We land in Antarctica!!!

January 1, 2020. After the days of exploring the Falklands and South Georgia and the few intervening days totally at sea, I could hardly wait to touch down in Antarctica. This was the day! 

Antarctic Petrels at sea
Orcadas Station
Crew members on the island stay here year-round

Laurie Island, South Orkneys, Antarctica
Our first stop, by zodiac, was to explore some of Laurie Island in the South Orkneys. It was originally the site of a hut known as Omond House. It’s now the site of Orcadas Station, occupied year-round by Argentine personnel primarily as a bird hide and field refuge. We were warmly welcomed—they don’t get a lot of visitors! 

Then we had some time to explore and view penguins by zodiac…

Zodiac cruising to view penguins–with rough seas!


Chinstrap penguin watching us too!

and finally, an incredible sunset. 

Sunsets extraordinaire!

Some history: The Voyage of the Scotia
“Omond House was a building erected in 1903 on Laurie Island in the South Orkney Islands. It was built to house shore-based members of the 1902-1904 Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, led by William Bruce.” 

“The house was named after Scottish meteorologist Robert T Omond, a strong supporter of the idea of making meteorological observations in Antarctica. It was built with over 100 tonnes of stone manually quarried then hauled on sledges from an adjacent glacial moraine.

“Its main purposes were to serve as a base for meteorological observations made at the nearby weather station, and as living quarters for small parties left behind both when the Scotia returned to Buenos Aires for repairs and supplies, and when she finally returned to Scotland.” Link here

“In January 1904, Bruce offered control of Omond House to Argentina and which was later renamed the Orcadas Station. Link here

Planning for Berryessa Peak

Summer hills on Berryessa Peak Trail

Ok, perhaps tackling Berryessa isn’t exactly a major expedition, but for us it requires some extra planning. The peak, at 3,057 feet, isn’t the highest of the  ‘Nifty Ninety’ Peaks, but the elevation gain is given as 3,500-feet. That, with its distance out and back of 14.5 miles, is a bit too much for a day hike for us. On top of that, our driving time from home is two hours each way. What to do?  

Lake Berryessa and vicinity

Ralph, probably because he is raring to do this peak, drove up to the Wine Country to get a lay of the land in early August. Summers in the area can be hot–they regularly hit the 90s and 100s. Nevertheless, he set out–very early and with adequate water–that fine day.

Oak trees give some shade

He didn’t plan to do the entire hike; he wanted to figure out where we could camp partway along. When he came home, he reported that he had found a place where we could camp. It was up a draw to a flat area about four miles along.

After hiking a quarter-mile in from the highway, camping within the Knoxville Wildlife Area or the BLM lands is legal. But further along, hikers have to stay within an easement area for a short distance as the trail goes through private property.

Ralph’s main concern remains the lack of water. If we camp, we will either need to carry all we need or cache some ahead of time because there is none in the area when the creeks are dry. 

Exploring Berryessa Peak Trail again

In early September, we decided to go up again. I had never been to Lake Berryessa and looked forward to seeing both the lake and the first part of the trail. The trailhead, which starts in the Knoxville State Wildlife Area, is next to a pullout alongside the Knoxville Road and is marked Berryessa Peak Trail. Because it was forecast to be hot again, we planned only to get in our 10,000 steps while enjoying the hike.

Star Thistle can be wicked!

The first 1.6 miles of the trail was easy. And the recent, short-duration hunting season (check the website for future dates!) probably improved the conditions, because the awful Star Thistle had been somewhat flattened by the increased foot traffic along the route.

As we followed the dirt track of the old ranch road, we tried to avoid bumping into the Star Thistle. We had worn long pants to protect our legs from the sharp spines. I had even dug out my Dirty Girl Gaiters for added protection

We passed the occasional oak tree, which provided welcome shade, and watched butterflies flitting toward stone-filled creek beds that must have supplied the water they needed, but wouldn’t have sustained our lives. 

We reached an intersection marked with a 4×4 lettered “BPT” (Berryessa Peak Trail). While the ranch road continued ahead, we turned right (south) to start some climbing into the hills. We continued another mile or so, then found a good place to sit under an oak tree and have our lunch.

View of Lake Berryessa from the peak trail

We’ll return when it’s cooler

It was time for us to turn back so we would miss the worst of any commute traffic. We noted that it was 97 degrees–and as we had read, “THIS IS NOT A SUMMER HIKE.”

We both felt that we had been prepared for the high temperature, but we would have needed much more water than the two liters we were carrying to safely go much further. Besides, we want to do this peak, and camp out, with our hiking buddies Tom and Patricia under more favorable hiking conditions!

Meanwhile, if you decide to go for it, click here for details, maps, and more. 

Consider the ‘Nifty Ninety”

Consider the Nifty Ninety

We have now completed more than 75 of the #Nifty Ninety peaks. I know that there are some summits ahead that are even more difficult than those we have encountered so far, but we have gradually become more confident and strong as we have met the hikes’ challenges. We continue to consider the terrain, the mileage, the time required, and the weather conditions when selecting our next hike—and are growing more and more captivated by the parks, trails, and  high points we are discovering.

As a long-distance hiker, I’ve spent a lot of time at high elevation (John Muir Trail being a prime example) so it is exciting to have some of the same joy exploring the peaks of the Bay Area—the far-reaching views and the sense of accomplishment that getting to high points in this area brings.

If, like me, you don’t like to always do the same trails, check out the Nifty Ninety Peak challenge. Link here! You will also find a great deal of information about the peaks on peakbagger.com and you can also record your achievements at this easy to use website.

Happy trails and travels!
Susan “backpack45” Alcorn