Friday, 15 November 2013

Seven Days on an Island - Part 3

This is the third and final part of my amazing trip down island to the southern most hut at Hurd Point and then returning north back to station.

In the last post Seven Days on an Island - Part 2 Tony and I had arrived at Green Gorge after our walk from Waterfall Bay.

Arriving back at Green Gorge hut
It was still quite early, so after changing out of our wet gear, we had a relaxing time in the hut, enjoying the warmth of the small efficient heater and the comfort of dry clothes.

Throughout the afternoon we ventured out between rain squalls to witness the the huge southeast swell that was pounding the beach - an unusual sight on the east coast. 
The large male elephant seals, were oblivious to the swell and its effect on the harem. They were still intent on battling for control of the large harem in front of the hut.

The beach master and the challenger battling for control of the harem

This battle ended with the challenger eventually making a hasty retreat to the tussock above the beach
For the rest of the afternoon we relaxed in the hut going out every now and then when we could see, through the hut window, a big set of waves come through or hear the furore of the seals as the waves washed over the ones closest to the shore.

The king penguins were constantly making there way in and out of the surf, then having to negotiate their way through the hundreds of seals clogging up the beach.

A lone king penguin contemplates which route to take through the seals and skuas

A huge set of waves ponds the rocks on the opposite side of the bay.

When a particularly big set of waves came ashore it washed over the seals closest to the water. We watched in horror as one of the pups was washed back out to sea. We saw another that was washed out, bravely claw its way back up the sloping beach, all the while its mother was calling out to it.

Cheeky skua - just moments before a wave had washed over the top of these seals

The swell increased and peaked just before sunset. It was an awesome sight, one usually associated with the west coast.

Watching the huge sets of swell come through

Huge swell at Green Gorge

Definitely not good for boating you can see the seals getting inundated
I prepared dinner that night - Half a Fray Bentos pie, mashed potato, re-hydrated peas, beans, carrots and corn. After we played cards till around 9:30pm. I drifted off to sleep to the sound of surf, seals, snowfall and penguins.

Our view from Green Gorge hut

The well stocked kitchen at Green Gorge

The surf kept on pounding away
Up  early the next day (Day 6) and was surprised to see that a lot of snow had fallen overnight. This was accompanied by southerly winds and the outside temperature hovering at or below freezing. It has to be said that snow on the landscape results in a excellent photographic opportunity. Both Tony and I wandered around our local environment trying to get that special photo.

The snow covered beach just in front of Green Gorge hut

The large elephant seal harem near Green Gorge hut

Looking west from the edge of the beach at Green Gorge towards the escarpment and plateau

The king penguins and elephant seal harem to the north of the creek at Green Gorge

Many of the king penguins are inland from the beach with the snow covered escarpment providing an impressive backdrop

The vista from Green Gorge hut is spectacular

It was cold enough for the constantly dripping water from the cliffs just beside Green Gorge hut to turn to icicles

Icicles in the cliff just next to Green Gorge hut

It took me around 45 minutes to strap my blistered feet with tape, patches and bandaids, a process at which I was becoming an expert. We left Green Gorge hut around 1030.

One last look from the porch at Green Gorge hut, before continuing our journey

It was a pleasant walk out of the valley. There were frequent light snow showers intermingled with patches of clear sky and bright sunshine. The snow had transformed the valley and the track - just a few days before it was wet and boggy whereas now the ground was partially frozen which made walking a lot easier.

Taking in the view just inland from Green Gorge hut

After crossing the boggy valley floor we strayed our slow climb up the Overland Track

Looking southwest at the snow covered hills across Green Gorge tarn 

Looking south from the same vantage point as the previous photo -  zoomed in on the Overland Track as it makes its way out of the valley, with the predominant peak being Pyramid Peak

Again from the same vantage point - looking southwest across Green Gorge tarn and the un-named peaks surrounding the valley

After climbing out of Green Gorge, the track was undulating and easy to walk. After a kilometre we dropped int a small valley and we came to Lake Concord, to the left, very near to the track. I noticed that the spray blown off the lake had frozen around the plants on the lakes edge, which created a stunning effect.

Lake Concord - 2km north of Green Gorge

Plants on the shore of Lake Concord - encased in frozen spray

Other plants on the shore of Lake Concord completely encased in ice
It wasn't long before we were at the junction of the Brothers Track and from here it was mostly down hill to the hut at Brothers Point. 

Looking south, back to where we travelled today along the Overland Track

On the Brothers Track looking north - in the distance is the Nuggets and a glimpse of North Head

Brothers Point hut overlooking a perfect surf break
We arrived at Brothers Point hut at 1300, covering 8.1 km in around 2.5 hours (Total 69.4km). Not long after settling in to the hut Nancye (MIPEP) arrived with her two dogs Rico (golden labrador) and Katie (springer spaniel). Nancye spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning and sorting all the supplies in the hut, while Tony and I relaxed and snacked while listening to some interesting podcasts that Nancye had.

During the afternoon Chris (TASPWS ranger) and Craig turned up. They had just walked the east coast from VJM carrying out the annual elephant seal count.

Craig immediately turned around and headed back to VJM via Sandy Bay and the OLT. Chris stayed for about an hour painting a stash of track markers underneath the hut. He the made his way across the island to Bauer Bay for the night.

Brothers Point hut - Rico wanting to get closer to the action

Brothers Point hut - Rico and Katie obediently staying outside the hut

For dinner that night we had curry and rice which Nancye had brought from the kitchen at VJM.
After dinner we played 3 handed cribbage, which Nancye won. We were all pretty tired and had an early night with lights out at 2100.

We were all up pretty early the next morning. Nancye left at around 0830 to carry out her daily work program which was for the day to systematically walk along the escarpment at 10 m contours to search, with the dogs for any sign of rabbits or rodents.

After breakfast and taping up my feet for the last days walk, we left Brothers Point hut at around 0915. The initial part of the walk was an easy stroll along Sandy Bay. The only hazard was the hundreds of elephant seals that occupied most of the beaches. Some times we had to climb up across the coastal tussock to avoid the multitude of female seals and their ever hungry pups.

View to the north from Brothers Point hut across Sandy Bay

Hundreds of seals in the harems on the beach of Sandy Bay

Looking back from the beach on Sandy Bay towards Brothers Point hut

A small waterfall near the northern end of Sandy Bay

At the northern end of Sandy Bay is a king penguin colony, where there were many adults that had come ashore to moult.

King penguins (some moulting) at the northern end of Sandy Bay - near the steps and boardwalk to the royal penguin lookout

Lone elephant seal (female) amongst the king penguins at the northern end of Sandy Bay

There is a board walk that leads to a lookout that overlooks a large royal penguin colony that is on the slopes above the northern end of Sandy Bay. 

This board walk and lookout was built so that the tourists, that arrive on Antarctic Adventure tours throughout the summer, can view the colony without having a impact on the environment and wildlife. The tourists that come ashore are expertly guided by the ranger or volunteer guides (from station). I have put up my hand as a volunteer for the summer. 

We are expecting 15 ships to visit during the summer. The first, Spirit of Enderby, arrives next week on the 21st of November.

The boardwalk from Sandy Bay up to the royal penguin lookout - You can just make out Brothers Point hut at the southern end of Sandy Bay

The huge royal penguin colony above Sandy Bay

Pair of royal penguins in the large colony above Sandy Bay

The large royal penguin colony above Sandy Bay - At the time the penguins were still turning up in their thousands
The royal penguin colony above Sandy Bay is not as large as the one at Hurd Point, but his one is different as these penguins have to climb a fair distance up a gully to reach this breeding ground. Even more amazing is that there are quite a few penguins which make their way up another creek bed to sites way up the slopes, hundreds of metre above sea level and a long way inland.

The large royal penguin colony above Sandy Bay - in the top left corner of the picture is  another breeding ground

Sandy Bay

About hallway down along the boardwalk we stepped of and made our way up the Sandy Bay Track which roughly runs parallel to the creek gully up to the 4ways, which is the junction of the Overland Track, Sandy Bay Track and Bauer Bay Track. On the way up we encountered several royal penguins making their way up the creek bed to their high elevation breeding site.

Royal penguins making their way up the creek gully from Sandy Bay to their high breeding grounds

View to the east from near the 4 ways - the boardwalk and royal penguin colony can be seen near the bottom of the slope and the Sandy Bay Track can be seen to the right

From the Overland Track - view to the southeast to Brothers Point, Sandy Bay and the Finch Creek valley (Sandy Bay Track)

We stopped for a break at a little un-named lake, near Mt Blair, about halfway back to base. I had to make some minor adjustments to my footwear and tend to my blisters. 

Small un-named lake where we stopped - It was still quite cold and windy as can be seen by the ice blown into one side of the lake

The last few kilometres proved to be difficult as we made our way along the Overland which was exposed by the very strong and gusty westerly winds. I was constantly blown sideways off the track, my pack acting as a sail. This, combined with the un-even footing, made it a battle to stay on my feet. 

As we topped the ridge and started don the Doctors track, the wind was that strong that on several occasions I had to stop and struggle against the ferocious winds to keep upright. I called this part of the walk 'The drunken sailor walk'.

Just after experiencing the strongest winds, that were funnelling up the slope, we dropped over the ridge in the shelter of the lee slope. This was a huge relief and the rest of jump-down the Doctors track was pleasant enough to enjoy the magnificent views.

Final jump-down the Doctors Track on the lee slope of the ridge - thankfully out of the very strong winds on top of the ridge

The last leg of our amazing seven day walk

Finally arrived back at station at 1300. It had been an amazing seven days. Thanks to Tony and all of those people that were in the field. 

On our final day we covered 11.3 km for a total of 80.7 km over the seven days.

Until next time.....


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