The Iceman Climbeth

Trip Start Dec 16, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Glow Worms Backpackers

Flag of New Zealand  , West Coast,
Friday, February 19, 2010

glacier (glā'shər)
A large mass of ice moving very slowly through a valley orspreading outward from a center.
Glaciers form over many yearsfrom packed snow in areas where snow accumulates faster than itmelts. A glacier is always moving, but when its forward edgemelts faster than the ice behind it advances, the glacier as awhole shrinks backward. 
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary 
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
By far the coolest thing I've done in New Zealand, and the one thing I had my heart set on, was taking a helicopter to the top of a Glacier to do a hike.

Mission accomplished.

After Punakaiki,  it was time for me to head further south to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, the two tallest glaciers in New Zealand.  I was determined to go to the top of one of them and do a guided ice hike. But it was very far from Punakaiki.

I stopped overnight just outside of Hokitika and stayed at yet another great backpackers, the Birdsong. There's not much to Hokitika.  Not much at all.  The town's motto is A Place to Stay for More Than a Day. That doesn't really get the blood pumping, does it? Plus, I disagree.

Aside from the local greenstone carving workshops, which are very expensive for what you accomplish, not much goes on there. Except for a double-murder which happened in March.

However, due to heavy rainstorms, I stayed an extra night, so i'd like to amend the motto:   A Place to Stay for More Than a Day When it's Too Dangerous to Drive Due to Bad Weather.

The thing about the West Coast of the South Island is that it's wild.  The scenery is dramatically different in each place, from beaches to glaciers, to forests, and the weather is very erratic. It's also sparsely populated.

While at Birdsong, I met a few people who I would end up meeting again later on as I continued south—  Dorothea from Amsterdam, Sabine and Steffan from Germany.  We all hung out at the hostel for an extra day waiting for the rain to clear.  We decided to meet up in Franz Josef, the small town near the Glacier.

After about three hours I arrived at Glow Worms Backpackers. I checked in and wandered the small town to find a local market where I bought a frozen dinner— apropos, as I was going to climb a glacier the following day.

While walking through town, I ran into the Dutch Crew I met in Blenheim. They were leaving the next day, so we wouldn't get together again, but it was good to see them.

I met up with Dorothea and Sabine, who wanted to just drive to see both Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. I figured I might as well check them both out before I decided which one to explore. I'm talking about the glaciers, people.

Franz Josef looks more impressive at ground-level, and it's the one tourists go see or climb more often, but Fox glacier is the taller glacier, reaching an altitude of 13,000 kms high, while FJ climbs to 10,000 kms.  Because Fox was taller and less travelled, I decided I'd climb that one.

At the bottom of FJ Glacier, one can walk almost to the base. If you are on a guided tour you can walk up the base or hike up the mountainside.

On the way to the base, there are waterfalls from the ice runoff, and a wide river of ice water rushing from the mouth of a cave.

In America, not only would there be a manmade pathway to the site, but there would be warning signs posted everywhere, armed guards to make sure you didn't stray from the path, and a hefty entrance fee.  In New Zealand, you can pretty much wander anywhere, taking your life in your own hands, and you don't even have to pay to have a near-death experience.

People wandered everywhere around the base, and I got very close to the actual river bed, having climbed down a rocky, icy path just to get a great photo.

Several months beforehand, two people died trying to go along the river through the mouth of the cave.

The base of Fox was not as impressive, but I didn't care. I was going to the top of the emmer effer!


The next morning, I reported to Fox Guides, where I would hopefully get into a helicopter, fly to the top of New Zealand's highest glacier, and hike the surface.  I say "hopefully" because even though I had booked it and paid in advance, it was not guaranteed. We had to wait for a weather report. If the weather was clear, the chopper would fly.  But that still didn't guarantee that we could land on the glacier, or that we would even get to the top.

The weather there is constantly changing, and the ice is moving. Albeit not fast, but moving nonetheless.  We could get in, fly halfway up, then have to come down.


Me and the rest of my group, four teams of six, waited with baited breath. After a half hour of pacing, I heard the announcement: "ALL CLEAR."  Thank you Glacier Gods.  Now we had to hope for clear landing conditions.

Our group boarded a bus which drove us to the landing pad about 5 kms away from the Fox Guides Lodge, where we were given thick, wooly socks and crampons to put on our shoes at the top, should we actually make it there.

I've never been in a helicopter, so my blood pumped with excitement.

Once we lifted off, I felt a rush of adrenaline and tingliness from the thrill of the ride. As we ascended, the pilot veered left, then right, then left, showing of the agility of the beast. If I could have jumped out of my seat with excitement, I would have, but I was strapped in.

We landed on the ice near the top, where we crouched down and faced away while the other choppers landed to unload the rest of our group.

We were divided into four groups of six, each group led by a sherpa.  Our sherpa was an actual sherpa, Pasaang, who was from Nepal.

Pasaang, led us across the ice, into ice caves, over crevasses, and up the ice face as far as it was safe to go. He used his ice pick to chip away steps in surface so we tourists could safely go up or down.

Of course, I was the most daring, going deepest into one of the caves.

After four incredible hours of hiking, climbing and exploring, we loaded into our choppers. On the way down, I got to sit in front and capture some great video and photos.

Please check out the videos of the flight up and the flight down on this post. They're really cool, and maybe you will get a sense of how magnificent this was.

This was, by far, the coolest thing I've done.
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Zara on

It's pronounced Glay-see-er.
You know that.
Yes, there are many cool things to do in NZ. I'm glad you have experienced some of them.

lizzie peet on

jordan, you are my hero!!!

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