Monday, October 28, 2013

The End of the Shackleton Traverse – Fortuna Glacier and Stromness Col

by Larry, Sunday Oct 27

Yesterday we did 10 hours on skis and hiking, skiing up and down more than 6,000 vertical feet. Even though we were not able to do the Crean Glacier due to avalanche danger a few days ago, we decided to start from Fortuna Glacier where Shackleton inadvertently went before he figured out the right direction. We got on the beach at about 5:30am local time and put on our boots and skins and roped up. I was on Skip's rope this time with Cam. Julian, Amy, Georgio and Ed were on the second rope. We started up the Fortuna Glacier in clear, crisp weather with some low clouds coming in the bay as we climbed out of it. We were climbing up and around the ridge on the glacier to gain the ridge top from the backside. It gradually steepened for a while and then flattened into a wide snowfield below the Breakwind Ridge. It was the first time Skip had approached from this direction and it was not obvious which part of the rocky ridge was going to be the right place to cross over to find a skiable route down the other face. There were a number of crevasses on the way up that looked small at first, but I soon realized we were just very far away from them and they were actually quite large.

After about 2 and half hours of slogging we got to the top of the ridge at about 650 meters (2,100 feet) in the spot that Skip was sure was right. We changed to crampons for the last steep part and belayed up to the ridge. It was blowing harder and we were in a cloud, so not much time for glory shots. We belayed off the ridge top and down to a slightly flatter spot where we could change back to skis and take off the skins for the ski down. The first few turns were in low visibility and the surface was breakable crust. Then it opened up into a snowfield but we still had to be careful about where the crust was breaking on our turns. Some places that were wind crusted allowed us to make some decent turns. The run was beautiful with Fortuna Bay below us and the ridge on the other side of the bay rising above the clouds. If only the snow conditions matched the view! The snow got heavier and hard to ski but flowing down through the gullies was fantastic. It was important to have Skip point the way. It would be easy to go down a gully that ended in a cliff rather than a slope to the sea and have a long walk back uphill to find another gully.

We stopped for a short salami and cheese on some rocks. It was decent visibility and Georgio wisely said we might want to keep skiing. At which point a cloud reached up the gully and made the skiing a bit more difficult again. We made it down to within a few feet of sea level on the snow and had a very short walk out to the beach. We thought the next phase would be an easy walk. Then Skip said, yes we've got another 5 hours – first an hour's walk around the head of the bay, across the Konig Glacier outflow and then a hike/ski up to 300 meters again on the Stromness Col and a ski down into Stromness Bay. It was very tempting to want to go back to the boat after our first run up given it was cold and windy, but if Shackleton was doing this at the end of his 36 hour journey on little rations and after a 14 day torture in a 21 foot lifeboat across the Southern Ocean, what's a little discomfort to us. So off we went with Gretchen and Mike joining us.

The beach was full of groups of elephant seals and king penguins and we stopped for a while to watch a bull fighting off a probe from another male who wanted to challenge for the domination of the harem. They both stood up and growled at each other, shooting hot steamed air at each other, and then the bigger one bit the smaller one in the neck, the smaller one cowered and shrank back to the water's edge and slinked away. We then waded across the outflow. The approach most of us took was to find a shallow spot and wade tentatively across the river and hope we could link enough shallow spots to get across without getting our calf-high muck boots wet. Julian, Gretchen and Ed decided it would be better to go barefoot and walked through the freezing cold river with stoic resolve. It was lucky the river wasn't running any bigger.

We then started up the ridge on the other side. We walked up through the tussock grass and then the moss and a very thick green mat with an amazing capacity to soak up water coming down from the hills. I asked Julian if this was similar to Wales, to which he said it was quite similar to the large bogs that are huge reservoir of water and carbon in Wales.

We finally got to the snow line about halfway up to where I thought the col topped out and put on our ski boots, skis, skins and started trekking upwards on the soft snow. The wind was behind us and it was only lightly sprinkling at times. We got to the top and as often happens, there was another top and another before the real top. So up and up we went, past Crean Lake where Tom Crean fell in on Shackleton's journey. At the top, Shackleton and his team heard the 7am morning whistle at the Stromness whaling station and then they knew which way to get to safety.

We stopped for a short picnic at the top and had a really nice ski down. First, through a wide snowfield and then down a river gulley. We avoided the waterfall that Shackleton had to rope down and found a snow gulley that took us to the flat plain, an hour's walk into Stomness.

We were tired but happy to have done the route and had a much better idea of the impressive achievement of Shackleton, Worsley and Crean. It was 10 hours when we got to the Stromness whaling station. We sat on the beach and waited for as Pelagic Australis came into the harbor and picked us up. We motored around to Grytviken, past the abandoned whaling stations at Husvik and Leith, had a well-deserved dinner and went to bed, tired and happy.



  1. We are all proud of you as a team, and as individuals, for persevering and completing your adventure of honoring and appreciating an explorer and pioneer of the unknown and hostile wilds of Antarctica. Baba and the rest of us look forward to pictures and embellishments. Thank you for the blog and the time and energy you devoted to it!

  2. SOX RULE!!!!!!!
    who said anything about 1918 at Fenway? It was our game all night long.