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South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands: Fortuna to Stromness hike

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Fortuna to Stromness hike | South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands | Antarctica

[Visited: December 2011]

After our amazing and touching first day on South Georgia, new adventures awaited us on the second day. They would be of a different nature, though: the day would mostly bring us back to history. We woke up in the tranquil waters of Fortuna Bay surrounded by mountains covered in fresh snow. Our ship also had a layer of snow, and although it was supposedly early summer, this is how summers are in South Georgia. Sunlight was playing hide and seek with the clouds on the untouched, wild landscape around us. One description of South Georgia is: cut the upper part of the Swiss Alps, with its peaks, eternal snow and glaciers, and place it in the Antarctic region - and voilà, you have South Georgia. Indeed, with glaciers running right into the sea, the white mountains rising steeply from the South Atlantic Ocean, the description seemed quite accurate. As in all mountains, the weather in South Georgia is extremely volatile, as we found out when we boarded the zodiacs a little later. The sunshine gone, conditions looked suddenly pretty harsh, with a strong wind blowing snow around us. After working our way past some aggressive fur seals on the small stony beach, we had a briefing about the hike we were about to start, and worked our way up the hill. We now had better views of the glacier on the other side of Fortuna Bay, where Shackleton and his two comrades came down.

Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Lake surrounded by snowy mountain landscape

I soon realized that I had overdressed: despite the cold wind, walking up the hill soon warmed me up from the inside. But when we reached higher ground, snow was drifting across a broad valley, and we cooled down again as we were more exposed to the wind. As sudden as the snow had started earlier, it suddenly disappeared when we reached the col between Fortuna Bay and Stromness. Sunlight broke through the clouds, and the scenery was just breathtakingly beautiful. A small lake below us turned out to have a story: our historian told us that when Shackleton and his crew passed here (in winter, under much harsher conditions than we were having, with little daylight, and after days without sleep), Tom Crean, one of his mates, fell through the ice, thus discovering that this was not just a snowy plain, but a snow-covered lake. Again, trying to imagine how those brave men managed to cross 800 miles in a lifeboat on some of the most treacherous seas of the globe, and then crossing the island of South Georgia over glaciers in the brutal winter, was mind blowing. When we reached a ridge on the other side of the col, we had a good view of the bay ahead of us, and could see the remnants of the whaling station that was once here: Stromness. When Shackleton and his men arrived at this spot, they listened for the bell calling the whalers to work; when they heard it ring, they knew that they made it.

Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Water coming down the mountains between Fortuna Bay and Stromness

Just as we were to pose for a group picture, gusts of wind tried to push us down and over the edge; some of us even let themselves fall to be safe. It was the kind of wind you could lean against; and I loved it. These were the elements for which the Antarctic region is famous; to experience it "hands-on" was a great opportunity to get an idea of the conditions of the region. Some of us had trouble going down; the fresh snow had started to melt, and the steep slope was indeed a little slippery. Once we were lower, we saw the Shackleton waterfall; Ernest had taken the wrong way and had stumbled upon this waterfall which they then worked their way down from. Vibrant green mosses covered some of the rocks in the riverbed, holding crystal clear water in perfect drops on its surface. Following the riverbed, we came across fur seals which were surprisingly bathing in fresh water, we saw a herd of reindeer, introduced on South Georgia by the Norwegians for food, and saw a small group of king penguins; but after the spectacular colony we had seen the day before at Salisbury Plain, this was just a group of penguins. You quickly adapt to reality. Stromness itself was abandoned in the 1960s; it had been a whaling station until 1931, after which it was converted to a shipyard. Because of the presence of asbestos, visiting the site itself is impossible, so we interacted with the elephant seals instead. From the open fence, we were still able to peer into the site and its rusty, old buildings and machinery. It was here that Shackleton recovered from his incredulous escape from Elephant Island, before moving to Grytviken where he started arranging the rescue of his men who were waiting for him on Elephant Island, and who miraculously all survived. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, we spotted icebergs floating just off the coast - another landmark of significance on our way to the White Continent.

Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Stromness Bay seen from the pass between Fortuna and Stromness
Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Fresh snow on the mountains of Fortuna Bay
Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Mountain landscape with snow between Fortuna Bay and Stromness
Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Mountain landscape at Stromness
Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Small river cutting through snowy landscape
Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Ruins of the old whaling station of Stromness
Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Snowy mountains of South Georgia
Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Lake with snowy banks above Fortuna Bay
Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Seal in a riverbed near Stromness
Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Seal pup looking into the camera
Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Seals on the beach and icebergs in the distance at Stromness
Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Seals on the beach at Stromness
Picture of Fortuna to Stromness hike (South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands): Water on mosses near Stromness

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