ACROSS KING GEORGE V LAND
We yearned beyond the skyline -- Kipling
October had passed without offering any opportunities for
sledging, and we resolved that in defiance of all but the worst weather
a start would be made in November. The `Aurora' was due to arrive early
in January 1913 and the time at our disposal for exploration was slipping
The investigation by sledging journeys of the coastline to the eastward
was regarded as of prime importance, for our experience in the `Aurora'
when in those longitudes during the previous year was such as to give little
promise of its ever being accomplished from the sea.
Westward, the coast was accessible from the sea; at least for some distance
in that direction. Madigan's journey in the springtime had demonstrated
that, if anything, the land to the west was steeper, and consequently more
windy conditions might be expected there. Further, it was judged that information
concerning this region would be forthcoming from the ship, which had cruised
westward after leaving Adelie Land in January 1912. The field in that direction
was therefore not so promising as that to the east.
On this account the air-tractor sledge, of somewhat doubtful utility, was
detailed for use to the westward of Winter Quarters, and, as it was obvious
that the engine could only be operated in moderately good weather, its final
departure was postponed until December.
The following is a list of the parties which had been arranged and which,
now fully equipped, were on the tiptoe of expectation to depart.
(1) A Southern Party composed of Bage (leader), Webb
and Hurley. The special feature of their work was to be magnetic observations
in the vicinity of the South Magnetic Pole.
(2) A Southern Supporting Party, including Murphy (leader), Hunter and
Laseron, who were to accompany the Southern Party as far as possible,
returning to Winter Quarters by the end of November.
(3) A Western Party of three men--Bickerton (leader), Hodgeman and Whetter--who
were to traverse the coastal highlands west of the Hut. Their intention
was to make use of the air-tractor sledge and the departure of the party
was fixed for early December.
(4) Stillwell, in charge of a Near Eastern Party, was to map the coastline
between Cape Denison and the Mertz Glacier-Tongue, dividing the work
into two stages. In the first instance, Close and Hodgeman were to assist
him; all three acting partly as supports to the other eastern parties
working further afield. After returning to the Hut at the end of November
for a further supply of stores, he was to set out again with Close and
Laseron in order to complete the work.
(5) An Eastern Coastal Party composed of Madigan (leader), McLean and
Correll was to start in early November with the object of investigating
the coastline beyond the Mertz Glacier.
(6) Finally, a Far-Eastern Party, assisted by the dogs, was to push
out rapidly overland to the southward of Madigan's party, mapping more
distant sections of the coastline, beyond the limit to which the latter
party would be likely to reach.
As the plans for the execution of such a journey had of
necessity to be more provisional than in the case of the others, I determined
to undertake it, accompanied by Ninnis and Mertz, both of whom had so ably
acquitted themselves throughout the Expedition and, moreover, had always
been in charge of the dogs.
November opened with more moderate weather, auguring still better conditions
for midsummer. Accordingly November 6 was fixed as the date of final departure
for several of the parties. The evening of November 5 was made a special
occasion: a farewell dinner, into which everybody entered very heartily.
On the morning of the 6th, however, we found a strong blizzard raging and
the landscape blotted out by drift-snow, which did not clear until the afternoon
of the following day.
At the first opportunity, Murphy, Hunter and Laseron (supporting the Southern
Party) got away, but found the wind so strong at a level of one thousand
feet on the glacier that they anchored their sledge and returned to the
Hut for the night.
The next morning saw them off finally and, later in the day, the Near-Eastern
Party (Stillwell, Close and Hodgeman) and the Eastern Coastal Party (Madigan,
McLean and Correll) got under way, though there was still considerable wind.
My own party was to leave on the 9th for, assisted by the dogs, we could
easily catch up to the other eastern parties, and it was our intention not
to part company with them until all were some distance
out on the road together.
The wind increased on the 9th and the air became charged with drift, so
we felt sure that those who preceded us would still be camped at Aladdin's
Cave, and that the best course was to wait.
At this date the penguin rookeries were full of new-laid eggs, and the popular
taste inclined towards omelettes, in the production of which Mertz was a
past master. I can recall the clamouring throng who pressed round
for the final omelette as Mertz officiated at the stove just before we left
on the 10th.
It was a beautiful calm afternoon as the sledge mounted up the long icy
slopes. The Southern Party (Bage, Webb and Hurley) were a short distance
in advance, but by the help of the dogs we were soon abreast of them. Then
Bickerton, who had given Bage's party a pull as far as the three-mile post,
bade us good-bye and returned to the Hut where he was to remain in charge
with Whetter and Hannam until the return of Murphy's party.
At Aladdin's Cave, while some prepared supper, others selected tanks of
food from the depot and packed the sledges. After the meal, the Southern
Party bade us farewell and set off at a rapid rate, intending to overhaul
their supporting party on the same evening at the Cathedral Grotto, eleven
and three-quarter miles from the Hut. Many finishing touches had to be put
to our three sledges and two teams of dogs, so that the departure was delayed
till next morning.
We were up betimes and a good start was made before anything came of the
overcast sky which had formed during the night. The rendezvous appointed
for meeting the others, in case we had not previously caught them up, was
eighteen miles south-east of Aladdin's Cave. But, with a view to avoiding
crevasses as much as possible, a southerly course was followed for several
miles, after which it was directed well to the east. In the meantime the
wind had arisen and snow commenced to fall soon after noon. In such weather
it was impossible to locate the other parties, so a halt was made and the
tent pitched after eight miles.
Five days of wind and drift followed, and for the next two days we remained
in camp. Then, on the afternoon of the 13th, the drift became less dense,
enabling us to move forward on an approximate course to what was judged
to be the vicinity of the rendezvous, where we camped again for three days.
Comfortably ensconced in the sleeping-bags, we ate only a small ration of
food; the savings being carefully put away for a future ``rainy day.'' Outside,
the dogs had at first an unpleasant time until they were buried in snow
which sheltered them from the stinging wind. Ninnis and Mertz took turns
day by day attending to their needs.
The monotony and disappointment of delay were just becoming acute when the
wind fell off, and the afternoon of November 16 turned out gloriously fine.
Several excursions were immediately made in the neighbourhood to seek for
the whereabouts of the other parties, but all were unsuccessful. At length
it occurred to us that something serious might have happened, so we left
our loads and started back at a gallop for Aladdin's Cave with two empty
sledges, Mertz careering
ahead on skis over the sastrugi field.
Shortly afterwards two black specks were seen away in the north; a glance
with the binoculars leaving no doubt as to the identity of the parties.
We returned to the loads, and, having picked them up, made a course to the
east to intercept the other men.
It was a happy camp that evening! with the three tents pitched together,
while we compared our experiences of the previous six days and made plans
for the outward journey.
Our sledge-meter had already suffered through bumping over rough ice and
sastrugi, and an exchange was made with the stronger one on Stillwell's
sledge. A quantity of food was also taken over from him and the loads were
The details and weights of the equipment on the three sledges belonging
to my party are sufficiently interesting to be set out at length below.
Most of the items were included in the impedimenta of all our parties, but
slight variations were necessary to meet particular stances or to satisfy
the whim of an individual.
The Principal Sledge, 11ft. long, 45 lb.
Fittings for Same: Instrument-box 7 lb. 5 oz.; cooker- box, 7
lb. 6 oz.; kerosene-tray, 3 lb.; mast-attachment, 2 lb. 8 oz.; mast,
1 lb. 16 oz.; spar, 1 lb. 8 oz.; decking (canvas and bamboo), 3 lb.
5 oz.; rigging, 7.5 oz.; 5 leather straps, 5 lb
77 lb. 6.5 oz.
Drill Tent, strengthened and attached to poles, also floor- cloth,
33 lb. Spare drill cover, 11 lb. 8 oz.
44 lb. 8 oz.
Sleeping-bags, 3 one-man bags
30 lb. 0 oz.
Cooking gear: Nansen cooker, 11 lb. 3 oz.; 3 mugs, 1 lb. 8 oz.,
2 tins, 10 oz.; scales, 0.5 oz.; 3 spoons, 1.5 oz.; matches, 13.5 oz.,
and damp-proof tin to hold same, 3.7 oz.; ``Primus'' heater, full, 3
lb. 10 oz.; ``Primus'' prickers, 2.5 oz.; ``Primus'' repair outfit,
2 oz.; kerosene tin openers and pourers, 4.5 oz.; spirit for ``Primus''
in tin, 5 lb. 14 oz., also a ready bottle, full, 1 lb. 5 oz.
25 lb. 14.2 oz.
Repair Outfit: Spare copper wire, rivets, needles, thread, etc.,
1 lb. 14.5 oz.; set of 12 tools, 15.5 oz.; requirements for repairing
dog-harness and medically treating the dogs, 3 lb. 8 oz
6 lb. 6 oz.
Medical Outfit: 6 ``Burroughs & Wellcome'' first field dressings;
absorbent cotton wool; boric wool; pleated lint; pleated bandages, roll
bandages; adhesive tape; liquid collodion; ``tabloid'' ophthalmic drugs
for treating snow-blindness; an assortment of ``tabloid'' drugs for
general treatment; canvas case containing scissors, forceps, artery-forceps,
scalpel, surgical needles and silk, etc.
2 lb. 12.3 oz.
Photographic outfit: A 1/4-plate, long, extension-camera
in a case, with special stiffening board and 36 cut films, 4 lb. 4.5
oz.; adaptor to accommodate camera to theodolite legs, 2 oz.; a water-tight
tin with 14 packets, each containing 12 cut films, 3 lb.10 oz.
8 lb. 0.5 oz.
Surveying Requirements: A 3'' transit theodolite in case, 5 lb.
14 oz.; legs for the same, 3 lb. 6 oz.; sledge-meter, 8 lb.; Tables
from Nautical Almanack and book of Logarithmic Tables, 1 lb. 3 oz.;
2 note books, 1 lb. 6 oz.; angle-books, 5 oz.; map-tube, 10 oz.; maps,
6.5 oz.; pencils, 1.5 oz.; dividers and rubber, 1.5 oz.; protractor
and set-square, 0.5 oz.; prismatic compass and clinometer, 8.5 oz.;
sun-compass (Bage's), 1.5 oz.
22 lb. 0 oz.
Other Instruments: Zeiss prismatic binoculars X.12, 1 lb. 13.5
oz.; hypsometer, 2 lb. 1 oz.; 2 ordinary and 2 small minimum thermometers,
10 oz.; specimen labels, l oz.
4 lb. 9.5 oz.
Rifle, 22-bore with cover and cleaner, 3 lb. 3.7 oz.; ammunition,
1 lb. 6 oz.; sheath knife, 5.5 oz.; sharpening stone, 1.5 oz.; fishing
line and hooks, 3.5 oz.
4 lb. 14.7 oz.
Waterproof Clothe-bag, 4 lb. 8 oz., containing 9 pairs of finnesko
stuffed with saennegrass, 21 lb.; extra saennegrass, 3 lb.; 3 private
kit-bags containing spare clothing, etc., 39 lb.; 4 extra rolls of lampwick
for lashings, 1 lb. 3.5 oz.
64 lb. 3.5 oz.
Odd gear: Pick, 4 lb. 5 oz.; 2 spades, 8 lb. 4 oz.; ice-axe,
2 lb. 4 oz.; alpine rope (20 metros) 3 lb.; skis (1 pair), 11 lb.; ski-stick,
1 lb. 1 oz.; ski-boots (2 pairs), 6 lb.; attachable crampons for the
same, 4 lb.; finnesko-crampons (3 pairs), 9 lb.; 3 man-harnesses, 6
lb. 8 oz.; man-hauling tow-rope, 1 lb. 1 oz.; flags, 9.5 oz.; a water-proof
bag to hold oddments, 4 lb. 8 oz.
61 lb. 8.5 oz.
Beacons: A depot-flag and bamboo pole, 5 lb.; a special metal
depot-beacon, mast, flag and stays, 16 lb.; 2 damp-proof tins for depositing
records at depots, 7.5 oz.
21 lb. 7.5 oz.
Other Sledges: A second sledge decked with Venesta boarding and
fitted with straps
55 lb. 0 oz.
A third sledge, 12 ft. long and strong rope lashings
(spare spars mentioned elsewhere acting as decking)
60 lb. 0 oz.
Fuel: Kerosene, 6 gallons in one-gallon tins
60 lb. 0 oz.
Food: Man Food: 9 weeks' supplies for 3 men on the ration scale;
also 25 lb. weight of special foods--`perks'
475 lb. 0 oz.
Dog Food: Dried seal meat, blubber and pemmican; also the weight
of the tin and bag-containers
700 lb. 0 oz.
Total . . 1723 lb. 11.3 oz.
Madigan's and Stillwell's parties broke trail to the east
on the morning of the 17th while we were still attending to the sledges
and dogs preparatory to departure. It was decided that Gadget, a rather
miserable animal, who had shown herself useless as a puller thus far, should
be killed. The following dogs then remained:-- Basilisk, Shackleton, Ginger
Bitch, Franklin, John Bull, Mary, Haldane, Pavlova, Fusilier, Jappy, Ginger,
George, Johnson, Castor, Betli and Blizzard.
We went in pursuit of the other six men over a surface of rough sastrugi.
The dogs, who were in fine fettle, rushed the sledges along, making frantic
efforts to catch up to the parties ahead, who showed as black specks across
the white undulating plain.
At noon all lunched together, after which we separated, shaking hands warmly
all round and interchanging the sledgers' ``Good luck!'' Our dogs drew away
rapidly to the east, travelling on a slight down grade; the other two parties
with their man-hauled sledges following in the same direction. The surface
was splendid, the weather conditions were ideal, the pace, if anything,
too rapid, for capsizes were apt to occur in racing over high sastrugi.
Any doubts as to the capability of the dogs to pull the loads were dispelled;
in fact, on this and on many subsequent occasions, two of us were able to
sit, each one on a sledge, while the third broke trail ahead.
In sledging over wide, monotonous wastes with dogs as the
motive power, it is necessary to have a forerunner, that is, somebody to
go ahead and point the way, otherwise the dogs will run aimlessly about.
Returning over old tracks, they will pull along steadily and keep a course.
In Adelie Land we had no opportunity of verifying this, as the continuous
winds soon obliterated the impression of the runners.
If the weather is reasonably good and food is ample, sledging dogs enjoy
their work. Their desire to pull is doubtless inborn, implanted in a long
line of ancestors who have faithfully served the Esquimaux. We found that
the dogs were glad to get their harnesses on and to be led away to the sledge.
Really, it was often a case of the dog leading the man, for, as soon as
its harness was in place, the impatient animal strained to drag whatever
might be attached to the other end of the rope. Before attaching a team
of dogs to a sledge, it was necessary to anchor the latter firmly, otherwise
in their ardour they would make off with it before everything was ready.
There can be no question as to the value of dogs as a means of traction
in the Polar regions, except when travelling continuously over very rugged
country, over heavily crevassed areas, or during unusually bad weather.
It is in such special stances that the superiority of man-hauling has been
proved. Further, in an enterprise where human life is always at stake, it
is only fair to put forward the consideration that the dogs represent a
reserve of food in case of extreme emergency.
We continued due eastwards until five o'clock on the afternoon of the 17th
at an altitude of two thousand six hundred feet. On the crest of a ridge,
which bore away in distinct outline, on our left, a fine panorama of coastal
scenery was visible. Far off on the eastern horizon the Mertz Glacier Tongue
discovered itself in a long wall touched in luminous bands by the south-western
sun. A wide valley fell away in front, and beyond it was a deep indentation
of the coastline, which would make it necessary for us to follow a more
southerly course in order to round its head.
I determined to convey to the other parties my intentions, which had become
more defined on seeing this view; and, in the meantime, we halted and treated
ourselves to afternoon tea. This innovation in the ordinary routine was
extended to a custom by saving a portion of the lunch ration for a ``snack''
at 5 P.M. on all days when the weather was moderately good. As latitude
sights were required at midday and longitude shots at 5 P.M., the arrangement
was very convenient, for, while one of us made tea, the other two took the
About 6 P.M. the two man-hauled sledges came up with us, our plans for the
future were reviewed and the final instructions were given. We bade our
comrades adieu and, turning to the south-east, descended quickly down a
long slope leading into the valley. The sky was overcast and it was almost
impossible to see the irregularities of the surface. Only a dull-white glare
met the eyes, and the first indication of a hillock was to stub one's toes
against it, or of a depression to fall into it. We pulled up the dogs at
7.30 P.M. after covering thirteen and a quarter miles in the day.
At 9.45 A.M. on November 18 everything was ready for a fresh start. The
other parties could be seen rapidly bearing down on us under full sail,
but our willing teams had soon dragged the three sledges over an eminence
and out of their sight.
It was a lovely day; almost like a dream after the lengthy months of harassing
blizzards. A venturesome skua gull appeared at lunch time, just as an observation
for latitude was being taken. By the time Ninnis had unpacked the rifle
the bird had flown away.
The direction of the sastrugi was found to vary from that which obtained
farther west, owing to a slight swing in the direction of the prevailing
wind. The irregularities in the coastline account for this; the wind tending
to flow down to sea-level by the nearest route.
To the north-west, behind us, a projecting ridge of rock--Madigan Nunatak--came
into sight. From the camp of the previous evening it had evidently been
hidden from view by an undulation in the surface.
During the afternoon it was noted that the surface had become very deeply
eroded by the wind, troughs three feet in depth being common, into which
the sledges frequently capsized. Each of us took it in turn to run ahead,
jumping from one sastruga to another. As these were firm and polished by
the constant wind, one often slipped with a sudden shock to the ground.
Our bodies were well padded with clothing and we were beginning to get into
good form, so that these habitual tumbles were taken with the best grace
we could muster. I surprised myself during the afternoon, when my
turn came as forerunner, by covering two and a half miles at a jog-trot
without a break. The grade was slightly downhill and the sledges moved along
of their own accord, accelerated by jerks from the dogs, gliding at right
angles to the knife-edge crests of the snow-waves.
The roughness of the surface was not without its effect on the sledge-meter,
which had to be repaired temporarily. It was a matter of some inconvenience
that after this date its records were erroneous and approximate distances
were only obtained by checking the readings against absolute observations
made for latitude and longitude.
At 5.30 P.M. a dark object stood in salient relief above the white contour
of the snowy sky-line on the right. Suppressing our excitement, we pressed
on eagerly, changing course so as to approach it. At nine o'clock it resolved
itself into the summit of an imposing mountain rising up from a mysterious
valley. Aurora Peak, as it was named, was to be a prominent landmark for
several days to come.
All were ready to be on the move at 8.45 A.M. on November 19. While Mertz
and Ninnis built a cairn of snow, I wrote a note to be left on it in a tin,
containing instructions to Stillwell in case he should happen on the locality.
The weather was good and the temperatures were high, ranging
at this time (one month from midsummer) between zero and 18 degrees F. When
we camped for lunch the air was quite calm and the sun's rays were
The surface became softer and smoother as the afternoon
lengthened until Mertz was tempted to put on his skis. He then became forerunner
for the remainder of the day.
Mertz, who was skilled in the use of skis, found them of great service on
this and on many future occasions. At such times he would relieve Ninnis
and myself in the van. On the other hand, over deeply furrowed sastrugi
or blue ice, or during a strong wind, unless it were at our backs, skiing
Owing to a steeper down grade, the sledges were now commencing to run more
freely and improvised brakes were tried, all of which were ineffectual in
restraining the dogs. The pace became so hot that a small obstacle would
capsize the sledge, causing it to roll over and over down the slope. The
dogs, frantically pulling in various directions to keep ahead of the load,
became hopelessly entangled in their traces and were dragged along unresistingly
until the sledge stopped of its own accord or was arrested by one of us.
At length, most of the dogs were allowed to run loose, and, with a man holding
on behind and a couple of dogs pulling ahead, the loads were piloted down
a steep slope for several miles.
The evening camp was situated at the crest of the last but steepest fall
into a wide glacial valley which was clearly seen to sweep northwards past
the eastern side of Aurora Peak. Looking back we could define our track
winding down in the bed of a long shallow valley, while, uprising on either
hand near the rim of the plateau were crevassed bluffs where the ice of
the tableland streamed abruptly over the underlying crags.
Ninnis had a touch of snow-blindness which rapidly improved under treatment.
The stock cure for this very irritating and painful affection is to place
first of all tiny ``tabloids'' of zinc sulphate and cocaine hydrochloride
under the eyelids where they quickly dissolve in the tears, alleviating
the smarting, ``gritty'' sensation which is usually described by the sufferer.
He then bandages the eyes and escapes, if he is lucky, into the darkness
of his sleeping-bag.
In certain lights one is sure to be attacked more or less severely, and
coloured glasses should be worn continually. Unfortunately, goggles are
sometimes impracticable on account of the moisture from the breath covering
the glasses with an icy film or driving snow clogging them and obscuring
the view. For such contingencies narrow slots of various shapes are cut
in plates or discs of wood or bone in the Esquimaux fashion. The amount
of light reaching the eye can thus be reduced to the limit of moderately
The morning of the 20th broke with wind and drift which persisted until
after noon. Already everything had been packed up, but, as there was a steep
fall in front and crevasses were not far distant, we decided not to start
until the air was clear of snow.
When at last a move was possible, it became evident that the dogs could
not be trusted to pull the sledges down to the edge of the glacier. So they
were tethered to ice-axes while we lowered the sledges one by one, all three
checking their speed, assisted by rope brakes round the runners. Finally,
the impatient dogs were brought down and harnessed in their accustomed places.
Rapid travelling now commenced over a perfectly smooth surface, sloping
gently to the bed of the glacier. Mertz shot ahead on skis, and our column
of dogs and sledges followed quickly in his trail.
From this day forward our ``order of procession'' was as follows:-- Behind
the forerunner came a team of dogs dragging two sledges joined together
by a short length of alpine rope. Bringing up the rear were the rest of
the dogs dragging the third sledge. Each team pulled approximately equal
weights; the front load being divided between two sledges. Except when taking
my turn ahead, I looked after the leading team, Ninnis or Mertz, as the
case might be, driving the one behind.
We skirted Aurora Peak on its south-eastern side. The mountain rose to a
height of about seventeen hundred feet on our left, its steep sides being
almost completely snow-clad.
The wide depression of the Mertz Glacier lay ahead, and on its far side
the dim outline of uprising icy slopes was visible, though at the time we
could not be certain as to their precise nature.
As the sledges passed Aurora Peak, Blizzard and Ginger Bitch ran alongside.
The former had hurt one of her forefeet on the previous day during the ``rough-and-tumble''
descending into the valley. Ginger Bitch was allowed to go free because
she was daily expected to give birth to pups. As she was such a good sledge-dog
we could not have afforded to leave her behind at the Hut, and later events
proved that the work seemed actually to benefit her, for she was at all
times the best puller and the strongest of the pack. However, in permitting
both dogs to run loose that afternoon, there was an element of danger which
we had not sufficiently appreciated.
Suddenly, without any warning, half of my dogs dropped out of sight, swinging
on their harness ropes in a crevasse. Next moment I realized that the sledges
were in the centre of a bridge covering a crevasse, twenty-five feet wide,
along the edge of which part of the team had broken through.
We spent many anxious moments before they were all hauled to the daylight
and the sledge rested on solid ground. There were other crevasses about
and almost immediately afterwards Ginger Bitch and Blizzard had broken through
into a fissure and were frantically struggling to maintain their hold on
the edge. They were speedily rescued; following which Ginger Bitch gave
birth to the first of a large litter of pups. After this second accident
we decided to camp.
During the morning of November 21 there was a good deal of wind and drift
which made travelling rather miserable. Occasionally open crevasses would
break the surface of the snow.
When the light at last improved, a nunatak was observed some fifteen miles
or more to the south rising out of the glacier--Correll Nunatak. Ahead of
us was a glittering line of broken ice, stretching at right angles to our
path. Studded about on the icy plain were immense cauldrons, like small
craters in appearance. Then an area dotted over with ice mounds approached
and crevasses became correspondingly more numerous. The dogs frequently
broke through them but were easily extricated in every instance.
Camp was pitched for lunch in the vicinity of many gaping holes leading
down into darkness, places where the bridges over large crevasses had fallen
in. Mertz prepared the lunch and Ninnis and I went to photograph an open
crevasse near by. Returning, we diverged on reaching the back of the tent,
he passing round on one side and I on the other. The next instant I heard
a bang on the ice and, swinging round, could see nothing of my companion
but his head and arms. He had broken through the lid of a crevasse fifteen
feet wide and was hanging on to its edge close to where the camera lay damaged
on the ice. He was soon dragged into safety. Looking down into the black
depths we realized how narrowly he had escaped. As the tent was found to
encroach partly on the same crevasse, it may be imagined that we did not
dally long over the meal.
In the afternoon the weather became clear and fine, but, as if to offset
this, the broken surface became impassable. The region was one of serac
where the glacier was puckered up, folded and crushed. After several repulses
in what seemed to be promising directions, we were finally forced to camp,
having ten miles to our credit.
Whilst Mertz fed the dogs and prepared hoosh, Ninnis and I roped up and
went off to search for a passage.
All around, the glacier was pressed up into great folds,
two hundred feet in height and between one quarter and a third of a mile
from crest to crest. The ridges of the folds were either domes or open rifts
partly choked with snow. Precipitous ice-falls and deep cauldrons were encountered
everywhere. To the north the glacier flattened out; to the south it was
In this chaos we wandered for some miles until a favourable line of advance
had been discovered for the march on the following day.
The first three miles, on the 22nd, were over a piece of very dangerous
country, after which our prospects improved and we came to the border of
a level plain.
There Mertz slipped on his skis, went ahead and set a good pace. Although
the sky had become overcast and snow fell fitfully, our progress was rapid
towards the rising slopes of the land on the eastern side of the glacier.
Over the last three miles of the day's journey the surface was raised in
large, pimply masses surrounded by wide fissures. Into one of the fissures,
bridged by snow, Ninnis's sledge fell, but fortunately jammed itself just
below the surface. As it was, we had a long job getting it up again, having
to unpack the sledge in the crevasse until it was light enough to be easily
manipulated. Despite the delay, our day's run was sixteen and a half miles.
At 8 A.M. on the 23rd everything was in readiness for a fresh start. Moderate
drift and wind descended from the hills and there were yet three miles of
hidden perils to be passed. With the object of making our advance less dangerous,
various devices were employed.
First of all the towing rope of the rear sledge was secured to the back
of the preceding sledge. This arrangement had to be abandoned because the
dogs of Ninnis's team persisted in entangling themselves and working independently
of the dogs in front. Next, all the sledges were joined together with all
the dogs pulling in front. The procession was then so long that it was quite
unmanageable on account of the tortuous nature of our track through the
labyrinth. In the long run, it was decided that our original method was
the best, provided that special precautions were taken over the more hazardous
The usual procedure was, that the forerunner selected the best crossing
of a crevasse, testing it with a ski-stick. The dog teams were then brought
up to the spot and the forerunner went over the snow-bridge and stood on
the other side, sufficiently far away to allow the first team to cross to
him and to clear the crevasse. Then the second team was piloted to safety
before the forerunner had resumed his position in front. This precaution
was very necessary, for otherwise the dogs in the rear would make a course
direct for wherever the front dogs happened to be, cutting across corners
and most probably dragging their sledge sideways into a crevasse; the likeliest
way to lose it altogether.
Often enough the dogs broke through the snow-bridges on the morning of the
23rd, but only once were matters serious, when Ninnis's sledge, doubtless
on account of its extra weight, again broke through a lid of snow and was
securely jammed in a crevasse just below the surface.
On this occasion we were in a serious predicament, for the sledge was in
such a position that an unskilful movement would have sent it hurling into
the chasm below. So the unpacking of the load was a tedious and delicate
operation. The freight consisted chiefly of large, soldered tins, packed
tightly with dried seal meat. Each of these weighed about ninety pounds
and all were most securely roped to the sledge. The sledge was got up and
reloaded without the loss of a single tin, and once more we breathed freely.
A valley almost free of crevasses was chosen as the upward track to the
plateau. We threw in our weight hauling with the dogs, and had a long, steep
drag over furrowed neve, pitching the tent after a day's journey of twelve
On waking up on November 24 I found that my watch had stopped. I had been
so tired on the previous evening that I had fallen asleep without remembering
to wind it. The penalty of this accident was paid in my being forced to
take an extra set of observations in order to start the watch again at correct
time relative to the Hut.
Besides the observations for position, necessary for navigation, sets of
angles were taken from time to time to fix the positions of objects of interest
appearing within the field of view, while the magnetic variation was obtained
at intervals. In this work Ninnis always assisted me. Mertz boiled the hypsometer
when necessary to ascertain our elevation above sea-level. The meteorological
conditions were carefully noted several times each day for future comparison
with those of other parties and of Winter Quarters.
The day's work on November 24 brought us high up on the slopes. Away to
the north-west Aurora Peak was still visible, standing up like a mighty
beacon pointing the way back to the Hut. Below lay the Mertz Glacier extending
out to sea as a floating tongue beyond the horizon. Inland, some twenty
miles to the south, it mounted up in seamed and riven ``cataracts'' to a
smooth, broad and shallow groove which wound into the ice-cap. Ahead, on
our south-east course, the ground still rose, but to the north-east the
ice-sheet fell away in
long wide valleys, at the extremity of some of which icebergs were visible
frozen into distant sea-ice.
The tent was raised at 10 P.M. in a forty-mile wind with light drift; temperature
10 degrees F. The altitude of this camp was two thousand three hundred and
One of the worst features of drift overnight is that sledges and dogs become
buried in snow and have to be dug out in the morning. Thus on the 25th it
was 10 A.M. before we got away in a strong wind, with flying snow, across
fields of sastrugi.
The dogs detested the wind and, as their heads were so near the ground,
they must have found the incessant stream of thick drift very tantalizing.
The snow became caked over their eyes so that every few minutes they had
to scrape it away with their paws or rub their faces on the ground.
We stopped at 6 P.M. after a miserable day, covering sixteen miles in all.
November 26 broke overcast, the light being bad for travelling and the wind
still strong. Nevertheless we set out at 10 A.M. through falling snow.
As the day progressed the wind subsided and Mertz was able to put on his
skis over a surface which sloped gradually away to the east. The light was
diffused uniformly over the irregularities of snow and ice so that depressions
only a few feet away were invisible. Black objects, on the other hand, stood
out with startling distinctness, and our attention was soon arrested by
a hazy, dark patch which appeared in front and to the left. At first there
was much doubt as to its nature, but it was soon clear that it must be a
group of rocks, apparently situated at a considerable distance. They were
subsequently found to be sixty miles away (Organ Pipe Cliffs, near Cape
Presently our course ended abruptly at the edge of a precipitous fall. We
skirted round this for a while, but were ultimately forced to camp owing
to the uncertainty of the light and the proximity of several large crevasses.
At 11 P.M. the sky cleared and a better idea could be gained of what lay
ahead. In a line between our elevated position and the distant rocky outcrops
the ice fell in a steep descent to a broad, glacial valley, undulating and
in places traversed by torn masses of serac-ice. We examined the country
to the east very carefully with a view to selecting a track for the journey
next day and finally resolved to pass to the south of a large ice-capped
island--Dixson Island, which was only about ten miles to the north-east,
set within Ninnis Glacier near its western border
On the 27th Mertz and I roped up, reconnoitred for a while and returned
to the sledges. We then spent several hours in advancing a mile over badly
broken ground, arriving at a slope covered with sastrugi and descending
steeply for one thousand feet into the bed of the glacier.
In order the more safely to negotiate this, the dogs were all let loose
excepting two in each sledge. Even then the sledges were often uncontrollable,
rolling over and over many times before the bottom was reached.
When the dogs were re-harnessed it was found that Betli was missing and
was not to be seen when we scanned the slopes in our rear with binoculars.
It was expected that unless she had fallen into a crevasse she would turn
up at the camp that night. However, she did not reappear, and we saw no
more of her. Two other dogs, Jappy and Fusilier, had been previously killed,
as neither was of any use as a puller. Blizzard, who had been always a great
favourite with us, had to be shot next day.
When it had reached the edge of the glacier, our path led over a solid ocean
rising and faring in billows, two hundred and fifty feet in height; no doubt
caused by the glacier in its northward movement being compressed against
the southern side of Dixson Island. Still, the ``caravan'' made considerable
progress, ending with a day's journey of sixteen miles.
During the small hours of November 28 the wind rose to a velocity of
sixty miles per hour, but gradually diminished to a twenty-knot breeze as
the day advanced. Light snow fell from a sky which was densely clouded.
We still pursued a devious track amid rolling waves of ice, encountering
beds of soft snow through which the sledges moved slowly. By 6 P.M. pinnacles
and hummocks stood around on every side, and the light was such that one
could not distinguish crevasses until he was on top of them. We had to camp
and be satisfied with seven miles ``to the good.'' By this time the dogs
were in good training and grew noticeably ravenous. In the evening, before
they were properly tethered, Shackleton seized a one-week provision bag,
ripped it open and ate a block of butter weighing more than two and a half
pounds. This was a loss to us, as butter was regarded as a particular delicacy.
The sun was shining brightly next day and it was at once evident that we
were in a zone of tumbled and disrupted ice.
For many hours a way was won through a mighty turmoil of serac and over
innumerable crevasses with varied fortune. Just before lunch my two sledges
were nearly lost through the dogs swinging sharply to one side before the
second sledge had cleared a rather rotten snow-bridge. I was up with the
dogs at the time, and the first intimation I received of an accident was
on seeing the dogs and front sledge being dragged backwards; the rear sledge
was hanging vertically in a crevasse. Exerting all my strength I held back
the front sledge, and in a few moments was joined by Ninnis and Mertz, who
soon drove a pick and ice-axe down between the runners and ran out an anchoring
It was a ticklish business recovering the sledge which hung suspended in
the crevasse. It could not be lifted vertically as its bow was caught in
a V-shaped cornice formed by an overhanging mass of snow. To add to our
troubles the ground all about the place was precarious and unsafe.
Mertz and Ninnis therefore lowered me down and I attached a rope to the
tail-end of the sledge. The bow-rope and tail-rope were then manipulated
alternately until the bow of the sledge was manoeuvred slowly through the
gaping hole in the snow-lid and was finally hauled up on to level ground.
No more remarkable test of the efficiency of the sledge straps and the compactness
of the load could have been made.
After lunch Mertz ascended a high point and was able to trace out a route
which conducted us in a few hours to a better surface.
We were now at an elevation of from four hundred to five hundred feet above
sea-level, running across a beam-wind on our right which increased during
the afternoon. A rising blizzard made it necessary to camp after a day's
run of ten and one-third miles.
The wind blew up to seventy miles an hour during the night, but eased in
strength early on November 30. At 1O A.M. we tried to make a start, but
the dogs refused to face the drift. On the wind becoming gusty in the afternoon,
it was once more possible to travel, and we set out.
Dense drift was still to be seen pouring over the highlands to the south-east.
Above the glacier ahead whirlies, out-lined in high revolving columns of
snow, ``stalked about'' in their wayward courses.
The sledges ran through a sea of crevassed, blue ice, over ridges and past
open chasms. Seven miles brought us to the ``foot-hills'' on the eastern
border of the Ninnis Glacier, where we pitched camp.
The first day of December was still and hot, with brilliant sunshine. The
shade temperature reached 34 degrees F. and the snow became so sticky that
it was as much as we and the dogs could do to move the sledges up the slopes.
As the evening lengthened and the sun sank lower the surface froze hard
and our toil was lightened. At midnight we reached an altitude of nine hundred
December 2 was another warm, bright day. The surface was atrociously bad;
hard, sharp sastrugi, never less than two feet high and in many instances
three feet six inches from crest to trough. The dogs were not able to exert
a united pull for there were never more than half of them in action at a
Once more we were at a comparatively high altitude and a fine view presented
itself to the north. One could look back to the mainland slopes descending
on the western side of the Ninnis Glacier. Then the glacier, tumultuous
and broken, was seen to extend far out into the frozen sea and, sweeping
round to the north-east, the eye ranged over a great expanse of floe-ice
dotted with bergs. To the east there was a precipitous coastline of dark
rock which for a while we thought of visiting. But then it seemed likely
that Madigan's party would reach as far east, so we set our faces once more
to the rising plateau in the south-east.
At midnight the sun was peering over the southern sky-line, and we halted
at an elevation of one thousand five hundred and fifty feet, having covered
eight and a half miles in the day. The temperature was 5 degrees F.
``December 3.--We were not long on the way before the sky became overcast
and light snow fell. The surface was becoming flatter. Camp was pitched
at 11 P.M. after eleven and two-thirds miles.
``December 4.--Another day of bad light but the surface improved and good
headway was made on an easterly course at an elevation of between two thousand
and two thousand eight hundred feet. The crevasses were practically past.
The day's march was fifteen miles.
``December 5.--A bad day; overcast, snowing and a gale of wind from the
east-south-east. However, we plugged on blindly into it until 7.30 P.M.
and then camped, having done eleven and a half miles.
``December 6, 7 and 8.--During these days a dense blizzard raged, the wind
reaching seventy miles per hour. There was nothing to do but lie in our
bags and think out plans for the future. Each morning Ninnis and Mertz
took it in turns to go out and feed their charges, who were snugly buried
in the deep snow.
`` One day in the sleeping-bag does not come amiss after long marches, but
three days on end is enough to bore any one thoroughly.
``Ninnis was not so badly off with a volume of Thackeray, but Mertz had
come to the end of a small edition of `Sherlock Holmes' when blizzard-bound
near Aladdin's Cave, and his only diversion on these days was to recite
passages from memory for our mutual benefit.''
I was troubled with an inflammation in the face just at
this time, while Ninnis suffered pain owing to a ``whitlow'' on one of his
As usual the food ration was reduced. This caused us to have more than ordinarily
vivid dreams. I happened to be awake one night when Ninnis was sledging
in imagination, vociferously shouting, ``Hike, hike,'' to the dogs; our
equivalent of the usual ``Mush, mush.''
Despite considerable wind and drift we got away at 8 A.M. on December 9.
The sky was overcast and there was nothing to be seen except a soft carpet
of newly fallen snow into which we sank half-way to the knees. The sledges
ran deeply and heavily so that the dogs had to be assisted. Ahead Mertz
glided along triumphant, for it was on such occasions that skis were of
the greatest assistance to him.
During the day a snow petrel circled above us for a while and then returned
to the north.
The course was due east at an elevation of two thousand three hundred feet
and the total distance we threw behind during the day was sixteen and a
On the 10th light wind and low drift were the order of things. Our spirits
rose when the sky cleared and a slight down grade commenced.
During the morning Ninnis drew our attention to what appeared to be small
ice-capped islets fringing the coast, but the distance was too great for
us to be sure of their exact nature. Out near the verge of the horizon a
tract of frozen sea with scattered bergs could be seen.
Next day more features were distinguishable. The coast was seen to run in
a north-easterly direction as a long peninsula ending in a sharp cape--Cape
Freshfield. The north appeared to be filled with frozen sea though we could
not be certain that it was not dense pack-ice. Little did we know that Madigan's
party, about a week later, would be marching over the frozen sea towards
Cape Freshfield in the north-east.
At 10 P.M. on the 11th, at an altitude of one thousand eight hundred feet,
the highland we were traversing fell away rapidly and sea-ice opened up
directly in front of us. The coastal downfalls to the south-east fell in
rugged masses to a vertical barrier, off the seaward face of which large,
tabular bergs were grouped within environing floe.
Throughout December 12 a somewhat irregular course was made to the south-east
and south to avoid the broken area ahead. We had had enough of crevasses
and wished to be clear of serac-ice in the future.
For some days Ninnis had been enduring the throbbing pain of a whitlow and
had not been having sufficient sleep. He always did his share of the work
and had undoubtedly borne a great deal of pain without showing it. On several
nights I noticed that he sat up in his sleeping-bag for hours puffing away
at a pipe or reading. At last the pain became so acute that he asked me
to lance his finger. This was successfully accomplished after breakfast
on the 13th and during the day he had much relief.
While Ninnis rested before we made a start, Mertz and I re-arranged the
sledges and their loads. A third sledge was no longer necessary, so the
one usually driven by Ninnis, which had been damaged, was discarded and
all the gear was divided between the other two sledges in nearly equal amounts.
When the work was completed, the rear sledge carried an extra weight of
fifty pounds. As, however, both food for men and dogs were to come from
it, we reckoned that this superadded load would soon diminish.
On we went, during the afternoon, up a steep ascent. Crevasses were so numerous
that we took measures to vent them. Some were as much as a hundred feet
in width, filled with snow; others were great open holes or like huge cauldrons.
Close to the windward edge of some of the latter high ramps of neve with
bluff faces on the windward side stood up like monoliths reaching twenty-five
feet in maximum height.
In the evening a field of neve was reached and we felt more placid after
the anxiety of the preceding hours.
During the passage of a snow-filled valley a dull, booming sound like the
noise of far-distant cannon was heard. It was evidently connected with the
subsidence of large areas of the surface crust. Apparently large cavities
had formed beneath the snow and the weight of ourselves and the sledges
caused the crust to sink and the air to be expelled.
The sun appeared late in the day and, as it was almost calm, the last few
hours of marching were very pleasant. At midnight we camped at an altitude
of one thousand nine hundred feet.
A light east-south-east wind was blowing as the sledges started away eastward
on the morning of December 14. The weather was sunny and the temperature
registered 21 degrees F.
Mertz and I were happy to know that Ninnis had slept well and was feeling
Our march was interrupted at noon by a latitude observation, after which
Mertz went ahead on skis singing his student songs. The dogs rose to the
occasion and pulled eagerly and well. Everything was for once in harmony
and the time was at hand when we should turn our faces homewards.
Mertz was well in advance of us when I noticed him hold up his ski- stick
and then go on. This was a signal for something unusual so, as I approached
the vicinity, I looked out for crevasses or some other explanation of his
action. As a matter of fact crevasses were not expected, since we were on
a smooth surface of neve well to the southward of the broken coastal slopes.
On reaching the spot where Mertz had signalled and seeing no sign of any
irregularity, I jumped on to the sledge, got out the book of tables and
commenced to figure out the latitude observation taken on that day. Glancing
at the ground a moment after, I noticed the faint indication of a crevasse.
It was but one of many hundred similar ones we had crossed and had no specially
dangerous appearance, but still I turned quickly round, called out a warning
word to Ninnis and then dismissed it from my
Ninnis, who was walking along by the side of his sledge, close behind my
own, heard the warning, for in my backward glance I noticed that he immediately
swung the leading dogs so as to cross the crevasse squarely instead of diagonally
as I had done. I then went on with my work.
There was no sound from behind except a faint, plaintive whine from one
of the dogs which I imagined was in reply to a touch from Ninnis's whip.
I remember addressing myself to George, the laziest dog in my own team,
saying, ``You will be getting a little of that, too, George, if you are
When I next looked back, it was in response to the anxious gaze of Mertz
who had turned round and halted in his tracks. Behind me, nothing met the
eye but my own sledge tracks running back in the distance. Where were Ninnis
and his sledge?
I hastened back along the trail thinking that a rise in the ground obscured
the view. There was no such good fortune, however, for I came to a gaping
hole in the surface about eleven feet wide. The lid of a crevasse had broken
in; two sledge tracks led up to it on the far side but only one continued
on the other side.
Frantically waving to Mertz to bring up my sledge, upon which there was
some alpine rope, I leaned over and shouted into the dark depths below.
No sound came back but the moaning of a dog, caught on a shelf just visible
one hundred and fifty feet below. The poor creature appeared to have broken
its back, for it was attempting to sit up with the front part of its body
while the hinder portion lay limp. Another dog lay motionless by its side.
Close by was what appeared in the gloom to be the remains of the tent and
a canvas tank containing food for three men for a fortnight.
We broke back the edge of the neve lid and took turns leaning over secured
by a rope, calling into the darkness in the hope that our companion might
be still alive. For three hours we called unceasingly but no answering sound
came back. The dog had ceased to moan and lay without a movement. A chill
draught was blowing out of the abyss. We felt that there was little hope.
Why had the first sledge escaped the crevasse? It seemed
that I had been fortunate, because my sledge had crossed diagonally, with
a greater chance of breaking the snow-lid. The sledges were within thirty
pounds of the same weight. The explanation appeared to be that Ninnis had
walked by the side of his sledge, whereas I had crossed it sitting on the
sledge. The whole weight of a man's body bearing on his foot is a formidable
load and no doubt was sufficient to smash the arch of the roof.
By means of a fishing line we ascertained that it was one hundred and fifty
feet sheer to the ledge on which the remains were seen; on either side the
crevasse descended into blackness. It seemed so very far down there and
the dogs looked so small that we got out the field glasses, but could make
out nothing more by their aid.
All our available rope was tied together but the total length was insufficient
to reach the ledge and any idea of going below to investigate and to secure
some of the food had to be abandoned.
Stunned by the unexpectedness of it all and having exhausted the few appliances
we carried for such a contingency, we felt helpless. In such moments action
is the only tolerable thing, and if there had been any expedient however
hazardous which might have been tried, we should have taken all and more
than the risk. Stricken dumb with the pity of it and heavy at heart, we
turned our minds mechanically to what lay nearest at hand.
There were rations on the other sledge, and we found that there was a bare
one and a half weeks' food for ourselves and nothing at all for the dogs.
Part of the provisions consisted of raisins and almonds which had been taken
as extras or ``perks,'' as they were usually called.
Among other losses there were both spade and ice-axe, but fortunately a
spare tent-cover was saved. Mertz's burberry trousers had gone down with
the sledge and the best substitute he could get was a pair of thick Jaeger
woollen under-trousers from the spare clothing we possessed.
Later in the afternoon Mertz and I went ahead to a higher point in order
to obtain a better view of our surroundings. At a point two thousand four
hundred feet above sea-level and three hundred and fifteen and three-quarter
miles eastward from the Hut, a complete observation for position and magnetic
azimuth was taken.
The coastal slopes were fearfully broken and scaured in their descent to
the sea, which was frozen out to the horizon. No islands were observed or
anything which could correspond with the land marked by Wilkes as existing
so much farther to the north. Patches of ``water sky'' were visible in two
places in the far distance. As we stood looking north a Wilson petrel suddenly
appeared and after flitting about for a short time departed.
We returned to the crevasse and packed the remaining sledge, discarding
everything unnecessary so as to reduce the weight of the load. A thin soup
was made by boiling up all the old food-bags which could be found. The dogs
were given some worn-out fur mitts, finnesko and several spare raw hide
straps, all of which they devoured.
We still continued to call down into the crevasse at regular intervals in
case our companion might not have been killed outright and, in the meantime,
have become conscious. There was no reply.
A weight was lowered on the fishing line as far as the dog which had earlier
shown some signs of life, but there was no response. All were dead, swallowed
up in an instant.
When comrades tramp the road to anywhere through a lonely blizzard-ridden
land in hunger, want and weariness the interests, ties and fates of each
are interwoven in a wondrous fabric of friendship and affection. The shock
of Ninnis's death struck home and deeply stirred us.
He was a fine fellow and a born soldier--and the end:--
Life--give me life until the end,
That at the very top of being,
The battle spirit shouting in my blood,
Out of very reddest hell of the fight
I may be snatched and flung
Into the everlasting lull,
The Immortal, Incommunicable Dream.
At 9 P.M. we stood by the side of the crevasse and I read
the burial service. Then Mertz shook me by the hand with a short ``Thank
you!'' and we turned away to harness up the dogs.
CHAPTER XIII -
TOIL AND TRIBULATION