group mail play plus user camera comment close arrow-down facebook twitter instagram

In the footsteps of giants

One of the pitfalls of the longer crossings is that while there are plenty of opportunities for pulling and hauling ropes, the Europa is not exactly famous for the running track around the deckhouse, or long scenic walks from the bowsprit to the wheel. Since Montevideo the technology on my wrist has been mercilessly judgemental about my lack of steps. Far from the recommended ten thousand (putting aside the somewhat dubious science behind this target), the daily totals have been a woeful fraction of this. Every day it gives an reminder at 8am sharp that I need to do some walking, and every day at midnight it condescendingly reduces the daily target still further. it politely refrains from voicing the suspicion that many of these steps are actually down to the motion of the boat, or jerky movements of the wheel. The galley offers little assistance, plying us with roast potatoes and mashed potatoes and fried potatoes, then Merel chips in with potato crisps and the guides encourage our inner couch potato with DVDs and lectures. Our expected 5km times skyrocket, then even the attempt becomes ill-advised on medical grounds.
Then Jordi arrives, with his “short walk” up a vertical snowfield and overhanging rubble. But we survive, receiving unsubtle messages from the muscles in our legs which were objecting to being interrupted from their well-deserved vacation. This is all part of his cunning master plan. “The Shackleton hike is a bit longer, but much easier” he reassured us, touting for business. “It’s only about five to six kilometres.” The technology on my wrist begs to disagree, clocking closer to ten than five before the Zodiac restores is to our gloriously restricted walkway. Jordi’s hero was smart and fortunate: smart that he didn’t start the walk until the weather looked fair, and fortunate in that it stayed fair. Jordi on the other hand has a timetable to keep, so we contend with wind and snow instead. But the timetable does at least schedule the hike for daylight hours, so we should be thankful for the lack of true authenticity. Unlike Jordi’s hero we do have the advantage that we’re doing it in late spring rather than late autumn, we’ve been well fed and rested, we have modern warm and waterproof equipment in good condition, we have guides and we haven’t spent the previous thirty hours walking from the other side of the island or the previous year icebound and shipwrecked. And three men in the far side of the island and many more on the far side of the Weddell Sea aren’t depending on our success for their lives. Compared with that, a bit of mist and snow is nothing. Possibly the most disturbing part of the walk is seeing that the glacier Shackleton crossed at the head of Fortuna Bay to join the route we rooking. Or more accurately not seeing it, for Global Warming has beaten it, and it has retreated and shrunk in height. The only people who can repeat his exact route nowadays are those who really can walk on water. Back on board we contemplate where we have walked, and try to come to terms with the immensity of what those three men did all those years ago. It is hard to comprehend why they felt that the only feasible descent was through the waterfall, but things look different under snow and ice and when exhausted beyond measure. The technology on my wrist helpfully reminds me and my tired legs that it is an hour since I did any walking, and I consider breaking the restrictions on what can be thrown overboard.

Written by:
Ghostwriter | voyage crew

Comment on this article