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February 12, 2016 / cmfletcher

Ice, ice, baby

Today we were in Franz Josef and wanted to see the glacier. We booked a helicopter flight for 10 am, turned up and found that the company had booked us for the wrong day. But they had an opening for the 12:30 flight so we were set.

I had no problems with the helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon, but today I was a quaking mess. I think the news about a helicopter crash on these mountains about a month ago had something to do with it, and sheer bloody panic explained the rest. I finally told myself that we had spent a bunch of money to do this, so just say an act of contrition and enjoy the rest of the flight. It worked. I even stopped clutching the seat.

I had no idea what to expect, and when you are flying you can’t really judge. We chose the trip that circled the Franz Josef and Fox Valley glaciers and then flew around Mt. Cook. It had been very cloudy in town so we were afraid we weren’t going to see anything, but we actually flew above the cloud line.

The trip to these mountains takes you to the divide of NZ: you can see both the east and west coasts.

The pilot told us that the crevasses were visible now, but in winter they are often filled with new snow and can trap glacier hikers.

As we were flying over the blocks of snow/ice he told us they were the equivalent of a 3 story building. Nothing made sense until we flew past the climbers cabin, a full size house that appears as the red dot on the photo above. AHA!  Suddenly I realized the ‘moss’ on the rocks we were flying over was actually full sized trees.

It was so much fun. Afterwards we had lunch and drove to the path to view the glacier from below. There are warning signs about how conditions may change, and a leaflet that has an idiot’s Q&A:  Q: “But I came all this way to touch a glacier” A: “Ask the families of the people who have died if it was worth going beyond the safety barriers.” They don’t really do risk management in NZ. They say this is dangerous, here’s how to keep safe and let nature take its course. Our favorite sign was the river flooding one.

We walked most of the way that was open, then I dropped out and Peter continued to get some better photos. It was really exhilarating to see the river, and the waterfalls and the glacier. And of course the beta-endorphins from a nice long walk. Altogether one of the best days of the trip!

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