south georgia marathon...
Well, here's an admission. I flaked out on the marathon. Well, it was only a half marathon, so I suppose that is strictly only being half-flakey. The problem, here, is that there are just too many interesting things to see and people to share experiences with. My plans to run were thwarted at the starting post, when as we lined up, I managed to get placed next to Mat Kenny and Katie Museum who planned to do the walk back to front - heading first to Myviken to the hut there before tackling Brown - a big lump of a hill at the back of the whaling station. It seemed to make sense to me to get warmed up first before going up a big hill, so I wandered over the hill to the west with them, taking us to the coves behind King Edward Point - over the hills and far away so to speak.
The route took us over a small saddle, and down into lush tussock grassland writhing with fur seal pups, lakes full of them too - play fighting - what they do best really - and a Gentoo penguin creche - all far to appealing to miss and the main reason that we didn't end up tackling that pesky hill. Maiviken is the site of a long term monitoring programme that has taken place here for a good while - I will find out how long next week when I take part in the penguin chick and fur seal pup weigh in - which should be a laugh...
The slopes above the beach are literally covered with penguins who use a well trodden path up and down to their nest sites, so that they get very confused if a person, or seal, happens to be in the way. The seals and penguins seem to coexist pretty well, and the adult seals don't really bother the birds, but the pups seem to enjoy playing with them, lunging at the penguins that are only about the same size as the youngest pups, but in reality they don't seem to cause much of a problem.
On the other hand, there are predators out there. Several years ago at Port Lockroy on the Antarctic Peninsula, I grew to dislike Antarctic Skuas immensely. One can't, it has to be said, fail to admire these birds - their cheek and flying abilities are incredible, but they predate on penguin chicks and it isn't pretty. But, it is life. The health of the young animals around the base seems good - there is a lot of krill, generally, around South Georgia because the drift of water up from the Antarctic Peninsula brings it here - in large quantities. The CCAMLR quota for krill in the South Georgia seas is something in the order of 2 or 3 hundred thousand tonnes per season - but in reality very little of that is taken. Most of the krill boats here are Norwegian - probably as much because they have high enough standards to get licenses. The South Georgia fisheries management here is incredibly strict - a good thing to witness.
We spent so long watching the chicks and pups that we clean forgot to finish the marathon! Can you imagine that? So, instead we walked back on a higher route - up Tommy's waterfall, a clear, brilliant stream of pools and falls lined with vivid mosses and cushion plants. We saw a curious little South Georgia fern, the adder's tongue. A curious small plant with very un-fern like leaves, it is uncommon here, but conspicuous when growing in its little colonies because of the yellow colouring of the immature snake-head.
Above the falls, we entered a completely different landscape of almost pure scree with just the occasional colony of greater burnet. As we walked back to the slopes above the base here, the clouds cleared almost completely turning what had been a misty horizon into clear, calm and brilliant sunshine. The alpine peaks around us are fabulous - jagged ridges covered in snow rising to over 9000ft in places. Awe inspiring, especially when they just pop out from behind a cloud. Making it back to base, the smell of grilling meat called to me as I rounded the bay from the old whaling station to the base here. The guys who are working on the hydroelectric plant here are cooking for us all - so we had an early tea and played at lassoing Reindeer antlers tied to a sack barrow with some of the Norwegian guys here - actually not THAT hard, but I bet catching a live animal is a different matter entirely.
I hope, today, to be able to interview Sally Poncet - a legend in these parts. She first came here thirty or so years ago with her first husband, Jerome who I sailed with fourteen years ago while filming with the BBC. I have only met her briefly once or twice, so it will be wonderful to get the chance to hear about her life - which has been mostly spent recording and documenting South Georgia's ecology. She has been pivotal in pushing conservation issues to the fore of the management of the island and is hugely respected here, so her life should be on record. So - heading off to find her now - Gerard