25 years … who would have thought!

We are celebrating 25 years of New Zealand Geographic magazine!

In 1993, I did my first assignment for Geographic about glaciers, which involved climbing Mt Cook and marked the beginning of my journey with the magazine. Thanks to the enormous effort of the current editor and publisher James Frankham, all issues of the magazine are now digitally archived so you can download them and read wherever you are in the world. With this post on, I will offer you snippets of some of the favourite stories and adventures I’ve had done over the years working with Geographic. And it all started with glaciers …

Hacking his way up the brittle flanks of Linda Glacier, alpine guide Charlie Hobbs leads his climbing partner towards the summit of Mt Cook, New Zealand´s highest peak. Vast snowfields that lie within the shadow of Cook and its neighbour, Mt Tasman, are the source of some of this country´s mightiest rivers of ice.

Hacking his way up the brittle flanks of Linda Glacier, alpine guide Charlie Hobbs leads his climbing partner towards the summit of Mt Cook, New Zealand´s highest peak. Vast snowfields that lie within the shadow of Cook and its neighbour, Mt Tasman, are the source of some of this country´s mightiest rivers of ice.

Glaciers – ice on the move

 Thump, thump-ice-axe, ice-hammer -thump, thump-left foot, right foot-thump, thump-axe, hammer … Each kick of cramponed boot, each jab of ice-axe sends showers of tiny crystals hissing down the slope into the whiteness below. I watch them free-falling over the polished surface until they disappear.

The wall of ice, like stale sugar glace crudely plastered on to the mountain, sprawls out in all directions. Beneath me, it sweeps down some 500 metres to dissolve into the glacier. Ahead, the summit is a stark white wedge that splits the sky.

I am one of three beetles crawling up the flanks of Mt Cook (3755 m). Beside me, Charlie Hobbs, a weathered mountain guide, is hacking his way up the lustrous ice couloir. Roped to him is his client, Aucklander Bruce Mellor.

Some ten hours ago, under the shimmering blackness of the mountain night, we crossed the fissured hollows of the Grand Plateau and began to climb up the Linda Glacier. For long hours before the sunrise our world had shrunk to the small cones of yellow light cast by our head-torches. Around us, the icefall lay like a prehistoric metropolis that had been reduced to rubble.

Séracs (blocks of ice several storeys high) leaned forward at precarious angles. Crevasses, mouths agape, sliced the surface like knife wounds. Bridges, caves, arches, tunnels, spires and towers-every imaginable type of ice sculpture was there, garlanded with icicles and frosted with wind-swept frozen crust.

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Thump, thump … we chip and scar our way up the glassy wall. Seventeen… eighteen … nineteen … I count the steps. Every twenty brings a blissful rest. Ahead, Charlie climbs with the casual confidence of a taxi driver cruising his favourite suburb. He leads up the entire rope length, hammers a half-metre-Iong snowstake into the slope and calls for Bruce to come up.

The summit nears as we make our way along the ice cap. A strong sou’westerly howls over the ridge, forcing us to hug the steep, wizened slope. We reach the summit cornice and can go no further. In its lee we cut a narrow platform: somewhere to rest, to celebrate, to quench the tormenting thirst.

Here, from the top of New Zealand’s highest mountain, I can take in one of the country’s geographic ”signatures”: Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s mightiest river of ice, meandering some 2000 metres below.

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The analogy to a river is remarkably accurate. Just like rivers, glaciers move down their valley beds responding to the principles of flow. Like frozen waterfalls, they cataract over steep escarpments, shattering into spectacular icefalls. They rush (relatively speaking) through narrow gorges and splay out across the valley flats.

The degree of turbulence is reflected by the crevasses. Where a glacier takes a sharp turn, flows over an obstacle or joins another stream of ice, the inner forces exert immense pressure on its surface, causing it to crack and open. Further downstream, after overcoming the impediment, the crevasses close up again, healing and smoothing the battered glacial surface. Continue reading at New Zealand Geographic …

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