In May 1916, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley, and Tom Crean completed the first crossing of South Georgia as the final leg in an epic voyage that remains one of the greatest survival sagas of all time. Today, we set out to follow the footsteps of these great men and hike the last bit of Shackleton’s hike, from Fortuna Bay down to Stromness whaling station.
National Geographic Endurance arrived in Fortuna Bay in the early morning hours. We were greeted by the perfect weather for our intended hike. It was a calm, windless morning with high clouds. The sun was slowly rising over the mountains as we started our uphill hike over the tussock grass. Antarctic fur seal pups taking their morning naps on the tussock seemed quite surprised by these unexpected, early morning visitors. While we ascended, the sun was shining over Fortuna Glacier in the very same place that Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean realized they descended the wrong bay. It was hard not to think about the disappointment these men must have felt. During that stage in their journey, they had hiked through the unexplored mountains of South Georgia. They climbed over crevasses and steep ridges for 24 hours with very little rest and took risks that even experienced mountaineers would hesitate to take. The moment they thought they had arrived to their destination and to their salvation, they realized they had gone the wrong way.
We finally reached the ridge, where the three men stood and looked down to the Stromness whaling station after hearing the whalers’ whistle, which indicated that there were people in the station. It was an emotional moment for many of us to experience a tiny bit of the epic voyage completed by Shackleton and his men. As we descended to the bottom of a waterfall known as the Shackleton Waterfall, we got a glimpse of National Geographic Endurance entering the bay. Soon we were greeted by the rest of the guests who were hiking to the waterfall from Stromness.
Around midday, we said a very grateful farewell to South Georgia, this remote, otherworldly island that showed us all its wonders. We started sailing towards the Falklands, but South Georgia had one final surprise for us. We were surrounded by curious humpback whales that drew closer to us. Our bridge team decided to slow down and stay in the area. Then two blue whales appeared. We watched the whales for over an hour while our amazing hotel team prepared a cheese and wine tasting in C. Greens. It was such a spectacular day to end the South Georgia leg of our journey. We were given everything we hoped for and more.