Kuli South Georgia Expedition

Oct 15

#6:
ESCAPE FROM BARFF

Published at 17:45
Dispatch created from email
South Georgia’s geography is often named after the historic events that
took place therein. Possession Bay is the where Captain Cook took
“possession” of the island for Britain. Cape Disappointment is where
Cook was “disappointed” because he realized that South Georgia was not
Antarctica. So, exactly what must have happened at Barff Peninsula?
Consult your nearest atlas. Across the water from King Edward Point lies the
land of Barff, with two “f”s. It was named after Lieutenant A.D. Barff
of the Royal Navy, who sketched out the peninsula in 1906. Middle school
must have been hell for poor ol’ A.D.
Paul Mayewski decided on Sunday morning that we should investigate whether
it would be worth looking for ice cores on the glacier that lies in the
mountains of Barff. At the very least, it would be a fine day’s hiking in
the sub-Antarctic wilderness. So we crossed over and unloaded hundreds of
pounds of equipment onto the shore, including food, sleeping bags and tents
in case bad weather prevented the Pelagic Australis from returning for us.
We were greeted by sorry-looking elephant seals languishing on the beach
with huge gashes in their torsos and faces. These were the “losers” –
seals who had challenged the Alpha male for the right to mate with his harem
of females, and lost. As they recovered, Mr. Alpha lurked in the waves,
waiting for the right moment to court the lady of his choosing. It is an
offer the women can’t refuse: The male signals his romantic intent by
bounding down the beach, hurling his massive bulk upon her body, and biting
her neck. I myself witnessed such proceedings Saturday near King Edward
Point. Women’s liberation hasn’t caught on yet in South Georgia.
Once you get beyond the beach, the first thing you notice about Barff
Peninsula is the amazing variety of fecal material. Apart from the seals,
the peninsula is populated by reindeer, albatrosses, and penguins… and an
infestation of rats whose ancestors hitched rides to South Georgia on ships
over the centuries. The shores of Barff are lined by rat traps (at least one
of which had been crushed by an Alpha-male elephant seal in a fit of
passion).
Suffice it to say that the general ambience was less than appealing. We
marched through the guano and tried to find our way up to the glacier.
Without the benefit of hiking paths, this is no easy feat. Some of us headed
up a very steep hill that turned out to be mostly loose rock and soil. For
every two steps up, you slipped back one. The route proved to be impassable
and we retreated.
Then the long-awaited storm began to hit. We decided to haul our gear to a
hut where we would probably spend the night. The shack was about half the
size of your average American car – four plank walls lined with plastic to
keep the wind out, and a couple of musty mattresses on bunks. Reindeer crap
on the floor. Rat traps all around. The wind picked up, the snow came down
and the cold poured in, numbing fingers and feet.
Paul said this was one of the better accommodations he had seen in Antarctic
climes. But those of us who have not dedicated our lives to advancing
science were not going to settle down for the night without a fight.
Then came the news that the storm might last three days. We called the
Pelagic by Iridium phone to rescue us. No response. We couldn’t get
through on VHF radio, either. And it was getting too dark for the ship to
approach the bay. We began to face the reality of spending the next
half-week in snowbound, shit-caked, rat-infested Barff.
Just when it all seemed grim, our skipper Magnus’ voice popped up on the
radio and said he could come for us. About an hour later, the good ship
appeared through the mist of the gathering storm.
Mariusz, Bjorn and Marcello elected to remain in the shack just in case the
weather let up enough for them to continue blazing the trail to the glacier.
You have to admire such dedication, although to normal folks, it might just
verge on madness. The rest of us gratefully returned to the Pelagic and a
warm bunk for the night.
  • Name: Barff peninsula
  • Elevation: 0 m
  • Latitude: 54° 1760South
  • Longitude: 36° 3046West

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    2012-11-07 00:35:47 Marta Potocka says: Let's correct: "albatross hangout" should be "giant petrels hangout" :)
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