New Zealand – the Tasman Glacier

Leaving Mt. Cook Village, we drove the three kilometres down Hooker Valley to its intersection with the main valley drained by the Tasman Glacier. Turning up the valley on a side road, we hugged the edge of the valley floor. Here it was a three-kilometer wide outwash plain between steep mounain walls. After another six kilometres, we parked at the beginning of a trail climbing to the crest of an old moraine arcing across the valley and enclosing the lake at the foot of the glacier.

From the bottom, the moraine, clothed in shrubs and small plants, didn’t look that far up. However, we kept climbing and climbing until nearly 300 feet higher, we crested the moraine. Spread out before us was the huge lake, dotted with large icebergs broken from the face of the glacier, now over three km. up the valley. Steep mountain walls cut by ravines rose over four thousand feet on either side. Higher, glacier-clothed peaks rose up the valley. Mt. Cook itself was hidden around a corner.

The glacier spanned the valley floor from side to side. Its vertical walls of ice rose above the lake. The surface itself was hidden by a cover of rocks fallen from the walls above or melted out of the ice during its long journey from snowfields to the north. Far up the valley we could see a surface of fresh ice as the glacier descended at a steeper angle from the northeast.

For the last several decades the glacier has been retreating and thinning, with more ice melting than has been coming down its valley. If we had been here a hundred years ago we would have had to climb up onto the glacier from where we now stood. describes the glacier’s retreat . NASA photos from 1990 and 2007 show the retreat of the glacier and the expansion of its lake . It also shows the expansion of the lakes at the feet of the Hooker and Mueller Glaciers above Mt. Cook village.

In Hooker Valley at Mt. Cook Village, cloud had obscured the peaks. However, on this side of the high ridge separating that valley from the Tasman, the sky was bright blue with only small floating clouds. We found ourselves in the midst of a vast river of wind sweeping down the valley. In the colors of changing wave patterns in the lake, we watched gusts move toward us. As they hit us, we braced ourselves against the force. It was exciting and awesome to be in this place.

We were like specks in the midst of such a grand landscape. However, we knew we hadn’t changed size. The landscape, the river of wind sweeping past, the glacier and the time scale it represents were simply that huge–and only a small part of this planet of wonder we inhabit–and the solar system, our galaxy and the universe itself? Too big to comprehend.

Then looking down near our feet: tiny plants pollinated by tinier insects and in harmony with tinier insects that crawl on them–then microscopic bacteria that help their roots take up nutrients, far too small for us to see…

The range of scales of size, time and energy represented here is unfathomable–and I have been made part of all this–in spite of all my shortcomings and past errors, which are many. What blessing, what grace, what generosity!

So I’ve been made part of this tremendous, wonderful whole–meaning I’ve been given unknowable value and worth as a person. And if it’s true of me, then it’s true of every living person.

Thank you, Lord, whatever you are and by whatever name we call you–and hello, valued brothers and sisters and bright world! Amen.


About David McCoard

After earning my MS in geology I've done various things including managing the ski touring program at a small lodge in the Sierra. In 2010 I retired from Contra Costa College in California. I've always been fascinated by the mountains and nature and have spent countless days hiking, backpacking, climbing and skiing in the Sierra. The spiritual insights I've learned there have set the course for my life. Now I have time to share them and strike up a conversation.
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One Response to New Zealand – the Tasman Glacier

  1. Pingback: What’s Happening to Glaciers | Mountain and Spirit

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