Monday, September 01, 2014

Stepping Off

There had been a steady breeze from the sea since we landed. This brought a penetrating chill that reminded me that we were in a lonely Arctic wilderness.  I had been cold all night. I was woken at 5am for my hour long 'bearwatch' shift. I made myself a cup of hot chocolate and huddled behind a boulder whilst watching, waiting and hoping for nothing to happen. After my shift, I felt the benefit of the warm drink and got a couple of more hours in the land of nod.

Paddling from our first camp filled us with excitement and anticipation. The wind had abated, the morning sun warmed the air and gave the bergs a bright, fresh new look. The peak of the first exposed headland towered nearly 700 metres over the calm ocean. The sheer scale of the scenery was difficult to comprehend. We didn't land until lunchtime.

The rest of the day's paddle was less exposed with the sparkling coastal waters protected by a series of off-lying islands with peaks rising sharply to over 500 metres. We landed in the late afternoon sunshine on a sandy beach at the island of Gruse. To the east there was only open ocean with small groups of icebergs.

To the west, the steep mountainous coastline was dissected by immense calving glaciers. Every now and then, a huge piece the size of a block of flats would crash into the sea. This would give a thunderous boom shattering the peace of what had become a still and silent evening.

In the distance to the north we could make out Ailsa Island and our crux headland dubbed 'Hell Corner' by the 1932 British Air Route Expedition team. We were stepping off into territory where few choose to venture.

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