ‘hiking’ this way, using my hands almost as much as my feet to move through rough terrain. You really feel like you’re getting somewhere when you’re moving quickly. However, I soon realized that the extra energy expended by such movement would soon catch up with me. Two hours in and I felt as if I had been hiking for an entire day; another hour and I was absolutely exhausted. As I crested what I had long thought to be the last hill blocking my view of the clean white ice, I was greeted by a massive drop to a lake, the opposite side sheer ice cliffs, annoyingly still covered by moraine. The white ice was in fact visible, though still a long way in the distance. I was tired enough that I considered turning back, having seen quite enough of this glacier for one day. But, after an extended snack break, I again decided to push on. I hit my objective after 3 hours 48 minutes and 7.1 km (4.4 mi), worn out but excited to see what interesting features New Zealand’s largest glacier held in secret. I picked my way carefully over the slick ice, finding a way easily enough over a few rocks and flat sections to avoid emptying my bag to retrieve the crampons as long as possible. I saw many of the typical glacial formations of moulins, crevasses, and supraglacial streams to refill on water.

Looking down a crevasse on the Tasman Glacier

I hadn’t walked far before one such stream seemed to disappear ahead into a mound of ice to the side. Of course I had to investigate. Sure enough, the river ran straight into the wall of ice, cutting an opening tall enough for a person, though rather narrow, winding it’s way through the glacier and dropping ever so slowly down. I strapped on my crampons and made a half-hearted attempt at a self-portrait in front of the cave, not moving fast enough to get in place for the 10 second timer. I quickly realized my outfit would blend in so well to the dirty ice around me that I never made a second attempt.

Entrance to ice cave on the Tasman Glacier

Instead I retrieved the camera and moved into the ice cave. This was the kind of thing I had been looking for out here, bright blue ice glowing inside from the faint light of day diffused by about a meter of ice between me and the outside world. My not-quite-waterproof high-top shoes would not handle the depth of the small river running under my feet, and one sock was wet almost immediately upon entering the tunnel. I did my best to keep my feet as dry as possible, jamming crampon points into the walls above the stream and stepping across ledges when possible. I slowly maneuvered my way through the awkward tunnel, almost always in contact with both walls via my elbows, shoulders, back and/or head. I was reminded of canyoneering in desert slots back home in Utah, squeezing sideways through narrow passages, though a bit more slippery in this scenario.

Selfie near the entrance to the ice cave

The dim light deeper in the cave provided very little for my camera to pick up inside the cave, so without a tripod I was forced to stand as still as possible with the camera pressed against one melting wall for a longer-than-comfortable exposure every time I wanted to photograph something inside. With a massively high ISO setting (similar to old-school ASA or ISO sensitivity on film) I squeezed out a few shots that would prove grainy and unworthy of viewing at full size. The beauty of the curves of perfect blue ice needs to be shared though!

Several views from inside the ice cave of the Tasman Glacier

Exiting the cave, my brand new black rain/ski jacket – purchased just weeks before upon misplacing my expensive Gore-Tex jacket at a dairy farm with an earlier job – was colored more grey than black thanks to the glacial silt covering many of the walls leading into the cave. One little ice cave is all it took to remind me why I shouldn’t buy black or white clothing.

As I repacked my bag – reclaiming clothing and snacks strewn about the boulders in front of the cave as I emptied it to retrieve the crampons earlier – a small helicopter came overhead flying low, beneath the cloud cover overhead. On a clear day, this valley sees hundreds of tourist-filled choppers flying up the glacier, many landing for a tour on the ice and others just out for a scenic flight. Today, having been cloudy and windy, this was one of very few engines I heard breaking the silence of my peaceful isolation. The white helicopter went nearly over my head and quickly went out of sight over the next rise of ice. As I continued up the glacier, the helicopter soon came back into view; this time sitting still inside a circle of small rocks just wider than the skids, rotors fully stopped. While the chopper was directly in the path of my easiest route, I purposely made a wide arc to avoid conversing with the group, though no one could be seen even after I had walked far past the idle helicopter.

Helicopter on the Tasman Glacier

As I neared my turn-around time to regain camp before dark, I decided to end the day on a small moraine covered hill of ice that might grant a better view up-glacier. With thick clouds lingering overhead, it did not give me much to see, though I witnessed the tail end of several large tributary glaciers entering from between the peaks surrounding me. The mountains themselves remained concealed by the clouds as I finished off a majority of my snacks, saving only a minimum for the long walk back across the glacier. I was by now some 8 or 9 km from camp, and entirely too tired and sore to convince my legs to start the walk.

Looking further up-glacier from my turn around point.

I slowly gained the courage to start the trek back, and soon saw a very much out of place group of people stumbling around the glacier in front of me. Most of them were undoubtedly experiencing their first day in crampons, in awe at the strangeness of the glacier. Again I gave them a wide berth, though they disappeared into a valley or cave as I passed. Two women in long, white jackets complete with animal fur lining the hood, popped up near me as I sat taking off my crampons, giving me a very surprised look as if to say “what on earth are you doing out here by yourself, and where is your helicopter?”

As I dropped the crampons into my bag and turned away with a polite wave, saying nothing, they returned to their guide and I went on my way. The trek out was even more miserable than the way in. Partly because I entered a much more rugged section of glacier by moving too far to the west too early, running into another large section of crevasses generated by the tributary Hochstetter Glacier pouring in from a large icefall above. Hours later, I made the move for my exit too soon, finding myself in the middle of the numerous crevasses and steep icy hills below the Ball Glacier’s confluence and came up just short of where my first scouted trail had found me a successful way through. I eventually spotted it, one steep slope below me. I was stuck. I would have to backtrack half a kilometer or likely more to regain the proper route, or find a way down this slope. Being only about three meters above a good shelf and easy way down to my target, I decided to make the slide. In hindsight, digging out the crampons to strap them on for ten steps would have been worth the effort, but I was tired and ready to climb into my tent that was so close I could almost smell it. I glissaded down the icy slope starting out low on my feet, but ended up on my hip, finding the only rock on the slope with said hip on my way down. I landed still with my feet below me, but, with a new bruise and throbbing pain in my right hip the way up the massive loose scree slope above me would now be worse than ever. I cursed myself for not thinking through that move clearly, for losing my feet on the way down, for not backtracking to the known route, and for not just putting on the damn crampons that I was already carrying in my bag. Leaving the ice and staring up at the formidable slope above keeping me from my sleeping bag, I turned some music on my phone to give me something else to focus on while I slipping and slid my way somehow upward, using hands and feet to gain any ground I could. I barely had any energy to cook food that night, lying in bed to eat and passing out shortly after without cleaning up anything. My last thought before falling asleep for some 11 hours was, “today was supposed to be the easy part of this hike…”

I awoke to a thick fog surrounding camp and a soreness that demanded I end the trip now and return to the van, or better yet, spend an extra day just sitting in camp here, moving as little as possible in the next 24 hours, then bail and return to the van tomorrow. It was a serious consideration. I closely examined the soles of my shoes for any reason to justify turning back. Nothing. The glue had held and they looked like they would last just fine. After stretching my muscles out a bit and filling up water at the nearby hut, I broke down camp and started the hike upward. I remember very little from the next couple of hours, as it all sort of blurred together. My hip was bruised but still mobile, but my legs and back ached from the odd angles scrambling through loose rocks the entire day before. But as the fog lifted, so did my spirits, and I was granted incredible views as I climbed higher along the ridge.

Caroline Glacier spilling down to join with the Ball Glacier which enters from the left 

I passed a few people coming down from the pass reporting it was in fact ice free, and I would be able to avoid any snow or ice on both sides of the pass if so desired. I, of course, was still hoping to cross at least some part of the upper Ball Glacier, though I now doubted that I would have the energy to make another side trip to explore the Hooker Glacier on the other side. Two glaciers would be plenty for me. In fact, I would be happy at that point even if Tasman was the only glacier I got to hike on.

As I came within sight of the private Caroline Hut (usable only by paying clients of the guiding company who owns it) it was past 3:00pm, I was out of water and moving incredibly slowly. Being so close I started to focus on the hut and managed to lose the trail in a large boulder field under a rise that I now suspected the trail had gone up and over. I tried traversing around to regain the trail on the other side, but it ended up with me sliding down a rather steep section of scree, blocked by an even steeper slope ahead. I had no choice but to turn back, traverse back below the hill and fight my way up a boulder field to find the trail up high. Why hadn’t I turned back as soon as I realized I was off route? I was tired and ready to be done for the day, but my goal and best option for a campsite was another 500 vertical meters higher to the pass, and some 400 meters back down the other side. The actually hiking distance was almost 5 more kilometers. At the rate I was moving, I was guessing it would be well after dark by the time I found my campsite.

When I finally neared the hut around 3:45, a small guided group was just returning for the evening. The guide saw me from a distance and walked out to meet me, quickly informing me it was a private hut and I was not allowed to stay in the vicinity. I already knew this, but I explained I was trying to reach the campsite at the Playing Field, over the other side of the pass. She seemed unconvinced that I could make it all the way there that night. She suggested I fill my water at the hut, since no streams or snow would be seen until just below the pass, and recommended I make camp below the hut, moving up to the pass the next morning. Since I was determined to make at least a few more kilometers that night, she suggested a place just below the closer side of the pass, which, while at a high altitude, was at least mostly sheltered from wind. She confirmed that the ice and snow had all melted from the pass, and as of a few days prior, it was in fact passable without touching snow for the first time anyone at her company had ever seen. The Ball Glacier was melting quickly, as was the “permanent” snowfield on the west side of the pass. Any fit hiker in everyday boots could now, at the right time of year, complete what was once considered a technical alpine crossing requiring ice skills, crampons, and an axe. That would certainly take some of the fun out if it. At least the views were good.

Cell-phone pano from the ridge, (L > R) Caroline Glacier, Mt Cook Summit, Hochstetter Glacier, Tasman Glacier Valley

After refilling my water, I trudged on up the ridge. It was another mind-numbing climb up, up, and up until I reached some melting snowfields just below the pass. I refilled my once again empty water bottles and enjoyed a view looking down on the Ball Glacier and a small blue-green lake filled with broken up ice just below the pass. The old route, in the suggested direction opposite the way I was headed, came directly from the pass down the icy slope, across where there was now a lake, and regained the trail a few hundred meters behind me.

Ball Glacier, looking down from Ball Pass.

Now the slope looked impassable, the top section was loose broken rock instead of glacier, not to mention the added obstacle of the lake in the basin below. I failed to see any spot that looked flat enough for a tent in the area, and nothing looked remotely sheltered from the wind. Besides, I was determined to at least get over the pass so the last day could be entirely downhill. Sunset was coming fast, so I made a short snack break at the top of the pass and enjoyed the views off either side, taking one last long look back toward Tasman, and the Ball Glacier below, which I never did end up getting to. I would have had to hike quite a distance down to the ice, then right back up the same way just to touch it to say I’d hit one more. Oh well, I was happy enough with my full day on the Tasman and I was, at the time, thinking of very little besides a big dinner and a flat place to crawl into my sleeping bag.

As I started down the west side of Ball Pass, I noticed two people coming up, still far below me. At least I wouldn’t be the latest one out that day. I managed to find a bit of snow left to boot-ski/glissade down and speed up my descent, quickly dropping several hundred meters and finally feeling like I was getting somewhere. I talked to the couple about the route through my next section, as it was notoriously hard to follow – one of the main reasons the DOC recommends hikers do the trail in a certain direction. The two pointed me toward a couple of landmarks and continued on their way up, hoping to sleep at the top of the pass to minimize their distance of hiking in the dark. 

The distance to the Playing Field actually now seemed possible with the large gain in speed on the downhill, so I decided to continue on and attempt to make it there for the night. The sun would be behind the far peaks in less than an hour, but it wouldn’t be truly dark for some time after that. Plus, it’s not like it would be my first time setting up camp by light of a headlamp. My only major concern was crossing the next drainage; it was the one place the ranger had warned me about going this direction. It was an absolute must hit crossing through the cliffs on the far side, going to high or too low would mean being cliffed-out on the far side. Since that side was out of sight until it was too late, I absolutely had to find the cairns before going through the cliff band. If I couldn’t get past that section by dark, it would likely mean curling up on a shallow ledge for a cold sleepless night. As is my usual style, I came in too low and missed the target, only discovering it when I moved around the cliffs and my apparent route ceased to exist. This time I cut my losses and backtracked to an easier slope, moving up the scree as close to the cliffs as I could. I soon spotted a large cairn in an unlikely place high above me. The route was a narrow, hands-on climb to a shelf that wrapped around to my first view of the Playing Field below. I breathed a huge sigh of relief to finally get a glimpse of what had seemed such an impossible target all day; It was a massive flat section looking entirely out of place jutting out from such steep, loose terrain. I finally felt like I could take my time, because even in the dark I should be able to find a route down from here.

I stumbled down the last slope to the edge of the field as the last light of the sun illuminated Mount Cook’s summit high above me. It would have made an incredible photo looking out from a tent in that moment, but I wasn’t fast enough for that today. As I hurried to set up the tent I settled for a bit-too-late shot of the half-built shelter below the dark red summit.

Sunset on Mt. Cook, New Zealand's highest peak. Hooker Glacier on the left.

The stars were starting to appear by the time I finished the tent and made dinner, so I somehow gathered the energy to convince my body to go back outside and take another photo before crawling into bed. My mind knew it would be worth it, though my body took a lot more coaxing out of the warm, fluffy sleeping bag I had curled up in to eat.

Camping under the stars and the summit of Mount Cook.

The next morning I was uncertain that my legs would actually hold my weight, but as I devoured the last of my food – save a few snacks for the way down – they slowly regained something resembling the strength to move. It was going to be a long day, but at least it was mostly downhill. As I stared down at the Hooker Glacier below, I regretted not being able to visit more than one glacier on this trip. I tried to convince myself there still might be time to drop down to the Hooker, but my body was having none of that conversation. I knew at this point it would be a haul just to make it back to the parking lot as it was, I didn’t feel like adding in a scree slide rivaling that of the access to the Tasman Glacier two days before.

Hooker Glacier

I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a climb back up one of those slopes feeling like I was, and I had no food to push through another day. Besides, if I hadn’t reported in to the DOC visitor center by the next morning, a search party would be departing before I even woke up. So out I went.

River out of Hooker Valley

Hours and hours of walking, tired, sore, and so ready to be back to the bag of potato chips and fresh apples waiting in my van. The first thing I would be doing though, was finding a nice spot to go for a dip in a glacial river and refresh my bruises, sore muscles, and entirely destroyed feet.

Tasman Glacier statistics:

Native Maori Name: Haupapa
Type: Valley Glacier
Location: Mt. Cook National Park, New Zealand
Source: Mt. Elie De Beaumont and Hotchstetter Dome
Length: 23.5 km
Width: up to 4 km
Flow: average 0.65 meters/day
Access: Easy hike to lookout above the Tasman Glacier Parking lot in Mt. Cook National Park. Moraine covered ice can be accessed in around 3-4 hours one way via Ball Hut track and down a cairned steep gully just past the hut.