Heli-hiking at Franz Josef glacier

Heli-hiking at Franz Josef glacier

There was a lot of worries about the weather before our flight. I arrived at the heli-hike at 11am, and we all awaited the go/no-go decision.  The clouds were rolling in and rain/deteriorating weather was scheduled for the afternoon.  Still, we got outfitted in our gear in anticipation. We used their socks, leather boots with special ice crampons, jackets and gloves.  This turned out to be fortuitous because the glacier is a ‘warm’ glacier and we got pretty wet.

The weather held and we got the ok for the flight. The flight up was amazing.  It was the first time I’d ridden in a helicopter and after we got into the canyon, the weather cleared up and we had beautiful clear skies. We flew up and around the top of the mountains to see where the glacier formed. Franz Josef is a rare advancing glacier – actually growing. The glacier moves at an average of 1 meter *a day*. It moves up to 5 meters a day some days. Amazing speed for a glacier.

The glacier top was also cool because that is where they filmed the mountaintops that were used in the Return of the King for the lighting of the beacons. We circled the top of the glacier and set down about halfway up on a flatter section. We spent the next two hours hiking through the glacier – climbing through ice caves and squeezing through crevasse barely wide enough to slip through. The ice is brilliantly deep blue in color and the hike was great; but it felt pretty short. There were two very slow people in the group, so we didn’t get as far as the might usually go. It started clouding over just as we got back around to the helicopter landing site and we flew down through the incoming rainclouds to get back to town.

Overall, it was amazing and I was really glad I got to go since it is rainy there more often than not.  I even got a shirt to mark the occasion of my glacier hike.  Another interesting thing about the west coast is how amazingly like Oregon’s coast it is. The same fern plants, evergreens, beautiful rocky coastlines, the same abundance of rain (though they seem to get more of it all year long – not just in winter). It was almost like deja-vu at times driving through it all the last few days.  Tomorrow should be a big day.  I’m driving all the way up the west coast and over to Abel Tasman National Park.

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