Even if the only ice you have ever seen was in a fridge you can learn to climb vertical walls of it in just one day. Foxguides based in the small town near the Fox Glacier run fully equipped courses for beginners.
Although ice climbing is regarded a dangerous sport it can be made very safe. Climbers are securely attached by rope to an anchor under the supervision of an experienced guide.
Guides teach how to walk on ice before attempting the first climb. This means fitting out with some unfamiliar kit ; ice axe and ice hammer and sharply pointed metal crampons attached to rigid plastic boots.
It’s awkward at first but the secret is to keep all the crampon points in contact with the ice for maximum stability. Once used to walking in crampons moving around is easy.
The guide sets up a top rope on a ledge above and abseils down to start instruction. A figure eight knot attaches the rope firmly to the harness and you learn how to belay, being prepared to lock the rope if a climber loses grip on the ice wall.
During the day you progress to steeper slopes and learn skills like wielding the ice tools for maximum efficiency without slamming knuckles painfully into hard ice and placing feet correctly for secure front pointing in crampons.
Confidence grows quickly as well as eagerness to move up to the next level.
Being lowered into a crevasse and then climbing out can be a bit scary. It’s an uncomfortable start – walking backwards into a void; followed by an easy abseil to the bottom.
The ice on the wall near the crevasse floor is as smooth and hard as marble. Ice tools and crampons bounce off at first until you expend much more effort into getting a foot and hand hold.
Apart from the backward walk over the edge at the start the next most difficult manoeuvre is getting over the lip at the top.
Once accomplished, there is a great sense of achievment especially as only eight hours ago you were only learning to walk on crampons.
There are plenty of opportunities for ice climbing in the South Island. Adventure companies run courses for up to five days in the Mt Cook and Queenstown areas.
These courses teach technical skills like knots , belay techniques, constructing ice, snow, and rock anchors, as well as rope techniques, trip planning and preparation.
The magnificant scenery of Fox Glacier makes it a destination in itself. It flows 13 kilometres falling 2600 metres on its journey to the coast. It has a fast flow rate so the ice, after travelling over large bedrock steps, finally ends up on the valley floors in a messy maze of crevasses and pinnacles.
How to Get There
- Daily buses run South to Queenstown and North to Nelson.
- Glaciers are accessible from Christchurch.
- Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are 23km apart.
Ice Climbing at Fox or Franz Josef Glaciers
- · No previous experience necessary but reasonable fitness and agility required.
- · Maximum four pupils to one instructor
- · Duration – eight hours.
- · Instruction available year round.
- · Equipment included.
- · Heli-ice climbing combines instruction with exploration of the upper icefall.
· Both Fox and Franz Josef villages have accommodation ranging from camping to upmarket lodge accommodation.