Sunday, 2 January 2011

Day 21 – The Big Blow

Wind gusts up to 70 knots atop Col Lyall Saddle, Campbell Island.
Amphibious operations continued under the leadership of Commander Russ throughout the morning with Zodiac cruises to the few significant spots along the shore including the site of WWII coastwatcher stations and the grave of a young 18th Century French astronomer buried ignominiously among the tussock. Like US Marines wading ashore on D-Day, we braved chilly water in our gumboots to get close to the southernmost tree in the world, a gnarly century-old sitka spruce planted for reasons unknown. Campbell Island had been the site of experimental sheep and cattle farming with the last animals removed just twenty years ago. Also removed in 2001, by way of a helicopter bait drop to military precision, was the island's insidious back rat population. Their spectacularly successful eradication has allowed the return of endemic flora and fauna. Little birds like snipe and pipit plus larger pelagic petrels and albatross have all shown a healthy recovery of
numbers since the menacing rodents' departure. While our Zodiacs buzzed amid the spray on the suitably named Perseverance Harbour, an elite squad of ten crack expeditioners made an assault on the 590m peak of Mount Honey with radio reports indicating solid progress. Afternoon's objective involved a return to secure positions on Col Lyall Saddle visited yesterday in blustery, wet and foggy conditions. The clearing cloud cover indicated promise, but when our party reached the ridge line, winds gusting to over 70 knots literally blew many off their feet and into the undergrowth. Our French videographer took a poorly synchronised step into the wind and was bodily lifted by a sudden blast and dumped upside down into the pleurophyllum. Wheeling albatross, on the other hand, soared above us all mocking our clumsy progress. Buffeted and pelted, the group and stragglers were back aboard, invigorated by the challenges and ready to celebrate the New Year.