My friend Diane and I left the town of Franz Joseph to drive toward the Franz Joseph Glacier Valley where we'd planned to go on several hikes. It was the first time I remember seeing red-colored rocks like these in the gravel bed.
In 1908, the glacier ended here. Glaciers, as you likely know, are simply rivers of ice. High in these Southern Alps, snow builds up until it compacts into ice under its own weight. The ice then flows downhill, carrying debris with it and carving u-shaped valleys. Though Franz Joseph Glacier seemed motionless, it could shift up to five meters a day! The ice can pick up and carry rocks for several kilometers. As they retreat, glaciers leave debris behind in mounds called moraines.
Glacier visits have had to change because this landscape was on the move every day as the glacier retreated.
The Southern Alps were among the fastest growing mountains in the world, rising 10-20 millimeters per year. In the past few million years, they have risen more than 20 kilometers - over six times higher than they currently stand.
Diane and I kept passing and being passed by this couple from Arizona on the trail. Fortunately, there were far fewer people on this stretch of the track which made it so much more pleasant.
An uncertain future for the glacier: More rain and less snow is the forecast for the Southern Alps. Increasing global temperatures are expected to cause New Zealand's glaciers to continue to shrink for the foreseeable future. I wonder how much farther up the valley future generations will have to walk to visit the glacier.