It was peacefully still when we woke up in Husvik with a view to the old whaling station. The sky was blue and the sun was out. There was a fur seal frolicking in the water just next to the anchor, and an Imperial Shag (black and white bird that sometimes looks like a penguin…but can fly(James thinks thery’re uber evolved penguins!)) was swimming and diving next to the boat. In such still clear water we could see them beneath the surface and get a little glimpse into their underwater world.
Most people went up and did the last section of the Shackleton walk, from Stromness whaling station over the ridge to Fortuna Bay (Shackleton ended his walk in Stromness). It was about a 6 mile hike (there and back) with 2×300 m of ascent up pretty steep scree slopes.
The first section followed a stream along gravel flats, dodging laid-back but well camouflaged fur seal pups and the odd more aggressive mum. At the head of the stream was a plunging waterfall, one which Shackleton and his two companions let themselves down with their last length of rope judging the adjacent steep snow slope too dangerous to try. From here we scrambled up steep scree to a ridgeline with magnificent views behind us down onto the flats and out into the bay, the rusty orange of the whaling station contrasting beautifully with the rich blue of the sea, the green grass in the valley and the startlingly clear sky. We emerged onto a small rocky plateau and passed Crean Lake, with views out over the beautiful Fortuna Glacier which feeds the bay on the other side. The bay itself finally came into view, along with a second glacier where Shackleton attempted a descent, and here we stopped for a well-deserved lunch break. A few of the party continued down to the sea on the Fortuna Bay side, getting within hopping distance of the shore but halted by some big fur seals defending their tussocky hummocks, Whilst our courage against the fairly harmless pups is growing, success in bypassing them had been minimal, and an encounter with one starting with a brave facade usually ends, in my case anyhow, with me running away screaming!!! Meanwhile the rest of us stayed at the lunch spot, admiring the view and the beauty of the patterned rocks underfoot. We regrouped and headed back to Stromness, pausing again at the top of the ridgeline to look back over the whaling station and to spend a minute thinking of Shackleton and what this moment must have been like for him; hearing the morning whistle of the whaling station, the first man made noise not made by him or his party for 18 months, and his thoughts, for himself and his men in the various desolate locations he had left them. We descended the scree and had time for a quick dip in a natural plunge pool at the foot of the waterfall before meandering back to the beach via the back of the whaling station. We sat on the shore, waiting for Elinca to come round to pick us up, with a wonderfully inquisitive and extremely cute group of fur seal pups, sniffing at our boots and walking poles, and performing a synchronised display of acrobatics in the water. What a spectacular day.
Clare, John and Colette stayed on board to return Elinca to the safer anchorage of Husvik after dropping off the walkers. We had a leisurely day in mind, but our plans to go ashore for a short while were to amount to nothing as 45 – 50 knot katabatic winds piled down the valleys between the mountains. From nothing to 45 knots and back to nearly nothing in a matter of minutes – such is the SG weather. It was not the stillness we had had that morning. The strong winds caused us to drag the anchor slightly, and we had an exciting time trying to get her up and re-anchor. The most difficult part was trying to free the kelp from the anchor as it has a habit of wrapping itself tightly around the chain. That meant John getting into the dinghy and hacking away at the kelp and mud with a sharp knife, and Colette stabbing from the deck with a boathook until it fell away leaving a plug of thick oozy mud (great for holding the anchor when not contaminated with kelp) around the anchor itself. The Elinca seaweed and mud wrap could be the next spa treatment to catch on – the full treatment only to be undertaken in a 40 knot wind tunnel with added salt water spray. The anchor held solid the second time, and of course the winds died off just as soon as all the work was done…but soon it was time to pick up the walkers. In the end we did get a nice 20 minutes ashore in Stromness while the walkers were ferried back to the boat.
Cliggy, Rachel and John