[An intermittent insight into island life. The Falkland Islands are remote and windswept, and home to about 3,000 people, including me and my wife. About 800 miles south-east is South Georgia Island - covered in glaciers, temporary home to a few British Antarctic Survey scientists, and millions of penguins. However, there is no shortage of people who want to go there......]
In the last couple of weeks, I have been lucky enough to meet two parties of explorers whose lifetime ambitions included walking or skiing across South Georgia. Their exploits deserve telling....
|Starbuck Peak, (4705 feet, 1435m) (Photo courtesy of Simon Richardson).|
Crossing South Georgia would be an amazing feat at the best of times, but some climbers also wanted to climb some unclimbed peaks along the way! Now, there are good reasons why some of those peaks are unclimbed! They are too difficult! However, there was a spell of remarkably good weather which allowed a small British group to climb the stunning Starbuck Peak for the first time! When they first saw its vertical slopes, their thoughts were that it was "probably impossible".
|Pelagic Australis, sister yacht to Pelagic|
|Yours truly on South Georgia|
But the blizzard had the beneficial effect of giving a good base of snow for their ski-touring and climbing. They then had sunshine for 12 days, and climbed 5 peaks, including the highest unclimbed peak on the island, Mt Baume (6,272 feet, 1,910m). Some of the mountains are so rarely visited that they have yet to be named!
|Skip and co. in Stanley.|
|Whaling harpoon, Stanley|
100 years ago, one of the most miraculous journeys in history was completed by Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean, when they walked into the whaling station of Stromness on South Georgia. Having been shipwrecked for 18 months on Antarctic ice floes, they then managed to sail a small boat 1200 miles to South Georgia. Sadly, they landed at the uninhabited south coast of South Georgia. With barely any equipment or food, they set off to cross the unmapped interior of South Georgia to find help. They walked for 36 hours solid.....
|Shackleton's grave, South Georgia|
Shackleton - "Don't you know me?"
Manager - "I know your voice".
Shackleton - "My name is Shackleton".
Manager - "Come in, come in".
|Looking down to Stromness, South Georgia.|
The group was guided by the two guides who were already on the island, Stephen Venables and Crag Jones, and comprised Aileen's partner Bill Sheppard and her two sons, Cian and Morgan D'Arcy. I met them as they passed through Stanley, where they joined the yacht, Pelagic, skippered by Alex and Giselle.
|Aileen and Bill, with Shackleton South Georgia tea towel, on the Pelagic|
|Team Tom Crean on the Pelagic, Stanley|
|Pelagic sailing out of Stanley Harbour|
|Pelagic, through the Narrows.|
|Near Shackleton's Falls, Stromness whaling station on the coast.|
|Pelagic Australis, with Hans Hansson in the background.|
|HMS Clyde in Stanley Harbour|
It would take four attempts to eventually save them. A Chilean Pilot, Pardo, is still celebrated in his home port of Punta Arenas for achieving what the Royal or Merchant Navy could not do - pluck 28 men from Elephant Island.
Just before she flew off, Aileen's cast was split open for the flight, as bodies sometimes expand with the changing air pressure.... She didn't much like the cast anyway, as she is a proud Kerry woman, and the doctor had written "Up Wexford" on it!
|Aileen with the "Up Wexford" cast, cut open for the flight.|
It wasn't a time for chatting or reflection. I passed on news of Aileen, and gave then souvenir copies of Penguin News which had articles about them. Then I wished them well on their homeward leg. In the afternoon, I bumped into Bill looking for the library and Coleen, but I was giving a driving lesson, so couldn't stop!
According to historians, the Heroic Age of Antarctica was about 100 years ago. However, I feel that some of the recent exploits are nothing short of heroic.
I once worked with a remarkable man, and one of his favourite works was "Ulysses", by Tennyson.
"One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
It just came to mind.
To Team Tom Crean - it was a pleasure to meet you. I think Tom would have been proud of you. Go well. Stay well.