Image of the October 2012 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
October 2012 Issue
Home / Articles / Big picture

Glacial meltdown

Castle Rocks Hut overlooks Franz Josef Glacier. Photo: Mark Watson

The Department of Conservation’s Castle Rocks Hut, perched above Cape Defiance, overlooks the Franz Josef Glacier/Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere.

Access to this stunningly located hut via the glacier has become increasingly marginal during 2012. In April the Department of Conservation Franz Josef advised that an ice bridge over a subglacial river had become unstable and that foot-based guiding operations from the terminal face of glacier had ceased. Climbers and skiers have been warned that access through the lower glacier may now be ‘exceedingly difficult or not possible’.

In 2004 the glacier developed a depression about 2km from the terminal face. Continued thinning from 2008 has allowed the depression to develop dramatically and on January 16th 2012, the ice in the depression thinned to the point where some of the ice from the base of the glacier collapsed into the sub glacier channel, greatly reducing the thickness of the ice.

The NZAC has advised its members ‘to exercise their own good judgement in accessing the glacier from the terminal face.’

Increasingly difficult access to some of our traditional alpine locations is one of the harsh realities of the state of our shrinking glaciers.