CONFESSIONS OF A GLACIER GUIDE
A day in the life of Lisa Podlucky
It’s so surreal, everywhere you look you see the past and you see the future of where the Fox Glacier used to be or where it could end up, and yet standing on this incredible, unique Glacier leaves you in awe every single day. The unpredictable power of the ice is not a force you want to reckon with. Every day the glacier moves and twists creating magical blue caves and arches, tall walls for testing your skill and fitness hauling yourself up by ice axes and only the front points of your crampons sticking into the ice, the Glacier definitely provides something for everyone, no matter where you’re from.
"A RETREATING GLACIER LEAVES BEHIND PERMANENT SCARS IN THE LANDSCAPE EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK."
The Fox Glacier is found on the South Island’s West Coast in among luscious Rainforest and the mountain peaks of the Southern Alps including the highest - Aoraki, Mt Cook. In the tiny village of Fox Glacier, where my day starts every day and memories are made through a guided trip on the ice.
A retreating glacier leaves behind permanent scars in the landscape everywhere you look. Now what we are all hoping for is that we can all work together as a community, as a nation, as a worldwide collective to help save fragile phenomenon like the Fox Glacier.
For me it all started on the 23rd August 2016, first day of work with Fox Glacier Guiding. First impressions exceeded my wildest expectations and I knew I was in the right place. The time, care and the thought process that was put into our training was amazing. The professionalism that this company shows every day towards its staff and clients with the goal of giving every customer that walks through our doors the best experience we can. It leaves you with a smile on your face at the end of the day, knowing that your clients walked away with having one of the best experiences they ever had and leaving the guide empowered and smiling.
A typical day would start by packing personal gear that I would need for the day then doing morning jobs including hosing down and sweeping buses, recording weather data, putting on and packing away laundry etc.… Meet and greet clients with a warm and enthusiastic welcome and getting them equipped with the necessary gear including boots, socks, rain jackets, alpenstocks and crampons along with a friendly helping hand. The all-important safety briefing accompanied by lots of crazy hand gestures and a few foreign language translations which always gets a few chuckles or hysterical laughs from a few people.
Closing the door of a very exciting helicopter ride up to the ice, which is now our only mode of transport to be able to get onto the ice, thousands of photos and videos are taken or just holding white knuckled onto the guides arm until the helicopter lands safely onto the helipad. A guide approaches the helicopter - again a set of funny hand signals as we try to get people to take off their seat belts and headsets. A rush of cool glacier air fills the cabin as the guide opens and helps you out of the helicopter and directs you to a waiting area where all too often the real excitement starts and we run frantically around to catch caps, selfie sticks (which are a menace in and around the helicopters).
“Make sure the spikes go into the ice and not into your boots” I try to explain to people as they fiddle with their crampons, again in response I get a few chuckles from the group. After going through a basic crampon briefing we set off on an amazing hike around the ice.
Arriving at the first cave, a few different facial expressions of either excitement or terror are cast in my direction before I could even explain that it’s not mandatory to go through, which brings relief to many. After checking and demonstrating how to go through the feature safely, many make their way through with some odd noises being heard as everyone starts getting cold hands - (what do you expect, this is frozen snow after all) - everyone emerges slightly damper than what they started out to be, but still with a smile on their faces and ready for the adventure. I love seeing the happiness and excitement in people when they achieve something they have never tried before.
And before you know it, we close the door of the helicopter and wave our groups goodbye and await in anticipation for what’s next. For me every time being on the ice it still feels like it’s the first time I have seen a glacier, walking on a slow-moving conveyor belt, you know that nothing is going to be the same tomorrow as it is today.
Guiding for me is my greatest passion but also an everyday challenge. I go out there ready to shimmy, squeeze, jump through caves, arches and crevasses with the biggest care for customer happiness and safety. It is physically and mentally tiring but that’s what makes it fun, swinging a big step cutting axe around all day, taking photos for the clients, dunking your head into the crystal-clear pools or just being super excited when you see the sun for the first time in what feels like eternity, keeps me coming back day after day enjoying this amazing place with amazing people.
Even though with the responsibility of guiding clients around the glacier, I still have time to capture the everyday life on the glacier through my photography which clients highly enjoy due to the extra time to add funkiness and fun to the trip and what more can you ask for. Of course I will take photos for you standing in front of this amazing cave so you can treasure this adventure for many more years to come.
Thank you, Fox Glacier, you melt and you melt my heart every day and everyone who comes takes away a piece of you in their hearts.
"GUIDING FOR ME IS MY GREATEST PASSION BUT ALSO AN EVERYDAY CHALLENGE. I GO OUT THERE READY TO SHIMMY, SQUEEZE, JUMP THROUGH CAVES, ARCHES AND CREVASSES WITH THE BIGGEST CARE FOR CUSTOMER HAPPINESS AND SAFETY. "
ABOVE: Below the surface, the glacier shows you her inner beauty. BELOW: Would you dare to squeeze through here? OPPOSITE PAGE: The vast expanse of the glacier, definitely makes you feel small. Here a group enjoying the challenge on the Extreme Fox Trip.
ABOVE: Photo opportunities are plentiful. Whether 1 or 1000 photos, take away this incredible experience while it lasts. OPPOSITE PAGE: Celebrating this day with the rare West Coast sunshine and an abundance in ice caves….. and all with a smile.