Monday, 23 August 2010
Moving mountains - Tasman Glacier, New Zealand
How can I ever forget that day in 1991 when the top fell of the high peak of Mount Cook Aoraki. (see photo above) It was mid-morning on 14 December 1991 and I was living at Franz Josef Glacier township running the National Park when Rusty Knight, a helicopter pilot, called me and said, "the bloody top has just fallen off Mt. Cook."
Rusty said he was taking off in a few minutes to have a look. Earlier that morning the height of the mountain was 12,349 feet (3,764 m). and was reduced by 10 metres (33 ft) when approximately 10 million cubic metres of rock and ice fell off the northern peak.
In disbelief I said yes and 20 minutes later we were hovering at 11,500 feet stunned by the awe inspiring few of a topless Aoraki Mt. Cook. As we flew down the path of the massive snow and rock fall we could see a huge dark path of debris going down the Hochstetter ice fall across the Tasman Glacier, and staining the snow clad slopes up to about 7,000 feet on the other side of the valley. Rob Hall had been climbing earlier that morning when it occured and he stood and watched, "frightened out of his wits" he told me later.
That was almost 19 years ago, and today the mountaijns and glaciers are still moving.
Thirty to 50 million tonnes of ice have broken off the Tasman Glacier, forming around 20 icebergs now floating in the Tasman Lake - adding more drama and spectacle to an already dramatic landscape.
The process began earlier this month when the terminal face rose 20 to 40 metres thanks to a rain downpour which lifted millions of tonnes of ice from the water across the entire 600m width of the face.
The Tasman Glacier, in the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, is New Zealand's longest glacier.
On August 18, a small section of that ice calved resulting in a massive and spectacular iceberg separating from the face. Sometime over the weekend, the rest of the uplifted ice broke away from the terminal face in the biggest ever calving (breaking away) in the lake's 35 year history.
Glacier Explorers, which takes passengers on cruises on the Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake, will resume operations on 3 September, one month ahead of schedule due to an early spring melt and to take advantage of the opportunity to see the magnificent new icebergs.
Denis Callesen, General Manager Tourism for Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village Ltd said the coming season promises visitors the most spectacular iceberg and glacier cruising season yet.
"The scale of what's happening here is just enormous. The biggest iceberg is about 300m by 200m and 40m high - and that's only the 10 percent of the 'berg that we can see. Ninety percent is below the waterline."
Callesen said the Tasman Lake is now full of icebergs with more than 20 that are 50m by 50m above the waterline.
"These 'bergs now take on a life of their own, flipping, turning and moving as natural forces take action.
Callesen said he and Glacier Explorers staff were "incredibly excited' about the coming season.
"We are expecting the most spectacular season ever here, with stunning viewing of nature in action. Visitors will be able to get out onto the lake from early September and they will be in for a trip of a lifetime with sensational iceberg viewing. The current calving will give us ice to study for the next two seasons at least."
The season will open with two trips a day increasing to five as the season develops.
Thanks to Stuff NZ /Ch Ch Press for permission to run the photos of the glacier cal