Day two started early, leaving Hokatika just after sunrise to arrive at the Franz Josef Glacier by 9:30 AM, in time for our scheduled helicoptor ride! We got there with time to spare, but were greeted with disappointing news: the weather wasn’t good enough to make the run up. Come back in three hours?
So, we went for a nice hike along the glacial riverbed that leads up to Franz Josef, got some great shots of unique rocks, waterfalls, and cliff faces, and headed back to town with a shred of hope that the cloud cover would miraculously part in time for our flight. No such luck. The office staff suggested we book again for the following morning. Despite the predictions for worsening weather, we decided to give it another chance. We booked a reservation for 9 AM and as the raindrops started to fall, headed to some nearby glacial hot pools for the evening.
After a night of pouring rain, we awoke to our miracle: clear blue skies and the top of the glacier. Sure that we’d have our chopper ride now, we walked over to the office only to be denied once again! This time? Not enough people booked for our flight; minimum of three required. So they sent us over to another agency that has smaller helicoptors, and booked our fourth flight of the trip. Thankfully within a half hour, we were walking up to the landing pad and climbing into the front seat!
Unbelievably, it wasn’t until I was in the front seat of the helicoptor with a big bubble window all around me that I remembered my fear of heights. Iain gave me an “Are you okay?” look, right away realizing what was going on. Fortunately I’ve had enough anxiety-ridden bus and car rides through the highlands of Guatemala and Scotland, the French Alps, the Colorado Rockies, California’s Sierra Nevadas, and the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, that I’ve gotten pretty good at basically pretending I’m watching a video game when I get really freaked out, figuring it’s better to die a calm fiery death than a terrified fiery death.
With my fears neatly bundled away, I was free to enjoy what I can only describe as a sensory experience fit for the gods. We had a bird’s eye view of everything we’d been gazing at for the last 24 hours, and more. The boney, arthritic trees, their white bark standing stark against the many-shaded greens of the mountain forests. The wineglass stem waterfall, somehow lonier and more stoic when seen from above than when worshipping at its base. And of course, the glaciers themselves, massive beyond belief, stretching white and blue, far into the heavens, only to be out-ranked by the cold, grey, snow-streaked peaks that grow along the fault-line under our feet.
Coming back down again, I realized that I’d simply forgotten about the video camera sitting in my lap on the ride up. I was glad, though, in the end, that I’d gotten to enjoy the expereince of being wafted far up into those ice-covered mountains purely, without the distraction of a job to do.