From the National Geographic Endeavour in Antarctica
Feb 24, 2006 - National Geographic Endeavour
Stromness & Prion Island, South Georgia
We were up at dawn this morning, enjoying the sunshine as it filtered through the haze and illuminated the mountains surrounding Fortuna Bay. It was in the hills above the bay that some of us planned to pick up the tracks of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s party and walk the final four miles of their legendary trek across the island in April of 1916 – a sort of pilgrimage and tribute to ‘The Boss,’ as Shackleton was affectionately known to his men.
And while we hikers made our way over the ridge to the old Norwegian whaling outpost of Stromness, where Shackleton’s odyssey finally ended, the National Geographic Endeavour made its way there by sea. Once at Stromness, the rest of the guests came ashore to hike to the famous waterfall – the final obstacle Shackleton & Co had to overcome – where they’d meet those of us coming across the ridge and all would amble back to the abandoned outpost, there to enjoy the seals and reindeer and picturesque ruins.
It was a beautiful morning for it, and the hiking party made good time up and over the thousand-foot ridge, its steepness and challenges providing us with only the vaguest hint of the hardships endured by Shackleton and his men ninety years ago. Shackleton’s hike to Stromness ended, of course, with a hearty meal in the house of the whaling station manager while ours ended with a hearty lunch aboard the ship.
Afterwards, we sailed northward to the Bay of Isles and an afternoon on Prion Island, a hidden jewel of a place where the wandering albatross comes to earth to nest and breed. Here was a rare chance to see these magnificent birds up close, watch them courting each other with elaborate displays known as gamming and observe them settled on their nests, incubating eggs which will hatch in another fortnight or so. Some of them wheeled overhead, swooping low and awing us to silence with their grace and the elegance of their ten-foot wingspans. We lingered there on the grassy hilltops of Prion Island for the rest of the afternoon, returning to the ship as dusk approached bringing an end to a magical day on this most magical of islands.