Thursday, August 10, 2006

Expedition training on the Tasman glacier

Last weekend, Kim, Hella and geologist friend and expedition supporter Emilie went up and over the snowline to get into shape for the Svalbard Scientific Skiing Expedition. The goal was no less than the traverse of New Zealand's longest glacier, the mighty Tasman glacier. This enormous river of ice, up to 600 m thick in places, measures just under 30 km in length, extending past some of New Zealand's highest peaks, including the highest one of them all, Aoraki (Mt Cook). At 3754 m, it may not seem like a Himalayan-like mountain but it surely feels like it when you stand underneath it.

Over 4 days, we traversed some very varied terrain, from easy moraine-top walking, through moraine bashing to glacier skiing. One part, involving the ascent of a snow and ice-covered moraine towards De La Beche Hut, one of the National Park's cosy huts, involved the use of ropes and protective gear, a skill that will prove invaluable on Svalbard. While the nights were truly chilly, we managed to please the weather gods and enjoyed some of the most stable and amazing weather this winter. We spent very little time sleeping, since even the night moonlight was enough to do a little bit of backcountry skiing, in the glamour of the surrounding peaks.

One of the highlights of the trip surely has to be a night spent at Tasman Saddle Hut. Perched on the rim of a rocky precipice at about 2400 m, the hut has a truly amazing view. It doesn't pay to too much down, however, as the hut overlies a vast field of crevasses. Even getting the drinking water involved some belaying. Upon leaving this wonderful hut, we enjoyed some of the most amazing skiing conditions possible, with about 15 km of downhill. The gradient was gentle enough to enjoy the spectacular views, while steep enough to make the skiing fun. If only all training trips were so much fun!

Kim, Hella & Emilie

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