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Jessica, Bruce and I are now onboard the James Clark Ross (JCR) currently anchored off Wilson’s Harbour, South Georgia before the ship heads North and resumes the Science cruise. Our remaining days at Signy passed all too quickly. An added bonus (as far as Jessica, Bruce and I were concerned) was stormy weather further south resulting in JCR arriving two days late on December 14. An extra 2 days on Signy Island! I shall complete the Signy part of my blog by sharing a special visit with you and local events.

Cummings Cove

On December 9 penguin monitoring and impending bothy maintenance necessitate a visit to the west coast and I am only too keen to join Matt, Dirk and Bruce as this relatively remote habitat is amongst the least disturbed on Signy. It will be an ideal reference site. We needed to cross the glacier so on this trip I carried a ‘rack’, an assortment of karabiners and other climbing gear as a precautionary measure.


Bruce, Matt, myself and Dirk on veranda outside Signy Base The weather bodes well as we set off - sunny weather and blue skies. Liberal suncream and lip balm was applied.


The ‘racks’ or ‘janglies’ as Bruce calls them are not particularly heavy as they are constructed of strong light modern alloys and include a selection of karabiners, ice-screws etc. The crampons packed in a protective plastic bag are less bulky.


Photo taken during a short break at Khyber Pass. Weighing around 20kg, it stood on its own without falling over. A sure sign of a well-packed rucksack!!!


On summit of Tioga Hill (278m) – the highest on Signy.


On the west coast, walking towards Cummings Hut. Coves were filled with brash ice and snow in places, lying deep and right up to the shore line.


At Cummings Hut.


Above Cummings Cove on lower slopes of Cryptogam Ridge. Named for its luxuriant cryptogamic plants (lichens, mosses and other non-flowering plants). Cryptogamic literally means hidden sex organs i.e. they don’t have flowers.



Rocks and soil are completely covered by lichens and mosses.


The summit of Cryptogam Ridge (seen here looking towards Moe Island) is similarly well-covered.


Ascending a blocky scree. Our work involved walking down to the coast and ascending and descending several hills in varied terrain.


Penguin Monitoring. A chin-strap is in the fore-ground.



Our work complete. Returning towards the base. Heavy skies suggested snow and it did snow for a while.


Back at Khyber the snow had stopped and we returned to base, satisfied with a successful day.


A = Signy Base. B = Cummings Hut. My GPS indicated we had walked over 9 miles.

No mechanized transport (skidoos etc) is available for travel on Signy. You do need to use your legs!


Local events


One of several Norwegian whaler’s graves on Signy, Cemetry Flats, 7/12/2009. Of the five graves here, this one marks the burial of Aksel Olsen Helstad, born 8/11/1889 died 21/2/1914 onboard SS Normanna from Sandefjord. I noticed the graves appeared on the wrong position on the 1:10000 map (2005) which I confirmed using GPS. It will be some time before this is rectified and a new Signy Map is published. Aerial photography is difficult on Signy on account of the frequent cloud cover. Certainly a lesson not necessarily to believe your map!


11/12/2009. Icebergs, Gourlay Peninsula.


Whilst searching for lichens I came across these snow petrels and icicles. In places the snow remained 4 feet deep or more. Taken from the path leading up the Backslope behind Signy Field Station, 12/12/2009


Snow had retreated considerably on the south eastern slopes of the Stonechute with large moss patches apparent higher up, 12/12/2009.

Leaving Signy

Today, December 14 is departure day. Jessica, Bruce and I travelled by tender to the James Clark Ross ship moored in Borge Bay.


Samples were packed ready for shipment to UK next year within view of sparring elephant seals, the old boiler from the remains of a Norwegian whaling station and Jane Peak. Wow!


A friendly wave from an elephant seal - this year’s pup.


I took this panorama on the ship just before 9.00 pm looking north west. Robin Peak which Bruce and I had climbed flitted in and out of the mist. Back on the ship this reminded me that the peak is named after a ship’s captain. The small boat, a humber, is an inflatable rubber boat which provided relief to Waterpipe hut. Sunshine Glacier certainly lived up to its name!


I checked my GPS. Sunset at this location was 9.27, sunrise 2.25 and we had yet to reach the longest day.


I am privileged to have experienced Signy from almost Winter to full Summer, all in the space of 5 weeks. The downside was that I needed to sample in exposed sites free from snow. One area I had hoped to sample lichens for a Norwegian colleague below Robin Peak was likely to remain buried under snow until at least January!

William P

William P

Member since: Dec 16, 2009

William Purvis, a lichenologist from the Botany Department, is in the Antarctic on the island of Signy conducting research into lichen biodiversity under global climate change. Follow his blog, updated as and when he can from this remote area.

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