Landing at Whistle Cove and Shackleton Hike
Two anchors hold the ship during the night against the strong winds blowing off Possession Bay. Dragging now and then when facing the strongest blows, nevertheless she stayed in a safe anchorage until the very early hours of the morning, when she started her way towards the neighbour Fortuna Bay. There she enters by breakfasttime, where the gusts blow hard and the winds sweep the bay. It was not until past 09:00h when we saw the weather settling a bit and had the chance to drop zodiacs to try a landing at Whistle Cove. On the Southwest corner of Fortuna lays this site, a place that tells stories of the early sealing, when a few crew members where dropped here and there along the South Georgia coasts to hunt and skin as many Fur seals as they could or the render as much oil as possible from the Elephant seals. Here at Whistle Cove, a small cave at the foot of a cliff served them well as a temporary home while working and waiting for their ship to pick them up together with their valuable cargo.
The scenery is stunning. At the background, far up the hills due to its rapidly receding front, the Konig Glacier. At either side of it, high jagged peaks framing the wide valley. Between the beach and the glacier-ice, a large flat area with several moraines and hills. Amongst them we can find several small ponds, and making our way around them we come across a crowded King penguin colony. In this magnificent setting of mountains, glaciers and outwash planes crisscrossed by breaded rivers, they seem to thrive.
A landscape also that seems to be highly appreciated by the Fur seals. Inquisitive pups fill up the shallow waters along the shoreline, curious as they are they inspect us and everything that seems out of place in their home, for instance old Reindeer antlers, reminder of a past when they use to roam freely in the island. As we walk further away from the coast, more mothers and their young ones rest over the grass.
During our time ashore the weather just keeps improving, sun shines now and then, and even some lenticular clouds appear over the peaks. Down at the bay, the strong gusts almost disappeared, making for an easy pick up and ride aboard for lunch.
The “Shackleton Hike” was in for the afternoon schedule. Most famous walk in South Georgia, follows the steps walked over 100 years ago by Shackleton, Worsley and Crean, between Fortuna and Stromness Bays.
With the weather deteriorating by the moment, it was just finishing lunch that we were on our way to the landing beach. In time before the winds pick up and the seas grew inn Fortuna Bay. But with all ashore and in high spirits, we set foot uphill while the ship turns around and starts her way around the peninsula. On its other side lays Stromness.
Shackleton and his two companions, when arrived to Fortuna, they had been on the go almost with no stops for about 30 hours. They came from the exposed Southeast coast of South Georgia, and here they left the dangerous glaciers behind and started walking over the rocky ground, though covered by the snow of the early winter. 6km further East over this easier terrain, Stromness whaling station, people, shelter, food, help. The end of a year and a half of struggles in the ice and extraordinary survival adventures. This last bit of their walk we followed this afternoon. For us a wonderful afternoon under benign climatology, sunny spells, good visibility. For them the conditions where very different: snow, ice, cold and they were literally running for their lives and the lives of the rest of the team. Three members at the exposed coast of the island, the rest of the men stranded far away amongst the pack ice and the icebergs of Elephant Island.
On the walk, the Tussock slopes evolve into a mountainous terrain and glacial moraines that lead to Crean Lake. The story tells about three extremely tired and cold men walking to the saddle between peaks just ahead of them, when Tom Crean suddenly went through the ice, and fell up to his waist in the freezing water. Luckily just an abrupt descend separate him from the warmth under a roof in Stromness. A way down that nowadays count with a steep by relatively well trodden path. By then they actually took the most direct route to the valley, a decision that made them use their last bit of rope to rappel down the famous waterfall that nowadays bears the Shackleton name. From atop the saddle we are gifted with impressive views. At our backs, Fortuna Bay; in front the vast and ample scenery opening to Stromness.
It was once a busy whaling base, now in disuse and left to the action of the nature’s elements for six decades. It was active until 'The Silent Year' of 31-32, the season that none of the Norwegian whalers went out. After it was reused as a ship repair yard for the neighbouring Leith station, and functioned until the early sixties. Masts, Crow’s nests, planks and several enormous propellers lay next to the beach, remaining as witnesses of this last period.
With the dimming light of the end of the day we embark the Europa, that just appeared in the bay a few minutes before. Seeking for better shelter to spend the night, she makes the last handful of miles to the neighbour Husvik Bay, home for yet another whaling base, and a more secluded cove.
I continue to read daily your/crews’ scene painting words and can see you there at the library table, typing away before dinner or after, another awesome trek for us to hang on every word! Hi ! To Ricky & crew; Always, thanks for the efforts & words! Rick, January’23 trip
Rick Werkheiser | 04-04-2023 16:44 uur