the mighty Franz Josef Glacier

We arrived at Franz Josef on Friday night with plans to take a half-day walk on the Glacier the following morning.  We had our first truly dive-inn experience at the Chateau Franz.  There was some hobo charm about the place, but mostly it was a notch below all the other places we have stayed so far–the beds were the worst, the decor the tackiest, the kitchen the most poorly equipped, the fixtures the most dated etc.  The one plus was that they did offer free soup at 6:00 to all guests (motel and dorm-stayers alike).  The hot soup was a nice way to unwind on our first–substantially chillier–night in the mountains.
While out earlier for our grocery run for the evening, I bumped in to a rather tall, handsome man in glasses.  He seemed familiar, but i didn’t think too much about it since I am battling a sinus infection and could have been delirious at the time (and also the boogers plastered to my face and crusted around my nose don’t have me feeling my most social and charming).  But after crossing paths again…and again in the tiny grocery store I realized it was Lassi Karonen.  I told my mother (who is Lassi’s biggest fan)…but only so I could hopefully spare myself the embarrassment of her striking up conversation with him in front of me.  But when she saw him, she didn’t believe it was him (“doesn’t even look like him!”).  Then we went back to the motel… to find that the Lassi-lookalike was also staying there.
The next morning, the first person we see at the Glacier Walk check in?  Lassi.  And this time, I didn’t escape without my mother saying hello to him, and inevitably also including me.  So, Lassi, wherever you are, thank you again for being so gracious to my exuberant and flirtatious mother (and thanks to Linda too).
It turns out that Glacier Walking is quite popular among the rowing crowd, as also spotted at the Franz Josef Glacier Guide desk this morning:  Katherine Grainger & co., as well as two from the GBR M8+ and USRowing celebrities:  Allison Frederick and Margaux Jackson! Lassi and K. Grainger opted for the full day tour, which left the rest of us to talk shop, take photos and enjoy the beauty of the Franz Josef Glacier together.

From inside the ice tunnel

The half-day tour left at around 9:30 a.m. and started with a gear fitting (mountain boots, socks, crampons and waterproof outers) and a 10 minute bus ride to the Glacier carpark.  Once there, it was a 2km walk (flat) to the foot of the glacier.  A short (but steep) climb up a rock pile and we found ourselves on the face of the Glacier itself.  We spent the better part of two hours tramping around the ice, including a track that went through a small ice tunnel.  Our guide, Rob, was very chill and did a great job making us novices feel comfortable on the ice and using the crampons.  All the staff at FJGG were pretty laid-back about the whole thing… they had signs posted around the facility about the staff that are celebrating “Movember” with festive facial hair.  Indeed, many a guide I saw this morning had some fine facial hair designs.  So it turns out that men are equally ridiculous when it comes to mustaches regardless of your continent/hemisphere. Sigh.

Me with our Guide, Rob

After all the photo ops had been executed at the top of the Glacier, we meandered back to the bus and were back in town by about 1:45.  By the time we grabbed lunch in town (corn fritters and bacon?  once was probably enough for that) and stopped at the I-Site, it was about 4:00… a rather late start to our driving for the day as we are due in Te Anau for our voyage to Milford Sound on Monday.  We’re arriving in Makarora tonight and then onward through Queenstown.

Long Live the Dream,