Grytviken – An Abandoned Whaling Station In The South Atlantic

South Georgia is a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. The population is approximately 30 and most are connected with Antarctic tourism. The whaling station at Grytviken was opened in 1904 by Norway and closed and left abandoned in 1965. Significantly, noted Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton is buried in Grytviken. The island was captured briefly by Argentinian forces during the 1982 Falklands War and returned to Britain afterwards.

Ships relating to the whaling industry lie rusting around the bay along with industrial buildings and fixtures relating to the whaling industry. Today, there is a museum located at the abandoned whaling station at Grytviken which is visited by tourists visiting nearby Antarctica and cruise passengers visiting the South Atlantic.

This is an account of Ernest Shakleton’s trip to the island as part of the trans-Antarctica expedition of 1914 – 1917 which included the Irish explorer Tom Crean –

There was still a major obstacle to overcome. They had landed 22 miles from the Stromness whaling station as the crow flies. In order to get there they had to go across the backbone of mountains that ran the length of South Georgia, a journey that no-one had ever managed, the map depicted the area as a blank.

McNeish and Vincent were too weak to attempt the journey so Shackleton left them with McCarthy to care for them. On May 15th Shackleton, Crean and Worsley set out to cross the mountains and reach the whaling station, they crossed glaciers, icy slopes and snow fields. At a height of about 4500 feet, they looked back and saw the fog closing up behind them. Night was falling and with no tent or sleeping bags, they had to descend to a lower altitude. They slid down a snowy slope in a matter of minutes losing around 900 feet in the process. They had a hot meal with two of them sheltering the cooker from the wind. Darkness fell and they carried on walking, soon a full moon appeared lighting their way. They climbed again and ate another hot meal to renew their energy.

They were soon able to make out an island in the distance that they recognized, but realised that they had taken the wrong direction and had to retrace their steps. At 5 a.m. they sat down exhausted in the lee of a large rock wrapping their arms around each other to keep warm. Worsley and Crean fell asleep, but Shackleton realised that if they all did so, they may never wake again. He woke them five minutes later and told them they had been asleep for half an hour, once again they set off.

There was now but one ridge of jagged peaks between them and Stromness, they found a gap and went through. At 6.30 a.m. Shackleton was standing on a ridge he had climbed to get a better look at the land below, he thought he heard the sound of a steam whistle calling the men of the whaling station from their beds. He went back to Worsley and Crean and told them to watch for 7 o’clock as this would be when the whalers were called to work. Sure enough, the whistle sounded right on time, the three men must have never heard a more welcome sound.

The three walked downwards to 2000 feet above sea level. They came across a gradient of steep ice, two hours later, they had cut steps and roped down another 500 feet, a slide down a slippery slope placed them at 1500 feet above sea level on a plateau. They still had some distance to go before they reached the whaling station. The going was still less than easy and they had some climbing still to do to negotiate ridges between them and their goal.

Location: South Georgia, South Atlantic

Category: Ghost Town

Abandoned: 1965

A penguin in Grytviken

An abandoned whaling vessel in Grytviken

Abandoned whaling boats in South Georgia

The abandoned village of Grytviken in South Georgia

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