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Fortuna Bay -Wistle Cove and Shackleton hike to Stromness bay-

Fortuna Bay was about to be our site for today’s activities. In the early morning Europa makes her way into the bay, as another passenger ship leaves the area, crossing paths in that memorable morning, where high lenticular clouds are mixed with snow squalls passing by. Since the very early morning we had been drifting in the right direction, under fair winds. But no sails were necessary to time well our arrival to Fortuna, sailing under bare poles was enough. Once there, we slowly ahead towards the head of the bay that bares such providential name since it was called after whale-catcher Fortuna, first on operating out of Grytviken in the early 1900s. It was here as well where Shackleton and his two companions made their descent to the beach on the final leg of their crossing of South Georgia, after their struggles and sufferings on the, by then, unknown and heavily glaciated interior of South Georgia. Before all that piece of interesting history, Fortuna was also home for sealing operations, and as a reminder of that, at the foot of a small outcrop at the back of the beach is a sealer’s cave. Landings at Whistle Cove are possible even when most of the remainder of the north coast is affected by onshore surge and swell. But today the conditions were pretty good for landfalls along all the bay shores. This coastal region is relatively ice-free, and huge expanses of scree and
rock outcrops dominate the summer landscape. About halfway along the beach, a deep and swift flowing river meets the sea at the end of its 2km long meandering journey from the inland snout of the Konig glacier gentle slopes. As we set foot at the beach, countless King penguins and the ever-present Fur seals gather in a welcome committee for our zodiacs. But the main King penguin rookery one of the main attractions at this site, is situated about 1km in-land from Whistle Cove on the level outwash plain below the glacier. It counts with an approximate number of about 7000 pairs, a relatively small size in comparison with others in the island, but of great scenic value, nested on the flat area at the foot of steep slopes, cliffs and high mountains, making it an ideal site for easy viewing of all aspects of penguins’ breeding activities, as incubating birds mingle with chicks and non-breeders. It is not just us enjoying the view, as many Skuas maintain a sharp lookout for unattended eggs and young chicks. Along the kilometer that we all walked to get there, a couple of ponds were teeming with heaps of the beautiful South Georgia Pintails, not so common to see them from such a close distance and in such big numbers. During the three hours we could spend ashore the weather had been improving, and less of the morning squalls were sweeping over the bay. Blue sky becomes adorned by spectacular lenticular and pileus clouds. The first ones grow when the moist air crosses mountain barriers and are associated with strong winds at high altitude. Appearing as a stake of
pancakes or with a lens shape. Similar to them are the pileus, that form when humid winds are deflected up and over the top of a building cumulonimbus with their vertical development. If the air flowing over the top of the cloud condenses, a pileus often forms. Under those conditions we all returned on board for an early lunch. Taking advantage of the clearing weather it looks like the famed
“Shackleton Hike” will be possible, that will bring us from Fortuna to Stromness Bay. It is one of the landings we have been talking about for a while now, one of the famous walks in South Georgia. We will follow in the footsteps of Shackleton, Worsley and Crean – not in all of them, but the last few miles they walked a bit over 100 years ago. It is late summer today, nice green and calm. That time, it was winter, quite dark and everything covered with snow. The three man had crossed from the Southern side of the island, through the inland that was not know at all. They had found their way between crevasses and glaciers, turning and returning, in the end making it to the Northern side.  As they came down and recognized Fortuna bay, they knew they would make it. There was no whaling station in Fortuna Bay, they still had to continue to Stromness, but they were no longer in unexplored territory, and for sure close to help. The point where they realised this, is where our walk will start.
The landing itself is one of the easier ones we have had – the weather really is with us today. The first part of the hike takes us steep up through the tussock grass. The rocky part that follows is much less steep and takes us along a waterfall over frost patterned ground to a point where we have a magnificent look out over the glacier and valley, we visited this morning. From this point we can clearly read the traces the river of ice left in the landscape, in the shape of a lake, a glacial outwash plain and several moraines.  It is hard to look long with the amount of wind up here – so we soon continue to Crean lake. Taking a small brake, sheltered for the wind – we learn how the lake was named:  As the man were crossing to the pass, Tom Crean suddenly went through the ice, and fell up to his waist in the cold water. From the lake it is a short way up to the pass – there is still some snow and for the first time in weeks we are in a place where we don´t see any water. We are inland, surrounded by mountains. But it will not be long until we come over the pass and we can see the sea again – not only the water, but even Europa in the far distance. It is not often she looks small- but at this moment she does. The way down is steeper than the way up – but not all to difficult in these conditions, and definitely a lot easier then that day in May 1915. Not only because the amount of snow and ice that is present at that time of the year, not only because the man had already spent 34 hours walking, 16 days of sailing in the tiny James Caird and many many months before that living on the ice, but also because the three weary man did not have energy for any detour or return, they just had to get to the whaling station as soon as they could. As we have come down to the waterfall – the easy way – Sarah reads us a fragment from Shackletons book 'South'. Standing under the waterfall, we listen to the description of how the man found their way following through the stream of cold water, suddenly surprised by the sound of a waterfall. A last challenge on the way down, they lowered themselves on the rope they had carried – straight through the waterfall. They made it, even the logbook they threw down made it, they made it to solid ground and were now absolutely sure they would soon make it to the comfort and warmth of the whaling station.
The words comfort and warmth trigger us, and so we easily manage the last part of the hike. Before we go the last few hundred meters to the beach, we sit down for a bit overlooking the remains of Stromness whaling station. It was at the door of one of these houses where the man knocked on the door and found the help they had risked everything for. Once a lively place – Stromness has now been left to the elements for almost 60 years. It has weathered a good amount – but even though it is mostly falling apart, the main structure of the whaling station is still visible. It was active as such until 'The Silent Year' of 31-32, the season that none of the Norwegian whalers went out. After it was reopened as a ship repair yard for the neighboring Leith station, and functioned until the early sixties. Down on the beach we can still see many remains of this last period – enormous propellers and even a crow’s nest. Surrounded, off course, by hundreds of curious fur seal pups. As it starts snowing lightly, we are being picked up from the shore – warmth and comfort are waiting for us by the name of Gjalt and yet another splendid dinner, to recover from another full day of South Georgia experiences. Europa will make her way for a few more hours to Jason Harbour, small cove at the entrance of Cumberland Bay and very close to where we plan the first activity off the ship tomorrow. As many times along South Georgia coast, is not easy to find a good and proper anchorage, and the difficulty greatly increase when it has to be done in complete darkness, with just the help of the navigational instruments and getting through shallows and kelp forests, all spiced up with a variable wind forecast. All an all, our Mate Finn managed to drop anchor at Jason on that conditions, but shortly afterwards he refers to slightly re-position the ship. After a few hours, the characteristics of the small bay and the changeable winds, made for heaving up and send the rest of the night adrift.

Written by:
Sarah, Richard, Jordi | Guides

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