Day Eleven – HeliHike on Franz Josef

After the faintest glimpses of the Glacier the previous night, I woke up early and hesitantly lifted the blinds to see if we’d been gifted the weather we’d need for the Helicopters to fly – I was nervous, people had said that it’s cancelled due to weather often, indeed that’s one of the reasons why the Glaciers are here, is due to the massively high rainfall (or snowfall at altitude). I needn’t have worried and as soon as my eyes met the Glacier I knew we’d hit the jackpot.

P1010783
Franz Josef Glacier from the campsite

There were clouds in the sky but it did not look threatening although we were booked on the 12.45pm flight so admittedly anything could happen, but that didn’t come into my head at that point.

We rocked up early (I was getting even more excited by this point) to be told we couldn’t check-in as there was a weather front approaching and they weren’t sure on the cloud levels – when Laura told me this I think my face said it all – I was gutted, I looked out the window up at the mountains into the seemingly endless blue sky where the odd cloud floated by, but surely nothing to keep us grounded.

After the longest 20 minutes of my life, we got the thumbs up and it was all systems go. We were kitted up and had the safety briefing and after a short disclaimer to say that our trip may be shortened if the weather came in, the entire group accepted the risk and it was “get to the chopper” (I couldn’t help but do my best Arnie impression – watch Predator).

Laura being the lightest in our group was selected along with another lightweight to sit in the front, while the chunky one (me) squeezed in the back with 2 others. It was a tight squeeze to say the least but its a relatively short flight (although the pilot doesn’t hang around). As soon as you lift off you’re immediately in awe of this place and the immense scale cannot be comprehended. I was keeping an eye out for our landing site, but it turned out to be a 4 or 5m squared of nearly flat ice on the glacier – these pilots are seriously good!

We bundled out onto the ice, crouching in an ice trench, whilst the previous group were hurried onto the chopper – the downdraft blowing anything not fixed down away (including the gloves of one of our group!). And then they were gone and the silence engulfed us, punctuated by the sounds of running glacial meltwater and the odd creak of the glacier.

I’ve studied Glaciers as part of my Geography degree and this was a dream come true for me and immediately I was mentally picking out features of the glacier and surrounding valley.

Crampons fixed and another short safety brief from our Guide – a local guy who was about 12, ok maybe 20 but still looked very young, and we were off.

3 hours passed in a flash, and towards the end of the hike, I heard a loud creak followed by some “small” chunks of ice falling from a steep section of the glacier (probably about the size of a washing machine). I immediately stopped and turned hoping to see some bigger stuff coming down and with an almighty crash a few tonnes of ice separated and crashed down. The sound was incredible and I couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have witnessed this.

 

It’s virtually impossible to explain the scale in words, and I don’t think it’ll come out in pictures, so all I will say is you need to get here to see it in person!

As the we were descending in the helicopter, you could see the weather front that was coming in, we’d again been exceptionally lucky with the weather and once back on terra firma we reflected on the day whilst soaking in the Hot Pools, or rather I wallowed around like a hippo whilst Laura leaned against a rock, more akin to a mermaid.

Once again, New Zealand had assaulted my senses with it’s beauty and serenity and left we feeling exhausted but immensely happy.

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