Since I’ve Been Gone….

I’m sorry; I know the blog’s been a bit dead, with no updates since March. Well, I had a good reason.

I was on vacation.

And it was such a vacation. I had been planning this trip for literally a decade. Slightly longer, actually. And I finally did it.

view from the Red Crater

view from the Red Crater, Tongariro Alpine Crossing

We flew to New Zealand, where we kicked around and did amazing things (I hiked over a mountain pass with active volcanoes, I rappelled into a cave and swam in a 50-degree underground river, I paid the obligatory visit to Hobbiton and was pleasantly surprised by it), and then we went back to Sidney, Australia, to catch a ship to Hawai’i, stopping at several French Polynesian islands en route. It was amazing.

There’s too much to cram into a single travelogue, but here’s our first day, at Fox Glacier on the South Island.

thin trail winding between green mossy trees

rain forest trail

Fox Glacier is one of the few glaciers in the world to descend into a rain forest. (The others are in Alaska.) The plentiful precipitation feeds both the glacier and the verdant forest, and it makes for some really great contrasts. We had booked an all-day ice climb, but the weather in the morning was too stormy to fly to the glacier. (Because the glacier has retreated so far recently, due to global warming, it’s no longer possible to simply hike to the terminus or climb from the end, and the only way to reach the glacier is by helicopter.) So Jon and I spent the morning hiking, first in the rain forest near the terminus and then around a glassy glacial lake.

It’s fascinating; you can clearly see the recent influence of the glacier, in the enormous displaced rocks and the fast-moving streams of frigid silty runoff, but everything is so green and lush.

We returned to the glacier in the afternoon and were able to take a lower-elevation tour during a brief window of sun. It was a great experience, hiking across the ice and finding crevasses and arches. The sun stayed out just until our helicopter was returning and then the rain began again, lashing our chopper windows as we flew away.

While I regret that we didn’t get to ice-climb, I suspect the exertion would have kicked my butt. In a good way, and good for me, but 7-8 hours of ice climbing has got to take a toll. Still, I’d put myself in training for this trip and the activities I wanted to do, so I do miss it.

I was sad to learn how far the glacier has receded. Even the aerial photo in the guide’s office showing tour and climb locations was considerably out of date, with permanent marker noting how much of the photographed glacier had simply melted away in recent years.

More photos and stories later. In the meantime, I have a couple of deadlines to meet (taking a month off does not help with deadlines) and some new projects I hope to share soon!

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