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Visit to Grytviken graveyard and Museum

Grytviken to Dead Man’s Cairn hike

Once more, gusting winds funnel off the bays and glaciers on the way between Stromness and Cumberland Bay during the night.

Once the anchor goes down close to Grytviken, things seem to have calmed down, at least here, under the shelter of the cliffs that guard the entrance to Cumberland West. 

After our experiences last days with the cold and windy weather, nothing would have told us that we were bout to wake up to a sunny brilliant, and warm morning, just next to a site that tells about the first whaling operations in South Georgia. Not just this, but Grytviken also holds stories related to the early Polar Explorers, Captains, legendary ships, and their deeds.

A Whaling Station was founded in 1904 by Captain Larsen in 1904. Larsen considered one of the greatest Captains of the times, highly experienced in both Arctic and Antarctic regions, realized the potential of these waters for the whaling industry during his participation in the epic Swedish Antarctic Expedition (1901-03) to the Weddell Sea, led by Otto Nordenskjold.

The whaling base founding came from Argentina, and he initially brought 60 men and the whale catcher “Fortuna”. It soon attracted other companies that established their Stations at different sheltered bays of the island, and many more whaling shops were to come to these waters. 

It didn’t take much time to decimate the whale populations, and the last stations to operate were struggling at the beginning of the 1930’s. Today they all remain as open-air museums and witness the lucrative business that was the whale derivate products.

The only station that we can walk around on the island is usually that one, Grytviken, which has been readied for it by the South Georgia Heritage Trust. But today due to the strike of the Avian flu, we run a different program than usual.

Luckily we are still allowed to spend the day around, complying with the new regulations. The day starts with a talk from Dee, the Museum curator and part of the trust that manages Grytviken, with all of us in the deckhouse while all the official paperwork is taken care of. Biosecurity checks by the local officer take place on deck before we are allowed to land. 

First, the zodiacs bring us to the famous Grytviken graveyard. There, amongst the many whalers and sailors stands the most famous grave of all, Ernest Shackleton.

Most known for the struggles for survival of himself and his crew during the Trans-antarctic Expedition in 1914, he actually attempted to reach the South Pole on a couple of occasions before. Then he found his death later on, during yet another expedition to the South. 

It was on January 5th, 1922, right here in South Georgia. His body was then sent to England but his widow requested to send him back for burial to where he belonged: in the deep south. He was buried near Grytviken on the 5th of March 1922. Next to him, a plaque on the ground, there lay Shackleton’s right-hand man, Frank Wild. His ashes traveled from South Africa in 2013, to rest here next to “the Boss”.

After a life of exploration, a life chasing his dreams in the remotest and unknown southernmost areas of the world, today many visitors show up at his grave to pay respects and have a toast for him, for his ability to successfully lead men in desperate situations for survival and salvation. None as charismatic and acclaimed as Shackleton.

Men go out into the void spaces of the world for various reasons. Some are actuated simply by a love of adventure, some have the keen thirst for scientific knowledge, and others again are drawn away from the trodden paths by the “lure of little voices”, the mysterious fascination of the unknown.

Ernest Shackleton

From there the boats are called again to land us in the Museum area. This season will not be allowed to walk the way between the cemetery and the Museum along the remains of the Whaling Station. Nevertheless just next to us we can see its structure, the whaler’s old living quarters, oil tanks, boilers, flensing area, machinery, chains, anchors, and harpoon tips. Amongst them, several beached whaling ships as silent decaying witnesses of the whale hunt on those waters nowadays declared Whale Sanctuary.

Museum exhibiting Exploration, whaling, and Falkland’s War history; well-assorted shop, Post office and the Church built in 1913 are the only buildings we are allowed to visit today, but still, we could do the most of it this morning under the sunny blue skies.

During the afternoon, the Europa still plans to stay here, a hike following the path from Grytviken towards the next bay Maiviken is the idea for a leg stretch after lunch.

Sun shines when we land again, but menacing clouds start covering the spectacular mountains that showed their glaciated faces this morning, announcing just a couple of hours more of the fantastic weather we were having. Taking this time, we walk the well-trodden path up to 205 meters above the sea level, a fantastic mountain saddle named Dead Man’s Cairn.

Both of the neighboring bays offer their nice scenery from here. Extending our walk a little more, we reach the next hill, lower in altitude and covered in tussock grass, it overlooks Maivatn Lake and a hut built in 1974 at its shores. Maiviken beach itself, down below these hills, 

is closed to visitors, so that was our turning point to Grytviken again. There the ship is already struggling again with gusting winds, her anchor dragging, the temperature falling, and the surroundings covered in clouds. 

Repositioning the ship just a couple of miles to find a better shelter and a ground for the anchor and chain, we spend part of the night, before heaving to reach the new destination for tomorrow, the beautiful Ocean Harbour.

Geschreven door:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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