Hooker Island is situated somewhat inside the southwestern part of the archipelago, on the east side of the British Channel. Its maximal extension is about 35 km. The scenery is typical for much of Franz Josef Land: a plateau-shaped piece of land protected against erosion from above by a layer of vulcanic rocks with fairly steep coasts and cliffs, though with a fairly differentiated coastline with protruding capes and mostly glacier-filled valleys. In the interior, some peaks reach up to 570m above the inland, which is mostly ice-covered. Also much of the shore line are glacier fronts. Some slightly bigger ice-free areas exist only on the west side, especially in the southwest around Cape Dundee. Usually, the most interesting part of Hooker Island is the Calm (Tikhaya) Bay in the Northwest of the island, which can boast with two major attractions: Rubini Rock and the former Tikhaya (Sedov) Station.
Climatically, Hooker Island belongs to the mildest zone of the archipelago - seawater temperatures are here in summer usually slightly above the freezing point, contrary to much of the North and East of the Archipelago.
On Hooker Island, fossile bones of a fossil Plesiosaurus was found, witnessing a much warmer period long ago in Earth´s history. Of newer date, about 1300 years old, are reindeer antlers found here, witnessing a former short time reindeer population during the more favourable early mediaeval climatic optimum period, when also the vikings started their expansion. Today, after the grim little iceage, there is no reindeer population left on the archipelago.
Hooker Island was sighted in the distance already in 1874 by the last reconnaissance tour of the TEGETTHOFF Expedition from McClintock Island further east. Its south coast was reached by the espeditions of Leigh Smith in 1880 and 1881/82, which could not advance further due to heavy ice. The first more detailed mapping was achieved by the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition (1884-97). 1913/14, the Russian navy officer Georgiy Sedov used Tichaya Bay as a wintering base with his expedition vessel ST. ANNA, collecting here systematically scientific data. Sedov died in the following spring on Rudolf Island during his attempt to reach the Pole.
Not least due to this first wintering by Sedov (including the data collected on that occasion), the Soviet Union chose Tikhaya Bay as the location for its first permanent station in the archipelago, called Sedova, the first installations being set up on shore in 1929 by the soviet icebreaker GEORGIY SEDOV. Further details see further down: Tikhaya (Sedov) Station.
Names: The Hooker Island was named in 1880 by Benjamin Leigh-Smith after Sir Joseph Darlton Hooker, scientist on the Ross Antarctica expedition of Ross with the vessels EREBUS and TERROR. Partly, the name is also spelled as Gukera on some maps (names confusion). All in all, most names on the island date back to Leigh Smith (1880 and 1881/82, apart from the name of the island itself also Cape Dundee (scottish port)), and Jackson: Rubini Rock, Cape Albert Markham (Albert Hastings Markham, 1841-1918, british navy and whaling officer, polar explorer), Cape Cecil Hamsworth (1869-1948, english politician, younger brother of expedition sponsor Alfred Harmsworth), Cape Lewis Poole (D. Lewis-Poole, secretary of the Royal Societies Club). Further names were introduced in connedtion with the Sedov expetition 1912-14: Tikhaya Bay (= Calm Bay), Cape Ciurlionis and Ciurlionis Ice Cap (Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, 1875-1911, lithuanian painter and composer, admired by Sedov - his painting "Serenity" resembles a bit Rubini Rock), plus Cape Sedov (on which the former station is located) and Sedov Glacier.
Also named after russian polar pioneers: Cape Albanov (Valerian Albanov, 1881-1919, steerman and one of only 2 survivors of the illfated Brussilov expedition 1912-14), Cape Breitfuss (Leonid Breitfuss, 1864-1950, Biologist, polar explorer, organisator of several rescue operations for russian arctic expeditions in trouble, member of Aeorarctic).
Rubini Rock in Tikhaya Bay is an impressive rock formation with its partly intricate surface structures of curved basalt columns, which gain even more attractivity by stark additional colour contrasts due to bright lichens and a lush green summer vegetation in less steep parts. Moreover, it harbours the the biggest assembly of nests of mostly Brunnich guillemots and kittiwakes (in addition: black guillemots, glaucous gulls, and others) of all breeding colonies of the archipelago. The main breeding period is July, usually into the beginning of August. But also afterwards, some of the birds still use the colonies as resting places, and some are delayed with their breeding.
Touristic aspects: As the western end of the rock falls right down into the sea to a considerably depth, even deep-going vessels can approach the rock face to a few metres. Nevertheless, some distance should be kept especially during the breeding period, to avoid panic among the birds, which can result in masses of eggs and young falling into the sea. Equally important is disciplined behaviour on board during such an approach: Screaming (also due to excitement) and hectic movements should be avoided. The earlier bad habit of cruises to use the ship horn for provoking a spectacular alarm start of thousands of birds has not been tried here fortunately so far to my knowledge.
Ascending Rubini Rock from its (eastern) backside is fairly easy climbing, if ice conditions allow a landing at the low land bridge between Cape Ciurlionis to the east and Rubini Rock rising from there more gently to the west. However, the actual breeding areas in the steep rock face can be reached from land only with difficult and exposed climbing - the perspective from the ship is both better and safer.
What should be avoided definitely, are excursions into the southern and northern flank of Rubini Rock - these do not provide any easy access to the breeding areas, but instead, any activity here bears the risk of practically inevitable and massive damages to the thick but extremely fragile and loose moss vegetation on the scree slopes.
Operating uninterruptedly from 1929 to 1959, Tikhaya was the first station planned and installed for permanent use within the archipelago - and at the same time a demonstration of the Soviet claims. Crew size varied between 20-50, even babies were born here. The station was the only one operating all along through World War II in the archipelago, without any direct war incidents, not even knowing about the temporary German weather station some 100 km further northwest on Alexandra Land.
In 1931, the german airship GRAF ZEPPELIN visited the station as part of an international research expedition, organised by the AEROARCTIC organisation with the objective of mapping and depicting the russian sector of the arctic from air. Mail was exchanged with the station and also with the soviet icebreaker MALYGIN, anchoring there, with Nobile on board, who was still searching for signs of the lost members of the ITALIA expedition of 1928.
In 1932/33, Tikhaya was part of the joint efforts of the 2nd International Polar Year, including also a german meteorologist in the wintering team. Generally, though, the station (and the archipelago as a whole), were inaccessible to foreigners - and to most soviet citizens, as well.
From 1934 onwards, the station served repeatedly as a base for small polar reconnaissance aircrafts, though the terrain around was little suitable for a runway, restricting aviation mostly to the winter months (about more half of the year), when sufficiently strong ice in the bay could be cleared as an airstrip.
From 1959, Tikhaya was abandoned in favour of the new Krenkel station on Hayes Island, which is not only favourable regarding logistics (flat terrain for an airstrip), but which has also a more typical climate for the archipelago as a whole, compared to mild Tikhaya Bay. Most of the old base on Hooker Island is decaying since then. Intruding drift snow and resulting moisture in summer and frost in winter have ruined most of the buildings considerably inside, but still, visitors can get an idea of some aspects of life in such a remote place, which certainly had also its cosy aspects in addition to hardships.
A few buildings have been used also since as temporary expedition bases in a more improvised way, usually the two smaller huts furthest to the east in the lower part of the station area, including also an international russian-norwegian-polish research project in 1991-93, and later more briefly also by other scientists. In the 1990s, there were also optimistic russian plans to run a kind of semi-private station, financed by paying international customers, which had to be given up again, not least due to the more complicated bureaucratic restrictions installed by the Russian state from the late 1990s onward as a reaction to the "wild west" development in Russia, earlier.
Instead, the new national park administration has taken over the 2 easternmost cabins now as their summer base in Tikhaya for research projects since 2011. There are ideas about conserving the historic station partly as a kind of open air museum with an information center included. In 2012, a good deal of the garbage, which had accumulated in the station area over decades, was collected and shipped to the mainland as part of the official russian clean-up project all over Franz Josef Land.
Tourism: Tikhaya station is visited by many of the few touristic cruises to Franz Josef Land and is freely accessible. Also here, avoidance of damage, also by stepping on fragile items, should be a key issue, as well as no collection of souvenirs. Popular photo motives are the precariously located toilet cabin, the old aircraft wrecks, the small graveyard and the Sedov memorials on the plateau right above the uppermost houses, and of course a rich choice of details and perspectives of the buildings. Most is in obvious decay, but Tikhaya is probably less haunted by environmentally risky substances, than newer other stations in the archipelago.
Important: Before a landing, all buildings have to be checked carefully by the armed guards of the tour for eventual polar bears hidden in the station. There have been repeated incidents where a landing had to be abandoned prematurely due to polar bear entering of the station area or where a landing was called off because of bear(s) seen or reported somewhere between or too near the station buildings. A larger group of people strolling around in a complex station area, with a bear coming in, is a situation to be avoided for safety reasons - not only for the people, but also because the shooting of a bear should be avoided. Sedov Station is probably the only place in Franz Josef Land, where a polar bear was shot so far in connection with a touristic visit (1995) in more recent times.
See also: Travel