Heli Hike on Franz Josef Glacier
I waited two days for the best weather to do a helicopter hike up to the Franz Josef Glacier. The first day we arrived there, we did a 1.5 hour return hike to the bottom of the glacier viewing point. It was quite a beautiful walk in itself to see the glacier from about 250m away. But the clouds as you'll see were too dense to fly in so I waited until another day to do a heli hike.
The next day I was lucky enough to have perfect weather as the helicopter flights get cancelled often. I arrived to the Franz Josef Glacier Guides building and was given a complete outfit for the hike. Waterproof coat, pants, boots, and crampons as well as a beanie, sling bag, and socks. I already had my jacket and pants so I just wore their boots, bag, and crampons for my trip.
We boarded our helicopter for our short 3-4 minute flight to the glacier and when we landed we were instructed how to put on our crampons. My guide checked to make sure everything was in order and he noticed that my pants were loose a the bottom. For safety reasons he took first aid tape that he had on hand and basically pegged my pants at the ankle and taped them tight to my leg.
We began our trek out on the glacier with a series of ice steps. The guide reformed the recently used steps into the ice with his axe before we were able to make our accent and decent. That is what hiking a glacier is about apparently, up and down all the little hills and valleys and cracks via ice steps that the guides have dug into the ice with their axes. It was like 3 hours of a slippery stair master.
At one point in the hike we were climing down a small slope and turning off to the right at the bottom. I was near the end of the pack, I picked up my boot but the crampon got stuck in the other boot and down I went on my butt. Over the side of the "stairs" and down the slippery ice slope to whatever was at the bottom. Luckily for me, the ice slope ended about 7 ft down into the pile of hikers that was at the front of the line. A couple people were able to grab me and stop my unplanned decent down the mountain. It was a scary situation because I could have fallen in any number of very large and dangerous cracks instead of sledding down a short hill on my sore bum. But, I got really really lucky. I made sure to step wide after that one.
At one point my guide asked us all if anyone was claustrophobic because there was this large crevass that had opened up and the team worked until midnight to clear it enough to be passable. We assured him that we were good to go in and on we went. We squeezed and suffled one foot in front of the other through hundreds of feet of blue ice between two large sections of glacier. It wasn't the most comfortable situation but man was it cool! And it was worth it for the pictures alone!
I made it back to the helicopter landing site after having a good long drink of some fast flowing glacier water and a snack. The flight back out of the glacier area was just as fun as the flight in (see video posted below for a great overview). I was pretty much completely spent after the hike. Passed out in the passenger seat of my car for a good half hour on the way to Lake Wanaka. My legs hurt for DAYS afterwards as well. But it was worth every red cent I spent and every painful sit down I had to endure afterwards. I loved hiking Franz Josef Glacier.
Below is a video of the helicopter flight in and out of the glacier. It was really fun!