After a great day in Grytviken, we were looking forward to the South Georgia Shackleton hike, and being in the footsteps of this intrepid explorer. Unfortunately, it was another restless night, as we watched the night before as the ship had inexplicably gone out to sea from South Georgia before turning around to come back around 2AM, we know because we were still awake. Very frustrating, especially with a big hike today.
Therefore, the quote for this day, Feb 17, 2022, resonated with us all the more:
To be brave cheerily, to be patient with a glad heart, to stand the agonies of thirst with laughter and song, to walk beside death for months and never be sad – that’s the spirit that makes worth having.Ernest Shackleton
We got an early start at our first outing, prior to the South Georgia Shackleton hike in the afternoon, at Fortuna Bay landing around 830AM, having skipped breakfast. We were on the second zodiac and quickly outpaced almost everyone being some of the first to traverse the kilometer or so long walk that could be taken. Part of it through a vast field of fur seals, and being only only preceded by one other person, the pups and even some of the adults were slightly aggressive, and we (or at least I) had fun standing up to their challenges and making them back down. They were very cute in the sense of an over eager puppy that thinks it is bigger and tougher than it is. I also remarked to CJ that they were much like the ghosts in Mario Bros, where they would follow you from the side or when you turned your back, but immediately pause or back down if you stared them down head on.
A bit further we hiked up a hillock and had a great view of a large penguin colony that we learned was made up of at least 7,000 breeding pairs. It was a nice stroll, but we headed back early as we knew we had a bigger hike later in the day. We also enjoyed the brambles everywhere that wanted to go back to the ship with us – we enjoyed less so de-brambling our pants.
We ate lunch early at 11AM, but were hungry having skipped lunch. We both started with broccoli soup and then had a plant based shepherd’s pie. Notice I said broccoli soup and not broccoli cheddar soup, I’d kill right now for cheese to be in any of the dishes other than simply the cheese plate. Sigh.
Then at precisely 12PM they called us to go to the landing site on the other side of Fortuna Bay where we would recreate the last 8 kilometer leg of the South Georgia Shackleton hike across the mountains of to get help not only for the 3 men left back at King Haakon Bay, but also for the main body of the crew back on Elephant Island. On the opposite side of Fortuna Bay, Shackleton and the other two men took a harrowing leap into the void and slipped down thousands of feet of snowy slope, somehow not hitting any rocks and surviving. That’s one way to get down. Thankfully we only had to do this hike during summer though, and not in late fall with snow like Shackleton.
We were a bit surprised that over 60 people had signed up for the South Georgia Shackleton hike, and wondered about the fitness and ability of some, since there was no turning back once the hike started, the ship was picking us up at the final destination. It started quite steep navigating through tussock grass, moss, and hiding fur seals among both. As we got up higher we were walking on a very springy bed of moss that would suck down an inch or two with each of our steps, but then quickly spring back up as well. It also changed color where we stepped to a lime green color from the darker green it had started as. It was an interesting effect and experience.
Then we leveled off a bit more on rock, and had a great view of the surrounding mountains. We came to a brief stopping point near a mountain lake, got a quick sip of water, and appreciated how well everyone was doing so far.
We also struck up a fun conversation with a Dane named Carston who was traveling along and was also afflicted by seasickness. He was a fascinating person, loved American football, especially the NY Giants, but really all sport. He mentioned that he once came to the USA for 24 days and attended 28 sporting events in that time, while also mentioning he had been to all of the tennis slams around the world. We enjoyed our conversation with him, and really the pockets of conversations we had with various folks throughout the trip.
Maggie, our guide from kayaking, was again leading us, using GPS, and she only steered us in the wrong direction once (for a very short bit), which was much better than how Shackleton’s crew did, though they were the first to ever traverse these mountains. We then climbed over a scree field for a good bit until we crested a ridge and saw our ship far below sitting in Stromness Harbour.
We stopped for a brief rest and pictures and then headed down the hardest part, which wasn’t too hard, but was quite steep, and put a lot of pressure on knees and firmly jammed my toe nails into the front of my muck boots. What I would have given for proper hiking boots, but with attention and at the measured pace we were going, ultimately everyone got down without a problem. Our initial fears had proved unfounded, because while some folks were slower than others, overall everyone kept up a reasonable flow and was able to complete the hike without incident.
At the bottom of this steep section we saw the waterfall that Shackleton and his two companions had to go down, having taken a wrong turn that we didn’t replicate.
We still had a 1 kilometer long walk left on our South Georgia Shackleton hike, but now the route was well marked by the normal ship’s flags for landings and we started back. It was easy to understand how Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley, and Tom Creane must have felt, seeing civilization oh so close after their harrowing journey, but still not quite within reach coming in to that final descent into Stromness. There are accounts of young boys who encountered the men on this final leg, fleeing in fear given their terrifying and emaciated appearances.
We had a good conversation with two gentleman, Josh and Nicholas, from California, and shared some of our similar gripes over the ship’s food and the monotony of sea days. We also heard about Nicholas’ experience being a nurse during Covid, which was an interesting window into the life of a first responder. He didn’t go into too much depth, but you could read between the lines around the struggles he had dealt with due to the unvaccinated, the mounting deaths, the burnout (multiplied due to people quitting), and the corporate bureacracy that he has had to deal with during these trying times. The walk back was very boggy. We got to the beach, took in a quick view of the ruins of Stromness (you can’t get too close due to decay, unsafe structures, and asbestos) and headed back to the ship for a well earned shower after an amazing hike and 24,000 steps.
We kicked off from Stromness and headed over to view the adjacent old whaling village of Leith Harbor, which was decaying, but also in surprisingly great condition.
Dinner that night started out with a crab salad for me, that was surprisingly good with hints of lemon verbena and dill, CJ had a bulger salad to start and then vegetable potage soup. We then both had steak with mashed potatoes and root vegetables, and I finished it off with chocolate ice cream while CJ had another cheese plate.
Menus for the day:
CJ had understandably reached her breaking point with not being able to sleep in our cabin, and needing to roam the center of the ship in the middle of the night just to get a few winks of shut eye. So, she went to reception to see if there were potentially any other cabins we might be able to move to, or at the very least the possibility of a more relaxing place to sleep outside our cabin. Surprisingly, they did have a few options for us. Both were on the same level as we currently were on, level 5. One was a cabin the same quality and size as our current one about 20 feet closer into the interior of the ship, and another was even more in the interior, but had no window, and was about half the size of our current room. We quickly discussed, and decide to try the cabin that was a similar model, but closer into the interior.
So, we started to move our stuff from cabin 504 into our new cabin 516. We got through moving all of our items pretty quickly, and it forced us to tidy up and pack a bit as well. The new room used the space better with an improved layout, and had a better view as well! Now we just needed to see how it would perform on open water.
We nervously headed into the night to see how the new room would perform. However, before we fully were ready for bed, we did find that the on demand video options actually worked in this room versus failing out in the last one. We started to feel the waves, but they were subdued, and even though we did still feel the crashing of the waves, they were not nearly as jarring, so the move was looking to be successful.