Friday 31 December 2010

12 days of Christmas, South Georgia style!

Christmas is a special time for families, a time for fun, laughter, and good times. Being thousands of miles from shops removes the ludicrous commercialisation of Christmas, and focuses you on friends, family, and having a great time. Even the most pessimistic bah humbug can’t help but start to enjoy Christmas in a place like South Georgia!

The cruise ship Hanseatic decided to put on a Christmas service on the evening of Christmas eve, and we were invited along to participate. We even put on a sing song of the 12 days of Christmas, with a South Georgia twist which included items such as, 1 Penguin, 2 friendly furries, 3,4,5 Carse House (Gov officers house) Gins, 6, 7, 8 FIDs a wintering, 9, 10, 11, 12.

The church was lit by candles, and was a very pretty sight.

DSC_7211Grytviken church by candlelight

In traditional American style (our senior boating officer is half american) we had a ginger bread house to decorate! We used icing to stick on tons of different sweets, then on Christmas day we got to smash it and eat all the bits! It was good fun, tasty, and I think we all overdosed on sugar!

DSC_7257Ginger bread house

On Christmas morning our BC wasn’t feeling too well, in fact he was wrecked, and went straight back to bed. This did cause a slight moment of panic as he was going to be cooking. Ashley and I took up the reins though, and between us we whipped up a veritable feast, with plenty of leftovers too! I mastered yorkshire puddings, and made a sizable mountain of them. The evening was brilliant, everyone had a great time, and were suitably full at the end of the feast.

Gathered for Christmas dinner

Wednesday 22 December 2010

With no Holly what can we deck the halls with?


Decorating Grytviken Church


At the weekend we decorated Grytviken Church ready for the Christmas services that some of the cruise ships hold there over the festive period. The staff from the museum made mulled wine and lots of tasty snacks for us and we made the place look great.

See if you can spot: the ‘Weaner’ (juvenile Elephant Seal), King Penguin, and the decorations that get replaced. Incidentally I’m the one up the red ladder for most of the time. Note to self: Working at height should be followed by, and not preceded by Mulled wine!!

Merry Christmas from all of us at KEP :-)

Thursday 16 December 2010

Hodges, the fast and the slow

Mount Hodges sits behind Grytviken, and rather dominates the skyline from KEP.  Standing at 605m tall it may not seem that high, but the steepness and exposure make up for extreme height. Most of the way up is over scree, through steep gullies, and over the occasional patch of snow.

Most people choose a nice afternoon or mornings walk up Mt. Hodges, but not the outgoing sparky – Richy. After coming to South Georgia 2 years ago Richy started running, and discovered he had quite a talent for it. In the SG expedition book is written an account of a speed ascent of Mt. Hodges, starting and finishing at the museum back door, with a record time set at just over 49mins. The Hodges Challenge as it has now become known was just too tempting, and before leaving the island he was determined to give it a go.

DSC_0127 Richy after the run

After posting people at key points along the route for safety, the record attempt was on. Richy set off at a good pace, heading up the side of Mt Hodges, springing up through the scree. After just 33mins the radio call came through to say he’d reached the summit. Then came the downhill, we’re not really sure how he manages to get down a hill so fast, but after only 13mins descent Richy came running back to the museum. A new record time of 46mins 15sec was the result, an incredible achievement, hopefully to be recognised by Guinness World Records in the near future.

My trip up Hodges, if you haven’t guessed already was quite a bit slower, more of a steady siege than a high octane surprise attack!

DSC_6219_1 Lyndsey, Tommy and Matt above Grytviken

Setting off Saturday mid-morning, the first part of our walk was up to the summit of Orca, a peak on the side of Hodges, and overlooking Grytviken, and ideally situated for a rest and a bite to eat! After enjoying the views for a good while we continued up the steep scree to the summit of Mt. Hodges.

Hodges-pano-2-bw-sm Looking down the mountainous spine of South Georgia

From the snow capped summit the view was stunning. It was pretty breezy, and disturbed snow blew around whenever we moved. There was enough time to take a load of photos though, and with the tripod buried in the snow we could all get in the shot.

DSC_6235_bw_smTommy, me, Lyndsey and Matt on the summit

Getting back down was almost as hard as the ascent, negotiating some steep gullies and loose scree. Making our own way down the side of the mountain into Bore valley rather than following the standard routes was good fun and exercised our route finding skills a bit. We even found a nice snow slope to play around on and slide down.

DSC_6286_1 Matt and Tommy!

Orca and Hodges make up part of another South Georgia Challenge: “The 7 Peaks”. These are the peaks of: Duse, Orca, Hodges, Petrel 1 & 2, Narvval and Brown mountains. And the challenge is to climb them all in one day. While we were on our jolly up Hodges we had a great vantage point to see a number of the ‘old crowd’, (who would be departing 2 days later), make use of the great weather and successfully completed the 7 peaks. That’s is a hill day I am really looking forward to doing, stunning peaks, some exciting snow runs, and some great views (fingers crossed)!

Tuesday 14 December 2010

New arrivals

December is a busy month, while the UK gets hit by ‘the big freeze’ we are heading towards the middle of summer, and onwards with the breeding season. The beaches are bristling with with Fur Seals, Gentoo penguins have their chicks, Light mantled sooty Albatrosses are on their nests and the Terns are eagerly defensive towards anything that moves.

DSC_6056 Skuas fight over afterbirth

Fur Seal numbers are looking excellent this year, a very positive sign after the poor season last year due to a shortage of Krill. Peak pupping was around about the 7th of December, and there are lots of them crawling around the beaches and in the tussac. Getting about the beaches and tussac can be quite tricky with so many seals around, so care has to be taken at all time to avoid accidentally bumping into a rather grumpy set of teeth! Whilst the pups are very cute, they are born angry! If you pass close by one you are met with a feisty terrier like growling and bearing of teeth! Fortunately though they aren’t all that quick at moving yet (unlike the adults that are damn fast) so you have plenty of time to move on by.

Tortula-pano Tortula, one of the study beaches

Part of my job at the moment is to keep a count of the number of Fur Seals. This is done by counting all the males, females, pups and juveniles in fixed study plots on the beaches marked out with small patches of red paint on prominent rocks. Using these figures you can compare counts between years, and estimate when the most pups are born. This date for peak pupping is used to decide when to carry out the annual pup weighing.

DSC_6122A rare and particularly cute blonde pup

DSC_6130Hi winds are common, creating some nice cloud formations

DSC_6174Light mantled Sooty Albatross

As well as being the zoologist I (along with everyone else on base) am also crew for boating operations, and get trained to be cox too. We have two very nice jet boat harbour launches, two RIB’s, and a tiny inflatable called dotty. One of the government officer needed to be taken around to Stromness to meet up with a cruise ship for an inspection, and I got to take the helm for my first trip outside Cumberland Bay, and into our extended boating limit. With a cruise ship alongside the jetty some tight manoeuvring was required, before we could head off out on our way. There was a nice bit of chop and swell around, which made progress fun, but we were soon at Stromness, ready for the passenger transfer. The cruise ship was a little bit late, but a good blast back along the coast surfing the swell got us back just before sunset.

P1000152Stromness whaling station

On the way back from Maiviken after some Seal work Ashley, Rob and I took a bit of a detour into an area of lakes know as the ‘Lake District’. It was very pretty and there were some nice views back down the the bay and over the other lakes.

Maiviken pano 1
Looking down towards Maiviken from the ‘Lake District’

Having set off a few weeks previously a team of Norwegian Kayakers made it back to KEP having circumnavigated the whole of South Georgia. This was quite an incredible journey, and they did very well to complete the challenge in very good time. One casualty of the trip was one of the Kayaks which got rather too much attention from an Elephant Seal! The team managed to make a good repair though using all their spare fiberglass and epoxy, and completed the challenge. We used the celebration as a good excuse for learning how to use flares with the old out of date stock.

Welcoming back a team of Kayakers who circumnavigated South Georgia

The repaired kayak

With life on base tending to revolve around our work a number of social events are regularly held. One of these is the Saturday night formal dinner. Three courses, smartly dressed, or following themes where everyone gets together. Tommy and Matt-mech organised a British Pub themed evening with great pub grub, fancy dress, bar games, and a pub quiz! It was a great evening, although I did get distracted briefly by some nice light and clouds, which I hope you’ll agree was worth while:

DSC_6211 copy