Yesterday was a very exciting day for the walking party, and one which we had spent much time and effort preparing for; we were going to attempt a glacier walk up to the Shackleton Gap with views over to the other side of the island into King Haakon Bay where the James Caird landed and Shackleton started his epic crossing and traverse of South Georgia to Stromness.
The day started early at 6am for final bag packing and a hearty breakfast before we upped anchor and took the boat the 3 miles round the corner into Possession Bay. Some difficult taxi-ing took all the walkers and kit safely shore, aside one set of very wet feet and an inflated life jacket, and on the beach in the drizzle we booted up, harnessed up and headed off through seal-infested lands and up the side of the Purvis glaciar on its rocky moraine. After 30 minutes or so we reached our jumping off point onto the snow and ice so here we put on our crampons, roped ;, however by now it was blowing an icy hooly down the glaciar, hard bullets of ice pelting horizontally into us, and so most of us put on an extra piece of clothing so that as little skin as possible was left exposed to the beating. We walked in a long line; the 2 ropes of 3 at the front and the back with the other 2 sandwiched in the middle, all heads down and legs braced against the vicious catabatic winds. As we gained height the snow became deeper and Richard, at the front, did a great job making footsteps for the rest of us to follow. The conditions underfoot were challenging with soft and slushy snow meaning wading in calf deep snow for a lot of the time. The glacier was generally crevasse free however with only one 3 or 4 foot wide crevasse to be carefully crossed. After about three hours we reached the col at the top of the Purvis and the weather briefly cleared giving views back down over Possession Bay where we had started. After a brief discussion leaning into the wind we agreed to go down the easy snow slope on the southern side until we had a good view of King Haakon Bay – a further thirty to forty five minutes. Clare took over the route breaking duties until we reached a point where the slope dropped steeply down to the bay. Here we stopped and enjoyed the view down to the sea. Briefly, the weather brightened and we could clearly see the glacier and gap to our left which was Shackleton’s route out of King Haakon Bay. After a group ‘selfie’ portrait by Rachel we turned and headed back over the col and back down the way that we had come, this time pushed by the wind rather than battling into it..By around 5pm we were back at the edge of the glacier after six or seven hours of walking, with an unpleasant walk down the moraine to where we had cached our emergency stores and the tender was due to pick us up. As we came down the moraine the mast of Elinca hove into view – a very welcome sight.
This was a pretty challenging day – at least for the older members of the party. Whilst crevasse free the snow conditions were difficult, the wind was occasionally fierce and route breaking in particular hard work – many thanks to Richard for that, all our training work in Scotland before we came, and for leading us safely during the crossing. It gave us all a real perspective on the extraordinary feat achieved by Shackleton, Worsley and Crean as they battled across the island for 36 hours, inadequately, clothed, without any climbing equipment save a short length of rope and some improvised crampons – screws through the soles of their boots – tired and debilitated. Truly an extraordinary achievement.
On our return to Elinca we were greeted by abundant offers of help, smiling faces, a hot cup of tea followed by another delicious curry complete with homemade naan bread. Without the crew onboard our walk wouldn’t have been possible, and we are immensely grateful to them for giving us the chance to do ‘our thing’ and of course to Richard who has organised and led the walking party from the start.
This morning we have left King Olav Harbour for the Bay of Isles (just around the corner) to visit Prion Island and then are aiming to return to Grytviken for a couple of days. The forecast is for strong north westerly winds for a couple of days so Grytviken will be a safe anchorage for us to gather ourselves before the likely next weather window in two or three days time when we may head north for warmer climes and Uruguay.
Rachel and John