Wilczek Land (Vilcheka), Cape Heller - Franz Josef Land

The largest ice-free zone of Wilczek Land - more than 50 km² - stretches around Cape Hansa, including a lake and a mountain range (max. 240 m.a.s.l.)
View over Cape Hansa and inland ice onto the distant peaks of the Wüllerstorf Mountains in the inland, peeking through the ice - with more than 600 m.a.s.l., they are among the highest of the archipelago.
The ice-free zone around Cape Hansa, seen from North.
The largest part of the west coast is a 30 km long glacier ice front.
The northwest corner with Cape Heller and Cape Schmarda (left) is another zone with very little ice.
Cape Schmarda (middle) and view along the north coast all the way towards Cape Vilas (left).
Milky Glacier, western part of north coast.
The steep cliffs of Foraken Rock, central north coast.
In the eastern part of the north Coast of Wilczek Land.
Cape Vilas at the north coast, view from north, also along the northern part of the east coast (left).


Opens internal link in current windowOverview Franz Josef Land

General, scenery:

Wilczek Land in the southeast of the archipelago (not to be mixed up with the much smaller Wilczek Island) is with an area of ca. 2050 km² the second biggest island of Franz-Josef-Land, with a roughly square shape and a maximal extension of about 65 km. Except of a few coastal areas in the north and south, the island is covered almost completely by partly massive glaciers and reaches its highest points in the central Wüllerstorf mountains (up to 606 m). In some publications, higher elevations for these mountains are stated, claiming them even to be the highest place of the whole archipelago.

Names: The island was discovered by the TEGETTHOFF expedition (1872-74) and named after its main sponsor and promoter, count Johann Nepomuk Wilczek. The same expedition named Cape Heller (Camill Heller, Austrian zoologist), Cape Hansa (after the former expedition vessel HANSA of expedition leader Carl Weyprecht), Wüllerstorf mountains (Bernhard von Wüllersdorf-Urbair - austro-hungarian admiral, minister of trade and explorer), Cape Höfer (Prof. Hans Höfer, austrian geologist and member of the ISBJØRN support expedition), Cape Schmarda (Prof. Ludwig Karl Schmarda, austrian zoologist and explorer).
In the east and northeast, some names were given by Wellman (1899): Cape Vilas, Cape Lamont. Cape Elkins, Fairbanks Rock, Foraken Rock, Renown Glacier, Milky Glacier, Impetuous Glacier, Tyndall Ice Cap.


The images to the right show various parts of Wilczek Land - click on image for larger version.

A photo series of Cape Heller is further down on this page.






See also:
Opens internal link in current windowHistory - Summary
Opens internal link in current windowChronicle - detailed history year by year

Wilczek Land was seen first time by the Payer-Weyprecht Expedition on the TEGETTHOFF in 1873, and its west and south side were mapped during the spring 1874 exploration sledge tours led by Payer. This is also the reason for the many Austrian names on the island (see names).
On the way back to the ship, they even had to divert their route onto the ice-covered southwestern inland, as the sea ice on the southern part of Austria Channel had become too unreliable, already.
The east and northeast were mapped first time by the Wellman expedition in spring 1899
The Wellman Expedition, originally aiming for the North Pole like many others, and having its base on Cape TEGETTHOFF, became famous, however, not so much for its scientific work, but for the dramatic wintering of two of the Norwegian members, Bjørvig und Bentsen, who were ordered to guard an advanced cache on Cape Heller. The base there, euphemistically called "Ft. McKinley" consisted of a very primitve shelter with walls made of piled up locally found stones and a roof made of walrus hides. Heating the construction inside above the freezing point was not possible during the winter. Early in winter, Bentsen died and Björvig spent the polar night alone with the dogs outside and with the frozen dead body next to him, as he had promised not to leave it to the polar bears. In spring, Wellman appeared for his attempt to the North Pole, and they buried Bentsen near the shelter. Björvig joined the pole attempt, which soon failed because of an accident, and they all returned to Cape Tegetthoff, where Björvig entered a heated room again for the first time after 9 months in the cold. Baldwin set out on another sledge tour with a group to explore the still unknown east of the archipelago, mapping first the east of Wilczek Land, then discovering Graham Bell Island, and returning along the north coast of Wilczek Land, with a 3-days stopover in "Ft. McKinley". The stone walls of the shelter are still standing on Cape Heller, and the grave of Bentsen - renewed in the Soviet time - is still there, as well, with a few more remains of the Wellman expedition and possible later visitors scattered over the terrain, furthermore a memorial plate, and furthest out on the cape an upright pole with impressive polar bear claw marks on it.



See also: Opens internal link in current windowTravel

Main attraction of Wilczek Island is normally Cape Heller with the remains of the Wellman outpost (see history further up). The walls of the primitive cabin with the main room and the adjascent storage rooms are still visible, and towards the beach the area of the sledge dogs (more intensive vegetation due to fertilisation), a bit to the west the Bentsen grave (restored in the Soviet time) and furthest out on the promontory the upright driftwood pole with its polar bear claw scratches. On top of the small ridge above the cabin was a meteorological observatory in 1898/99, of which nothing is left.

Also optically, Cape Heller is a fascinating place - with its very basic shapes, the stark contrast between the dark reddish magmatic rocks and the surrounding white glacier ice and drift ice, in between some daring pioneer flowers: a fascinating arctic semi-desert of grand bleakness.
However, in many years, an approach is made difficult by the ice conditions. Even long into summer, the inner Austria Sound may be still completely covered by winter ice, requiring ice-breaking and a helicopter to get on shore - good visibility provided. Later tour dates can be advantageous here regarding the ice, but are no guarantee, either. The following pictures show the differences: those with much ice are from July 2003, the others from summer 2004 with clearly less ice. Furthermore, the pictures show also the differences on shore, where on early dates much of the structures can be still hidden under remains of old snow from the winter, which usually is gone then in August.  

Take care of the cultural heritage site: Mainly the absence of visitors over decades has preserved the relicts on Cape Heller remarkably well for more than 100 years. To avoid a fast destruction by tourism now, all visitors should respect the following guidelines:
Check the ground before every step - around the cabin ruin, there is a number of very inconspicuous small relics on the ground, like rusty cans, rotten textile bits, and so on, which will be ruined by a single step on them.
Do not climb any wall structures - stones moved by such actions change the authenticy of the site and speed up the decay of the site.
Do not enter the interior of the cabin: in the mix of mud, wood pieced, and so on, interesting traces for archaeologists may be hidden in the ground, which may be ruined without noticing when stepping on them.
Do not move, lift or otherwise relocate or physically examine and change anything in the area of a cultural heritage site: many small changes by visitors ruin the authenticity of the site, and its archaeological value as well: it is important to leave everything as little changed as possible, the changes done by nature are strong enough, but these are easier to trace back for an archaeologist, than changes caused by hundreds of visitors.
It is a privilege to be able to visit such sites. Respect it, don´t ruin it.

The following pictures give an overview over Cape Heller and its immediate surroundings - click on any of them for an enlarged version !

Cape Heller with ice-free sea, seen from southwest ...
... and from air with still complete ice cover in late July (background: KAPITAN DRANITSYN).
The outermost promontory,
... its mid section with the ridge and the area of the cabin and the grave, both with sea ice ...
... and on another occasion without,
... and the connection of the cape to the island.
View from the ridge above the cabin eastwards to the land,
... westwards to the cape and Wiener Neustadt Island in the background
... and down onto the cabin remains and the grave.
The cabin area, twice from south: melting out of the last winter snow in July ...
... and free of snow on another visit (also big differences from year to year).
The cabin entrance from East,
and view over the wall remains from east ...
and from Northwest. Here, the snow still covers details inside, but enhances optically the walls.
Bentsen´s grave, restored in Soviet times ...
... including a marble plate with inscription, added on that occasion.
Klagenfurt Island south of Wilczek Land. Clearly visible is the southwestern branch of the island with the magmatic rocks which have been freed of the surrounding weaker sediments by erosion. The slightly higher southeastern part of the island is hidden in fog in the distance behind the low area with the remaining snow stripes.
Gage Island north of Cape Schmarda, view onto its steeper west side.

Surrounding small islands:

Off the shores of Wilczek Land, there is a number of small islands - click on images for enlarged versions:

Klagenfurt Island: southeast of Cape Hansa, respectively in front of Persey Bay, south of Wilczek Land, maximal extension ca. 6 km, area about 4 km². L-shaped island with a long, narrow, low leg to the southwest (terminating in Cape Raketa), with some magmatic rock (basalt) formations rising out of it, which have eroded out of surrounding sediments . The shorter but wider southeastern branch of the island is dominated by a gently rising mountain with steep cliffs to the sea sides, reaching 21m above sea level at its eastern end. In addition to the magmatic rocks, there are also sediments, including lower cretacious sandstones with some small fossils (ammonites, etc.) and also some thin coal seams. The low areas in the north of the islands are partly covered by sticky morass. Just southeast of Klagenfurt Island, there is a further tiny basaltic skerry, only a bit more than 100 m in diameter.
The island was discovered in 1874 by the TEGETTHOFF Expedition and named after the austrian town Klagenfurt, which did not go ashore, though. The first peope setting foot on the island were therefore probably soviet/russian researchers (geology, cartography). The probably first touristic visit to the island was in May 1994 by a delegation of the town Klagenfurt, travelling on the chartered icebreaker KAPITAN DRANTISYN and being dropped on the still snow-covered island by helicopter. A first touristic zodiac landing took place in the 1990s from the PROFESSOR MOLCHANOV.

Gage Island: dropping sharply to the sea on its western side and with a gentler slope towards the east, this rocky island is less than 1 km² in size and maximally 25 m high, situated 4 km north of Cape Schmarda in the western entrance of Vanderbilt Sound, north of Wilczek Land and about 6 km south of Opens internal link in current windowLaRonciere Island.
Gage Island was probably seen already by Payer´s sledge tour to the North in spring 1874, but was most likely mistaken as a part of the assumed LaRonciere peninsula stretching allegedly northwards from Wilczek Land.
Only during Baldwin´s sledge tour to the east as part of the Wellman North Pole Expedition in spring 1899 discovered that Wilczek Land and LaRonciere Island are in fact separated by the Vanderbilt Sound, with Gage Island, named by this expedition, almost in its middle.

Tillo Island, McNulta Island, Dawes Island and Tree Island: Arranged in a line off Cape Hofer in the southeast of Wilczek Land, these rocky islands are each 1-2 km long, with elevations up to about 50 m above sea level. Except of smallest and lowest Tillo Island, the three others were discovered during Baldwin´s sledge tour to the east as part of the Wellman North Pole Expedition, and named by it, too.

Gorbinova Islands: two low (max. height 8 m) isles, each only a few thousand square metres in size, and  a few hundred metres off the eastern shore of Wilczek Land just south of Cape Lamont. Hard to see between the drift ice, they were discovered only in soviet times.


Last Modification: 17.12.2012