Surveilling the end-of-summer snow at Mt Cook

Surveilling the end-of-summer snow at Mt Cook

Working hard or hardly working...


My name is Karl Le Couteur, Safety Manager and a Senior Pilot at Milford Sound Flights in Queenstown, New Zealand. 


Every year we partner up with the great people at NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) and Victoria University of Wellington scientists to complete the annual end-of-summer snowline aerial survey of 50 South Island glaciers, taking thousands of photographs to evaluate the snowline altitude and build 3D models of the glaciers. 


These are then used to assess how much of the previous winter’s snow has remained covering each glacier to contribute toward long-term glacial ice accumulation. The snowline survey began in 1977 and provides a valuable long-term record of how New Zealand’s glaciers have retreated over time due to climate change.


It was a foggy start to the day at Queenstown Airport on the 19th of March 2021. We knew the weather was CAVOK throughout the Southern Alps thanks to satellite imagery, so it was just a matter of escaping the low cloud in the Queenstown Basin. A delayed departure allowed enough time for a gap in the cloud to appear towards the south. We were airborne at 09:10am, eight people on board the Cessna Grand Caravan 208B now heading for the Humboldt Mountain Range to view the first of the 50 glaciers.


From here we tracked further south towards the Wick Mountains, then North to the Mt Aspiring National Park. It was easy work up at 10,000ft, cruising through Fiordland. There was a bit of a knack to the constant radius turns around the glaciers, whilst avoiding dropping the wing too much into the scientists field of view. Over 3.5hrs we made it up the West Coast to Hokitika (NZHK) for a much needed leg stretch.


Now for our 3.5 hr journey back along the Alps to Queenstown. There were many highlights on the trip, but Aoraki / Mt Cook was especially stunning. Not a cloud in the sky and hardly a breath of wind, we made our way up and down the Haupapa / Tasman Glacier at 10,500 ft. I’d never spent so much time at this altitude around Mt Cook, it was truely stunning to gaze into the glaciers that surrounded us. 


A long day of side slipping and constant radius turns, 6.9hrs total flight time once we arrived on blocks back at the Milford Sound Flights apron. One day I will never forget. 


You can keep up with my flying adventures on Instagram, follow @pilotdownunder  

 

OUR PILOT'S CHOICE


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