Yesterday on our way into Franz Josef Glacier, the activity sheet made its way around the bus and I signed up for the Franz Josef Glacier heli-hike and the Fox Glacier skydive. Both are highly weather-dependent and expensive! I debated with myself whether I really wanted to (in a budget-conscious mind-frame) do both for a few days. I was coming to the conclusion that I did want to; I had been planning to do the Fox Glacier skydive and had heard good things and seen amazing pictures from a friend that did the heli-hike at least a few days in advance.
The weather for the 23rd was shaping up to be a perfect, almost cloudless-sky day! So both expensive activities happened! My credit card definitely gave off a little smoke that day!… youch! 😀
So, I was in the 9:30am group for the heli-hike. The heli-hike was going to last from 9:30 when we checked in, got geared up, onto the helicopter, and as quickly as we could get up to the glacier and get our crampons on. I think we probably got up to the glacier by 10:15 or around there; I didn’t check the time. The flight up to the glacier was completely brilliant! Guess what! Based on the weights of the people in my group, I ended up being one of the lightest (or something like that) and got assigned to the FRONT SEAT OF THE HELICOPTER with the pilot! FRONT and CENTER!!! Heck yea!!! That made my day! There were two of us though that got the front seat assignment so I took the front seat on the ride up there and then the other girl got the front seat on the ride back. As we flew up towards the glacier, the scale of everything just seemed to shrink. The mountains didn’t look so big from a distance but somehow as you approach and get close to them, you become or feel dwarfed. As we flew down to the glacier, the people looked like tiny ants until we were almost on top of them and then all at once their size looked normal.
We slowly hopped out of the helicopter and walked up to the flat area and began to put our crampons on. Our glacier guide was Norbert (we called him Norbe); a mountaineer from Hungary; the “only Hungarian in Franz Josef Glacier.” He was super cool and it was really cool having him as a guide. There were 11 people in our hike group (all from the Stray bus); most of them were fine and attentive but as in every group, there are two or three that have a hard time not talking, focusing, and following directions! I have absolutely no mountaineering or glacier climbing experience and so I was sure to be attentive, to listen to directions, and to follow exactly the guides foot-steps, literally. I found it super aggravating when those few people would begin poking and prodding the glacier, wandering outside of the foot-path of the guide that clearly had been walked by the groups ahead of us.
The only reason I knew to make sure to stay within the footprints of the guide (you might find this funny or silly), but have you seen the movie Eight Below with Paul Walker and the husky sled-dogs down in Antarctica? The professor didn’t listen to and/or wandered outside of the safe zone designated by Paul (don’t remember his character name) in the movie… and he ended up breaking through ice and nearly dying. Now, I know that’s just a movie; but you don’t mess around with forces of nature such as a melting glacier! Seriously! End of rant….maybe.
Our guide told us about how glaciers create sort of an optical illusion concerning distance and size. There was a rock outcrop that split the glacier in two. He said that rock outcrop was approximately 900 meters tall! I would have guessed 300-500 feet tall; not 900 meters! Apparently that is taller than the Empire State building (I don’t know the height of that off the top of my head). We got to see a large chunk of the glacier break off and fall down onto the rocks below the rock outcrop. Obviously you can’t predict something like that and so no-one was ready to film it; but it made a huge rumble and we spun around really fast to see it. We were about a mile away from that (again, with the optical illusion) it looked like we were probably 1/4-mile away. Walking around on the glacier, you feel small, insignificant amongst the grandeur of the mountains on either side and the glacier crevasse all around.
We came to a place where flowing glacier water had created a small channel through the glacier ice. Our guide told us that we could pour out the water we had brought with us to drink and fill our bottles with some of the flowing glacier water. So I did just that. Thankfully I had my reusable stainless steel REI bottle with me so I filled that up to the top. That bottle kept it ice cold! The water tasted super clean! It was so good. I don’t know how else to convey how spectacular this experience was, so I’ll just put in my best photos of the experience and hopefully you can imagine how incredible it was!
We headed back to the helicopter landing at about 12:45pm. We caught the helicopter back about an hour later; I was starting to get anxious as I was supposed to be picked up by the Skydive Fox Glacier shuttle at 2:30pm. Since I was in the back seat and on the wrong side of the helicopter to see the mountains that we were flying by on our right, I just put my camera away, and enjoyed every second of the flight back. As we approached the landing zone, the pilot pulled a seemingly tight turn that exerted some G-forces on us; it felt so cool! The girl next to me was freaking out inside a little bit, I could tell….hhahaha. Anyway, back on the ground, I headed back to the place to return the gear as quickly as possible and then hustled over to my room to change clothes for my skydive.
The skydive in Fox Glacier was going to be my highest skydive at 16,500 feet above sea level. What I recently found out (which I think I wrote about in my post about Paihia where my last skydive was) was that the skydive is measured above sea level, not the elevation of the ground at the skydive location. That means that while I may have jumped from 10,000 feet in my second skydive in New York State, it might have really been only 9,000 feet depending on the ground elevation in Weedsport. Who knows. Not like I’m going to hold a grudge or anything, they should just disclose these things! I’m paying for a certain height when in reality it may not be! GRRRRRR.
Moving on…. I was the least scared for this skydive than any of my others. I’m not really sure why either. I was just really excited. It’s so funny seeing the reaction of my tandem skydiver when I say this is my 5th/6th skydive. They usually say “What do you need me for?” or something smart like that. They also say “You need to get your skydive license!” Yes, thank you, I know. I also know it’s stinkin expensive and I never have the money to drop all at once! Anyway, this skydive was absolutely incredible! We got to see the ocean, mountains, glaciers, Mount Cook (the tallest mountain in New Zealand), clouds, etc. It was spectacular! So worth the money!
Since that skydive, I actually have no real desire to go again. Nothing scary happened and my tandem skydiver actually taught me about the approach and landing sequence for skydiving which was really cool. I think maybe I’ve just done it enough times and spent enough money on it…. Maybe. We’ll see. That theory could go into the wind the next place I go and there’s an opportunity to see something beautiful during a skydive. 😀 The rest of the day just doesn’t measure up (LOL) so I’m going to end there I guess. 😀
I had planned to do a long day hike (Robert Point track or the Alex Knob track). I decided to do the Robert Point track which was a 5-6hr hike. But I had to walk to the trailhead which wasn’t directly in Franz Josef. It was about 4km away from town at the Glacier Trail car park. So, the walk was going to be really long. I met a guy from Croatia while walking and we talked all the way there. He was going to do the Alex Knob trail. I got part of the way on the trail when there was a big “DANGER” sign warning about potential conditions on the trail, that it was only for experienced trampers, and that I think two people have died on the trail (trying to cross rivers). At this point, I accepted the fact that I didn’t feel up to the challenge, I was physically exhausted (from yesterday’s adrenaline day-long high maybe?? not sure. 😛 ) and didn’t feel like trying to do that hike. So I turned around, and walked along the pretty flat trail to see the Glacier. It was a nice walk and I was really tired by the time I got back to the hostel.
December 25th (Christmas)
It was a very quiet Christmas. I basically worked on my blog in the morning for a bit and then went to my room and took a nap. I did manage to video chat with my parents and family at Grandma’s where it was still Christmas Eve. That was nice.
This is a quick video pano of the hostel common area on Christmas. Even though I was “alone” it was nice to have people around.