Heading back to the Glaciers. W/ and I wanted to hike on one. We’ve lived in the tropics and sub tropics for so many years, glaciers were an oddity. But, 70% of the flights / hikes on the glaciers have been canceled this year. We’re going to take one more chance, two more days. It wasn’t that far out of our way. The road north from Christchurch was closed by an Earthquake a few years ago. This closure ensure we needed to cross Arthurs Pass to Greymouth anyway. From Greymouth is was a short days trip to Franz Joseph.
Arthurs pass was an easy adventure. A hundred years ago traveling across the Southern Alps was a true adventure. Each trip risked life and limb taking upwards of 10 days to 2 weeks. That time schedule was only once the route was known and the weather clear. Today; for us, it
required less than one days drive to clear the Summit and see the Tasman Sea. We stopped near the peak at the Department of Conservation (DOC) station and did the tourist thing. The DOC station actually tells people how to die: 1) Don’t tell anyone you’re are hiking up here, 2) Avoid checking on the weather, 3) Take minimal gear/supplies, and finally 4) die in a lower elevation. The fourth note is to ensure that they can find and return the body to next of kin! The blunt language is refreshing.
On the way down we came across the ever inquisitive Kia parrot. They too know very little fear and will pick at and destroy most anything they come across. We spent a few minutes enjoying their boldness but neither of us wished to test our fortitude. Offering them an arm to climb upon or even the car to walk on. They might well have decided a piece of our skin or clothing, or worse even our ear lobe was something to be picked at and absconded with.
We arrived in Hokatika early afternoon. The tourist station; an iSite, was open and we hoped to make a new Heli-Hike reservation. I-Sites are a wonderful asset to traveling NZ. They assist in reservations and information. With reservations made we set out to find a new accommodation and some jade. Yep; W/ hasn’t forgotten. Our AirBnB host in Nelson had suggested a Mauri artist that had a shop by the river. Andrew grew up in Hokatika. That shop / store / artist studio would be the place to eliminate the middle man and find a piece that “spoke to” W/. Jade is said to find you, not the reverse.
I don’t know if W/ heard the jade or just decided on a a couple of pieces. But we left Hokatika with more goodies and less money than we had arrived with. On to the glacier.
By now the tourist season was winding down and we were able to score a nice motel just outside of town. The two restaurants we came across in Franz Joseph were AWESOME. One in town; the Blue Ice, and the other at our motel: the Franz Joseph Oasis, a short drive out of town.
The following day with baited breath we entered our Heli-Hike headquarters. No guarantees…yet. We did receive a verbal list of the fine print: If we make it to the Helicopter pad but don’t go – full refund, if we fly but don’t land, 50% refund; if we land but don’t hike, 10% refund. Were we alright with that? What choice did we have if we wanted to hike… on the glacier? Ok. But; we still waited. Around noon they called us up and gave us our final clearance. We filled out more forms. Next of kin. Dr’s numbers. Meds we might be on. general medical issues, height, weight, etc . Then the final interrogation; can you walk with gear for a couple of hours. Duh! We were lead back to the changing room. They provided all the supplies, water proof jacket, pants, warm gloves, and the most important; cramp-ons. The clothes were designed to aid in surviving a night on the glacier should the weather turn to crap. We changed and then moved at a fast walk to the heli pad. Time to get going. W/ was a wee bit nervous never having been in a helicopter before. As expected I was re-assuring…. It’s easier than an ocean passage, smoother than a car in a parking lot, etc. She worried until we lifted off. Then I was vindicted and found correct. A man of experience. 🙂 I rode in a helicopter once as a kid! 🙂
On the glacier we looked down on the world. We entered a Lord of the Rings universe when the fellowship had crossed the mountain heading to Mordor. Here too; we could see the Tasman Sea 40 km away. Only a few 1,000 years ago the glacier had stretched all the way there. Now with Global Warming it was receding every year, the face only a couple km away from our landing pad.
Eleven of us were in this group, eleven and a guide. After donning our crampons we received walking instructions. Away we went competing with the average snail. Footing must be solid and the crampons driven into the ice. To make it through the crevises we needed to walk foot to foot.
Our guide called it pin stepping. One crevasse was so narrow and had a slight bend I thought I would get stuck. I wiggled and turned, moved up and down, at last able to get my legs through the opening. I could feel panic wanting to rear up. Patience, deep breaths, and the saving thought was that our guide carried a pick and most likely he could enlarge the opening allowing me through. Yet I was still fearful. I didn’t like the idea of a pick swinging close to my knees. I love my knees! Minutes later I and the rest of the group made it through. An hour or so of walking and sliding along the blue ice we took a break in front of a mountain cliff. I say in front but we were still an hour hike away. We filled our water bottles with ice cold glacial run off and zero contamination. No life lives up here. We are intruders. W/ put together a short slide show of our trip to Franz Joseph.
We moved back down the 100 meter thick sheet of ice witnessing some of the magic of mother nature. She creates caves and crevasses as water turns from a solid to liquid state. Back at the helipad we remove our spikes (helicopter pilots are not fond of having them inside the bubble) and prepared for the descent. Another smooth ride and we’re back at Franz Joseph returning our gear. Everyone is full of smiles.
For our post mortem W/ and I head to our favorite Franz Joseph restaurant, the Blue Ice. We forget how many calories burn hiking in freezing temperatures. For me a succulent lamb chops awaits and W/ looks forward to salmon. We return to our lodging and sleep well. The following day we head north. North to home. North to warmth; for it is getting a mite chilly here on the S island. With one long days drive we expect to be in Picton and the following day cross the Cook Strait to Wellington . There we will visit John and Penny; Frodo and Pippin (Hobbiton) before finally reaching our floating home.
ps I know it has been awhile since I last posted. I am sorry. I hope it’s only the cold weather here in NZ that is causing my body to want to hybernate. Once we return from the trip I will mostly be posting once / month untill we are out on the water again.