FJL: Champ Island

[CATCH-UP POST]

Wednesday, 9 July 2014 (Part II)
Franz Josef Land — Russian Arctic National Park

Today was planned as an expedition day.  Meaning that all bets were off as to where we would land, when we would arrive on site, and what we would do once there.

Sure, the expedition team had some plans in mind, but it was all weather- and ice-dependent.  To while away the time during transit, lectures were added to the schedule, and of course, there was also the wondrous landscape outside to entertain us.  I wrote about that portion of our day here.  This post covers our first landing of the day.

After leaving Cape Fligley in the wee hours of the morning, 50 Let Pobedy began its transit deeper into Franz Josef Land — aka the Russian Arctic National Park — for a landing at Cape Triest on Champ Island.  Located in central FJL, the island is often referred to as the “jewel of the archipelago.”  As is the case with most of FJL, Champ Island is heavily glaciated, but our landing site on the southeast coast was ice-free.

Left: Conrad drives the chariot zodiac that takes us ashore.
Right: Cape Triest from the water …

… and Cape Triest from our landing site.

Welcomed ashore by Alex, he repeated what he had told us in his briefing earlier — we were free to roam the area within the established bear perimeter, and if we wanted to see the geodes, members of the expedition team would be leading us up in groups to where Norm was standing by to tell us all about these interesting geological formations.

There is a reason why we wear gumboots on polar expeditions … and this is one of them.
The Champ Island landing is a wet one … meaning, we sit on the pontoons of the zodiac,
swing our legs over the side, and step into ankle-deep water before traipsing ashore. 

Seeing that everyone was heading up to see the geodes, we dallied near the water first.  Some rotten ice near the shore; a glacier further down the shoreline — all viewed in soft light filtered by the clouds afforded plenty of entertainment value.

Comb Jelly litter one section of the water near the shore.

Love the detail on this piece of driftwood on the landing beach.
There are no trees this far north … it probably has quite a ‘travel’ story behind it.

After a while, we joined the next group heading up to view the rock spheres.  The hike was an easy one — only slightly uphill and with pebbles underfoot.  We took it slow and easy, skirting around the flora that blooms in the summer months and clings to life in the harsh Arctic climate, and stopping to take photos as we gained a little elevation and our perspective of the landscape changed.

If you look closely amidst all those yellow parkas,
you will see one of the geodes we are heading up to see.

Arctic Poppy

Geodes [spherulites per the Russian Arctic National Park booklet] are basically naturally formed spherical boulders which have a cavity filled with crystals in the center.  The name comes from a Greek word that means “earthlike.”  Certainly, the giant geodes we saw today were reminiscent of small planets.  Formed under water, they make their way onto land through uplifting.  Their origins are organic material — often a small fossil.  They grow through chemical precipitation — a slow process that adds perhaps a millimeter or so to the size of the rock every 1000 years.  Keep that in mind when you see the size of the geodes we saw on Champ Island this afternoon.

It took millions of years for this geode to form.

And heeere’s Norm!
might as well let the expert give a concise explanation of how geodes form.

At one time, the land around here was littered with geodes ranging from tiny pebbles
to these larger concretions.  Can you guess what happened to the small formations?
Yup, people threw them in their pockets and took them away, thereby violating AECO’s #2 rule …
“Do not take anything with you!” It doesn’t matter that the actions of those people probably
pre-dated AECO’s formation in 2003; common sense should have ruled without written guidelines.

The yellow parkas on the landing beach provide perspective not only for our distance
from shore, but also for the vastness of the landscape in which we find ourselves.

Once we were released by the teacher Norm, we waited a bit to get our photo with one of the giant boulders before beginning the ‘free-roam’ portion of our time on Champ Island.  What follows is a random series of photographs as we slooowly made our way back to shore.

Purple Saxifrage

Expedition Day 9 - Champ Island Franz Josef Land - Russia.9 Jul 2014

Arctic Poppy & Purple Saxifrage

Sulphur Buttercup

Arctic Poppy

I think this is what is known as a 22° Halo … if I’m wrong, I’m sure I’ll be corrected ;-)

Thanks Annie … for catching this photo of us with the halo in the background.

Eventually, we arrived back at the landing beach … and of course, I took some more photos to remind us of the great time we had on Champ Island.

Victor Kobiev is the resident crew artist whose works I shared in this post.
It’s always nice to see members of the ship’s crew enjoying shore landings.

We were given two options on the beach — return directly to the ship or go for a zodiac cruise to the bird cliffs and in the direction of the glacier.  No brainer — we took the latter option, heading out on the next boat with Cheli Larsen.

Cheli, who hails from New Zealand, is a Quark expedition leader in her own right.
On this journey, she’s serving as the Assistant Leader.

Black-legged Kittiwakes

Cheli first took us to the cliffs where black-legged kittiwakes nest by the hundreds, if not by the thousands.  These birds are a member of the gull family.  They breed in large colonies, preferring to build their nests on narrow ledges on sheer cliffs.  They tend to be noisy critters, and the colony we visited was no exception.

See the white dots on the cliffs?  They are …

… black-legged kittiwakes.  The streaks of white is guano.

I’ve seen black guillemots before, but this is the first time I’m close enough to see the red legs.

From the cliffs, Cheli slowly motored to the glacier where we saw more kittiwakes, a couple of bergy bits, and of course, the glacier itself — though that was from a distance.

It was here that I nearly found myself in the frigid ‘drink’!  In an excitement-induced-agitation to get his picture with the glacier in the background, a Chinese passenger practically fell in my lap and almost knocked me overboard.  Luckily, Mui grabbed my arm and righted me before the deed was done.  To say that I was pis*ed would be an understatement — there is a place and time for striking weird poses … a zodiac is not one of those places.  I couldn’t stop myself from giving him a tongue-lashing, but I don’t think he quite grasped the reason behind it.  In the end, rather than ruin the zodiac cruise for myself, I put the incident behind me and focused on the birds.

Watch how this kittiwake keeps …

… an eye on our zodiac as we drift by, but otherwise seems unconcerned with our presence.

As with all things good, our landing and zodiac cruise had to come to an end.  We didn’t put up much of a fuss when Cheli said it was time to return to the ship.  It was 4:30p when she pointed the bow towards 50 Let Pobedy and we’d been ashore for over two hours.  Besides, there was still more to come before this expedition day would be wrapped up and put behind us.

Next Up — Making our way to Hall Island …