The proper dress for a shore trip is always an interesting question here in South Georgia. In Antarctica it was simpler: everything you could put on and still move. Here it is a bit more complicated.
First of the indefatigable superman posing as Expedition Leader (JordI) gives us a briefing. Weather, terrain, risks. We have learnt that his definition of ‘easy’, ‘flat’ or even ‘hour’ is not one we all understand so when he says ‘ it’s a simple walk, just a little boggy, not too steep’, you factor in your own comparative hill-walking expertise and cold-tolerance. This morning at St Andrew’s Bay he added a significant river crossing, saying if the water was running fast he would rig up a rope to help us cross. After five stupendously warm days he also emphasised the weather might change rapidly. That bay and beach are wide open to winds from the north, so any veer in the wind might get us wet and cold.
Many crew (including me) rushed back to our cabins to pull thermals on under our trousers and pull out the woolly hats we haven’t needed in Maiviken and Stromness. Full oilies, the longest boots we own, good gloves. In bright sunshine we zodiaced ashore, sweating gently. The river crossing put the foot arrangements to the test. The water was curling white over slippery stones, halfway up the calves as we walked towards the penguin colony. I was delighted to have remembered my stick, though some people with better balance than me skipped across unaided. The famous Bog boots, with my salopettes firmly velcroed shut at the ankle, kept my feet warm and dry.
Across the flood plain, crying boo at the fur seals, I was warm. The thermal underwear prickled my thighs and I pulled my hat off. Cresting the ridge revealed the London of colonies, one of the largest king penguin rookery anywhere with some 180,000 pairs. The vast numbers bunch together on the shores of the iceberg-strewn lagoon behind a long shingle bank. Others hang around in clumps up the valley towards the start of the tussac grass. Not only a city, it has outlying villages in its green belt.
I pulled off my oilie jacket, outer gloves and hat and stuffed them in my rucksack and pinned it beside a rock with my stick and sallied off to add another hundred pictures to my enormous collection of penguin snaps.
Forty-five minutes later, the wind veered. Fifty minutes later, it was raining and the wind was cold. I rushed back to my pack, very grateful to the crew member who had picked it up and was bringing it towards me. The fleece collar lining wrapped my cheeks as I snuggled in. Down we went back to the river. It was now running at knee height and more small breakers curled over its stones, a mini-weir. No rope considered necessary. I went slowly, feeling each step with my stick. Falling over was not a good idea, but soon enough all of us were safe on the other side, and the only damp involved was from the increasing rain.
Hoods up, everything wrapped, fleece gaiter around the chin, comfortably warm and dry inside all the gear, I hopped back on the zodiacs with everyone else, and only heard of one wet foot. Just a normal clothing challenge for a shore-visit in the penguin city.