Posts Tagged ‘extreme’

“You HAVE to go on a guided hike of New Zealand’s Fox Glacier!  It’s something you’ll NEVER forget!”

This advice, offered from a friend, echoed in my brain as I stood on Fox Glacier, soaked and bloodied, with nothing on but hiking boots, shorts and a bra.

Is this what she had in mind?

The clouds hung ominously low over the mountains that chilly February summer morning 8 years ago on New Zealand’s South Island.  Today I would take part of a guided helihike on the breathtaking Fox Glacier.

GlacierFox Glacier

“Just make sure you don’t wear jeans,” our tour guide instructed as we prepared for our journey.

Packing a few weeks before the trip, winter clothing never entered my mind since it would be summertime in NZ.  Shorts, jeans, tees and swimsuits for those warm days… a sweater and light windbreaker for those rare chilly evenings.   Since they instructed against jeans, shorts it was!

TIP #1:  Unless you enjoy freezing your bits & pieces off, DO NOT wear shorts while trekking a glacier!  I’ts a BAD IDEA!  Find an alternative – borrow someone else’s pants if you have to.

After being outfitted with heavy hiking boots, crampons (spiked plates fixed to your boot to provide a firm grip on the ice) and walking sticks…we ascended to the skies to a higher elevation of the glacier.

Helihike

The glistening glacier was filled with black crevasses and uninviting crystalline, bottomless icy pools.  A shiver went through my body as I wondered just how far down those pools went.  My fear of drowning had never been as present as it was then.

Glacier poolAnd this was just a tiny pool…but it was soooo deep!

Our guide reminded us that Fox Glacier was constantly on the move and that Mother Nature was as dangerous as she was beautiful.

Glacier trekkingLook out below!

I made sure my steps were deliberate and secure.

The tour guide led us over the terrain and inside ice caves.

Hiking on Fox GlacierShorts + Glacier = What was I thinking?!

Glacier
Beautiful glacier formations

Glacier trekking
My tour mates conquering the glacier.
Notice how they’re all wearing pants…that’s what smart looks like!

We then traversed a hill with a fairly steep decline to our immediate left.  As the crampon on my boot secured itself into the ground, the ice crumbled from under my foot, causing me to lose my balance, slip and fall to the ground and slide with increasing speed down the slick and oftentimes bumpy face of ice.

I soon realized that this wasn’t going to end well.

At the end of the slide was the most pristine, bone numbing pool of bottomless water, and I was about to be launched right into it.

Umm…Seriously?!

My nightmare was about to become real.

Many thoughts ran through my mind before I was launched into the abyss:

  • Are these heavy boots going to take me straight to the bottom?
  • Why didn’t I ever take a professional swimming lesson in my 31 years of life?
  • Shall I attempt a cannon ball? (okay, maybe not…lol)
  • How fast will hypothermia set in?
  • How will I get out?
  • Will I get out?
  • Is this the end?
  • Crap.

The sharp pang of freezing water felt like an electric shock through my body.

Panic ensued.

I wildly splashed my arms around praying that my doggy paddle would be enough to get me over to the side.

I never liked swimming in water where I couldn’t touch the bottom.  To me, 6 feet was deep…this was ridiculous!

TIP #2:  Swimming Lessons!  No matter what your age, it’s never too late to learn how to swim.  Although my parents showed me a few moves when I was little, I always felt uncomfortable in the water.

The amazingly clear, turquoise water was so deep that you could see glacier canyon formations down below followed by a black abyss – destination unknown.

Did I mention I’m the worst at treading water?

I knew I had to compose myself or my panic would get out of control…(like it hadn’t already!)

I somehow managed to swim to the side of the pool (don’t ask me how!), but the ledge was too steep and slippery to pull myself out, so I hung on to an icy projectile (that I swear God put there just for me) for what seemed like an eternity.

With each passing second, my breathing slowed down and I grew fatigued.  My body ached from the fall, and yet I was numb.  My hands were red and raw.

Images of my family and friends flashed before my eyes, and tears streamed down my face wondering if this was how my life was going to end – cold and numb, surrounded by ice, freezing in a bottomless abyss without the warmth of my family’s love around me.  I said a prayer.

TIP #3:  Always tell your family you love them because you never know when you could find yourself in a precarious situation.

There came a point when silence filled the air and all I could hear was the sound of my own breath and water dripping into the glacier pool.

I looked up to my right to see my tour mates standing frozen in shock…some were crying.  Strangely, I felt at peace with my possible fate.

I grew increasingly calm and started to take in the beauty surrounding me.  It reminded me of the planet Crypton, and I was waiting for Superman to swoop down out of the skies, pull me out of the water & lovingly wrap me in his red cape.

Instead, a hand reached down from above, and with one forceful yank on the back of my shorts (giving me the mother of all wedgies to boot!), I was pulled out of the pool and onto the ice where I laid on my stomach with jackets being thrown over me.

“What is your name love?” asked Boris, the hike leader.

“Jennifer…”

“Are you okay?  Is anything hurting?”

“I think I’m fine…just freezing.”

“Are you able to stand up?”

“Yes, I think so.”

They supported me as I stood up.  Noticing I was wearing a drenched sweater beneath my windbreaker, Boris said, “Love, we need you to remove your sweater.”

“Um…WHAT?!?!”

“It’s saturated and you need to warm up.”

My mind raced back to that morning as I was dressing.  What undergarment had I chosen to wear?

TIP #4:  You never know what will happen during your travels, so always remember to bring your personality, a sense of adventure and a nice set of undies!

There I was, in the middle of a glacier field wearing nothing but shorts, boots and my (poorly chosen) soaked undergarments.

Little did I know that day that I would be providing mid-tour entertainment in the middle of Fox Glacier!

One of the guides wrapped me in their jacket & proceeded to rub my arms & legs vigorously to stay warm.

As I turned to look back at the black abyss that almost swallowed me mere seconds ago, reality slapped me in the face, and I started to cry & COMPLETELY lost it, screaming, “I could’ve F****NG died!”  I think I repeated that phrase like 2-3 times…or was it 10?

“Do you want to finish the hike or be helicoptered back to the lodge?”

A true Kiwi would push on with iron will, but this California girl had her share of adventures for the entire trip.  All I wanted to do was crawl under a blanket, curl into a ball and pretend it never happened.

I opted for the helicopter ride back, especially when I noticed the scrapes on my hands and the stream of blood flowing down my legs from my badly cut knees.

As I walked away from the icy pool, I felt something dangling from my wrist – it was my digital camera.  I was completely unaware that it had suffered the same fate I did, but unlike me, my camera didn’t survive.  I began to cry thinking of all of the memories I had captured that were now erased.  (Little did I know at the time that although my camera did perish, my memory card did not…hooray!)

TIP #5:  When traveling near water, snow or glaciers, opt for a water proof camera or a waterproof cover for your camera.  You never know when a spontaneous dip will come your way!

With record time, the guides helped me back to the helicopter, and I was flown immediately back to the lodge where hot soup and dry clothes were waiting for me when we landed.

As we left the lodge later that afternoon and headed to Queenstown, I decided to cancel my sky dive the next day.  One near death experience was quite enough – I didn’t need two.

Upon hearing this, our tour guide showed disappointment in her face.  “Don’t let a spill in a glacier pool ruin your vacation.  You handled the worst – sky diving is a piece of cake…and you’ll love it!”

I let her words sink in as I drifted in and out of sleep on the tour bus.

As we rolled into Queenstown several hours later, I smiled knowing that even though the impromptu glacier experience shook me to the core (literally!), it was exactly what I came to New Zealand for – to have an adventure-filled trip of a lifetime!

And I’m proud to say that after sky diving, bungee jumping, participating in a challenging rope course, eating asphalt after falling off my vespa and standing half naked on a glacierI did just that!

…And I’d do it all over again!

Glacier
TIP #6:  Go on a guided hike of Fox Glacier!  It’s something you will NEVER forget!  🙂

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“There’s still time to back out,”  I thought to myself, as my toes hesitantly peaked over the tiny wooden plank perched 43 meters (142 feet) above the Kawarau River in Queenstown, New Zealand.  As my pulse quickened and the knots of dread in my stomach tightened, I reassured myself that this was merely a right of passage done by men and women, young and old, and with one simple dive into the canyon’s abyss, I too would join their ranks.

What was I thinking?

Queenstown, after all, is the birthplace of bungee jumping and is also home to a variety of adrenaline-charged activities that make you wonder who in their right mind would pay money to put their life in peril in the first place?  That would be me!

Rewind six months earlier – I was 31 years old and secure in a career that I enjoyed, but I found myself going through the motions, and my life outside of work had become stagnant.  I needed  to get completely out of my comfort zone, awaken my senses and shake my spirit…but how would I do that?

As I scoured the internet, the answer appeared to me as I read the words, “Extreme Sports Capital of the World.”   New Zealand beckoned…and I was going to heed the call and conquer my fears head-on.

For the past nine days, I toured around New Zealand with a group of like-minded thrill seekers, and there was nothing we didn’t try – skydiving, conquering the white rapids, hiking slick glaciers and swinging across massive canyons. And now it was now time to face the one thing that made my stomach drop to my toes at the mere thought of it.

The bungee phenomenon began in November 1988 with AJ Hackett’s creation of the world’s first commercial bungee site at the Kawarau Bridge. Today, it’s still going strong with tens of thousands of unsure participants diving off the bridge each year.

There are several jumping options to choose from – you can fall forwards or backwards, jump with another person, or for the more daring, somersault. And then there are the water touch options – you can stay dry and bob above the water, touch it, or be completely immersed. I opted for the fall forwards/water touch option and stressed that I only wanted to touch the water with my hand and not my head.   “No worries Jen.”

Once you pay your $180 New Zealand dollars, the process is very quick and easy. After you sign a waiver, your weight is taken and written on the back of your hand. You then walk to the middle of the bridge where the bungee master awaits. As you sit near the platform watching participants willingly jump one by one, you are then harnessed, and your ankles are bound with a heavy cloth wrapped around them. Once the proper bungee chord is attached to you according to your weight, you then waddle to the edge of the plank, penguin-style, go to that happy place in your mind, look into the horizon and convince yourself to jump.  And voila, it’s over.  At least it seemed that easy…

“Your toes have to go over the edge, love.”  What? I was already on the plank, paralyzed in fear, and unable to waddle any further, but my jump master held onto the strap around my waist & gave me an encouraging nudge to move forward.   “Don’t worry, you won’t fall. ”  No, I won’t fall now, but I’m about to toss myself over the edge in a few seconds just for the fun of it!

“Wave goodbye to your friends.”  Goodbye???  It sounded so final, but as instructed, I waved to my friends and other spectators one last time as they chanted my name from the viewing platform. Then I turned to the camera that was documenting my final moments, blew one last kiss to my friends and said a quick prayer…just in case!


“Don’t look down. Just look straight into the horizon and pretend like you’re doing a swan dive into a pool.”  Growing up, swan dives were not my forte since my dismounts always turned into comical belly flops. But there was no time to dwell on my diving inability…the moment had come whether I liked it or not.

With that, the jump master gave me a speedy countdown.  “Five, four, three, two, one!”

Without hesitation, I leaned forward, screamed, possibly cussed, tried to clear my mind and gave up all control as I dove into the canyon’s abyss…weightless.  “Wait a minute…what did I just do? This isn’t like me!  I don’t jump off bridges for the pure joy of it!  Rewind…REWIND!!!”

But it was too late – gravity (as well as pure fear) had taken hold, and I was free falling faster by the second.  Superman couldn’t save me now.  The only thing filling the canyon were screams of terror.

Now Queenstown isn’t named the extreme capital of the world for nothing. Sure I signed up for the water touch option and requested that only my hand touch the water, but had I known what was about to happen, I would have worked my hair up into a good lather before jumping.

As the canyon whizzed by me, the tiny river got bigger by the second and the current became louder.  My hand stretched out, fingers ready to touch the rushing water.  Success!  But all too suddenly, my triumphant “Woohoo!” was met with a gush of water in my mouth, eyes and ears. It didn’t take long before I realized that the water touch option was more of a water dousing, and I was submerged mid-chest.  The sound of gushing water all around disoriented me, but before I knew it, the cord snapped my drenched body out of the river as I gasped for air.  Once I wiped the hair off my eyes and caught my breath, I screamed in delight as I bobbed up and down a few more times.

Below me, a crew of three Kiwis in a yellow rubber raft cheered and extended a long white pole to me.  “Grab onto the pole, and we’ll lower you into the raft.”  As instructed, I grabbed the pole, turned onto my back, and they lowered my limp, shaking body onto the raft.  After rubbing the water out of my eyes, I looked up and saw three huge smiles.  “Good on ya mate!”  Speechless, I erupted in giddy laughter, feeling more alive and awake than I ever thought possible!

High on adrenaline, I floated up the many stairs to the souvenir shop and picked my my dvd, t-shirt and certificate of bravery that is now displayed proudly for all to see.  Fun stories of bravery (or lack thereof) filled the remainder of the day.

For around $144 US dollars, you too can experience your own sensory awakening.

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