About Me

I'm a research assistant stationed on Gough Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. We are conducting research for the RSPB on birds living on the island. We will be here until late September or early October 2011. A map of the island can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/niclemaitre/5381019736/

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Edinburgh Peak 3 - 1 Gough 56, 28 March to 3 April

Well, we did it! On April 01 2011, at 1604 GMT Michelle, Robyn and I stood on the highest point of Gough Island, Edinburgh Peak. When we saw the weather forecast on Wednesday, predicting good weather for at least a week, we knew we had to try again, so despite Michelle having just completed her two day shift as Met Officer and Robyn starting hers, we persuaded Prince to stand in for them, I grabbed my bird ringing kit and counter and early Thursday morning we set off for Gonydale. We arrived there, propelled by Michelle's singing of "If I was a fit (rich) man" and with several hours remaining before supper we began to do nest checks and ring adult Tristans.
A Yellow Nosed Albatross "barking"
John Cooper, a zoologist with many years experience on Gough claims it is possible to ring a Tristan on your own but I really cannot believe it. They are incredibly strong and have really sharp beaks (I have the scars to prove it!) and I am really worried that if I try to ring one by myself I will end up hurting the bird or it will panic and hurt its chick. So I was really glad to have them both along to help.
A Tristan with its chick
Most of the eggs have now hatched and few of the remaining ones will successfully hatch. Words cannot convey how sad it is to see the nests fail one by one. The Tristans are a critically endangered species and it breaks my heart to see nests built in stream beds, eggs that have been trampled by a careless adult or, worst of all, where the chick has been killed by the introduced mice. When people tell you that Gough has a mouse problem, it does not convey the sheer scale of the mess that humans have caused. To give you an idea, most nights in Gonydale are not the peaceful, still nights that you would expect. The mice are everywhere you look. They climb the walls of the tents and run along the guy-ropes, looking for a way in. They even sometimes gnaw holes through the nylon to get inside. Any food left outside is quickly consumed. It is truly terrible. There are plans underway to attempt to eradicate the mice but given the nature of the islands terrain and the sheer scale of the problem, it will be a Herculean task.
Gough Buntings
We had been told by Llewellyn and Martin, two members of the 2009 - 2010 team that the best way from Gonydale to Edinburgh Peak was to go straight up South Rowett from Gonydale and then walk across the ridge to North Rowett via Central Rowett and then descend Windy Ridge to Waterfall Camp (there is a map showing the route here). This route allows you to bypass Albatross Plain, which is a huge mire and impossible to cross in anything other than a hovercraft, and takes you along the spine of the island with spectacular views over to the Eastern and Western sides of the island. So when Friday dawned bright, clear and still we set off. Two hours later, with considerable amounts of energy expended we reached the top of South Rowett and got our first view of the Northern end of the island. We were incredibly lucky and the weather was perfect, you could not have wished for better. Not a breath of wind and no cloud, weather conditions that are not supposed to exist here, ever.
The Western side of the island, looking towards Edinburgh Peak from South Rowett
The Eastern side of the island, Albatross Plain in the foreground, looking towards Edinburgh Peak from South Rowett
After stopping briefly to recover and do a count of incubating Tristans (Ross and I were supposed to count these in February but he left before it could be done and the weather has prevented it from happening until now) we pushed on over the Rowetts and onto Windy Ridge. It has a fearsome reputation, the lee side is a massive drop off towards the sea and as it is the lowest point on the island's central ridge, the wind howls over it. Martin had said that once the wind was so strong he had to lie down and crawl and even then it still lifted him up! We were lucky and it was more like "Slight Breeze" Ridge.
Michelle and Robyn on Windy Ridge with North Rowett in the background
Tarn Moss mire from Windy Ridge
Waterfall Camp is aptly named...
We arrived at Waterfall Camp and after a leisurely lunch we realised that we still had time to climb the peak before dark. After some deliberation Robyn convinced us to go and so we started up the final stretch. As we climbed, the cloud started to form and when we reached the top it was almost a whiteout. Fortunately the cloud came and went and as we waited we were able to see the whole island by parts. Boy oh boy, was it ever worth it! Simply incredible! It was such an amazing sight, we could see the Atlantic all around us and it was apparent that our island is very, very small and lonely. At just over 900m Edinburgh Peak is not much by even our modest South African standards but very few people have ever had the privilege of standing on top.
Panorama from Edinburgh Peak
The next morning we were so happy to that we had climbed it because the mist was so thick that we could hardly see ten meters. In light of the rather poor conditions we scrapped our plans to explore the Tarn Moss area and headed back towards Gonydale via a different route, one that follows the Baseline Ridge (so called because it was used as the trigonometric baseline during the survey of the island in the 1960s) and skirts around the Western edge of Albatross Plain.
Sunlight on the sea
It was quite eerie walking along in the mist with strange, eroded lava pinnacles appearing suddenly from the mist. After a quick detour to rescue a sleeping bag from going mouldy in the tote bin at the Giant Petrel colony, we made it back to Gonydale with plenty of time to do more nest checks (again with the assistance of the long suffering Robyn and Michelle). As always working with the Tristans was a special experience and Michelle was even groomed by an amorous albatross! Come the evening and we headed up to Coopers Col in the hope of seeing the sunset but our luck had finally turned and the clouds came in, denying us a chance to see it.
Michelle and Robyn crossing the bottom of Albatross Plain
So on Sunday morning it was three tired, damp and very smelly hikers who returned to Base to sample the joys of hot food, drinks, comfy chairs and soft beds. What a wonderful experience it was, the best yet!
A rock pool, filled with some of the nicest tasting water anywhere
The albatross on the left was the one that preened Michelle

Sunset from Coopers Col
I am going to go and get into my bed for a well deserved sleep now so good night to you all.
Some of the island's vegetation may be small but is still stunning
Have a wonderful week.


  1. Those top two panoramas are brilliant!
    And nice as mountain water is, you're brave to drink from a standing pool! Though sounds like an absolute adventure!

  2. Wow! Love all the photos! Good thing you included them, otherwise we might have thought it was an elaborate April Fool's joke!

    Looks like you are enjoying your time on the island and making the most of it too! We miss you this side of 35 degrees! :)

  3. @Stacey: We have so much rain that the water here never stands for long and it is always getting refreshed. You are right, it was a great adventure

    @Carol: Miss you too, glad you like the pics

  4. Yeah, Awesome pics Nic... Glad you finally got to the top, and we finally got to hear about it!!!