Day 9 - March 11, 2011 - Nordenskjold Glacier, Cumberland East Bay

By Luke Kenny, Fisheries Biologist

Co-ordinates: 54˚22’ S, 35˚22’ W
Weather: Sunny but strong winds

Air Temperature: 15 °C, 59 °F (16:00 hrs)
Sea Temperature: 5°C, 41 °F
Pressure: 1012.8 hPa
Wind: F6-7 from the NW

The sun began dancing up the bulkhead of the cabin this morning after 06:00 hours, calling me outside onto the deck. The mountainous backbone of South Georgia, the Allardyce Range, was catching the early morning sun as we made our exit from our anchorage in Cumberland East Bay. Steaming southeast down the coast I spied the folded layers of sedimentary rock of Rookery Bay before the Prince Albert II began to turn to starboard and into Godthul.

I started out on Zodiac driving duty, assisting Robin Aiello our Marine Biologist to transfer the guests ashore. The first group ashore set off with Juan, Will and Daniil, on an 8 km hike to Sandebugten, traversing the tussac clad slopes, passing the waterfall and lake and up the rocky pass into Reindeer Valley. Once I had finished transferring guests ashore I anchored my Zodiac and joined the remaining Expedition Team members and guests ashore.

There, I joined Hans Peter our Botanist on a hike with guests following the route that the first group of hikers took as far as the lake. The going was good, through the tussac clumps, occasionally following the trails of reindeer; our eyes were constantly drawn to the vivid colours of the landscape around us; the bright green of the tussac slopes running down and off the cliffs to the deep blue cove below and the dark brown of the barren scree and rock mountains of the northwest side of Godthul reaching up into the empty blue sky.

The waterfall itself was but a trickle by many standards, but the cliff face was a verdant curtain of moss and algae. To the side, a great arch was set into the rock where a slab inset had fallen away. Ahead, and vanishing over the skyline, the group of hikers bound for Sandebugten were but colourful dots on a mosaic of rock.

By 10:30 the party was over and the Expedition Team gathered up the last of the guests and the landing gear and left without a trace. The steam back into Cumberland East Bay was a breezy affair to say the least. I joined several guests on the back deck, viewing the rugged and dramatic Barff Peninsula coastline. As we neared the entrance to the bay, I attempted to stand on Deck 6 forward, only to be buffeted by the wind, so much so that my sunglasses, radio, camera bag and the shirt from my back threatened to blow away.

Inside and within some shelter, two Zodiacs were lowered into the opaque turquoise waters. A short but choppy ride took them into Sandebugten where the weary but elated hikers were waiting. I went below to peruse the delights of the lunchtime buffet and once the hikers joined the feast the ship proceeded towards the Nordenskjold Glacier some 5 miles distant. Here at 14:30 we began a Zodiac tour of the glacier front. Over at the west corner, 9 adult male elephant seal lay on the sandy beach, closely packed and molting their fur coats. Besides breeding season, this is the only time they visit terra firma.

I followed the other Zodiacs across the face, maintaining a safe distance from the front should any large calving occur nearby. I paused for 5 minutes or more at one point, as we saw one or two bucketfuls of ice break off, which was suggestive of imminent calving action. When nothing happened after 5 minutes we voted to proceed and join the rest of the Zodiacs towards the eastern corner of the glacier.

Above the glacier front and reaching into the sky were the mighty peaks of Mount Paget and further to the southeast Mount Nordenskjold. When we finally saw our calving, it was better than could be expected. A large column of blue and white ice stood at the back of a shallow depression in the face. Suddenly some ice pieces broke away from either side of the column giving us ample warning that we were about to witness a spectacular incident. Suddenly, the entire column dropped and crashed into the water below with a deafening thunderclap. A large wave surged towards us but the brash ice between it and our position dampened the wave.

All Zodiacs satisfied, we made our way back towards the ship. However, en route, we had one more stop to make. The lifeboat had been lowered for a test run and to double as a floating bar for champagne and chocolate covered pineapple pieces. The guests were delighted at this surprise, which topped off yet another fine day exploring South Georgia.
Soon after 17:00, and with all boats recovered, the Prince Albert II steamed for Gold Harbour where we dropped anchor shortly before 21:00.