TOIL AND TRIBULATION
The homeward track! A few days ago--only few hours
ago-our hearts had beat hopefully at the prospect and there was
no hint of this, the overwhelming tragedy. Our fellow, comrade,
chum, in a woeful instant, buried in the bowels of the awful glacier.
We could not think of it; we strove to forget it in the necessity
of work, but we knew that the truth would assuredly enter our souls
in the lonely days to come. It was to be a fight with Death and
the great Providence would decide the issue.
On the outward
journey we had left no depots of provisions en route, for it was
our bad fortune to meet such impossible country that we had decided
to make a circuit on our return to Winter Quarters sufficiently
far inland to avoid the coastal irregularities. As a matter of fact,
on the very day of the calamity, preparations had been made to cache
most of the food within twenty-four hours, as during the last few
days of the journey we were to make a dash to our ``farthest east''
point. Such were the plans, and now we were ranged against unexpected
With regard to the dogs, there were six very miserable
animals left. The best of them had been drafted into the rear team,
as it was expected that if an accident happened through the collapse
of a snow-bridge the first sledge would most probably suffer. For
the same reason most of the food and other indispensable articles
had been carried on the rear sledge.
All the dogs which had
perished were big and powerful; Basilisk, Ginger Bitch, Shackleton,
Castor, Franklin and John Bull. We had fully anticipated that those
at least would come back alive, at the expense of the six dogs in
A silent farewell!--and we started back, aiming
to reach our camping-ground on December 12 before a snowstorm intervened,
as several things had been left there which would be of use to us
in our straitened stances. The weather still held good and there
were no signs of approaching snow or wind. So Mertz went ahead on
skis, while we plodded slowly up the hills and dashed recklessly
down them. During the descents I sat on the sledge and we slid over
long crevassed slopes in a wild fashion, almost with a languid feeling
that the next one would probably swallow us up. But we did not much
care then, as it was too soon after losing our friend.
2.30 A.M. on December 15 the discarded sledge and broken spade came
into sight. On reaching them, Mertz cut a runner of the broken sledge
into two pieces which were used in conjunction with his skis as
a framework on which to pitch the spare tent-cover; our only tent
and poles having been lost. Each time the makeshift shelter was
erected, these props had to be carefully lashed together at the
apex, which stood four feet from the ground. Inside, there was just
room for two one-man sleeping-bags on the floor. However, only one
man at a time could move about and neither of us could ever rise
above a sitting posture. Still, it was a shelter which protected
us from the bad weather, and, with plenty of snow blocks piled around
it, was wonderfully resistant to the wind.
When we retired
to rest, it was not to sleep but to think out the best plan for
the return journey.
It was obvious that a descent to the
frozen sea would be dangerous on account of the heavily crevassed
nature of the falling glacier, delay would undoubtedly be caused
and our distance from the Hut would be increased. To decide definitely
for the sea-ice would be to take other risks as well, since, from
the altitude at which we were placed, we could not be sure that
the floe-ice which covered the sea would provide a good travelling
surface. In any case it was likely to be on the point of breaking
up, for the season was nearing midsummer. On the other hand, there
was on the sea-ice a chance of obtaining seals for food.
After due consideration we resolved to follow the shorter route,
returning inland over the plateau, for it was reckoned that if the
weather were reasonable we might win through to Winter Quarters
with one and a half weeks' rations and the six dogs which still
remained, provided we ate the dogs to eke out our provisions. Fortunately
neither the cooker nor the kerosene had been lost.
George, the poorest of the dogs, was killed and
partly fed to the others, partly kept for ourselves. The meat was
roughly fried on the lid of the aluminium cooker, an operation which
resulted in little more than scorching the surface. On the whole
it was voted good though it had a strong, musty taste and was so
stringy that it could not be properly chewed.
As both mugs
and spoons had been lost, I made two pannikins out of tins in which
cartridges and matches had been packed, and Mertz carved wooden
spoons out of a portion of the broken sledge. At this camp he also
spliced the handle of the broken shovel which had been picked up,
so as to make it temporarily serviceable.
It was midsummer,
and therefore we found it easier to drag the sledge over the snow
at night when the surface was frozen hard. Camp was not finally
broken until 6 P.M., when the long and painful return journey
For fourteen miles the way led up rising snow
slopes to the north-west until an elevation of two thousand five
hundred feet had been reached. After that, variable grades and flat
country were met. Though the sledge was light, the dogs required
helping and progress was slow. The midnight sun shone low in the
south, and we tramped on through the morning hours, anxious to reduce
the miles which lay ahead.
Early on December 16 the sky became
rapidly overcast. The snowy land and the snowy sky merged to form
an enclosed trap, as it seemed to us, while showers of snow fell.
There were no shadows to create contrast; it was impossible to distinguish
even the detail of the ground underfoot. We stumbled over unseen
ridges of the hard neve, our gaze straining forward. The air was
so still that advantage was taken of the calm to light the primus
and melt some snow in the lee of the sledge. The water, to which
were added a few drops of primus alcohol, helped to assuage our
The erection of the makeshift tent was a long and
tedious operation, and so, on our return marches, we never again
took any refreshment during the day's work excepting on this
At 6 A.M., having done twenty miles and ascended
to an elevation of about two thousand five hundred feet, we pitched
There was very little sleep for me that day for I had
an unusually bad attack of snow-blindness. During the time that
we rested in the bags Mertz treated one of my eyes three times,
the other twice with zinc sulphate and cocaine.
of the smallness of the tent a great deal of time was absorbed in
preparations for ``turning in'' and for getting away from
each camp. Thus, although we rose before 6 P.M. on December 16,
the start was not made until 8.30 P.M., notwithstanding the fact
that the meal was of the ``sketchiest'' character.
On that night ours was a mournful procession; the sky thickly
clouded, snow falling, I with one eye bandaged and the dog Johnson
broken down and strapped on top of the load on the sledge. There
was scarcely a sound; only the rustle of the thick, soft snow as
we pushed on, weary but full of hope. The dogs dumbly pressed forward
in their harness, forlorn but eager to follow. Their weight now
told little upon the sledge, the work mainly falling upon ourselves.
Mertz was tempted to try hauling on skis, but came to the conclusion
that it did not pay and thenceforth never again used them.
Close to the Magnetic Pole as we were, the compass was of little
use, and to steer a straight course to the west without ever seeing
anything of the surroundings was a difficult task. The only check
upon the correctness of the bearing was the direction in which trended
the old hard winter sastrugi, channelled out along a line running
almost north and south. The newly fallen snow obliterated these,
and frequent halts had to be called in order to investigate the
At 2 A.M. on the 17th we had only covered
eleven miles when we stopped to camp. Then Mertz shot and cut up
Johnson while I prepared the supper.
Johnson had always been
a very faithful, hard-working and willing beast, with rather droll
ways of his own, and we were sorry that his end should come so soon.
He could never be accused of being a handsome dog, in fact he was
generally disreputable and dirty.
All the dogs were miserable
and thin when they reached the stage of extreme exhaustion. Their
meat was tough, stringy and without a vestige of fat. For a change
we sometimes chopped it up finely, mixed it with a little pemmican,
and brought all to the boil in a large pot of water. We were exceedingly
hungry, but there was nothing to satisfy our appetites. Only a few
ounces were used of the stock of ordinary food, to which was added
a portion of dog's meat, never large, for each animal yielded
so very little, and the major part was fed to the surviving dogs.
They crunched the bones and ate the skin, until nothing remained.
A fresh start was made at 7.30 P.M. and a wretched, trying night
was spent, when we marched without a break for twelve and a half
hours. Overhead there was a dense pall of nimbus from which snow
fell at intervals. None of the dogs except Ginger gave any help
with the load, and Mary was so worn out that she had to be carried
on the sledge. Poor Mary had been a splendid dog, but we had to
kill her at the camp in the morning.
After a run of eighteen
and a half miles we halted at 8 A.M. on December 18.
P.M. a light south-easter blew and snow fell from an overcast sky.
Soon after a start was made, it became apparent that a descent was
commencing. In this locality the country had been swept by wind,
for none of the recent snow settled on the surface. The sastrugi
were high and hard, and over them we bumped, slipping and falling
in the uncertain light. We could not endure this kind of travelling
for long and resolved to camp shortly after midnight, intending
to go on when the day had advanced further and the light was stronger.
``December 19.--Up at noon and tried a few more miles in the
snow-glare. Later in the afternoon the sky began to break and we
picked our way with less difficulty. Camped at 5 P.M., having done
only twelve miles one thousand and fifty yards since the morning
of December 18.
``Up at 8 P.M. again, almost calm and sun
shining. Still continuing a westerly course we dropped several hundred
feet, marching over rough, slippery fields of sastrugi.''
In the early morning hours of the 20th the surface changed to
ice and occasional crevasses appeared. It was clear that we had
arrived at the head of the Ninnis Glacier above the zone of serac
we had traversed on the outward journey. It was very satisfactory
to know this; to be certain that some landmark had been seen and
Soon after this discovery we came near losing
Haldane, the big grey wolf, in a crevasse. Miserably thin from starvation
the wretched dogs no longer filled their harness. As we pulled up
Haldane, after he had broken into a deep, sheer-walled crevasse,
his harness slipped off just as he reached the top. It was just
possible to seize hold of his hair at that moment and to land him
safely, otherwise we should have lost many days' rations.
He took to the harness once more but soon became uncertain in
his footsteps, staggered along and then tottered and fell. Poor
brutes! that was the way they all gave in--pulling till they dropped.
We camped at 4 A.M., thinking that a rest would revive Haldane.
Inside the tent some snow was thawed, and we drank the water with
an addition of a little primus spirit. A temperature reading showed
-1 degree F.
Outside, the hungry huskies moaned unceasingly
until we could bear to hear them no longer. The tent was struck
and we set off once more.
Haldane was strapped on the sledge as he could not
walk. He had not eaten the food we had given him, because his jaws
seemed too weak to bite. He had just nursed it between his paws
and licked it.
Before the dogs became as weak as this, great
care had to be taken in tethering them at each camp so as to prevent
them from gnawing the wood of the sledge, the straps or, in fact,
anything at all. Every time we were ready for a fresh start they
seemed to regain their old strength, for they struggled and fought
to seize any scraps, however useless, left on the ground.
The day's march was completed at 10.30 A.M. and fourteen
and a half miles lay behind.
``We were up again at 11.20
P.M. Sky clear; fifteen-mile breeze from the south-south-east and
the temperature 3 degrees F. By midnight there was a thirty-mile
wind and low, flying drift.
``December 21.--The night-march
was a miserable one. The only thing which helped to relieve it was
that for a moment Dixson Island was miraged up in the north, and
we felt that we had met an old friend, which means a lot in this
icy desolation. The surface was furrowed by hard, sharp sastrugi.
``We camped at 9 A.M. after only eleven miles. Haldane
was finished off before we retired.
``We were up again at
9 P.M., and when a start was made at 11 P.M. there was a strong
south-south-east wind blowing, with low drift; temperature, zero
``December 22.--The surface of hard, polished sastrugi
caused many falls. The track was undulating, rising in one case
several hundred feet and finally falling in a long slope.
``Pavlova gave in late in the march and was taken on the sledge.
``Camped at 6.40 A.M. in a forty-mile wind with low drift. Distance
marched was twelve miles one thousand four hundred yards.
``Before turning in, we effected sundry repairs. Mertz re-spliced
the handle of the shovel which had broken apart and I riveted the
broken spindle of the sledge-meter. The mechanism of the latter
had frozen during the previous day's halt, and, on being started,
its spindle had broken off short. It was a long and tedious job
tapping at the steed with a toy hammer, but the rivet held miraculously
for the rest of the journey.
``Up at 11.30 P.M., a moderate
breeze blowing, overcast sky, light snow falling.''
On December 28 an uphill march commenced which was rendered
very heavy by the depth of the soft snow. Pavlova had to be carried
on the sledge.
Suddenly, gaping crevasses appeared dimly
through the falling snow which surrounded us like a blanket. There
was nothing to do but camp, though it was only 4.30 A.M., and we
had covered but five miles one thousand two hundred and thirty yards.
Pavlova was killed and we made a very acceptable soup from her
bones. In view of the dark outlook, our ration of food had to be
still further cut down. We had no proper sleep, hunger gnawing at
us all the time, and the question of food was for ever in our thoughts.
Dozing in the fur bags, we dreamed of gorgeous ``spreads''
and dinner-parties at home. Tramping along through the snow, we
racked our brains thinking of how to make the most of the meagre
quantity of dogs' meat at hand.
The supply of kerosene
for the primus stove promised to be ample, for none of it had been
lost in the accident. We found that it was worth while spending
some time in boiling the dogs' meat thoroughly. Thus a tasty
soup was prepared as well as a supply of edible meat in which the
muscular tissue and the gristle were reduced to the consistency
of a jelly. The paws took longest of all to cook, but, treated to
lengthy stewing, they became quite digestible.
24 we were up at 8 A.M. just as the sun commenced to gleam through
clouds. The light was rather bad, and snow fell as the track zigzagged
about among many crevasses; but suddenly the sun broke forth. The
sledge was crossing a surface of deep snow which soon became so
sticky that the load would scarcely move. At last a halt was made
after four miles, and we waited for the evening, when the surface
was expected to harden.
A small prion visited us but went
off in a moment. It is very remarkable how far some Antarctic sea-birds
may wander inland, apparently at such a great distance from anything
which should interest them. We were then more than one hundred miles
south of the open sea. As the bird flew away, we watched it until
it disappeared in the north, wishing that we too had wings to cross
the interminable plateau ahead.
Lying in the sleeping-bag
that day I dreamt that I visited a confectioner's shop. All
the wares that were displayed measured feet in diameter. I purchased
an enormous delicacy just as one would buy a bun under ordinary
stances. I remember paying the money over the counter, but something
happened before I received what I had chosen. When I realized the
omission I was out in the street, and, being greatly disappointed,
went back to the shop, but found the door shut and ``early closing''
written on it.
Though a good daily average had been maintained
on the march whenever conditions were at all favourable, the continuance
of bad weather and the undoubtedly weaker state in which we found
ourselves made it
imperative to dispense with all but the barest
necessities. Thus the theodolite was the only instrument retained,
and the camera, photographic films (exposed and unexposed), hypsometer,
thermometers, rifle, ammunition and other sundries were all thrown
away. The frame of the tent was made lighter by constructing two
poles, each four feet high, from the telescopic theodolite legs,
the heavier pieces of sledge- runner being discarded.
were up at 11 P.M. on December 24, but so much time was absorbed
in making a dog-stew for Christmas that it was not till 2.80 A.M.
that we got under way. We wished each other happier Christmases
the future, and divided two scraps of biscuit which I found
in my spare kit-bag; relics of better days.
The surface was
a moderately good one of undulating, hard sastrugi, and, as the
course had been altered to north-west, the southerly wind helped
us along. The sun shone brightly, and only for the wind and the
low drift we might have felt tolerably comfortable. On our right,
down within the shallow depression of the Ninnis Glacier, the low
outline of Dixson Island, forty miles to the north, could be seen
miraged up on the horizon.
The tent was raised at 9.30 A.M.
after a run of eleven miles one hundred and seventy-six yards. An
ounce each of butter was served out from our small stock to give
a festive touch to the dog-stew.
At noon I took an observation
for latitude, and, after taking a bearing on to Dixson Island, computed
that the distance in an air-line to Winter Quarters was one hundred
and sixty miles.
``December 26.--Got away at 2 A.M.; the
surface undulating and hummocky with occasional beds of soft snow.
Sun shining, wind ranged between thirty and forty miles per hour
with much low drift; cold; camped about noon having done ten miles
five hundred and twenty-eight yards.
``We have reached the
western side of the Ninnis Glacier. Ahead are rising slopes, but
we look forward to assistance from the wind in the ascent.
``I was again troubled with a touch of snow-blindness, but it
responded to the usual treatment.
``At 11 P.M.we were at
it again,but what with preparing dog-stew, packing up within the
limited area of the tent and experimenting with a sail, it was five
hours before the march commenced.
``The sail was the tent-cover,
attached to the top of one ski lashed vertically as a mast and secured
below to the other ski, lashed across the sledge as a boom.''
A start was made at 4 A.M. on the 27th in a thirty-mile wind
accompanied by low drift. The surface was smooth but grew unexpectedly
soft at intervals, while the ascent soon began to tell on us. Though
the work was laborious, notwithstanding some aid from the sail,
the bright sunlight kept up our spirits, and, whenever a halt was
called for a few minutes' spell, the conversation invariably
turned upon the subject of food and what we should do on arrival
on board the `Aurora'.
At noon the sledge-meter showed
nine miles one thousand four hundred yards, and we agreed to halt
and pitch camp.
The wind had fallen off considerably, and
in the brilliant sunshine it was comparatively warm in the
tent. The addition of the heat from the primus stove, kept burning
for an unusually long time during the preparation of the meat, caused
a thaw of drift-snow which became lodged on the lee side of the
tent. Thus we had frequently to put up with an unwelcome drip. Moisture
came from the floor also, as there was no floor-cloth, and the sleeping-bags
were soon very wet and soggy. As soon as the cooking was finished,
the tent cooled off and the wet walls froze and became stiff with
At this time we were eating largely of the dogs'
meat, to which was added one or two ounces of chocolate or raisins,
three or four ounces of pemmican and biscuit mixed together, and,
as a beverage, very dilute cocoa. The total weight of solid food
consumed by each man per day was approximately fourteen ounces.
Our small supply of butter and glaxo was saved for emergency, while
a few tea-bags which remained were boiled over and over again.
The march commenced on December 28 at 3 A.M. in a thirty-mile
wind accompanied by light drift. Overhead there was a wild sky which
augured badly for the next few days. It was cold work raising the
sail, and we were glad to be marching.
Our faithful retainer
Ginger could walk no longer and was strapped on the sledge. She
was the last of the dogs and had been some sort of a help until
a few days before. We were sad when it came to finishing her off.
On account of the steep up grade and the weight of Ginger on
the sledge, we camped at 7.15 A.M. after only four miles one thousand
two hundred and thirty yards.
We had breakfast off Ginger's
skull and brain. I can never forget the occasion. As there was nothing
available to divide it, the skull was boiled whole. Then the right
and left halves were drawn for by the old and well-established sledging
practice of ``shut-eye,'' after which we took it in turns
eating to the middle line, passing the skull from one to the other.
The brain was afterwards scooped out with a wooden spoon.
On sledging journeys it is usual to apportion all food-stuffs
in as nearly even halves as possible. Then one man turns away and
another, pointing to a heap, asks ``Whose?'' The reply from
the one not looking is ``Yours'' or ``Mine'' as
the case may be. Thus an impartial and satisfactory division of
the rations is made.
After the meal I went on cooking more
meat so as to have a supply in readiness for eating. It was not
till 2 P.M. that the second lot was finished. The task was very
trying, for I had to sit up on the floor of the tent for hours in
a cramped position, continually attending to the cooker, while Mertz
in his Sleeping-bag was just accommodated within the limited space
which remained. The tent was too small either to lie down during
the operation or to sit up comfortably on a sleeping-bag.
At 9.30 P.M. Mertz rose to take a turn at the cooking, and at
11 P.M. I joined him at ``breakfast.''
At this time
a kind of daily cycle was noted in the weather. It was always calmest
between 4 P.M. and 6 P.M. During the evening hours the wind increased
until it reached a maximum between four and six o'clock next
morning, after which it fell off gradually.
We were away
at 2.30 A.M. on the 29th in a thirty-mile wind which raised a light
drift. The sail was found to be of great assistance over a surface
which rose in terraces of fifty to one hundred feet in height, occurring
every one to one and a half miles. This march lasted for six hours,
during which we covered seven miles five hundred and twenty-eight
On December 30 the ascent continued and the wind was
still in the ``thirties.'' After several hours we overtopped
the last terrace and stood on flat ground--the crest of a ridge.
Tramping over the plateau, where reigns the desolation of the
outer worlds, in solitude at once ominous and weird, one is free
to roam in imagination through the wide realm of human experience
to the bounds of the great Beyond. One is in the midst of infinities--the
infinity of the dazzling white plateau, the infinity of the dome
above, the infinity of the time past since these things had birth,
and the infinity of the time to come before they shall have fulfilled
the Purpose for which they were created. We, in the midst of the
illimitable, could feel with Marcus Aurelius that ``Of life, the
time is a point.''
By 9 A.M. we had accomplished
a splendid march of fifteen miles three hundred and fifty yards,
but the satisfaction we should have felt at making such an inroad
on the huge task before us was damped by the fact that I suddenly
became aware that Mertz was not as cheerful as usual. I was at a
loss to know the reason, for he was always such a bright and companionable
At 10.15 P.M. the sky had become overcast, snow
was falling and a strong wind was blowing. We decided to wait for
On New Year's Eve at 5.30 A.M. the
wind was not so strong, so we got up and prepared for the start.
Mertz said that he felt the dogs' meat was not doing him
much good and suggested that we should give it up for a time and
eat a small ration of the ordinary sledging food, of which we had
still some days' supply carefully husbanded. I agreed to do
this and we made our first experiment on that day. The ration tasted
very sweet compared with dogs' meat and was so scanty in amount
that it left one painfully empty.
The light was so atrocious
for marching that, after stumbling along for two and a half miles,
we were obliged to give up the attempt and camp, spending the day
In the evening at 9.30 P.M. the sun appeared
for a brief moment and the wind subsided. Another stage was therefore
attempted but at considerable cost, for we staggered along in the
bewildering light, continually falling over unseen sastrugi. The
surface was undulating with a tendency to down grades. Two sets
of sastrugi were found crossing one another, and, in the absence
of the sun, we could not be sure of the course, so the camp was
pitched niter five miles.
``January 1, 1913.--Outside, an
overcast sky and falling snow. Mertz was not up to his usual form
and we decided not to attempt blundering along in the bad light,
believing that the rest would be advantageous to him.
did not complain at all except of the dampness of his sleeping-bag,
though when I questioned him particularly he admitted that he had
pains in the abdomen. As I had a continuous gnawing sensation in
the stomach, I took it that he had the same, possibly more acute.
``After New Year's Day he expressed a dislike to biscuit,
which seemed rather strange. Then he suddenly had a desire for glaxo
and our small store was made over to him, I taking a considerable
ration of the dogs' meat in exchange.
``It was no use,
however, for when we tried to cover a few more miles the exertion
told very heavily on him, and it was plain that he was in a more
serious condition than myself.
``January 2.--The same abominable
weather. We eat only a few ounces of chocolate each day.
``January 3.--In the evening the sky broke and the sun looked through
the clouds. We were not long in packing up and getting on the way.
The night was chilly and Mertz got frost-bitten fingers, so camp
was pitched after four miles one thousand two hundred and thirty
``January 4.--The sun was shining and we had intended
rising at 10 A.M., but Mertz was not well and thought that the rest
would be good for him. I spent the time improving some of the gear,
mending Mertz's clothing and cooking a quantity of the meat.
``January 5.--The sky was overcast, snow was falling, and there
was a strong wind. Mertz suggested that as the conditions were so
bad we should delay another day.
``Lying in the damp bags
was wretched and was not doing either of us any good, but what was
to be done? Outside, the conditions were abominable. My companion
was evidently weaker than I, and it was apparently quite true that
he was not making much of the dogs' meat.
better day but the sky remained overcast. Mertz agreed to try another
The grade was slightly downhill and the
wind well behind. Unfortunately the surface was slippery and irregular
and falls were frequent. These told very much upon my companion
until, after consistently demurring, he at last consented to ride
on the sledge. With the wind blowing behind us, it required no great
exertion to bring the load along, though it would often pull up
suddenly against sastrugi. After we had covered two and a half miles,
Mertz became so cold through inaction in the wind that there was
nothing to do but pitch the tent.
Mertz appeared to be depressed
and, after the short meal, sank back into his bag without saying
much. Occasionally, during the day, I would ask him how he felt,
or we would return to the old subject of food. It was agreed that
on our arrival on board the `Aurora' Mertz was to make penguin
omelettes, for we had never forgotten the excellence of those we
had eaten just before leaving the Hut.
Reviewing the situation,
I found that we were one hundred miles south-east of Winter Quarters
where food and plenty awaited us. At the time we had still ordinary
rations for several days. How short a distance it would seem to
the vigorous, but what a lengthy journey for the weak and famished!
The skin was peeling off our bodies and a very poor substitute
remained which burst readily and rubbed raw in many places. One
day, I remember, Mertz ejaculated, ``Just a moment,'' and,
reaching over, lifted from my ear a perfect skin-cast. I was able
to do the same for him. As we never took off our clothes, the peelings
of hair and skin from our bodies worked down into our under-trousers
and socks, and regular clearances were made.
During the evening
of the 6th I made the following note in my diary:
and wearisome night. If only I could get on; but I must stop with
Xavier. He does not appear to be improving and both our chances
are going now.''
``January 7.--Up at 8 A.M., it having
been arranged last night that we would go on to-day at all costs,
sledge-sailing, with Xavier in his bag on the sledge.''
It was a sad blow to me to find that Mertz was in a weak state and
required helping in and out of his bag. He needed rest for a few
hours at least before he could think of travelling. ``I have to
turn in again to kill time and also to keep warm, for I feel the
cold very much now.''
``At 10 A.M. I get up to dress
Xavier and prepare food, but find him in a kind of fit.''
Coming round a few minutes later, he exchanged a few words and did
not seem to realize that anything had happened. ``... Obviously
we can't go on to-day. It is a good day though the light is
bad, the sun just gleaming through the clouds. This is terrible;
I don't mind for myself but for others. I pray to God to help
``I cook some thick cocoa for Xavier and give
him beef-tea; he is better after noon, but very low--I have to lift
him up to drink.''
During the afternoon he had several
more fits, then became delirious and talked incoherently until midnight,
when he appeared to fall off into a peaceful slumber. So I toggled
up the sleeping-bag and retired worn out into my own. After a couple
of hours, having felt no movement from my companion, I stretched
out an arm and found that he was stiff.
My comrade had been
accepted into ``the peace that passeth all understanding.''
It was my fervent hope that he had been received where sterling
qualities and a high mind reap their due reward. In his life we
loved him; he was a man of character, generous and of noble parts.
For hours I lay in the bag, rolling over in my mind all that
lay behind and the chance of the future. I seemed to stand alone
on the wide shores of the world--and what a short step to enter
the unknown future!
My physical condition was such that I
felt I might collapse in a moment. The gnawing in the stomach had
developed there a permanent weakness, so that it was not possible
to hold myself up in certain positions. Several of my toes commenced
to blacken and fester near the tips and the nails worked loose.
Outside, the bowl of chaos was brimming with drift-snow and
I wondered how I would manage to break and pitch camp single-handed.
There appeared to be little hope of reaching the Hut. It was easy
to sleep on in the bag, and the weather was cruel outside. But inaction
is hard to brook, and I thought of Service's lines:
up, do your damndest and fight, It's the plugging away that
will win you the day.
If I failed to reach the Hut it would
be something done to reach some prominent point likely to catch
the eye of a search party, where a cairn might be erected and our
diaries cached. And so I commenced to modify the sledge and camping
gear to meet fresh requirements.
The sky remained clouded, but the wind fell off
to a calm which l asted for several hours. I took the opportunity
to set to work on the sledge, sawing it in halves with a pocket
tool. A mast was made out of one of the rails of the discarded half
of the sledge and a spar was cut from the other rail. The sledge-meter,
very much battered, was still serviceable. Lastly, the load was
cut down to a minimum by the elimination of all but the barest necessities.
Late on the evening of the 8th I took the body of Mertz, wrapped
up in his sleeping-bag, outside the tent, piled snow blocks around
it and raised a rough cross made of the two half-runners of the
On January 9 the weather was overcast and fairly
thick drift was flying in a wind reaching about fifty miles an hour.
As certain matters still required attention and my chances of re-erecting
the tent were rather doubtful, if I had decided to move on, the
start was delayed.
``I read the Burial Service over Xavier
this afternoon. As there is little chance of my reaching human aid
alive. I greatly regret inability at the moment to set out the detail
of coastline met with for three hundred miles travelled and observations
of glacier and ice-formations, etc.; the most of which latter are,
of course, committed to my head.
``The approximate location
of the camp is latitude 68 degrees 2' S., longitude 145 degrees
9' E. This is dead reckoning, as the theodolite legs have been
out of action for some time, splinted together to form tent-props.
I believe the truth lies nearer latitude 67 degrees 57' S.,
longitude 145 degrees 20' E., as the wind must have drifted
us to the north.''
During the afternoon I cut up
Mertz's burberry jacket and roughly sewed it to a large canvas
clothes-bag, making a sail which could be readily set or furled,
so as to save delay in starting out or in camping.
10 was an impossible day for travelling on account of thick drift
and high wind. I spent part of the time in reckoning up the amount
of food remaining and in cooking the rest of the dogs' meat;
the last device enabling me to leave behind some of the kerosene,
of which there was still a good supply. Late in the afternoon the
wind fell and the sun peered amongst the clouds just as I was in
the middle of a long job riveting and lashing the broken shovel.
It was on January 11--a beautiful, calm day of sunshine--that
I set out over a good surface with a slight down grade. From the
start my feet felt lumpy and sore. They had become so painful after
a mile of walking that I decided to make an examination of them
on the spot, sitting in the sun on the sledge. The sight of my feet
gave me quite a shock, for the thickened skin of the soles had separated
in each case as a complete layer, and abundant watery fluid had
escaped into the socks. The new skin underneath was very much abraded
I did what appeared to be the best thing under the
stances: smeared the new skin with lanoline, of which there was
a good store, and with bandages bound the skin soles back in place,
as they were comfortable and soft in contact with the raw surfaces.
Outside the bandages I wore six pairs of thick woollen socks, fur
boots and a
crampon over-shoe of soft leather. Then I removed
most of my clothing and bathed in the glorious heat of the sun.
A tingling sensation seemed to spread throughout my whole body,
and I felt stronger and better.
When the day commenced with
ideal weather I thought I would cover a long distance, but at 5.30
P.M., after six and a quarter miles, I felt nerve-worn and had to
camp, ``so worn that had it not been a delightful evening, I should
not have found strength to erect the tent.''
the medical outfit was limited, there were a fair number of bandages
and on camping I devoted much time to tending raw patches all over
the body, festering fingers and inflamed nostrils.
High wind and much drift put travelling out of the
question on January 12, and in any case my feet needed a rest.
``January 13.--The wind subsided and the snow cleared off at
noon. The afternoon was beautifully fine. Descended hard ice-slopes
over many crevasses--almost all descent--but surface cut my feet
up; at 8 P.M. camped, having done five and three-quarter miles--painful
feet--on camping find feet worse than ever; things look bad but
shall persevere. It is now 11 P.M. and the glacier is firing off
like artillery--appears to send up great jets of imprisoned air.''
During the march Aurora Peak showed up to the west, about twenty
miles away, across the Mertz Glacier. I felt happy at thus fixing
my position, and at the sight of the far plateau which led onwards
to Winter Quarters.
The glacier was the next obstacle to
advance. To the south-west it descended from the plateau in immense
broken folds. Pressing northward it was torn into the jumbled crush
of serac-ice, sparkling beneath an unclouded sun. The idea of diverging
to the west and rounding the ice-falls occurred to me, but the detours
involved other difficulties, so I strove to pick out the best track
across the valley.
A high wind which blew on the morning
of the 14th diminished in strength by noon and allowed me to get
away. The sun was so warm that the puckered ice underfoot was covered
with a film of water and in some places small trickles ran away
to disappear into crevasses.
Though the course was downhill
to the Mertz Glacier, the sledge required a good deal of pulling
owing to the wet runners. At 9 P.M., after travelling five miles,
I pitched camp in the bed of the glacier.
Between 9.30 P.M.
and 11 P.M. the ``cannonading'' heard on the previous night
recommenced. The sounds, resembling the explosions of heavy guns,
usually started higher up the glacier and ended down towards the
sea. When I first heard them, I put my head outside the tent to
see what was going on. The reports came at random from every direction,
but there was no visible evidence as to how they were produced.
Without a doubt they had something to do with the re-freezing and
splitting of the ice owing to the evening chill; but the sounds
seemed far too loud to be explained by this cause alone.
January 15--the date on which all the summer sledging parties were
due at the Hut! It was overcast and snowing early in the day, and
in a few hours the sun broke out and shone warmly. The travelling
was so heavy over a soft snowy surface, partly melting, that I gave
up, after one mile, and camped.
At 7 P.M. the surface had
not improved, the sky was thickly obscured and snow fell. At 10
P.M. the snow was coming down heavily, and, since there were many
crevasses in the vicinity, I resolved to wait.
On the 16th
at 2 A.M. the snow was as thick as ever, but at 5 A.M. the atmosphere
lightened and the sun appeared.
Without delay I broke camp.
A favourable breeze sprang up, and with sail set I managed to proceed
through the snowy ``deluge'' in short stages. The snow clung
in lumps to the runners, which had to be scraped frequently. I passed
some broken ridges and sank into several holes leading down to crevasses
out of which it was possible to scramble easily.
toiling up one long slope, I was just catching my breath at the
top and the sledge was running easily when I noticed that the surface
beneath my feet fell away steeply in front. I suddenly realized
that I was on the brink of a great blue hole like a quarry. The
sledge was following of its own accord and was rapidly gaining speed,
so I turned and, exerting every effort, was just able to hold it
back by means of the hauling-line from the edge of the abyss. I
should think that there must have been an interval of quite a minute
during which I held my ground without being able to make it budge.
Then it slowly came my way, and the imminent danger was past.
The day's march was an extremely hard five miles. Before
turning in I had an extra supper of jelly soup, made by boiling
down some of the dogs' sinews, strengthened with a little pemmican.
The acute enjoyment of eating under these circumstances compensates
in a slight measure for the suffering of starvation.
17 was another day of overcast weather and falling snow. Delay meant
a reduction in the ration which was low enough already, so there
was nothing to do but go on.
When I got away at 8 A.M. I
found that the pulling was easier than it had been on the previous
day. Nevertheless I covered only two miles and had to consider myself
fortunate in not winding up the whole story then and there. This
is what happened, following the account in my diary.
up a long, fairly steep slope, deeply covered with soft snow, broke
through lid of crevasse but caught myself at thighs, got out, turned
fifty yards to the north, then attempted to cross trend of crevasse,
there being no indication of it; a few moments later found myself
dangling fourteen feet below on end of rope in crevasse --sledge
creeping to mouth--had time to say to myself, `so this is the end,'
expecting the sledge every moment to crash on my head and all to
go to the unseen bottom--then thought of the food uneaten on the
sledge; but as the sledge pulled up without letting me down, thought
of Providence giving me another chance.'' The chance was
very small considering my weak condition. The width of the crevasse
was about six feet, so I hung freely in space, turning slowly round.
A great effort brought a knot in the rope within my grasp, and,
after a moment's rest, I was able to draw myself up and reach
another, and, at length, hauled myself on to the overhanging snow-lid
into which the rope had cut. Then, when I was carefully climbing
out on to the surface, a further section of the lid gave way, precipitating
me once more to the full length of the rope.
and chilled (for my hands were bare and pounds of snow had got inside
my clothing) I hung with the firm conviction that all was over except
the passing. Below was a black chasm; it would be but the work of
a moment to slip from the harness, then all the pain and toil would
be over. It was a rare situation, a rare temptation--a chance to
quit small things for great--to pass from the petty exploration
of a planet to the contemplation of vaster worlds beyond. But there
was all eternity for the last and, at its longest, the present would
be but short. I felt better for the thought.
was fast ebbing; in a few minutes it would be too late. It was the
occasion for a supreme attempt. New power seemed to come as I addressed
myself to one last tremendous effort. The struggle occupied some
time, but by a miracle I rose slowly to the surface. This time I
emerged feet first, still holding on to the rope, and pushed myself
out, extended at full length, on the snow--on solid ground. Then
came the reaction, and I could do nothing for quite an hour.
The tent was erected in slow stages and I then had a little
food. Later on I lay in the sleeping-bag, thinking things over.
It was a time when the mood of the Persian philosopher appealed
Unborn To-morrow and dead Yesterday,
Why fret about them if To-day be sweet?
I was confronted with this problem: whether it was
better to enjoy life for a few days, sleeping and eating my
fill until the provisions gave out, or to ``plug on'' again
in hunger with the prospect of plunging at any moment into eternity
without the great luxury and pleasure of food. And then an idea
presented itself which greatly improved my prospects. It was to
construct a ladder from alpine rope; one end of which was to be
secured to the bow of the sledge and the other to be carried over
my left shoulder and loosely attached to the sledge harness. Thus,
if I fell into a crevasse again, it would be easy for me, even though
weakened by starvation, to scramble out again by the ladder, provided
the sledge was not also engulfed.
Notwithstanding the possibilities
of the rope ladder, I could not sleep properly at all; my nerves
had been so overtaxed. All night considerable wind and drift continued.
On the 19th it was overcast and light snow was falling. I resolved
``to go ahead and leave the rest to Providence.''
As they wallowed through the deep snow my feet and legs kept
breaking through into space. Then I went right under, but the sledge
was held back and the ladder ``proved trumps.'' A few minutes
later I was down again, but I emerged again without much exertion,
half-smothered with snow. Faintness overcame me and I stopped to
camp, though only a short distance had been covered.
around me was a leaden glare, the snow clouds ``corralling''
me in. The sun had not shown up for some days and I was eager to
see it once more, not only that it might show up the landscape,
but for its cheerful influence and life-giving energy. A few days
previously my condition had been improving, but now it was going
During the night of the 18th loud booming noises, sharp
cracks and muffled growls issued form the neighbouring crevasses
and kept waking me up. At times one could feel a vibration accompanying
the growling sounds, and I concluded that the ice was in rapid motion.
The sun at last appeared on the 19th, and I was off by 8.30
A.M. The whole surface was a network of crevasses, some very wide.
Along one after another of these I dragged the sledge until a spot
was reached where the snow-bridge looked to be firm. Here I plunged
across, risking the consequences.
After three hours'
marching nothing serious had happened and I found myself on safer
ground with a ``pimply'' surface visible ahead, close under
the slopes of the highlands. Once on this I became over-reliant,
and in consequence sank several times into narrow fissures.
At 1 P.M. the Mertz Glacier was at last crossed and I had reached
the rising hills on its western side. Overlooking the camp, five
hundred feet above the glacier, were beetling, crevassed crags,
but I could trace out a good road, free from pitfalls, leading to
the plateau, at an elevation of three thousand feet.
my load for the climb I threw away alpine rope, finnesko crampons,
sundry pairs of worn crampons and socks, while I rubbed a composition
on the sledge-runners which prevented them from sticking to wet
January 20 was a wretched day; overcast, with wind
and light drift. In desperation I got away at 2 P.M. in a wind which
proved to be of considerable assistance. I could see nothing of
my surroundings; one thing was certain, and that was that the ascent
had commenced and every foot took me upward. The day's work
amounted to about two and a half miles.
On the 21st the sun
shone brightly and there was a good following wind. Through deep
snow I zigzagged up for three miles before deciding to camp.
Wind and drift prevailed early on the 22nd but fell away towards
noon, and I was then favoured with a glorious sunny day. Away to
the north was a splendid view of the open sea; it looked so beautiful
and friendly that I longed to be down near it. Six miles had been
covered during the day, but I felt very weak towards the end on
account of the heavy pulling.
During the early hours of the
23rd the sun was visible, but about 8 A.M. the clouds sagged low,
the wind rose and everything became blotted out in a swirl of driving
I wandered on through it for several hours, the sledge
capsizing at times owing to the strength of the wind. It was not
possible to keep an accurate course, for even the wind changed direction
as the day wore on. Underfoot there was soft snow which I found
comfortable for my sore feet, but which made the sledge drag heavily
When camp was pitched at 4 P.M. I reckoned that
the distance covered in a straight line had been three and a half
Erecting the tent single-handed in the high wind was
a task which required much patience and some skill. The poles were
erected first and then the tent was gathered up in the proper form
and taken to the windward side of the legs where it was weighted
down. The flounce on the windward side was got into position and
piled up with snow blocks. Other blocks of snow had previously been
placed in a ring round the legs in readiness to be tumbled on to
the rest of the flounce when the tent was quickly slipped over the
apex of the poles. In very windy weather it was often as much as
two hours after halting before I would be cosy within the shelter
of the tent.
High wind and dense driving snow persisted throughout
the 24th and I made five and a half miles, sitting on the sledge
most of the time with the sail up.
The blizzard continued
on the 25th, but after the trying experience of the previous two
days, I did not feel well enough to go on. Outside, the snow fell
in ``torrents,'' piled up round the tent and pressed in
until it was no bigger than a coffin, of which it reminded me.
I passed most of the day doctoring myself, attending to raw
and inflamed places. Tufts of my beard and hair came out, and the
snowy floor of the tent was strewn with it at every camp.
``January 26.--I went on again in dense, driving snow. There
was no need of the sail. The wind, which was behind, caught the
sledge and bundled it along so that, though over a soft surface
of snow, the travelling was rapid. The snow was in large, rounded
grains, and beat on the tent like hail. Altogether nine miles were
``January 27.--Blizzard-bound again. The previous
day's exertions were too much for me to undertake the same again
without a long rest.
``January 28,--In the morning the wind
had moderated very much but the sky remained overcast and snow continued
to fall. It was a long job digging the tent out. Soon after the
start the sun gleamed and the weather improved. The three-thousand-foot
crest of the plateau had been crossed and I was bearing down rapidly
on Commonwealth Bay, the vicinity of which showed up as a darker
patch on the clouds of the north-west horizon.
was fine and I really began to feel that Winter Quarters were approaching.
To increase my excitement Madigan Nunatak came into view for a time
in the clear, evening light. Distance covered, over eight miles.''
The calm of the previous evening was broken again, and I started
on the morning of January 29 in considerable drift and a fairly
strong wind. After going five miles I had miraculous good fortune.
I was travelling along on an even down grade and was wondering
how long the two pounds of food which remained would last, when
something dark loomed through the drift a short distance away to
the right. All sorts of possibilities fled through my mind as I
headed the sledge for it. The unexpected happened--it was a cairn
of snow erected by McLean, Hodgeman and Hurley, who had been out
searching for us. On the top of the mound was a bag of food, left
on the chance that it might be picked up, while in a tin was a note
stating the bearing and distance of the mound from Aladdin's
Cave (E. 30 degrees S., distance twenty-three miles), that the Ship
had arrived at the Hut and was waiting, that Amundsen had reached
the Pole, and that Scott was remaining another year in Antarctica.
It was rather a singular fact that the search party only left
this mound at eight o'clock on the morning of that very day
(January 29). It was about 2 P.M. when I found it. Thus, during
the night of the 28th, our camps had been only about five miles
With plenty of food, I speedily felt stimulated and
revived, and anticipated reaching the Hut in a day or two, for there
was then not more than twenty-three miles to cover. Alas, however,
there was to be another delay. I was without crampons--they had
been thrown away on the western side of Mertz Glacier--and in the
strong wind was not able to stand up on the slippery ice of the
coastal slopes. The result was that I sat on the sledge and ran
along with the wind, nibbling at the food as I went. The sledge
made so much leeway that near the end of the day, after fourteen
miles, I reckoned that I had been carried to the east of Aladdin's
Cave. The course was therefore changed to the west, but the wind
came down almost broadside-on to the sledge, and it was swept away.
The only thing to do was to camp.
On the 30th I cut up the
box of the theodolite and into two pieces of wood stuck as many
screws and tacks as I could procure from the sledge-meter. In the
repair-bag there were still a few ice-nails which at this time were
of great use. Late in the day the wind fell off, and I started westward
over the ice-slopes with the pieces of nail-studded wood lashed
to my feet.
After six miles these improvised crampons broke
up, and the increasing wind got me into difficulties. Finally, the
sledge slipped sideways into a narrow crevasse and was caught by
the boom (which crossed from side to side at the lower part of the
mast). I was not strong enough for the job of extricating it straight
away, and by the time I had got it safely on the ice, the wind had
increased still more. So I pitched camp.
The blizzard was
in full career on January 31 and I spent all day and until late
at night trying to make the crampons serviceable, but without success.
On February 1 the wind and drift subsided late in the afternoon,
and I clearly saw to the west the beacon which marked Aladdin's
At 7 P.M. I reached this haven within the ice, and
never again was I to have the ordeal of pitching the tent. Inside
the cave were three oranges and a pineapple which had been brought
from the Ship. It was wonderful once more to be in the land of such
I waited to mend one of the crampons and then started
off for the Hut; but a blizzard had commenced. To descend the five
miles of steep icy slopes with my miserable crampons, in the weak
state in which I found myself, would only have been as a last resort.
So I camped in the comfortable cave and hoped for better weather
The high wind, rising to a hurricane at times,
continued for a whole week with dense drift until the 8th. I spent
the long hours making crampons of a new pattern, eating and sleeping.
Eventually I became so anxious that I used to sit outside the cave
for long spells, watching for a lull in the wind.
I resolved to go down in the blizzard, sitting on the sledge as
long as possible, blown along by the wind. I was making preparations
for a start when the wind suddenly decreased and my opportunity
In a couple of hours I was within one mile and
a half of the Hut. There was no sign of the Ship lying in the offing,
but I comforted myself with the thought that she might be still
at the anchorage and have swung inshore so as to be hidden by the
ice-cliffs, or on the other hand that Captain Davis might have been
along the coast to the east searching there.
But even as
I gazed about seeking for a clue, a speck on the north- west horizon
caught my eye and my hopes went down. It looked like a distant ship;
it might well have been the `Aurora'. Well, what matter! the
long journey was at an end-a terrible chapter of my life was finished!
Then the rocks around Winter Quarters began to come into view,
part of the basin of the boat harbour appeared, and lo! there were
human figures! They almost seemed unreal--I was in a dream--but
after a brief moment one of them saw me and waved an arm, I replied,
there was a commotion and they all ran towards the Hut. Then they
were lost, for the crest of the first steep slope hid them. It almost
seemed to me that they had run away to hide.
and I slowly went along with the sledge. Then a head rose over the
brow of the hill and there was Bickerton, breathless after a long
run. I expect he considered for a while which one of us it was.
Soon we had shaken hands and he knew all in a few brief words, and
I learned that the Ship had left earlier in the day. Madigan, McLean,
Bage and Hodgeman arrived, and then a new-comer- Jeffryes. Five
men had remained behind to make a search for our party, and Jeffryes
was a new wireless operator brought down by Captain Davis.
We were soon at the Hut where I found that full preparations
had been made for wintering a second year. The weather was calm
and the Ship was no distance away so I decided to recall her by
wireless. The masts at the Hut had been re-erected during the summer,
and on board the `Aurora' Hannam was provided with a wireless
receiving set. Jeffryes had arranged with Hannam to call up at 8,
9 and 10 P.M. for several evenings while the `Aurora' was ``within
range'' in case there were any news of my party. A message
recalling the Ship was therefore sent off and repeated at frequent
intervals till past midnight.
Next morning there was a forty-mile
wind when we went outside, but away across Commonwealth Bay to the
west the `Aurora' could be seen close to the face of the ice-cliffs.
She had returned in response to the call and was steaming up and
down, waiting for the wind to moderate.
We immediately set
to work getting all the records, instruments and personal gear ready
to be taken down to the boat harbour in anticipation of calm weather
during the day.
The wind chose to continue and towards evening
was in the sixties, while the barometer fell. During the afternoon
Hodgeman went across to the western ridge and saw that the Ship
was still in the Bay. The sea was so heavy that the motor-boat could
never have lived through it.
That night Jeffryes sent another
message, which we learned afterwards was not received, in which
Captain Davis was given the option of remaining until calm weather
supervened or of leaving at once for the Western Base. I felt that
the decision should be left to him, as he could appreciate exactly
the situation of the Western Base and what the Ship could be expected
to do amid the ice at that season of the year. The time was already
past when, according to my written instructions left for him on
arrival at Commonwealth Bay, the `Aurora' should sail west to
relieve Wild and his party.
On the morning of the 10th there
was no sign of the Ship and evidently Captain Davis had decided
to wait no longer, knowing that further delay would endanger the
chances of picking up the eight men who had elected to winter on
the shelf-ice one thousand five hundred miles to the west. At such
a critical moment determination, fearless and swift, was necessary,
and, in coming to his momentous decision, Captain Davis acted well
and for the best interests of the Expedition.
A long voyage
lay before the `Aurora' through many miles of ice-strewn sea,
swept by intermittent blizzards and shrouded now in midnight darkness.
We still fostered the hope that the vessel's coal-supply would
be sufficient for her to return to Adelie Land and make an attempt
to pick us up. But it was not to be.
The long Antarctic winter
was fast approaching and we turned to meet it with resolution, knowing
that if the `Aurora' failed us in early March, that the early
summer of the same year would bring relief.
CHAPTER XIV - THE QUEST
OF THE SOUTH MAGNETIC POLE