One of my anticipated highlights of the trip to South Georgia was the opportunity to trace part of Shackleton's hike across the mountains to the whaling station at Stromness. One of our expedition leaders, Trevor Potts, had recreated Sir Ernest Shackleton's epic journey from Elephant Island off the coast of Antarctica to Stromness and was to lead the hike. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, I was using borrowed boots for the "wet" landings and the boots didn't fit well enough for hiking. That difficulty could have been overcome, but I was also suffering from a cold and major sore throat. The two problems together convinced me that it would be neither wise nor respectful of the other hikers to make the attempt.

As we watched the intrepid few depart in their Zodiacs before breakfast, that decision seemed even better!

Picture

Narrative

Shackleton's Walk

The hikers came onto this plain following Shackleton's route from Fortuna Bay over the low hills to the right of the picture. This flat plain was the home of a number of reindeer, which had been introduced to South Georgia by the Norwegians during the whaling days. The reindeer prospered, but after we visited there was a successful effort to eradicate them. They were damaging the native vegetation and disrupting nesting birds.

Stromness At the time that Shackleton came to Stromness (1916), this was a busy whaling station. Since it was abandoned in 1961, it has been given over to seals, penguins, reindeer and the occasional tourist.

The snow and fog are a reminder that even though we are visiting in the tail-end of summer, we are definitely in a sub-Antarctic location.

One sad sight was a male seal with a wounded flipper that prevented him from moving or swimming. He  appeared to be slowly dying of starvation on the shingle. I asked our guides if anything could be done, but they are prevented by the Antarctic Treaty from interfering with the wildlife – even for humane purposes.

King Edward Point After leaving Stromness we cruised to King Edward Point where we docked overnight. This is one of only two locations on South Georgia that are staffed year-round. The other is a research station on Bird Island. The Post Office was a popular place to visit while we were here as travelers purchased post cards to send back home.

Our postman collects stamps so we always post a card to ourselves so that we can pass it on to him.

Grytviken We could walk from the dock at King Edward Point to the South Georgia Museum at Grytviken. It was a rather long walk, but it was good to stretch our legs on land after several days at sea where the only real exercise was walking around the pitching deck (10 trips around the promenade deck equaled a mile) in the wind and sea spray. Many passengers, including myself, put in those daily laps, but solid ground can't be beat!
Molting Chinstrap Along the road we saw the only Chinstrap Penguin of the trip. He (or she) was sitting alone looking miserable surrounded by shed feathers.
Elephant seal Also along the road was this sleeping female Southern Elephant Seal accompanied by a rather irritated female fur seal. The Elephant Seal is a true seal without the ear tufts and the ability to "walk" on its flippers enjoyed by the fur seal.
South Georgia Pintail Another creature met on the way to the museum is the South Georgia Pintail. It is a subspecies of a common southern hemisphere duck: the Yellow-billed Pintail. The population on South Georgia is recovering from being over-hunted during the whaling days and apparently does not suffer much from rat predation.
The Petrel This old whale-catcher, Petrel, is one of the many exhibits at the museum. It was built in 1928 and was converted from whaling to sealing in 1956. Whaling was discontinued in this location in the 1960s when decreased numbers of whales made it uneconomic to hunt them.
Grytviken Church Interior
The church in Grytviken has been used in recent years primarily for weddings. This could be the ultimate destination wedding! It was one of the better preserved buildings in the area.
Grytviken Church Exterior
James Caird When Sir Ernest left the bulk of his men on Elephant Island, he and his five comrades sailed away in a tiny open boat. Its size is indicated by the life size figure in this full-scale replica. The six men traveled for 15 days and covered roughly 800 miles before landing on the south shore of South Georgia. Rather than make the risky attempt to sail around the island, three of the men crossed the mountainous island on foot to Stromness, as noted above.

Trevor Potts  and others recreated the feat in a replica of the James Caird in 1994 (sailing from Elephant Island to South Georgia) and 2001 (crossing South Georgia on foot).

Shackelton's Grave

Sir Ernest was planning another Antarctic expedition in the early 1920s when he died of a heart attack. His wife directed that he be buried here in Grytviken.

Many of our ship's passengers came over early in the morning on Zodiacs along with Trevor Potts to offer the customary toast in Shackleton's memory. Not being an early riser, I didn't make it until the afternoon and, alas, had no suitable libation. The captain of our ship was also making a personal pilgrimage to the grave at about the same time.

The cemetery was surrounded by cranky fur seals. I was rather nervous at walking through them alone because their bite is said to be quite dangerous, but we were given strict instructions not to run and to make use of hiking sticks to fend off any threats. I had to stare down a couple, but I made it in and out OK.

Patrol Boats

Part of the responsibility of the British administration is to patrol the local waters. There are a number of visitors that come to the island -- either in organized cruises like ours or in their own private yachts.

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