Starting Point: Franz Josef
Ending Point: Franz Josef
Kilometers traveled: 0, but we did hike for 3 hours on the glacier
This morning we woke up to the sound of helicopters. A good sign, since we hadn’t heard a single one in the past 2 days and that’s how we planned to get onto the glacier. Kyle’s statement upon hearing them: “I love the sound of choppers in the morning.” With excited anticipation, we got ready and headed over to our outfitter, Franz Josef Glacier Guides.
Upon arrival, we were checked in and wristbanded…and then told to wait. The weather had changed a bit since we woke up and they were running on a bit of a delay, waiting for the clouds to clear. But we didn’t have to wait for long. We were called back, kitted up, scanned into their system, and then headed for the heliport. We got a safety briefing on how to be around a helicopter and not die by being horribly cut to pieces. Then it was up to the field to wait for our ride.
We had a group of 11, so they broke us up into 2 groups for our quick, 3 minute flight up to the glacier. I was a bit nervous, but totally game to go on my first helicopter flight. Lucky for me, they put me in a middle seat, so when the helicopter swayed a bit as we came around the ridge I didn’t freak out quite as badly as I might have sitting in the window seat. Before I knew it we were landing on the glacier and strapping on our crampons.
We spent the next three hours wandering through a wonderland of ice. We stood back and watched our guide, John, cut stairs for us with a huge ice axe. We stood and listened to water rushing down moulins (huge vertical shafts in the ice). We hiked up and over and through crevasses, crags, & tunnels. We slipped through thin cracks in the ice so narrow we had to turn sideways. We posed for pictures in ice caves and studied the moraine and the topography of the glacier. Mostly, we just soaked it all in, enjoying the day and the ice and the people we met along the way. Franz Josef is a fast glacier, with a flow rate of 1.5 meters every day. So the route our guide took us on today won’t even exist tomorrow. They cut a different route every day.
Franz Josef is also receding rapidly. Since 2008 it has receded up the valley 500 meters and diminished by 70 vertical feet. The neve (snowfield at the top) gets 16 meters of rain a year, but it’s not enough to keep up with global warming. I’m glad we got to spend time here today because the next time we come back to NZ this glacier might not be here. And it is a pretty unique glacier. It descends from the Southern Alps into a temperate rainforest at only 300m above sea level. There are only 2 other glaciers like that. One is Fox Glacier, just down the road from here, and the other one is in Patagonia.
Before we knew it, our time on the glacier was up and it was time to meet our helicopter and head back to town. As we swung around and got our final aerial glimpse of the glacier, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh geez….you are not going to fall out of this helicopter. Swaying is completely normal, Kat!” Totally true, but I did also think that, once again, we are privileged to be able to have these experiences. It was yet another sublime moment for me.
After our hike was over and we had returned our incredibly flattering waterproof snow gear, we headed back to the Spaceship for a bit of lunch and laziness. We did a bit of reading and research, caught up on correspondence, and hung out for a bit.
Earlier this evening we headed over to the Glacier Pools here in town. We both got free admission to the pools as part of our heli-hike today. We had a great evening soaking in the three pools, with temps of 36, 38, & 40 degrees celsius.
And then we were treated to this amazing sunset. What a fabulous day!Today also marked the triumphant return of Los Pinguinos, our beloved mascots. They’ve been feeling a bit overshadowed by the Spaceship since we arrived in NZ. I suspect they are also not happy with their sleeping quarters, the side pocket of the door, where they are easily forgotten. But when snow comes a-callin’ Los Pinguinos come a-waddlin’. We had great fun with them on the glacier today, and I suspect we’ll be seeing more of them in the days to come. Here are some pics of their hijinks from today.
Tomorrow we head further South to Wanaka. No idea what we’ll get into tomorrow, but we’re hopeful it will be fun.