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«Flag 69 A Report Prepared for the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the Explorer’s Club By Tor Lundgren ...»

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Metolius South Georgia Expedition

November–December 2006

Flag 69

A Report Prepared for

the Government of South Georgia

and the South Sandwich Islands

and the Explorer’s Club

By Tor Lundgren

Acknowledgements ! 1

Summary! 2

Background! 2

Team Roster! 3

Overland Group! 3

Ship"s Crew! 4

Objectives! 5

Findings ! 5

Route! 5 Weather! 5 Equipment! 6 General! 6 Expedition Log! 7 Getting There! 7 Elsehul! 10 King Haakon Bay! 13 Shackleton Crossing! 14 Grytviken and the East Coast! 18 Larsen Harbor! 21 Husvik & Salisbury Plain! 24 Back to Stanley! 26 Bibliography! 27 Acknowledgements The expedition would like to thank: Skip Novak and the excellent crew of the Pelagic Australis; Dave Hahn and John Race for their superb mountaineering support; Skye Fitzgerald for his steady hand on the camera in all conditions; the Government of South Georgia for a providing permits and access to the island, and for their continued effort to maintain its pristine environment; the Explorers Club for the privilege of carrying Flag 69 on our expedition; the staff of the British Antarctic Survey at Grytviken for their reception and support; the staff of the museum at Grytviken for their generosity and a good cup of tea; and finally, the Stanley Golf club for the present of a round of golf and excellent signs marking the hazards peculiar to that course.

1 Summary The Metolius South Georgia Expedition traversed the overland passage of South Georgia first made by Shackleton in 1917. It also explored the area around Larsen Harbor, including the approaches to Mt. Sabatier and several of the smaller peaks in the vicinity. The expedition captured a great deal of still and video footage of some of the rarely visited interior portions of South Georgia, from which a document film (“the Metolius South Georgia Expedition”) was produced.

Background South Georgia has been a crossroads for polar exploration since Captain Cook!s first visit in 1777. Sealers and whalers were among the first to make extensive use of the island, but their interest was mainly in the surrounding waters and their economic potential. The interior portions of the island remained hidden and inaccessible, protected by hostile terrain and weather.

Shackleton!s famed 1917 crossing of the island, as part of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, is undoubtedly familiar to readers of this report. When Shackleton, Worseley and Crean set out from King Haakon Bay, they were crossing an empty space on the map, marked only with the few peaks that could be spotted from the sea. Their successful traverse, at the culmination of their epic journey over ice and ocean, was so improbable that the Norwegians at Stromness at first refused to believe their story.

Since that time, the island has relinquished the secrets of its inner valleys and peaks, but only grudgingly. Between 1951 and 1957, Duncan Carse completed a series of surveys of the interior of the island, including the Shackleton route, that still form the basis for maps of the island. Maps and information may have continued to improve, but the logistical challenges mean that few parties have penetrated into the interior since Duncan Carse!s time.

In the spirit of Shackleton and Carse, the Metolius South Georgia Expedition intended to put its members into some of the more inaccessible corners of an already remote location. Our first goal was to complete a ski traverse on Shackleton!s route. Our second goal, as time and conditions permitted, was to explore some of the terrain in the southeastern corner of the island, still almost undisturbed by human visitors, and to probe, and perhaps ascend, some of the peaks near the Philippi Glacier.

Despite the passage of almost a century, logistically, the island of South Georgia is still almost as remote as it was at the time of Shackleton!s crossing. Travel by boat to the island is still the only practical way to make the voyage, and we were very pleased that Pelagic Australis was available for our expedition.

In assembling the expedition!s members, we made certain that the members of the expedition were experienced in the Antarctic environment, both on land and at sea. The expedition roster follows.

–  –  –

Findings Route The Shackleton crossing route remains in pristine condition. Similarly, the Philippi Glacier was also in excellent condition for travel, and our only delays stemmed from the steep section at the end of Larsen Harbor, were the warming conditions created an avalanche hazard.

The combination of resources the team had at its disposal, including alpine touring skies, Hilleberg tents, sleds and two rope teams of three, proved excellent for glacier travel at this point in the season.

The east face of Sabatier would be rather challenging climbing in the conditions that we observed. Massive ice mushrooms covered the entire face.

Weather We enjoyed excellent weather for the greater part of the expedition, although there were times when we were, as expected, buffeted by South Georgia!s high winds. The katabatic winds on the Creen Glacier were quite strong, and would have seriously tested our tents. However, by positioning our 2nd camp closer to Breakwind Ridge, at the suggestion of Dave Hahn, we were able to duck out of the strongest flow of air.

–  –  –

Generally, there were good weather windows for our on-shore activities, particularly since we had enough time at our disposal (just under a month total) to adjust our schedule a few days back and forth.

Equipment We were pleased with the results from our expeditions gear, particularly our ski touring equipment and out tents.

Apline ski tour equipment proved very successful for both the Shackleton crossing and also in the area around Larson harbor. We chose the time of year for the expedition in part to affect the best compromise between weather and skiing conditions; the glacier surface later in the year might have been less ski-friendly.

Our Hilleburg tents also performed very well, holding up to strong winds without any damage at all and providing a comfortable space for the party in camp.

General The south-east corner of South Georgia, in the area around Dragynsky Fjord and Larsen Harbor, offer a very interesting avenue for further travel into the island’s interior.

The approaches, although not overly taxing, can take a bit of time and energy to surmount, particularly when combined with the fickle weather conditions, and the extreme caution necessary when so far from any possible support.

It should be emphasized that an expedition to South Georgia needs to have enough time built into the schedule to account for the inevitable weather delays. Given that just sailing to and from the island takes five or more days each way, and a few days for unfavorable weather, an expedition should have at least three weeks or a month at its disposal, depending on the nature of the objectives.

The Pelagic Australis was an excellent platform for our activities, with plenty of room for gear and people. It is also a requirement of the access permit for South Georgia that a manned vessel be dedicated to the shore party at all times.

–  –  –

Date: 15-18 November 2006 Location: Santiago and Stanley John Race, Skye Fitzgerald, Dave Hahn, and Kim Lundgren and this log’s author, Tor Lundgren, assembled in Santiago, then flew to Stanley via Punta Arenas. We met Skip Novak at the airpot in Punta Arenas and arrived in Stanley a few hours later. All of our gear arrived, which was not a trivial concern at a destination only served by a weekly flight. We made the long drive from the Mount Pleasant airport into Stanley and continued straight to Pelagic Australis, docked at the cargo piers, where we met with Stewart Richardson (our skipper), Jessica Hay (mate) and Lawrence Lagnado (very able seaman).

Date: 19 November 2006 Topic: 1st Day at Sea Start: Stanley Harbor, S51º39.9 W57º47.5 Midnight Fix: S52º13.4 W55º59.1 We stocked up on a few essentials in Stanley, and picked up some postcards, which we wrote and dropped in the very British post box at the center of town.

After a stop at the scrap yard, which also serves as a storage shed for some of Pelagic’s equipment, we returned to the ship for lunch, customs, and a safety briefing from our crew.

Then it was anchors, or in this case, lines-away. We headed out of the harbor about the same time as the Golden Fleece. Dolphins escorted us out of the bay, and we hoisted the sails and caught a fair wind for South Georgia. The temperature was a balmy 15ºC, the window blowing gently on the quarter and the boat made a steady ten knots toward our destination. The weather gods were smiling, so far.

7Date: 20 November 2006Topic: 2nd Day at SeaNoon Fix: S52º45.4 W53º28.8

The day slipped by as we got comfortable with our watches. At around noon, port and starboard watches combined to put the headsail out on a spinnaker pole. We have had a continuation of the same weather, with the wind and waves generally moderating over the course of the day. We've spent our time reading, chatting, playing chess and testing out the coffee brewing systems.

Date: 21 November 2006Topic: 3rd Day at SeaNoon Fix: S53º07.1 W47º33.8

Dave gave us a briefing on the Shackleton crossing today, emphasizing the need to both pack light and to prepare for difficult weather. The weather report looks a bit dodgy for the next few days, with a front coming through. It is not very big, apparently, will probably bring some mixed weather.

The day was largely uneventful, as we all rotated through our watches at intervals of four hours. Port watch is Skip, Kim, Dave and Lawrence (aka Loz) and starboard watch is Stewart, Skye, John, and me. Jessica freelances (and does most of the cooking).

–  –  –

The wind came up again on the 0000 to 0400 watch, and the port watch (Skip, Kim, Dave and Lawrence, aka Loz) rolled out the genoa and hoisted the main. The Pelagic was making a good eight knots, even in the light wind (maybe 15 knots). We continued at this pace all morning, and after a bacon and egg breakfast, we were approaching Shag Rock, about 135 nm miles west of South Georgia. It was shrouded in a dense fog, but we could make out the outline of a steep pinnacle, perhaps 50 meters in height.

Close by, a fairly substantial iceberg was grounded -- our first ice on this trip!

–  –  –

Date: 23 November 2006 Topic: Elsehul Noon fix: Elsehul, South Georgia, S54º01.6 W37º57.6' Early this morning, Pelagic Australis approached the western rock outcroppings of South Georgia. Seals, seabirds, penguins, and even a whale or two, were on hand to greet us, per local custom. From a position just to the south of the west end of South Georgia, Skip steered a course along the shore of Bird Island, toward the narrow (less than half a nautical mile wide) passage of Bird Straight. The wind had been picking up steadily, and now seemed to be in the vicinity of thirty to thirty-five knots out of the northeast, coating the boat in a light slush. The steep slopes of South Georgia emerged from the waters around us: a framework of folded sedimentary rock, layered with guano and mud and trimmed in a thin but very hearty layer of tussock grass. The smell of seabird nests was penetrating, although not quite so powerful as off Shag Rock.

10 After passing through Bird Straight, Skip navigated the boat around the cape into the well-formed harbor of Elsehul. Scooped out of the surrounding hillsides and open only to the north, the anchorage offers protection in almost all weather. We dropped the anchor, enjoyed a nice breakfast, and then dropped off to sleep until around noon.

In the afternoon, we put on our gear and made our first foray into the shore. Kim, Skye, Lawrence (Loz) and I were in the first landing party, and when we hit the beaches, the welcome was warm but not friendly. The fur seals barred their teeth and made aggressive lunges in our direction, and their breath was impressively foul. Once we had John and Dave on the beach, too, we had to fend off attacks from all sides. The fur seals bulls seemed, from the look of them, to weigh at least two hundred kilos. At this point in the season, they are just starting to arrive on the beaches for breeding. The males arrive first and stake out a patch of territory as small as a few meters in diameter, and then defend it from other fur seals and any humans that stray too close. Penguins seem to have a sort of immunity, at least as long as they stay out of the way. The massive elephant seal bulls, the largest of which seemed like they might weigh two-thousand kilos, are also exempt from the fur seals. Ski poles are an effective deterrent in most cases. Tapped together, they make a clicked sound that seems to keep the fur seals at bay.

We climbed up from the beach on the Elsehul side and then crossed the narrow neck of land that separates it from Undine Harbor, on the south side of the island, site of Duncan Carse’s ‘Amow House’. We encountered another big colony of fur seals, and as 11 we approached the Hope River (the longest in South Georgia) where it flows into the sea, they were at one point attacking on three sides at once. Fortunately, a seal moving to confront us was likely to be attacked by another seal defending another piece of turf (or making a landgrab). We fended them off and then climbed back onto the central plateau, past a large cluster of gentoo penguins and a solitary king penguin, before returning to the beach for our pickup.

In celebration of Thanksgiving, we enjoyed an excellent dinner menu of lamb, greens and some lovely bottles of red wine.

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