A winter voyage to South Georgia had seemed like a great idea to Skip Novak and his crew aboard Pelagic Australis. But now ice was accumulating on deck and in the rig at an alarming rate
After toasting Shackleton at his grave site, it was on to Plan B for the climbers. We had eight days, so we hatched a scheme to ski from Possession Bay up the Murray and Briggs Glaciers and attempt to climb the three unclimbed and unnamed peaks of the Trident Range just south of the famous Shackleton Traverse.
Anchoring in the bottom of the bay, not far from where Captain Cook first landed on the island in 1775, we claimed our own bit of territory by caching our equipment near an erratic boulder on the edge of a moraine. Working in high winds was made more difficult by a tricky kelp-bound dinghy landing. Nothing seemed to be going easy for us!
Next day was equally savage. Spindrift cascaded down from the Shackleton Gap, a broad, low-slung col separating Possession Bay from King Haakon Bay where Shackleton’s James Caird landed in 1916. We were running out of available days, so we had to get started. Getting kitted up at 0700 in –8°C in a gale took some willpower and we set out against the headwind with gusts strong enough to knock us off our feet. Five hours later we were on the Murray Glacier out of the main airstream, built a snow wall shoulder high and managed to erect the two three-man tents, before finally settling down for the night.
Three peaks of the Trident
The next day all toil and pain was forgotten. We emerged after breakfast welcomed by a spectacularly settled day with gentle winds. It was a joy to be on skis pulling the pulks on an easy hard-packed surface. We camped that night at the head of the Briggs Glacier, well-positioned under the Trident Massif – if only the weather would hold we would get something accomplished.
And we did. In three successive days, we climbed all three peaks of the Trident and, in keeping with Neptune, named them after the Greek goddesses Thalassa, Thetis and Tethys.
Optimism soared and we planned to carry on across the Kohl Plateau and find a new way onto to the Konig Glacier that leads to Fortuna Bay, an elegant traverse. But the gods (and goddesses) had other ideas and we woke up to a rain storm – in winter, at 850m, something I didn’t think possible. We stayed hunkered down for the day, and this apparent anomaly was explained by Dave on our evening radio sched. The GRIB file showed a massive north-east airstream bringing relatively warm air down from the South Atlantic and this was going to persist for the next few days.
We called it a day and the boat came up to meet us. Capitalising on the north-easter, a dream scenario for a quick return, we left bound for Stanley. Things rarely work out as planned on South Georgia.
This is an extract from a feature in Yachting World March 2015 issue
To read more on Skip’s Storm Sailing techniques click here.