Alger Island (Ostrov Aldzher), Camp Ziegler - Franz Josef Land

Map Alger Island
Alger Island from southwest. Mount Richthofen (top partly clouded) to the left, with small dark Mathilda Island in front. The nameless highest peak to the right and the lowland of the southeast as a thin line all the way to the right edge of the picture.
Mathilda Island from southeast.


Öffnet einen internen Link im aktuellen Fenster Overview Franz Josef Land, map

General, landscape:

Alger Island, with an area of about 45 km², is situated in the center of Franz Josef Land and has a maximal extension of about 10 km. From the glaciated mountain range between tabular Mount Richthofen (404 m) in thewest to the highest nameless peak in the center (427m), two glacier streams still reach the sea on the northern side of the island.
Especially in the Southeast, an up to 3 km wide, gently rising lowland, surface mostly sandy clay (former sea sediments, today above water level due to post-iceage land rise) and with very limited vegetation, separates the mountains from the shoreline. On this fairly flat stretch of land, also Camp Ziegler is situated near Cape Pologiy. Ice pressure and waves erode especially these flatter coastline parts, though so far, the beaches are usually protected for half of the year by landfast solid sea ice here in the center of the archipelago.

About 2 km south of the western end of Alger Island, the small Mathilda Island (about 1 km wide, max. ca. 80 m high) rises out of the sea with its partly steep rock cliffs and mostly sparse vegetation.

Panorama images of Alger Island
Click on picture for larger version.

Alger Island from Champ (North) (click picture)
Alger Island from Cape Trieste (Champ) (click picture)
Alger Island - south coast from East (click picture)
Alger Island south part from southeast (click picture)


Like large parts of the archipelago of Franz Josef Land, the island consists mostly of mesoyoic sediment layers, between which vulccanic layers have pressed themselves between the sediments. Being harder, these igneous rock layers resist erosion considerably longer, resulting in sharply cut plateau mountains, usually with the hard basaltic layear on top. Most impressive regarding shape is the dominating tabular Mount Richthofen in the western part of the island.



Preparation of weather balloon in Camp Ziegler (click on pictures for enlargement)
Start of weather balloon from Camp Ziegler
Camp Ziegler and expedition vessel AMERICA
Cutting the AMERICA out of the ice at the camp

History and names:

See also the following links:
Opens internal link in current windowHistory - Summary
Opens internal link in current windowChronicle - detailled year-by-year informations

Alger Island played a central role in the pioneer days during the two Ziegler expeditions: The Baldwin-Ziegler Expedition (1901/02 had its main base Camp Ziegler here on shore, with the expedition vessel AMERICA frozen in next to it (connected with a telephone line - a novelty at that time). Originally, this base should have been installed furthest possible north in the archipelago, but the ice conditions were too adverse, leading to the establishment on Alger, instead, which had been discovered by the expedition just before. On shore, the station was set up with two prefabricated octogonal cabins with a connection, furthermore dog kennels for 420 sledge dogs, stables for 15 ponies, weather station and a base for filling and starting weather balloons.  At some distance to these central facilities, an astronomic and a magnetic observatory were set up. The following Fiala-Ziegler Expedition (1903-05) used the station contrary to plans, too, in 1904/05 for some of its members, setting up again also astronomic and magnetic observatories.

In 1901, Baldwin ordered also the installation of a minor second base on the western end of Alger Island, including the erection of one of the prefabricated octogonal cabins, which the expedition had brought along to Franz Josef Land. However, he changed plans already in early 1902, when this cabin was moved on to the huge depot to be installed as Kane Lodge on Opens internal link in current windowGreely Island and some of the remaining provisions on west Alger were also used by the retreating Fiala-Ziegler expedition in 1904. Today, not much more than a boat wreck is left there.

As Alger Island was out of the way for the main russian activities during the Soviet time and as the archipelago was closed to tourists until 1990, an  amazing multitude of details has survived in Camp Ziegler more than 100 years of arctic climate - and makes us aware of how much of artefacts must have been lost in more accessible similar places for instance in West Spitsbergen mainly to generations of careless or souvenir collecting tourists. Camp Ziegler is highly interesting as a historic site - but at the same time also a challenge to keep damage minimal (see end of this page with comment and pictures on this topic).
Another threat to this unique site from the pioneer days is a massive coastal erosion. Expedition leader Andreas Umbreit on the AKADEMIK SHOKALSKIY was appalled when seeing the coast line of August 2011 having come so close to the station remains. Comparing it with his pictures from 2004 and 2008, it looks like a loss of a 10 m wide stripe of coast within just 7 years. If this development continues, the central parts of this unique site will be washed away within a few decades and already now, numerous objects can be watched disappearing with the crumbling shoreline. A thorough scientific documentation would be therefore highly desirable.

Names: Alger Island (after the US-american writer Horatio Alger, 1832-1899, famous for mass production of trivial youth novels but also poetry (famous: John Maynard")), and also small Mathilda Island, were discovered in 1901 by the arriving Baldwin-Ziegler expedition, which put also the names on the map.

Images of Camp Ziegler - click on them for larger version:

Central part of Camp Ziegler from air, seen from North.
Central part, seen from North on ground.
Central part Camp Ziegler from SW.
Interior main cabins Camp Ziegler
The sea erodes the shore near the camp.
Broken barrel - iron for the gass apparatus
Observatory northwest of Camp Ziegler
Further relics in the outskirts of Camp Ziegler - foreground: tiny fragile metal items.


See also: Opens internal link in current windowTravel

Due to its location in the heart of the archipelago, access to the island may be hindered by winter ice, which may last in some years well into the summer - either as a still unbroken ice sheet on the sounds, or as drift ice, which can make an approach or a landing by boats difficu

Camp Ziegler is a popular landing place of the few cruises spending more time in Franz Josef Land. As Alger Island was rarely visited during the Soviet time, surprisingly much of the old items has survived - so far. In addition to the extensive central part of the camp, there is a number of outposts (like the former observatories) around the camp.

Conflict issue conservation: Already now, a fast loss of fragile details is easy to observe, mostly crumbling under the shoes of insufficiently attentive visitors, speeding up the natural decay, which they survived the 100 years without tourism before. Due to the enormous extension of the station remains, it is practically inevitable that one has to enter its area to experience it - you cannot get a good impression by staying completely outside. At the same time, entering the area bears the risk of destruction. Basically, this is like an archaeological excavation site, with the fragile objects all in the open - and visitors should therefore move as carefully as archaeologists during their work and be aware of the value of tiny, weathered objects like rusty metal items or textile remains, often difficult to recognize against the surrounding sand and gravel. In most cases, visitors are basically cooperative but lack - very understandable - experience with moving in such vulnerable locations.
As staying outside is hardly an option, while on the other hand experience tells that it is close to impossible to expect full attention of all visitors, often carried away by for instance their photography, tour operators should give good practical information before a landing, put on shore sufficient and instructed staff to lead the visitors around the most sensitive areas, and preferrably mark tracks through the area, on which the risk of doing damage is minimal. It has proved very feasible to guide travellers through the station area as a closed group, on a carefully chosen route, all in a row - with the additional advantage that by having everybody close together, everybody can take photos of the details without other people standing in the picture. The interior of structures (cabin remains, etc.) should not be entered at all, because there, it is practically inevitable to step on (possibly also hidden) artefacts.
But in the end, it is the individual visitor who carries the responsibility for not causing damage, for instance by being focussed on finding the right angle for a picture and not looking at where the next step will land, possibly even moving backwards some steps blindly, with the camera searcher in front of the eyes.

The following picture series is also meant as a possibility for developing awareness for the fragility of many of the hardly visible objects on the ground.


Some relics - like this sledge dog skull - are easy to recognize.
Others, like this aluminium fork, resist decay pretty well.
Visitor standing amidst inconspicuous small items on the ground.
Three footprints. The orange rust crumbles are all what is left now of a stepped-on frail metal object, which happened to be in the way of a careless visitor.
Weathered grey textile remains, probably of a persenning, almost invisible and now further destroyed by dropping a daypack on them briefly. The picture illustrates also the difficulty of even seeing such objects on the ground, even if they are uncovered on the surface.
Fragile unidentified object made of textile and rusty iron - yet not stepped on.

Fragile witnesses of the past


The picture series tries to create awareness for the less spectacular, endangered witnesses of the pioneer era - also as a precondition for knowing what to pay attention to when moving around on such sites.

A detailed documentation of the station site by researchers has not been done, yet - whatever is destroyed, is therefore lost for research, too. Often, experts can gain interesting information even from very inconspicuous objects.

Whoever approaches such sensitive historic sites, is also responsible for the consequences of the visit - having paid for a voyage is no free ticket for carelessness.


Click on pictures for enlarged version !


Bigger format for free:

As I like to support awareness for the sensitivity of such historic sites, you can order these 6 images from me in a bigger format (1280x853 pixels), suitable for instance for beamer projection. Please indicate what the pictures will be used for, and give me an e-mail address to send the pictures to. In most cases, this will be free of charge - on the precondition that the imprint in the pictures, stating their origin, will not be removed or otherwise altered.

Last Modification: 17.03.2013