Monday, March 12, 2012

The Heli-Hike!

If I could post photos, I would simply let them do the talking. Since I can't, I will try to put into actual words today's adventure up on Fox Glacier.

I checked in at the Fox Guiding office in the village at 11:45 this morning. The skies were clear and the sun was shining. A perfect day for a heli trip to the glacier!

There were 12 of us (6 on each heli). We were a diverse group from all over the world. France, Israel, India, Canada and Japan. I was the only American.

Our guide on the ice was Mandy, originally from Iowa. She has a degree in Eco-tourism (how great is that?!!). She is young, 20s I'm sure. She definitely knew her stuff!

We piled into a shuttle to take us to the heli-pad. There, we were fitted with socks and boots. Then we split into two groups (I was in Group 1). We loaded into the helicopter (I had a window seat) and took off for the glacier. The flight up was beautiful, of course, with sweeping views of the glacier as well as the valley. The glacier is 9 miles long. It actually moves a few meters a day.

We landed on a square of ice, framed by rocks--the glacier heli-pad. There was a little rock-lined path to guide us from the heli to the place where we were fitted with crampons and got a walking pole.

We waited for the other 6 to arrive and also be fitted with their crampons. Each time a helicopter would come in or leave, we would have to crouch down. They were also taking 5 groups of 6 people down from their hike. We did alot of crouching!

Finally, the last group left and everyone had their crampons and poles. We followed Mandy up the ice in a single file. I was just after Mandy. At first I spent most of the time watching my feet, making sure I was stomping the crampons into the ice. Also, I was watching to follow in Mandy's footsteps. We stopped frequently, though, which allowed for several photo ops.

It's hard to describe the beauty of the ice. The crevasses and holes were brilliant blue. There were rocks and small creeks of glacial water that we stepped over. At first, the air was cold. I had my down jacket on. But, after awhile, I got used to it. When we got to one of the ice features (a tunnel), I took my jacket off to keep it dry, as it was quite wet in the tunnel. I never put it back on after that. We saw a cool arch of ice caused by the movement of the glacier compressing the ice into an arch. We weren't allowed to go under the arch because it was too thin and could possibly collapse. But, we could get up close and take photos.

When we got to the tunnel, there was another ice feature in roughly the same place. We went into the tunnel two at a time and the same with the other feature which was a large crevasse with a moulan (a hole created by water) that we climbed, by rope, down into. Mandy told us where to step to avoid the deep pockets of ice-cold water.

In the tunnel it was pretty tight. Mandy had placed her backpack as far as we were allowed to go. Steve (from London) was nice and took photos of me with my camera.

Since we were going into these features two at a time, I had time to talk and meet the others in the group. Nico (from Lyon, France) and Tal (from Israel) were great guys. Nico invited me to come to France. He said, "When you come to France, you will come to me and I will show you great places to cycle!". He wanted my recommendations for a bike to buy. Shinya (from Japan) took some great photos of me with my camera. He was very interested in my camera and had some fun taking some photos under water in the ice. The guys all thought it was cool that my camera was waterproof. Nancy and Steve were on their honeymoon. Gupta and Prav were from India and were amazed that I was cycling. There was another Asian couple and a young couple from Vancouver, BC. The girl from Vancouver accidentally tossed her walking pole into a crevasse. Since we each only had one pole, she had to do without for the walk back. Mandy said perhaps they would get it back in about 50 years!

After everyone had been in the two ice features, it was time to head back toward the heli-pad. Hiking down the slopes on the glacier was a little scary until Mandy told us how to do it (toes pointed downhill, small steps, stomping the crampons into the ice). Then, it was really pretty easy. Also, with the sun, the ice was pretty soft which made for easier walking.

We returned to the heli-pad and removed our crampons. I asked Mandy if we could get a group photo. She said if I could get everyone together quickly then we could (the helicopter was on its way). I got everyone together and along with Mandy in the photo, the other guide took our picture (I got everyone's email so I can send them the photo).

Soon after, the helicopter arrived. Steve said I should ride up front because it was really cool (him and Nancy had ridden up front to go to the glacier). So, I got to fly back down to the valley sitting up front next to the pilot! It WAS really cool!

The helicopter ride and the hike on the glacier were worth every cent I paid! It is definitely one of the top highlights of my trip! Somehow, I will figure out a way to get more photos up. It was beyond incredible!!!

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