Thursday, December 28, 2006

Day 4: Fox Glacier Heli-Hike

Fox Glacier heli-hikes are billed as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That’s partly because after paying our tab we were too broke to consider a second go. Kidding aside, the glacier was amazing.

Having previously had a taste of mountain walks in Nepal, I was by no means keen on walking an entire day just to catch a glimpse of Fox Glacier. Friends of ours highly recommended taking the heli-hike instead, a spectacular – albeit expensive – option for those of us who have more enthusiasm than endurance.

With just two days in Fox Glacier and little allowance for re-arranging travel plans, we booked in advance, paid our 50% deposit, and prayed that the weather would hold. The skies were ominously cloudy the day before, but the day of the heli-hike dawned bright and clear.

Trish served us a huge breakfast spread and then drove us over to Fox Glacier Guides for our pre-flight briefing. Ever paranoid, I’d brought three layers of warm clothing and my not-really-waterproof Clima-Fit pants, only to be greeted by a guide dressed in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. I later learned that Fox Glacier is famous for being a tropical glacier, ending at just 300 meters above sea level. Despite the low altitude, the ice doesn’t have a chance to melt because it rushes along so quickly: on average, a meter each day. This translates to positively balmy temperatures on top of the ice. Much more comfortable for hikers than the freezing cold one normally associates with glaciers.

We attended our briefing, laced on the boots and boarded the helicopter. After a scenic flight through the valley, our helicopter pilot deposited us on the glacier face where our guides walked the twelve of us through the process of strapping on crampons and reading slide lines.

The pictures tell the rest of the story...

Fox Glacier helicopter
Fox glacier guide
Fox Glacier heli-hikersThe entire experience was like a walk in the park – the polar opposite of our equally memorable Nepal experience. John kept wishing for bad weather to liven up our hike, looking forward to being stranded on the glacier and hoping the guides would have to break out the rescue equipment they keep cached up on the ice. I, on the other hand, glanced at our troop of twelve tourists and sized up the lone slice of plastic-wrapped carrot cake our guide was carrying... clearly, being stranded overnight would not have been a pleasant experience.

Thankfully, our Vertical Limit visions remained just that – fantasies – and all too soon we were back on ground level at the hangar, unlacing our boots and picking up our “I Climbed Fox Glacier” certificates.

Information and Contact Details
What other people are saying about Fox Glacier heli-hikes...
Fox Glacier viewRead the previous entry or check out the rest of this New Zealand trip series.

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At February 06, 2009 6:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We went on the fox glacier heli hike November 08. The hike was a wonderful experience until the helicopter couldn't get back up the glacier to take us off it at our 3pm rendezvous because we were shrouded in mist. The guides kept saying it will clear.... but it didn't. We had to camp overnight on the glacier. The camp consisted of two or three tents, sleeping bags with zips that didnt zip up, spare fleeces and socks and a camping stove to boil glacier water. We pitched the tents on the ice directly using ice picks, in the dusk, couple of torches to help. There was no carrot cake. We had black tea (wonderful when you are cold) and chocolate. We lived to tell the tale but it was a scary experience never to be repeated. They got us down in the morning after a sleepless night but the ride in the helicopter was scary as it was still misty with virtually zero visibility. To cap it all, it had all been kept quiet and our guest owner hosts had reported us missing as noone in fox glacier - not even the police - had been informed there were 15 of us stuck on the glacier overnight. We have had no contact from the heli hike company even though they took our details and we provided them with some feedback on what could be improved in the event of it happening again. Wouldnt recommend it to anyone unless they have upped their safety procedures and provided more training to their guides on what to do in the case of emergency.


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