Day 17: HELIHIKING IN THE RAIN
After a day of nice weather and a day of fair weather, today started off with foul weather. Nonetheless, we got ready, left the Glacier View Motel, and checked in at the lobby of the Franz Josef Glacier Guides Office for the pre-booked heli-hike at 8:30am. We waited anxiously with heaps of other people hoping the weather would be just fair enough to let us go on the excursion.
At about 8:45am, we walked through a light forest and over to a portable building near the helipad. There, we got further briefed on safety as well as putting on the glacier gear for the excursion. Then, we waited at the helipad. There were still anxious moments as it could be called off regardless of all the preparation we had gone through up to this point.
Then, the guy with the walkie talkie got the good news and started sending people in groups to each chopper that landed. We were on the last group to go.
We landed on the glacier a little after 10am. It was kind of interesting how they made a spot on the glacier into a landing area. I’m sure it changes each day since the Franz Josef Glacier was said to be one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world.
When we landed, it was time to put on the crampons. The clouds were still menacing and pelting us with sporadic droplets of water. We were surrounded by steep mountain walls littered with veins of waterfalls. Still, the guide started the hike wielding his pick axe, and the rest of us followed…
And so we walked seemingly randomly about the glacier. There were light blue pools along with dangerous-looking crevaces you wouldn’t want to accidentally put your foot into. It was quite a unique and memorable experience to be on this type of landscape. It didn’t seem to matter that there were pockets of strong rain during the helihike.
When the group had to wait, usually the guide with literally carve out the trail for us. There was one instance where we had to do the Franz shuffle, which was a particular type of maneuvre to go down a particularly steep obstacle.
Before we knew it, the two hours on the ice was up. While we waited for a helicopter to arrive, the guide started to carve a little trail for us to go under the ice and check out a tiny little ice cave. By this time, we took the crampons off so footing was much trickier.
Nonetheless, the deep blue ice was quite a sight. Julie and I took a few photos in it before we got out. I did have a little trouble climbing out though, but some kind stranger behind me shoved me upwards to help me out.
And so ended our little adventure on thick ice. Before we knew it, we were back in the Franz Josef township at 12:30pm.
It was about 2pm when we finally were on the trail. It continued to rain so we already saw a few waterfalls from the car park. Still, we continued the walk towards the glacier.
Initially, the trail passed through some light forest, but it wasn’t long before the vegetation opened up and the open glacier-scoured valley lay before us.
Although the glacier looked close, it was still quite a walk to get there. It took about an hour to get all the way to the glacier terminus. All throughout the hike, we saw a plethora of ephemeral waterfalls strewn along the valley walls. Some of them even looked like they could be considered permanent and legitimate, but I didn’t recall if any of them had names.
The trail got increasingly rockier as we got closer to the glacier terminus. Given the rainfall, we had to cross a few streams that were no more than ankle deep. Some rock hopping with hiking sticks kept our feet dry through these obstacles.
Once we were at the glacier terminus, I was amazed at how dirty it looked down here. Off to the side was what appeared to be an ice cave. Always mindful that these glaciers could move at any instant, I opted not to cross over the roped barricades and enter that cave. My curiosity kept luring me in, but I refrained.
The size of the glacier was quite striking. We did see a few tour groups make their way up the glacier. It looked like a lot of work, but I was glad we did the heli-hike because if we started from the valley like these folks did, we would’ve been walking through mostly dirty ice.
So after taking photos at the glacier terminus, we headed back down the valley in the rain. Still plenty of waterfalls flowed given the abundant rainfall so we certainly got our fill of waterfalls – albeit of the temporary variety.
The food was rather average, but it was a good way to round out an otherwise interesting day on the thick ice.