Monday, December 31, 2012

Live My Life

Though I have taken quite a break from writing over the last couple months life has continued on.  I am a functioning member of the Fox Glacier Guiding team and as we enter into 2013 I've been thinking a lot about the year past.  It has been an amazing year for me traveling over the southern hemisphere and living on impulse more than ever before.  I loved ever second of it all starting with the turtles, sharks and seagrass.  Then south to see Kangaroo and  to buy my didgeridoo.  Next I moved east to Tasmania spending time exploring the land with Adriana and building foundations with Ninedot construction.  Then after a few days from Melbourne to Bondi Beach, Sydney,  It was time to hop across the ditch to New Zealand.

My introduction to vineyard work at Antill Estate was to perfect a way to begin this leg of the journey.  Hitch-hiking around opened my eyes to the overwhelming good-will of the kiwis and to a simpler way of life.  Across the South Island I witnessed some of the most unique and engaging places I have ever seen an din the end could not bare to part with the land.  A month in NZ and I had been hooked.  After a sad farewell to Adriana following 4 months of travel together I set a course to find work and extend my Visa.  It was again Antill Estate and some of the nicest kiwis you could ever meet who found me a job and home.  These folks who had been no more than strangers a month ago were now like an adoptive family of sorts helping me to square away all my loose ends.  It was them who suggested working on a ski mountain for the winter, and them again who told me of Mt. Cheeseman.  After 3 months on vineyard labor I was ready to try something new and being the Ski Technician at little Mt. Cheeseman was the perfect chance.  Over the winter up the mountain I met some amazing people and most of whom I hope to never lose contact with.  Some of whom suggested that i apply for a glacier guiding job.  On the last day, when the applications were due I finally got down to business and sent in the application not knowing what to expect. After a few recommendations and an interview later I had agreed to the guide job for a term of 6 months.  It was a significant move from casual ski tech to full time glacier guide and it was a move that filled me with a fair amount of doubt. However, it was a relatively short time before I was a contributing member of the team and now, 3 months into it, I feel very much as though I belong.

I have felt every emotion imaginable over this last year in an array of intensity.  I have missed home immensely in one moment and completely engrossed in my surroundings the next.  I have made friends and met people of all backgrounds, of all dispositions. I have spent hours under the water in Australia and plummeted from the sky in New Zealand.  There are so many things I have done for the first time and entirely more that I have missed out on.

You can say that I have been running away from something, You can say that I am selfish in the experience that I take, You can accuse me of leaving those I love to seek out something fresh but there is one thing that no person can say to me about this last year.  You can never tell me that I did not live life to its fullest.

My sincerest goodbye to the year 2012 and all of the experiences it gave me.  Now I welcome 2013 and though I worry as always about what is to come, my arms are outstretched to embrace the potential thats this new year brings.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Solar Eclipse in Movember

On Movember 14th Australia and New Zealand witnessed a partial to full solar eclipse, when the moon comes between the sun and the earth momentarily putting us in darkness.  From Fox Glacier we saw about 60% of the sun covered over the course of 2 hours.  I was up on the glacier during a training event but we all took time out to peer at the sun through a makeshift viewing scope of 5 pairs of sunglasses overlapped.  It is not often you that get to witness an event of such dramatic intensity.  It was a beautiful eclipse that you can watch in time lapse taken from the observatory in Lake Tekapo to the east of me.

You may also have noticed that I wrote Movember... not November.  This is because it is officially Movember, the month in which you grow a mustache to support research efforts towards prostate and testicular cancer.  I have entered the game a bit late due to appearance restrictions but now I am participating 100% as a Mo Bro.  I have decided to take on the symmetrical Mo style Ram's Horns.  This is to compete with my unbalanced Monkey's Tail style of last year.  Please visit my Mo page to learn more and to donate as much as you see fit to support research efforts.

2012 Ram's Horns

2011 Monkey's Tail

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Flight Of My Fright

After Kaikoura Kat and I traveled to Motueka, a small town in the north close to Abel Tasman.  We had hoped to kayak and hike about the wondrous Abel Tasman National Park but were restricted by time and money as is always the case for travelers.  However, making the best of what time and money we did have the decision was made to go skydiving.  We figured if we were not able to go explore Able Tasman in person at least we could see it all from a height of 16500ft.  I have never jumped out of a plane before and as I have mentioned in earlier posts... I am terrified of heights.

At least I was... but now i feel as though I have attacked that fear head on.  First was the Gloucester Tree in Australia. Climbing this massive tree with nothing but a bit of rebar and no safety of any kind was an accomplishment that I will never forget the feel of.  Since then I have stood over waterfalls, climbed mountains and ice, and now I have gone to the extreme and jumped out of a plane.  As the plane rose for 20 minutes climbing to our jump height I expected a crippling fear but found only slight resistance and a genuine curiosity within me.  For one brief moment as we exited the plane my face turned to terror. Seventy seconds in free-fall offered the chance to feel terrified as I plummeted towards the earth but instead I was filled with excitement, accomplishment, and probably my fair share of adrenaline. 

"The appropriate response
to reality is to go insane."

~Philip K. Dick~

When We Watched Whales

I had a week off of work to go explore what remains a mystery to me on South Island. First I traveled with some ski field friends to Christchurch to pick up Kat and to see the Mumford and Sons concert.  They are one of my favorite bands at the moment and put on an amazing show for us all.  Then we drove north along the east coast to Kaikoura.  The next four photos depicts some of the beauty found along the east coast.

An angel wearing white as the snow topped mountains.

(Kat Eatough)

Kaikoura is a breathtaking scene surrounded by snow-topped mountains with pure blue ocean water stretching out beyond.  There is a gigantic deepwater trench offshore by only 20 km.  It is deep enough that Giant Squid live in the abyss and their predators, the Sperm Whales, live here year round to hunt them.  There is also a mixing of warm northern waters with the cold antarctic currents... reminds me a bit of Shark Bay though two more different habitats would be difficult to find.  

Sperm Whale Diving

Only Mountains can make this Sperm Whale look small

For these reasons Kaikoura is one of the best Whale and Dolphin Watching places in the world.  They have a 98% success rate for the whale watching tours and you can see anything from Sperm Whales, Killer Whales to even the occasional Blue Whales.  On this tour all we saw were Sperm Whales, Dusky Dolphins and Fur Seals.  The ocean is just teeming with life and a place like Kaikoura brings it to the forefront of our minds. Perhaps that is why I draw the connection between this place and Shark Bay.  This is also one of the few regions where you stand a good chance of witnessing an Albatross on wing or possibly even at their breeding ground.  Only once before have i seen this on Isla de la Plata, a small island off the coast of Ecuador near to the Galapagos Islands.

A small pod of Dusky Dolphins.

Kat and I went swimming with the dolphins and as cheesey as it may seem I would highly recommend this.  These are 100% wild dolphins with a curiosity to parallel our own.  We ended up swimming in a super pod of over 100 dolphins!  One dolphin in particular took an interest in me and we swam all about just testing each other.  Entering into their world is something many people dream of but will never understand until you actually get the chance to do it.

Know for there acrobatics this playful little dolphin shows off.

We left Kaikoura with a feeling of connection to the natural world and as we drove further north along the coast we stopped at a Fur Seal Nursery.  It was a place where the babies can go up onto shore and be a bit more safe from the predators of the ocean.  Here they play underneath a waterfall and develop those social skills necessary for a life among their kind.  It is an heart warming scene to watch them flop about exploring their immediate world.

A moment when I felt like David Attenborough

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves and wiser people so full of doubts."

~Bertrand Russell~

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

One Year Away

I recently passed the year anniversary of me departing from the US to engage upon this journey in the southern hemisphere.  From Chicago to Miami to Perth to Fox I have explored the land around me.  I have met now hundreds of amazing people and places.  Home truly is where the heart is an as long as I love what I do then my heart will stay with me... in this moment.  A year ago I celebrated my birthday with strangers who are now as old friends.  Yesterday I celebrated my 25th birthday with new friends and already lasting relationships.  The world is full, from top to bottom, with the most inspiring personalities.  We have only to go out and to meet them.  They are everywhere waiting to connect with us and to forge those bonds.  The land around us holds wonders that never cease if only we open eyes to new perspectives and life is good.  Take action for your happiness and make life happen.  It will not wait for you.

Glacial blue is as enchanting a color as any in the world.

Anna and Josh set up our top-rope

Terminal Face of the Fox Glacier and our ice climbing playground

"ACTION is the foundational key to SUCCESS"
~Pablo Picasso~

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Fox Glacier

The lower 4km of Fox Glacier and walking poles

Today I had my first day off and decided to go up the glacier anyway.  As guides we are allowed and even encouraged to go up and get familiar with our surroundings.  It is important to know the placement of hazardous crevasses and moulins.  It is amazing to watch this glacier change everyday.  The surface ice melts or ablates at an amazing rate.  Steps must be carved out of the ice every day or else they would completely disappear in just 3 days!  We strap on the crampons and go to work shaping, redirecting and  keeping safe all aspects of the glacier and all that effort is for only one of our trips.  You also have the option of flying up in a helicopter and seeing the upper portion of the 13 km long glacier, getting into the more wild areas with more freedom during the full day hike and then there is the ice climbing.  By the end of my 6 months working this season I should be qualified to lead all of our trips with the exception of the ice climbing.  For now I am happy and excited enough to be up on the ice and mucking about with my ice axe.

Practice cutting steps.

Looking down the valley and to where the Fox Glacier used to be. The cliff in the center is over 300 meters tall.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Gillespie's Beach and Galway Seal Colony

Its been nothing but rain and cold since I have been Fox Glacier, save for one day.  On this day I got out and went for a walk along the beach.  There had been a gold mining rush here in the 1930's and I followed a trail along to see some of the bits left behind.  There is an old dredge now overgrown with plants and further along a tunnel dug through a mountain and exiting at a cliff face to the ocean for what purpose i have no idea.

This was one of the most beautiful walks I have yet been on in New Zealand.  Starting on the shore you move along behind wind sheltering plants with birds flitting about and the occasional sheep scurrying hurriedly across your path. After a nice stroll to the gold dredge and a short examination just in case they happened to leave any nuggets behind, the path turns onto the rocky shoreline itself.  Walking along here is the chance to find shells and a most beautiful array of rocks including the culturally significant Maori Greenstone.

Upon approaching a bluff you turn inland along a milky rivers edge and cross over via a small bridge. This takes you to my favorite part of the walk.  For the next 20 minutes you will walk through a lush rainforest with a thousand different plants all around.  Behind you can hear the waves crashing against the bluff but muffled and distant through the canopy with a soft constant chatter of birds all about.  How I had missed the sounds of birds when I was up above the trees at Mt. Cheeseman.

This is where you then come upon the tunnel, no more than 50 meters in length though the end is nothing but a bright light shining through. The tunnel seems as much a doorway to another world as a miners excavation.  Water drips over the openings like a beaded curtain and heightens that mystical sense of finding something so out of place and hidden. About what is at the end of the tunnel? I will leave that for you to come to New Zealand and discover it for yourself.

A fair hours trek through a wet sponge-like path after the tunnel you come again to the shore and to the the Galway Seal Colony far along past the bluff.  It lies along an ocean facing cliff with cascading waterfalls every 50 meters till you come upon the seals.  I crept up slowly and quietly hoping to get some candid shots of seals in action.  Of course they were all asleep, laying out and sunning on this gorgeous day.  As I moved closer and closer for a good shot of the nearest one I heard a rock just in front of me move about suddenly.  Of course it was a baby seal that was laying so still I hadn't noticed it.  It was not frightened, only curious, as it watched me.  It's mother however was not so trusting. She lie just behind the baby and let me know that she was not amused so I backed off but not before taking a few quick photos of the adorable pup.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Snow to Ice

Backcountry in Tarn Basin (Kat Eatough)

My last weeks at Cheeseman were too short.  The snow was beautiful for the and of the season but with warming weather peoples minds turned back to the oceans and summer sports.  Suddenly we had too few customers to stay open and sights turned to cleaning up for the close.  Everyone became quite emotional at the end when we had to say goodbye to the many bonds that were forged on those slopes.

Now as I leave the snow behind me and look to the future I see ice up ahead.  A great wall of ice... or better yet, a river of ice flowing out of the those very mountains I have just come down from.  It starts up high with the snow falling in heaps.  As the days make their cycle this snow will melt and refreeze again and again compressing harder and harder together until it forms one great body moving all the way down to the valley floor with fingers reaching up to such great heights.  It is flanked by scree covered sloped that gradually take on vegetation as it descends until all around this glacier is a true rainforest.  I've mentioned this in an earlier post but feel as though i must reiterate the point that there are few places if any others that exist on our planet where you can find these two features living together side by side.

This Waterfall is over twice the height of Niagra Falls.

I begin at Fox Glacier Guiding on October 9th.  I am excited to begin and ready to learn all that I can about the glacier but for now I am busy exploring Milford Sound and up the west coast.  This is a great place if you are interested in the outdoors... and able to put up with the rain.  Living in Oregon has been great training for this type of environment and I am excited to become more familiar with the plants, birds and animals of the area.  And there are many; from Penguins to Keas, Cabbage Trees to Orchids, hedgehogs to bats.

During a few days in Milford Sound Kat, Kim and I had the chance to explore.  This is my second time  to this place and it is no less amazing.  It is actually quite deceiving because everything in the area is so grand and so magnificent that none of it appears to be at first.  Making your way around the Sound (actually technically a Fjord) the scale of it all becomes more apparent and slowly it sinks in how incredible this place is.  On a boat ride about the sound we saw dolphins bow-riding, waterfalls that flow upwards with the shear force of the wind blows through.  The next day we kayaked about, giving a more accurate sense of the grandeur.  The highlight of this excursion for me was when approached a beach to see 4 Fiordland Crested Penguins come out to greet us.  They bathed in the water and then all swam right past the boats porpoising as they went.  It was an lifting moment to witness from the endemic penguin.

These falls never made it to the water below. Instead they would only feed back into the clouds around them.  

Kim is excited about underwater life.

I miss SCUBA

The water system in Milford Sound is extremely unique consisting of a freshwater layer saturated in tannins leached from the plants all around.  This gives the water a black appearance from the surface like tea but meters underwater you can find the saltwater layer which is home to some wild creatures.  Because of the dark top layer it is possible for many typically deepwater species to live at a very shallow depth here.  One of the more profound is huge black coral trees (actually white in appearance). I want so badly to SCUBA dive this wild and largely unseen place, but I will save that for later.For now I go back to Fox Glacier and to set up my new home.

Lake Matheson looking toward Fox Glacier with Mt. Cook's summit on the right.

Mountains of rock

The Ocean

Kat and I

Phoebe and Johnny

This is by far the nicest place I have lived in over a year.

The view from my window with one of the many helicopter flights passing to the left.

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow.
Learn as if you were to live forever"