THE WESTERN BASE
LINKING UP WITH KAISER WILHELM II LAND
by Dr. S. E.
On our return from the Western
Depot journey towards the end of October 1912, we found preparations
completed for the long western trip, towards Gaussberg in Kaiser
Wilhelm II Land, which was discovered by the German Antarctic Expedition
of 1902. The departure was delayed for several days, but came at
last on November 7, Moyes bidding us adieu and wishing us good luck.
The party consisted of Dovers (surveyor), Hoadley (geologist),
and myself (surgeon). We were hauling one sledge with rations for
nine weeks. Our course, which was almost due south lay over the
glacier shelf practically parallel to the sea-cliffs. The surface
was good, and we covered eleven miles by nightfall, reaching a point
some two or three miles from the rising land slopes. As the high
land was approached closer, the surface of the glacier-shelf, which
farther north was practically level, became undulating and broken
by pressure-ridges and crevasses. These, however, offered no obstacle
Proceeding in the morning and finding that an
ascent of the slopes ahead was rendered impracticable by wide patches
of ice, we turned more to the west and steered for Junction Corner.
Upon our arrival
there, it was discovered that several bergs
lay frozen within the floe close to where the seaward wall of the
glacier-shelf joined that of the land ice-sheet. Some of these bergs
were old and rotten, but one seemed to have broken away quite recently.
From the same place we could see several black points ahead;
our course was altered towards them, almost due westward, about
halt a mile from the sea-cliffs. They proved to be rocks, six in
number, forming a moraine. As it was then half-past five, we camped
in order that Hoadley might examine them. There had been a halo
visible all day, with mock suns in the evening.
In the morning
a high wind was blowing. Everything went well for a little over
a mile, when we found ourselves running across a steep slope. The
wind having increased and being abeam, the sledge was driven to
leeward when on a smooth surface, and when amongst soft sastrugi,
which occurred in patches, was capsized. Accordingly camp was pitched.
The next day being less boisterous, a start was made at 9 A.M.
There was still a strong beam wind, however, which carried the sledge
downhill, with the result that for one forward step two had to be
taken to the right. We were more fortunate in the afternoon and
reached the depot laid on the earlier journey at 5.30 A.M. From
this position we had a fine view of the Helen Glacier running out
of a bay which opened up ahead.
Having picked up the depot
next morning, we were disappointed to find that we should have to
commence relay work. There were then two sledges with rations for
thirteen weeks; the total weight amounting to one thousand two hundred
pounds. By making an even division between the two sledges the work
was rendered easy but slow. When we camped at 6 P.M., five and a
half miles had been covered. The surface was good, but a strong
beam wind hindered us while approaching the head of Depot Bay. The
ice-cap to the west appeared to be very broken, and it seemed inevitable
that we should have to ascend to a considerable altitude towards
the south-west to find a good travelling surface.
morning we were delayed by heavy wind, but left camp at ten o'clock
after spending an hour digging out the sledges and tent. At lunch
time the sun became quite obscured and each of us had many falls
stumbling over the invisible sastrugi. At five o'clock the weather
became so thick that camp was pitched. Hoadley complained of snow-blindness
and all were suffering with cracked lips; there was consequently
a big demand for hazeline cream in the evening.
November 13, we started early, and, finding a good firm track over
a gently rising plateau, made fair progress. At three o'clock
a gale sprang up suddenly; and fortunately the sledges were only
a quarter of a mile apart as we were relaying them in stages up
the rising plateau. The tent was pitched hurriedly, though with
difficulty, on account of the high wind and drift. The distance
for the day was four miles one thousand five hundred yards, the
last mile and a half being downhill into a valley at the head of
the bay. The morainic boulders visible from the camp at the depot
were now obscured behind a point to the west of Depot Bay.
The next sixty hours were spent in sleeping-bags, a heavy snowstorm
making it impossible to move. Owing to the comparatively high temperature,
20 degrees to 26 degrees F., the snow melted readily on the lee
side of the tent, and, the water running through, things became
uncomfortably wet inside. At midday of the 16th, however, we were
able to go out, and, after spending two and a half hours digging
out the tent and sledges, we made a start, travelling two and three-quarter
miles on a south-westerly course.
During the morning of the
17th a slight descent was negotiated, but in the afternoon came
the ascent of the slopes on the western side of Depot Bay. The ice-cap
here was very badly crevassed, and spiked boots had to be worn in
hauling the sledges up the steep neve slopes. In the latter part
of the afternoon a course was made more to the west, and about the
same time the south-east wind freshened and we travelled for a couple
of hours through thick drift. The night's camp was situated
approximately at the eastern edge of the Helen Glacier. The portion
of the ice-cap which contributes to the glacier below is marked
off from the general icy surface on either side by a series of falls
and cascades. These appeared quite impassable near sea-level, but
we hoped to find a smooth passage at an altitude of about one thousand
A start was made at 7 A.M. The surface consisted of
ice and neve and was badly broken by pressure-mounds, ten to twenty
feet high, and by numerous crevasses old and recent; many with sunken
or fallen bridges. While crossing a narrow crevasse, about forty
feet of the bridge collapsed lengthwise under the leading man, letting
him fall to the full extent of his harness rope. Hoadley and myself
had passed over the same spot, unsuspecting and unroped, a few minutes
previously, while looking for a safe track. We were now nearing
the approximate western edge of the Helen Glacier, and the broken
condition of the ice evidently indicated considerable movement.
Later in the morning a more southerly course was kept over an improving
At midday Dovers took observations of the sun and
found the latitude to be 66 degrees 47' S. Owing to the heat
of the sun the fat in the pemmican had been melting in the food-bags,
so after lunch the provisions were repacked and the pemmican was
put in the centre of the large tanks. In the afternoon we hoisted
the sail, and by evening had done four miles. From our camp the
eye could range across the Helen Glacier eastward to the shelf-ice
of ``The Grottoes.'' Far away in the north-west was a wide
expanse of open water, while a multitude of bergs lay scattered
along the coast to the west of the Helen Glacier.
day was gloriously bright, with a breeze just strong enough to make
hauling pleasant. Erecting a sail, we made an attempt to haul both
sledges, but found that they were too heavy. It was soon discovered
that a considerable detour would have to be made to cross the broken
ice on the western edge of the Helen Glacier. By keeping to the
saddles and valleys as much as possible and working to the south,
we were able to avoid the rougher country, but at 4 P.M. we arrived
at what at first appeared an impasse.
At this point three
great crevassed ridges united to form the ice-falls on the western
side of the glacier. The point of confluence was the only place
that appeared to offer any hope of a passage, and, as we did not
want to retrace our steps, we decided to attempt it. The whole surface
was a network of huge crevasses, some open, the majority from fifty
to one hundred feet or more in width. After many devious turns,
a patch of snow between two large abysses was reached. As the ice
in front seemed even more broken than that behind, camp was pitched.
After tea a search was made for a way out, and it was found that
by travelling along a narrow, knife-edge ridge of ice and neve,
with an open crevasse on each side, a good surface could be reached
within a mile of the camp. This ridge had a gradient of one in ten,
and, unfortunately, also sloped down towards one of the open crevasses.
During the next four days a heavy blizzard raged. There was
a tremendous snowfall accompanied by a gale of wind, and, after
the second day, the snow was piled four feet high round the tent,
completely burying the sledges and by its pressure greatly reducing
the space inside the tent. On the 23rd, the fourth day, we dug out
the floor, lowering the level of the tent about two feet, and this
made things more comfortable. While digging, a crack in the ice
was disclosed running across the floor, and from this came a considerable
draught. By midday the weather had improved sufficiently to allow
us to move.
The sledge and tent were excavated from beneath
a great mass of soft snow; the new level of the snow's surface
being four to five feet above that on which the camp had been made
four days earlier. The wind having fallen, we went ahead with the
sledges. While crossing the ridge of ice which led into the valley
below, one man hauled the sledges while the other two prevented
them from sliding sideways downhill into the open crevasse. That
afternoon we noticed very fine iridescent colouring in cirro-cumulus
clouds as they crossed the sun.
The next day gave us a pleasant
surprise, there being a strong breeze dead aft, while the travelling
surface ahead looked distinctly favourable. Sail was hoisted and
the two sledges were coupled together. The course for a short distance
was downhill, and we had to run to keep up with the sledges. The
slopes on the far side of the valley we had entered on the previous
afternoon were not so formidable as they had looked, for by lunch
time six and a half miles had been covered. The surface was good,
with occasional long undulations. After lunch a turn to the north
was made for a short distance in order to come in touch with the
coastline. Then the march west was resumed by travelling parallel
to the shore at a distance of five to ten miles. At halting-time
the extreme western edge of Helen Glacier was passed, and below
lay young floe-ice, studded with numerous bergs.
In the morning,
Dovers called attention to what appeared to be an ice-covered island
lying to the north-north-west, thirty to forty miles away. We watched
this carefully during the day, but found its form to be constant.
Through binoculars, icy patches and bluff points at the eastern
and western ends were distinguishable.**
** This was examined
in detail from the `Aurora' in January 1913 and found to be
an island, which was named Drygalski Island, for it is evidently
the ice-covered ``high-land'' observed by Professor Drygalski
(German Expedition, 1902) from his balloon.--ED.
as camp was struck the march was resumed direct for what every one
thought was a rocky outcrop, though nearer approach proved it to
be merely the shady face of an open crevasse. The same course was
maintained and the ridge of ice that runs down to the western point
of Depot Bay was soon close at hand. From its crest we could see
a group of about a dozen rocky islands, the most distant being five
miles off the coast. All were surrounded by floe. Descending steeply
from the ridge into a valley which ran out to the sea-cliffs, we
pitched camp for lunch.
The meal completed, Hoadley and I
descended to the edge of the glacier in order to see if there were
a passable route to the sea-ice. Crossing wide areas of badly crevassed
ice and neve during a descent of nine hundred feet, we reached the
sea-front about one and a half miles from the camp. Below us there
was a chaos of bergs and smaller debris, resulting from the disintegration
of the land-ice, which were frozen into the floe and connected to
one another by huge ramparts of snow. Following a path downward
with great difficulty, we approached a small berg which was discovered
to be rapidly thawing under the action of the heat absorbed by a
pile of stones and mud. The trickling of the falling water made
a pleasant relief in the otherwise
intense silence. As it seemed
impossible to haul sledges through this jumble of ice and snow,
Hoadley suggested that he should walk across the floe and make a
brief geological examination of at least the largest islet. I therefore
returned to the camp and helped Dovers take observations for longitude
and magnetic variation.
Hoadley returned at 9 P.M. and reported
that he had seen an immense rookery of Emperor penguins near the
largest islet, besides Adelie penguins, silver-grey, Wilson and
Antarctic petrels and skua gulls. He also said that he thought it
possible to take a sledge, lightly laden, through the drifts below
the brink of the glacier.
Accordingly in the morning the
eleven-foot sledge was packed with necessaries for a week's
stay, although we intended to remain only for a day in order to
take photographs and search for specimens. Erecting a depot flag
to mark the big sledge, we broke camp at midday and soon reached
the sea-front. Our track then wound among the snow-drifts until
it emerged from the broken ice which was observed to border the
land ice-sheet for miles. The travelling became unexpectedly good
for a time over highly polished, green sea-ice, and thence on to
snow, amid a field of numerous small bergs. Many of these showed
a marked degree of ablation, and, in places, blocks of ice perched
on eminences had weathered into most grotesque forms. There were
numerous streams of thaw-water running from mud-covered bergs. Perspiring
in the heat, we more than once stopped to slake our thirst.
Approaching the largest rock--Haswell Island, as it was called
later-- we saw more distinctly the immense numbers of Emperor penguins
covering several acres of floe. The birds extended in rows even
on to the
lower slopes of several bergs. The sound of their cries
coming across the ice reminded one of the noise from a distant sports'
ground during a well-contested game. We camped at 5 P.M. on a snow-drift
at the southern end of the island. A large rookery of Adelie penguins
on a long, low rock, about a mile distant, soon made itself evident.
Although the stay was intended to occupy only about twenty-four
hours, we were compelled to remain five days on the island on account
of a snowstorm which continued for practically the whole of the
time. This did not prevent us from leaving the tent and wandering
about; Hoadley keen on the geology and Dovers surveying whenever
the light was good enough. The temperature of the rock was well
above freezing-point where it was exposed, and snow melted almost
as soon as it fell. Our sleeping-bags and gear soon became very
wet, but we rejoiced in one compensation, and that was a change
in diet. It was agreed that five Adelie penguins or ten Cape pigeons'
eggs made a good tasty entree to the monotonous ration.
camp was situated on the largest of a group of about twelve small
islets, lying within five or six miles of the coast, on the lower
slopes of which several outcrops of rock could be observed. Haswell
Island was found to be roughly diamond-shaped; three-quarters of
a mile in length, the same in width, and about three hundred feet
on the highest point. It was surrounded by one season's floe,
raised in pressure-ridges on the eastern side. On the northern,
southern, and especially the eastern face, the rock was steep; on
the western aspect, there was a more gentle slope down to the floe,
the rock being almost concealed by big snow-drifts. There were signs
of previous glaciation in the form of erratics and many examples
of polishing and grooving. The rock was very rotten, and in many
places, especially about the penguin rookeries, there were collections
of soil. Two deep gorges cut through the island from north-west
to south-east, in both of which there were small ponds of fresh
The most marked feature was the wonderful abundance
of bird life, for almost all the birds frequenting the shores of
the continent were found nesting there. Adelie penguins were in
greatest numbers. Besides the large rookery on one of the smaller
islets, there were numerous rookeries of fifty to one hundred birds
each on Haswell Island. In most cases the penguins made their nests
on the rock itself, but, failing this, had actually settled on snow-drifts,
where they presented a peculiar sight, as the heat of their bodies
having caused them to sink in the snow, their heads alone were visible
above the surface. One bird was observed carrying an egg on the
dorsal surface of his feet as the Emperor penguins do. Feathers
were scattered broadcast around each rookery. These result from
the numerous fights which occur and are also partly derived from
the bare patch of skin at the lower part of the abdomen which provides
the necessary heat for incubation when the bird is sitting. Most
of the birds had two eggs in a well-advanced stage of incubation,
and it was a difficult task to find a sufficient number fresh enough
for culinary purposes. Attached to each rookery was a pair of skua
gulls, who swooped down and quickly flew off with any eggs left
for a moment untended.
The Emperor penguins had their rookery
on the floe, about a mile from the island. The birds covered four
to five acres, but there were undoubted signs that a much larger
area had been occupied. We estimated the numbers to be seven thousand
five hundred, the great majority being young birds. These were well
grown, most of them standing as high as the shoulders of the adults.
They were all very fat, covered by a grey down, slightly darker
on the dorsal than on the ventral surface, with dark tails and a
black, straight beak. The eyes were surrounded by a ring of grey
plumage, and this again by a black band which extended over the
skull to the root of the beak. Thus the markings on the young do
not correspond with those of the adults. A few of the larger chicks
had commenced to moult, the change of plumage being observed on
Daily we watched large numbers of adults departing
from and returning to the rookery. The direction in which they travelled
was north, towards open water, estimated to be twenty miles distant.
Although more than once the adults' return to the rookery was
carefully noted, we never saw the young birds being fed, old birds
as they entered the rookery quietly going to sleep.
on his first visit to the island, had seen Antarctic petrels flying
about, and a search revealed a large rookery of these on the eastern
side. The nesting-place of this species of petrel had never before
been discovered, and so we were all elated at the great find. About
three hundred birds were found sitting in the gullies and
clefts, as close together as they could crowd. They made no attempt
to form nests, merely laying their eggs on the shallow dirt. Each
bird had one egg about the same size as that of a domestic fowl.
Incubation was far advanced, and some difficulty was experienced
in blowing the specimens with a blow-pipe improvised from a quill.
Neither the Antarctic nor any other petrels offered any resistance
when disturbed on their nests, except by the expectoration of large
quantities of a pink or green, oily fluid.
The Cape pigeons
had just commenced laying when we arrived at the island. On the
first day only two eggs were found, but, on the fourth day after
our arrival, forty were collected. These birds make a small shallow
nest with chips of stone.
The silver-grey or Southern Fulmar
petrels were present in large numbers, especially about the
steep north-eastern side of the island. Though they were mated,
laying had scarcely commenced, as we found only two eggs. They made
small grottoes in the snow-drifts, and many pairs were seen billing
and cooing in such shelters.
The small Wilson petrels were
found living in communities under slabs of rock, and Hoadley one
afternoon thought he heard some young birds crying.
gulls were present in considerable force, notably near the penguin
rookeries. They were breeding at the time, laying their eggs on
the soil near the summit of the island. The neighbourhood of a nest
was always betrayed by the behaviour of these birds who, when we
intruded on them, came swooping down as if to attack us.
Although many snow petrels were seen flying about, we found only
one with an egg. The nests were located in independent rocky niches
but never in rookeries.
Vegetable life existed in the form
of algae, in the pools, lichens on oversell rocks and mosses which
grew luxuriantly, chiefly in the Adelie penguin rookeries.
Weddell seals were plentiful about the island near the tide-cracks;
two of them with calves.
Though the continuous bad weather
made photography impossible, Hoadley was able to make a thorough
geological examination of the locality. On December 2 the clouds
cleared sufficiently for photography, and after securing some snapshots
we prepared to move on the next day. Dovers built a small cairn
on the summit of the island and took angles to the outlying rocks.
On the 3rd we packed our specimens and left for the mainland
at 9.30 A.M., arriving at the land ice-cliffs at 2 P.M. The snow
surface was soft, even slushy in places, and the heat amongst the
bergs along the coast of the mainland was very oppressive. After
we had dug out the second sledge and re-arranged the loads, the
hour was too late for sledging, so Dovers took another observation
in order to obtain the rate of the half-chronometer watch. While
on the island, we had examined the coast to the west with glasses
and concluded that the only way to get westward was to ascend to
a considerable altitude on the ice-cap, which, as far as the eye
could reach, descended to the sea-level in long cascades and falls.
We had expected to place a depot somewhere near Haswell Island,
but such procedure was now deemed inadvisable in view of its distance
from what would probably be our direct return route.
was made next day against an opposing wind, the sledges being relayed
up a steep hillside. Later on, however, a turn was made more to
the west, and it was then possible to haul both sledges at the same
time. The surface was soft, so that after every halt the runners
had to be cleared. The distance for the day was five and a half
miles, and the night's camp was at an altitude of about one
thousand five hundred feet, located just above the broken coastal
During December 5 and 6 a snowstorm raged and confined
us to our tent. The high temperature caused the falling snow to
melt as it touched the tent, and, when the temperature fell, the
cloth became thickly coated with ice.
On the 7th the march
was resumed, by skirting a small valley at an approximate altitude
of two thousand feet. The ice-cap ahead descended in abrupt falls
to the floe. Having a fair wind and a smooth surface, we made good
headway. In the afternoon we ran into a plexus of crevasses, and
the surface was traversed by high ridges. The snowbridges in many
cases were weak and several gave way while the sledge was crossing
them. A chasm about fifty feet deep and one hundred feet long was
passed, evidently portion of a crevasse, one side of which had been
raised. Later in the afternoon the surface became impassable and
a detour to the south was rendered necessary. This difficulty arose
near the head of the valley, in which situation the ice-cap fell
in a series of precipitous terraces for about one thousand feet.
At midday on the 8th we were compelled to continue the detour
over a badly crevassed surface, ascending most of the time. On that
night, camp was pitched again amongst crevasses. The sledge-meter
showed only two miles one thousand one hundred yards for the afternoon,
relaying having been necessary.
The sledges slipped along
in the morning with a fresh breeze in their favour. The sky was
covered with rapidly scudding, cirro-cumulus clouds which, by midday,
quite obscured the sun, making surrounding objects and even the
snow at our feet indistinguishable. After continuing for four and
a half miles, we were forced to camp. In the afternoon a heavy snowstorm
commenced and persisted throughout the following day.
snow was still falling on the morning of the 11th, camp was broken
at 10 A.M., and we moved off rapidly with a strong wind. During
the morning the surface was gently undulating, but it mounted in
a gradual ascent until nightfall. In the latter part of the afternoon
the sun was clouded over, and steering had to be done by the aid
of the wind. To the north we had a fine view of Drygalski's
``High Land'' (Drygalski Island), perceiving a distinct
seaward ice-cliff of considerable height.
As there were no
prominences on the ice-cap that could be used for surveying marks,
Dovers had considerable difficulty in keeping a reckoning of our
course. The trouble was overcome by building snow-mounds and taking
back-angles to them with the prismatic compass. At this juncture
we were about ten miles from the shore and could see open water
some thirty miles to the north. Frozen fast within the floe were
great numbers of bergs.
We started off early on December
12 with the aid of a fair breeze over a good surface, so that both
sledges were easily hauled along together. The course was almost
due west, parallel to the coast. Open water came within a few miles
of the ice-cliffs, and, farther north, a heavy belt of pack was
observed. When the sun sank lower, the bergs on the northern horizon
were refracted up to such a degree that they appeared to be hanging
from the sky.
The aid rendered by the sail under the influence
of a fair breeze was well shown on the following day. In four hours,
on a good surface, both sledges were transported seven miles. When
we moved off, the wind was blowing at ten to fifteen miles an hour.
By 10 A.M. the sky became overcast and the wind freshened. Camp
was pitched for lunch at 11 A.M., as we hoped that the weather would
clear again later, but the wind increased and snow began to fall
heavily in the afternoon, so we did not stir. The storm continued
throughout the following day and it was impossible to march until
Continuing the ascent on the 16th out of a valley
we had crossed on the previous day, we halted on the top of a ridge
within view of German ``territory''--a small, dark object
bearing due west, evidently bare rock and presumably Gaussberg.
The course was altered accordingly towards this object and everything
went smoothly for ten miles. Then followed an area where the ice
fell steeply in waves to the sea, crossed by crevasses which averaged
fifty feet in width. The snow-bridges were deeply concave, and the
lower side of each chasm was raised into a ridge five to ten feet
high. Making fast the alpine rope on to the sledges, one of us went
ahead to test the bridge, and then the sledges, one at a time, were
rushed down into the trough and up on the other side. After crossing
ten or more crevasses in this fashion, we were forced to camp by
the approach of a rapidly moving fog driven before a strong westerly
wind. While camp was being prepared, it was discovered that a tin
of kerosene on the front sledge had been punctured causing the loss
of a gallon of fuel. Fortunately, we were well within our allowance,
so the accident was not serious. Soon after tea our attention was
drawn to a pattering on the tent like rain, caused by a fall of
In the morning the weather was clearer, and we
saw that it was impossible to reach Gaussberg by a direct route.
The ice ahead was cleft and split in all directions, and, in places,
vertical faces stood up to a height of one hundred feet. The floe
was littered with hundreds of bergs, and in several localities there
were black spots which resembled small rocks, but it was impossible
to approach close enough to be certain. Retracing the way out of
the broken ice, we steered in a south-westerly direction, just above
the line of serac and crevassed ice. The coast here trended to the
south-west, forming the eastern side of Drygalski's Posadowsky
Bay. The going was heavy, the surface being covered by a layer of
frost-crystals deposited during the night. A fog came up again early
in the afternoon and had quite surrounded us at camping time. During
the day there were fine clouds of ice-crystals in the air, and at
8 P.M. a fog-bow was seen in the east.
Turning out in the
morning we saw Gaussberg peeping over a ridge to the west, but were
still prevented from steering directly towards it by the broken
surface. When we had advanced ten miles, a heavy fog brought us
to a halt at 5 P.M.
On Friday the 20th, in spite of a sticky
surface, thirteen miles was covered on a west-south-west course.
The ice-cap continued to be undulating but free of crevasses. The
altitude was between two thousand five hundred and three thousand
In the morning, after travelling two miles, we came
in sight of Gaussberg again and steered directly towards it. The
surface was good with a downward grade. At five and a quarter miles
a depot was made of the small sledge and most of the food, in expectation
of a clear run to the mountain. Not far ahead, however, were two
broken- backed ridges intersecting the course, and a detour had
to be made to the south to cross them higher up.
day, December 22, was spent in the tent, a move being impossible
on account of the high wind. In the afternoon we walked ahead a
short distance and reconnoitred six or seven crumpled ridges. Though
the barometer had been falling ominously for twenty-four hours,
the bad weather did not continue.
Gaussberg was reached in
the afternoon, after our track had passed through seventeen miles
of dangerous country. For the first few miles the surface consisted
of a series of steep, buckled ice-ridges; later, it was snow-covered,
but at times literally cut into a network of crevasses.
only approach to Gaussberg from the plateau is from the south. To
the east and west there are magnificent ice-falls, the debris from
which litters the floe for miles around.
December 24 and
Christmas Day were devoted to examining the mountain. Dovers made
a long series of observations for longitude, latitude and magnetic
variation, while Hoadley examined the rocks and took
On the southern side, the ice-cap
abuts against this extinct volcano at an elevation of about four
hundred feet above sea-level; the summit of the mountain rises another
eight hundred feet. On the north, the rock descends to the floe.
Gaussberg is pyramidal in shape, falling steeply, from a ridge at
the summit. The sides are covered with a loose rubble of volcanic
fragments, square yards of which commence to slide at the slightest
disturbance. This renders climbing difficult and accounts for the
large numbers of isolated blocks fringing the base.
summit two cairns were found, the bamboo poles which had previously
marked them having blown over. Further examination revealed many
other bamboos which had been used as marks, but no other record
of the visit of the German expedition, ten years before, was met.
Bird life was not plentiful, being limited to a few skuas, Wilson
petrels and snow petrels; the latter nesting under slabs of rock.
There were large quantities of moss where thaw-water had been running.
The ice and snow near the mountain showed evidences of marked
thawing, and we had difficulty in finding a favourable spot for
Christmas Day was gloriously fine, with just sufficient
wind to counteract the heat of the sun. At midday the Christmas
``hamper'' was opened, and it was not long before the only
sign of the plum-pudding was the tin. In the afternoon we ascended
the mountain and left a record in a cairn at the top. By the route
followed, Gaussberg was two hundred and fifteen miles from ``The
Grottoes'' but relay work had made the actual distance covered
three hundred miles.
We had been away from home seven weeks,
and, though there was sufficient food for an outward journey of
another week, there was no indication that the country would change.
Further, from the summit of Gaussberg one could see almost as far
as could be marched in a week. Accordingly it was decided to commence
our return on the 26th, making a course almost due east, thus cutting
out numerous detours which had to be taken on the outward journey.
We left the mountain on December 26, pursuing a course to the
south of our outward track so as to avoid some crevassed ridges.
Ascending steadily against a continuous headwind, we picked up the
second sledge at midday on the 28th.
Next day all the gear
was transferred to one sledge and a course made direct to the Helen
Glacier; the other sledge being abandoned.
On December 31, after a day's
blizzard, the surface was found to be covered with sastrugi of soft
snow eighteen inches to two feet in depth. In crossing a wide crevasse,
the sledge became bogged in the soft snow of a drift which had a
deceptive appearance of solidity. It took us ten minutes to extricate
ourselves, and, after this, crevasses were negotiated at a run.
A violent blizzard raged during the following day--the first
of the New Year 1913. This proved to be a blessing, for it made
the surface more crisp and firm. In the morning the sun was obscured
and nothing was visible but the snow at our feet, so that steering
was very difficult. In the afternoon the sun broke through, a strong
westerly wind sprang up and we moved along at a good pace, covering
more than thirteen miles before camping.
On January 3 the
track bordered on the edge of the plateau, the surface being almost
level, rising gently towards the south.
After a violent blizzard
of three days' duration, which confined us in the tent, we continued
on the same course for four days, averaging about eleven miles each
day. The surface was good, but a strong south-easter blew practically
all the time and reduced our speed considerably.
At 10 A.M.
on January 9, a fog-bank was observed in the east. This rapidly
approached, and in fifteen minutes was quite close. There was now
a splendid display of rings and arcs, caused apparently by minute
ice-crystals which filled the air without obscuring the sun or sky.
First an arc of prismatic colours appeared in the east, and in a
few seconds the sky seemed literally to be covered with other arcs.
At first they seemed to be scattered indiscriminately, but after
a short time several arcs joined and we could discern a symmetrical
arrangement. The sun was surrounded by a ring, the lower portion
of which was broken by an inverted arc; two other arcs were visible
on either side. A large ring appeared encircling the zenith, intersecting
the first and passing through the sun. Two pairs of arcs were also
seen, one pair in each ring. Excepting the arcs and ring about the
zenith, which was grayish-white against the blue sky, the arcs showed
prismatic colouring. The display lasted ten minutes and ended with
the disappearance of the ice-crystals.
shows the arrangement of the arcs:
S = Sun. Z = Zenith. At A,
B, C, mock suns could be seen.
From our camp on the night of
January 10, broken country could be seen ahead. To the north, open
water was visible, and to the north-east the Shackleton Shelf, so
that we were nearing home at last. Here, a heavy snowstorm delayed
us for two and a half days, and it was not till the afternoon of
January 13 that we were able to move ahead.
The next day
was dull, the sun being quite obscured; and the only check upon
the steering was the south-easterly wind. At midday the thermometer
registered 35 degrees F. in the shade, and the surface became quite
sticky. After tea we walked ahead for a couple of hundred yards
to the summit of a ridge where the full extent of the Helen Glacier
was laid before us. It was evident that our position was some miles
north of the true course, but, considering the absence of steering
marks and the constant overcast weather, we considered ourselves
lucky in being so close to it.
The bad weather continued
and snow fell during the following day. On the 16th the light was
better, and we pushed into a strong wind which freshened to the
force of a moderate gale before we had travelled two miles. Approaching
a steep ascent we were compelled to camp. The morning brought an
improvement, and the crossing of the Helen Glacier was commenced
a mile or two above the outward course.
At midday on January
18, over treacherous ice, in the face of strong winds, we were making
good headway towards Junction Corner. Almost daily for a fortnight
a Wilson petrel had visited us, the only form of life seen on the
On the 19th we were not able to move until
8.80 P.M., when the wind, which had been blowing with the force
of a gale, subsided. During the afternoon a magnificent view of
the Helen Glacier was obtained, and in the west we could see Haswell
Island and Drygalski Island.
Continuing on the same course,
throughout the following day, we picked up the hut with the binoculars
at 5 P.M. There now came a quick descent to Junction Corner.
On the lower levels there was clear evidence of thawing having
occurred. The firm surface of snow which had been present on the
outward journey was now converted into rough ice, over which we
walked painfully in finnesko. Neve and ice surfaces were covered
with sharp spicules, and the sides and bridges of crevasses were
Leaving Junction Corner at 6 A.M., we
steered a course for the hut, running parallel to the edge of the
glacier. At 3 P.M. the mast was sighted, and, later, the hut itself.
When within half a mile of ``The Grottoes'' we saw three
figures on the floe and guessed that the eastern party had returned.
In a few minutes greetings were heartily exchanged and they had
welcomed us home.
Instructions had been given that the Western
Base should be in readiness to embark on the `Aurora' not later
than January 30, 1913.
When Wild's party had arrived,
preparations for departure were immediately made. Geological and
biological collections were packed, stores were sorted out and cases
containing personal gear were sledged to the edge of the glacier.
Harrisson contrived a winch for sounding and fishing. Fourteen-gauge
copper wire was wound on it and, through a crack in the sea-ice
a quarter of a mile from the glacier, bottom was reached in two
hundred and sixty fathoms. As the water was too deep for dredging,
Harrisson manufactured cage-traps and secured some fish, a squid,
and other specimens.
At this time there was abundant evidence
of life. Skua gulls frequently flew about the hut, as well as Cape
pigeons, Antarctic, snow, Wilson, giant and silver-grey petrels.
Out on the sea-ice, there were Adelie and Emperor penguins; the
latter moulting. Hundreds of seals were seen with glasses on the
edge of the floe, ten miles to the north.
On the whole, January
was a very fine month. Some of the days seemed really hot; the shade
temperature on one occasion reaching 37 degrees F., and, in several
instances, 33 degrees F. It was quite a common thing for a man to
work outside in loose, light garments; in fact, with nothing more
than a singlet on the upper part of the body.
26, while Kennedy took observations, Wild and the others went for
a walk towards the open water. The surface was very rough and broken
by leads, along which Weddell seals lay in great numbers. Three
miles of ice were found to have drifted out, reducing the northern
expanse to seven miles.
In view of the possibility of the
`Aurora' not relieving them, the party went through their food-supplies,
finding that these were sufficient for another year, with the exception
of meat. With regard to coal, two tons of briquettes remained, which,
augmented by good stock of seal-blubber, would provide sufficient
Laying in a store of seals' flesh and blubber now
became the principal work, and every fine day saw a party out with
a sledge. Unfortunately, the nearest crack on the sea-ice was nearly
two miles away, so that the return journey, with a heavily laden
sledge, was long and tedious. Two holes were dug in the glacier
near the hut, one for blubber and the other for meat.
January 31 six miles of sea-ice still remained, and, if the ship
had arrived to time, a good deal of sledging would have been required
to transport all the gear aboard.
In February, the weather
altered for the worse, and there was not a single fine day until
the 20th. A strong east-southeast wind with falling snow prevailed.
As the days were shortening rapidly, all were beginning to feel
anxious about the `Aurora'.
Wild erected a flagstaff
on the highest ice-pinnacle near ``The Grottoes'' and flew
a large flag on it whenever the wind moderated. On the 16th, a lamp-screen
and reflector were fitted at the mast-head and each night a hurricane
lamp was placed there, which could be seen eight miles with the
On the 20th Dovers and Wild made a large signboard,
taking it out to a prominent point on the glacier, three and a half
miles to the north. It was lashed to a bamboo pole with a flag flying
on it. The open water was then only three miles distant.
``The 22nd February was the
anniversary of the day the `Aurora' left us, but the weather
was very different. A heavy blizzard was raging, the wind's
velocity ranging up to eighty miles per hour. As it was Saturday,
we kept the usual routine, scrubbing out and cleaning up the
hut. We could not help speculating as to whether we should have
to do it for another whole year. But every one had great faith
in `good old Davis,' and nobody was at all downhearted.
``When we `turned out' on Sunday there was still a strong
wind and drift, but this died away to a light breeze before
breakfast was over, and the sun came out. I had a look round
with the glasses and saw that the ice had broken away beyond
a limit of one and a half miles. As there was a sledge, which
Harrisson had been using for sounding, within a few yards of
the water's edge, Jones and I went off to bring it in. We
had gone less than half a mile when we saw what at first appeared
to be a penguin, standing on some pack-ice in the distance,
but which we soon saw was the mast-head of the `Aurora'.
``It was evident that she could not be alongside for some
time, so Jones went back to the hut to tell the others to bring
down a load of gear, and I went on to meet the ship. Before
the `Aurora' had reached the fast ice, all the party were
down with two sledge loads, having covered the mile and a half
in record time.
``We were all anxious, of course, for
news, and the first we received was the sad account of the deaths
of Ninnis and Mertz; then of the wonderful march made by Dr.
``Before closing, I should like to pay a tribute
to the good-fellowship, unfailing industry, enthusiasm and unswerving
loyalty which characterized my comrades. During the whole of
the Expedition, whether carrying out monotonous routine work
at the Base or under the trying conditions of sledging, all
duties were performed with never-failing good temper and perseverance.
``Should it ever be my lot to venture on a like expedition
I hope to have some, if not all, of the same party with me.
But whether we meet again or not, I shall always think of every
man of them with the greatest affection and respect.''
XXIII - A SECOND WINTER