British first ascent on South Georgia

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 30/11/2009
Ashley (1,136m), south of the Bay of Isles. Crag Jones

Skip Novak and Caradoc 'Crag' Jones, operating from Novak's yacht Pelagic Australis, have made the first ascent of Ashley on the island of South Georgia.

The yacht, chartered by eight members of the South Georgia Association and on its way back to Stanley in the Falkland Islands, was anchored in the Bay of Isles towards the north west tip of South Georgia.

The plan was to visit Prion Island the following day, in order to see the Wandering Albatross before setting sail across the Southern Ocean.

But in an impromptu decision Novak and Jones elected to make a fast attempt on Ashley, which Novak had noted as a fine objective when visiting this part of the island in 2006.

Dropped ashore, they camped the night on Salisbury Plain and very early the next morning began skiing up the Grace Glacier. Taking GPS readings and waiting for breaks in the cloud, they eventually identified what appeared to be the highest point of this four-summited massif - the second of four summits that lay on the crest of a ridge running approximately one and a half kilometres to the south east.

Reaching the col between the first and second tops via easy snow slopes, they climbed the remaining 100m up a steep icy dome to the Second Summit. While Jones studied cloud breaks over the third and fourth tops to confirm that the second was higher, Novak noticed, somewhat distressingly, that the ridge behind, leading towards the First Summit, disappeared into the cloud some 100m higher.

The two descended to the col and climbed the ridge to the first and highest top.

A GPS reading gave the altitude as 1,136m and the location as S 54° 06.963, W 37° 21.650. While the drop to the north was spectacular, the southern slopes were more undulating and fell towards King Haakon Bay, the starting point of Shackleton's famous traverse of the island in 1916.

Steady snowfall and thick mist meant that the GPS was needed almost back to sea level, but by 7pm the two were safely aboard Pelagic Australis.

Prior to this ascent, the same pair, with Julian Freeman-Attwood, had made an attempt on Nordenskjold (2,355m), the second highest peak on South Georgia. Situated to the south east of Paget (2,934m), the highest on the island and the highest mountain on British soil, Nordenskjold has only received one ascent to date.

In what must be arguably one of the boldest climbs to have taken place in the Southern Ocean, French alpinist Christian de Marliave was dropped ashore in St Andrews Bay by the yacht Damien II, and proceeded to make a two-day round trip solo of the mountain, one of the most impressive on South Georgia, via the Heaney Glacier.

Freeman-Attwood, Jones and Novak, attempted to repeat Marliave's ascent, but from Cumberland Bay via the much longer Nordenskjold Glacier, the biggest on the island.

They made two camps before reaching the base of the mountain and late in the afternoon on the following day were still one hour short of the summit ridge when a storm broke.

They bailed, and after a bad bivouac at the bottom of the face, then faced several days in a ferocious snowstorm before eventually making it back to the coast.

South Georgia, a British dependency and the highest. most mountainous and storm battered island in the seas around Antarctica, was spotted in 1775 by Captain Cook, who landed and claimed possession. A location for whaling stations and British Antarctic Survey bases, it came to prominence in 1982 after an armed invasion by Argentinean forces led to the start of the Falklands War.

American-born Skip Novak, formally a UK resident and now based in South Africa, is one of the Southern Ocean's foremost yachtsmen. For more information on this expedition, and his various charters, visit www.pelagic.co.uk



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