This Travel Journal submitted by AdventureSmith traveler Mel Weiss details his National Geographic Antarctica South Georgia & Falkland Islands expedition aboard the National Geographic Explorer, sailed in December 2008 with his wife, Paula.
Breakfast wasn’t until seven, but I was restless and rose at six. Dressing hurriedly in fleece pants and parka, I made my way to the chartroom where I could get a steaming cup of fresh coffee. On deck, the sun was out, a bright golden orb sitting in the azure blue sky. In the austral summer of Antarctica, the sun hardly sets and you can revel in almost 24-hour daylight. Tabular icebergs the size of country towns floated by almost obscuring the smaller bergs of incredible design, sculptured by the sea and wind with a blue ice sheen, a reminder of their glacial origin. Above me, floated albatross, and petrels, catching a free ride on the light winds, their oversized wings adding to their majesty.
This was a white world, unbroken and endless with towering mountains and flat plains…
This was a white world, unbroken and endless with towering mountains and flat plains, ordinarily a quiet place, yet sometimes filled with the sounds of jousting male elephant seals, growling fur seals, squawking Skua birds and the endless chattering of King penguins and their chicks. Occasionally, you might hear the roar of calving glacier ice. Later, a southern right whale was spotted breaching, just before we boarded Zodiacs to Fortuna Bay and a wet landing. Actually all landings are wet, as there are no docking facilities. You swivel over the edge of the Zodiac raft, and place your muck or bog boots in the frigid water.
Today I would hike from Fortuna Bay to Stromness, the last leg of the trip that Shackleton and his companions made 100 years ago as they crossed South Georgia. (Of course they made the journey in the dead of winter.) The hike is about four miles, quite steep, rising from sea level to about 1,000 feet in elevation and down to sea level again. It was exhilarating! Starting from a dirt plain, we stood as one with the tops of the snow mountains. As we ended the hike we still had to forge small streams and were attacked by dive-bombing terns, whose territory we were “invading.”