Crossing South Georgia along Shackleton’s Route
International expedition october 2010
Christoph Höbenreich ( lead-guide), Chris Short (UK), Florian Piper (GER, organizer & co-guide), Martina Six (GER), John Mills (UK), Mathilde Danzer (A), Gerhard Schuhmann (A), Mario Trimeri (I)
courtesy © Christoph Höbenreich
Christoph Hoebenreich (left) with teammate and Seven Summit summiteer Mario Trimeri (right) from Italy above Murray Snowfield in the background
courtesy © Christoph Höbenreich
South Georgia, a place for experienced ice and snow climbers and skiers
Interview with Christoph Höbenreich
Recently Austrian polar skier and mountaineer, Christoph Höbenreich guided a crossing along the historic South Georgia Shackleton route from King Haakon Bay to Stromness Bay across crevassed glaciers and steep and avalanche prone slopes. Christoph tells ExWeb’s Correne Coetzer about their crossing, the ultimate challenge on SG, why the island is a less popular destination for extreme adventurers, what makes SG different, when the best time is to visit, and more. Reinhold Messner, Conrad Anker, Steven Venables, Colin Monteath and Dave Hahn are among the few who crossed this challenging 45km route. This route is well known in the history for the brave 1916 crossing by Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean and Arthur Worsley to save the stranded crew of the Endurance.
ExplorersWeb: What is the best time of the year to go to South Georgia?
Christoph: South Georgia can be visited with cruise ships or sailing yachts only. No aircraft landings. Best times depend on what you are looking for and what your goals are, but generally for skiers at the end of the southern winter.
ExplorersWeb: How much daylight did you have?
Christoph: Sunrise was approximately at 6 am and sunset approx. 8 pm or so – just a rough estimation.
ExplorersWeb: What type of terrain did you cover?
Christoph: We crossed heavily crevassed glaciers (luckily Crean and Fortuna Glaciers were still well covered with snow), alpine ridges, a steep and avalanche prone slope, and steep gullies. During beach walks we passed sea elephants, fur seals and penguin rookeries. There are grass/rocky hills near the shores.
ExplorersWeb: What about South Georgia makes it different and special?
Christoph: It is quite difficult to get to and has pristine wilderness, majestic landscapes with alpine mountains nearly 3,000 m high and numerous wildlife (hundreds of thousands penguins but also sea elephants, fur seals, whales, albatrosses, petrels, etc.). Furthermore it is of historic importance; former whaling stations Grytviken and Stromness and of course, most important for adventurers: it is a historic place with the legendary route of Ernest Shackleton and his grave.
ExplorersWeb: What previous experience is needed for this type of expedition on South Georgia?
Christoph: For a crossing of SG participants should be well experienced snow and ice travelers. SG can be heaven – as it was to us – but it can be hell too if the southern Atlantic weather comes in at its worst. It is definitely no place for “beginners”. While you can be rescued from almost all places in Antarctica some or other way, there is definitely no help or rescue at all on South Georgia! Many attempts to cross the island, had to be aborted due to lack of commitment or experience – although it´s just a short trip along the historic route.
ExplorersWeb: What would be an ultimate challenge on South Georgia?
Christoph: That I keep for myself – I have seen some very interesting peaks and climbs! I´d be interested to organize another trip there which is an incredible ski trip with some sensational climbs!
ExplorersWeb: Why do you think South Georgia a less popular destination for more extreme challenges?
Christoph: Because:- very simply, most people just are not aware of the outstanding possibilities,
- most climbers and guides just follow the well known paths, climbing the well repeated “cash-cowmountains” of the world and
- there are definitely no mountains with a big name to gain “fame” on South Georgia. Exploring SG is for dreamers and idealists, who look for the real faraway places off the beaten tracks in search of intensive personal impressions but not the media attention. You definitely need more adventure spirit, heart and commitment to explore new terrain in South Georgia than to climb Mt. Everest on the normal routes.
Christoph wrote the following short report about their South Georgia Shackleton Crossing
The first cruise ship of the season to the Antarctic island South Georgia, “Plancius”, dropped our Group of eight at King Haakon Bay to attempt the historic ‘Shackleton Crossing’. In 1916 legendary polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton together with his two brave companions, Tom Crean and Arthur Worsley managed to cross the glaciated island on their epic survival journey from Elephant Island to save the stranded crew of the Endurance, which was crushed in the Weddel Sea months before. Our fine group, organized by ‘Oceanwide-Expeditions’ (the 2010 winner of the international award as the ‘World’s Leading Polar Expedition Operator’), who I was pleased to guide together with co-guide Florian Piper (Germany), was very lucky with the weather and snow conditions. Participants included Chris Short (UK), John Mills (UK), Mario Trimeri (I), Martina Six (GER), Gerhard Schuhmann (A) and Mathilde Danzer (A).
We started out late morning of October 23 and made camp at 300m, enjoying a beautiful sunset over King Haakon Bay. During the next day we found the descent from the Trident was not so easy with our pulks, and dangerous, as it was proving prone to avalanche. Therefore we had to be very careful, making for a safe descent. We had good weather on the heavily crevassed Crean Glacier, which was well covered with snow, and enjoyed more splendid views before camping at a giant nunatak between the Crean and Fortuna Glaciers.
During the last day, dropping down to Fortuna Bay, we found the gully blocked by a recent huge rock fall. Very large blocks of rock made it tricky to decent, but once in the gully with our pulks they were committed to that route and had to do some work getting ourselves and our gear safely past the hazard. We met the ship in Fortuna, dropped our skis and pulks and then continued on the last stage to Stromness in the company of other walkers from the ship.