Booked the Nimble Fox all day tour, and it was stunning. We took the ride up to the parking lot, learning some of the history of the glacier and the hotel that first began offering guided trips up the glacier (they were free, but if I remember correctly, you had to spend a week at the hotel!). Upon arrival our bus split into two separate groups (each with two guides), so I randomly picked the line on the left. When I met our guide Brian and he said he was from Red Lodge, Montana (USA), I instantly knew it was going to be an amazing trip. For anyone who has never been, the Beartooth Mountains between Cooke City, MT and Red Lodge, MT are about as spectacular a hiking area as you'll ever find in the USA (plus it's pretty empty since the crowds are all drawn to the nearby Yellowstone). We talked about hiking in Montana and he told me I needed to check Sundance Pass when I told him I planned on returning to the Beartooths to do a few days of backpacking.
Our second guide, Scott (a native Kiwi), was awesome to talk to also. He was a great resource for hiking information for the South Island and had some good beer recommendations too (I love trying beers in new places). Both Scott and Brian were extremely knowledgeable about the area and pointed out to us how the glacier has changed over the years, where some of the earlier tracks were, the first hut, etc.
The trip started off with a really beautiful rainforest hike that could get a little steep in parts, but was still reasonably easy (there was never any kind of rush, as the pace was pretty relaxed and enjoyable). Some nice streams and lots of great ferns all over the place. I mean, how cool is it to walk through a rain forest to get to an enormous glacier?
After a while we exited the forest and just had a jaw-dropping view of the glacier, from the lower sections up to the upper ice falls, with a couple of beautiful peaks in the background and looking out to the steep walls that the glacier reached up less than 100 years ago. I do have to say the trekking poles aren't very useful (don't know why I grabbed one; I hate using them when I hike), so I won't take one next time. The lower section of the glacier was some great walking and it was so amazing to finally be on this great river of ice. It just blew my mind when I would slide some of the surface slush off and then see I was standing on this giant 80 meter thick ice cube. I barely even touched the water in my camelbak, since I could just constantly scoop pure water out of crevasses and from streams all over the ice. Just amazing seeing the blue ice down crevasses and in caves.
We came to a rockfall area and stopped for lunch, since we were a few hours in and since it was a dry place to sit down with a great view of the bottom of the ice falls. After lunch is when the trip really got amazing, as we entered the ice falls. Just spectacular views walking inside crevasses and up and down slopes as Brian did all the hard work cutting our path with a pickaxe. Brian found lots of interesting features such as crevasses, caves, moulins to show us and gave us all a helping hand when we got to places where we needed to make small hops.
Overall Brian did a great job keeping us in interesting yet safe areas; there has got to be a thousand places you could get yourself killed on this glacier if you don't know your way around. There was never a time when I felt worried about slipping into a crevasse, though my sunglasses weren't so fortunate (probably not a good idea to clip them to the neck of one's fleece when climbing down something, haha).
We climbed to a really beautiful high viewpoint in the ice falls at Scott's suggestion; just amazing views of blue/white ice stalagmite-looking formations all over. Then Brian took us to an ice cave, setting a line for us to climb up (there was also an amazing view up the rest of the crevasse we were hiking up here). Both Brian and Scott did a great job ensuring we went up only 1 or 2 at a time so that there was no danger of injury due to crowding.
The trip ended with a great hike down to the lower section of the glacier and then the nice level track between the moraine and the parking area. Overall I have to give the glacier an A+ grade and both guides, Brian and Scott, A+'s also. The Nimble Fox offered by Fox Glacier Guides is easily the best outdoor tour I have ever taken, and there is no way I would do a trip like this solo (just seems like it would be certain suicide doing a solo trip on such a huge and unfamiliar glacier). I will definitely have to return to do the ice climbing tour or perhaps an overnight trip, as I was really impressed by the company and by every employee I talked to (sadly, I missed out on meeting Tex, who EVERYONE told me about when I mentioned I was from Texas, haha).
I think I must have gotten at least 5 1/2 hours of ice time, and every second was great. It looked like everyone else had an amazing time too; no one looked like they were having trouble keeping up nor did anyone seem to think the trip was too slow either. Seems like it would be a difficult balance to strike, but everyone in the group seemed really satisfied.
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