EASTWARD OVER THE SEA-ICE
by C. T. MADIGAN
Harnessed and girt in his canvas bands,
and roped to his load;
With helmeted head and bemittened hands,
This for his spur and his goad:
``Out in the derelict fastnesses
Some whit of truth may be won.''
Be it a will
o' the wisp, he will fare
Forth to the rising sun.
The Sledge Horse
The Eastern Coastal party consisted of Dr. A. L.
McLean, P. E. Correll and myself. For weeks all preparations had
been made; the decking put on the sledge, runners polished, cooker-
and instrument-boxes attached, mast erected, spar and sail rigged,
instruments and clothing collected, tent strengthened--all the impedimenta
of a sledge journey arranged and rearranged, and still the blizzard
raged on. Would we never get away? November arrived, and still the
wind kept up daily averages of over fifty miles per hour, with scarce
a day without drifting snow.
At last it was decided that
a start must soon be made even though it ended in failure, so that
we received orders to set out on November 6, or the first possible
day after it.
Friday November 8 broke, a clear driftless
day, and Murphy's party left early in the morning. By noon,
Stillwell's party (Stillwell, Hodgeman and Close), and we, were
ready to start. The former were bound on a short journey to the
near east and were to support us until we parted company.
All was bustle and excitement. Every one turned out to see us
off. Breaking an empty sauce-bottle over the bow of our sledge,
we christened it the M.H.S. Championship (Man-Hauled Sledge). The
name was no boastful prevision of mighty deeds, as, at the Hut,
a ``Championship'' was understood to mean some careless
action usually occasioning damage to property, while our party included
several noted ``champions.''
Mertz harnessed a dog-team
to the sledge and helped us up the first steep slope. With hearty
handshakes and a generous cheer from the other fellows, we started
off and were at last away, after many months of hibernation in the
Hut, to chance the hurricanes and drifting snow and to push towards
the unknown regions to the east.
At the steepest part of
the rise we dismissed our helpers and said good-bye. McLean and
Correll joined me on the sledge and we continued on to Aladdin's
As we mounted the glacier the wind increased, carrying
surface drift which obscured the view to within one hundred yards.
It was this which made us pass the Cave on the eastern side and
pull up on a well-known patch of snow in a depression to the south
of our goal. It was not long before a momentary clearing of the
drift showed Aladdin's Cave with its piles of food-tanks, kerosene,
dog biscuit and pemmican, and, to our dismay, a burberry-clad figure
moving about among the accumulation. Murphy's party were in
possession when we expected them to be on the way south to another
cave--the Cathedral Grotto--eleven and three-quarter miles from
the Hut. Of course the rising wind and drift had stopped them.
It was then 5 P.M., so we did not wait to discuss the evident
proposition as to which of the three parties should occupy the Cave,
but climbed down into it at once and boiled up hoosh and tea. Borrowing
tobacco from the supporting parties, we reclined at ease, and then
in that hazy atmosphere so dear to smokers, its limpid blue enhanced
by the pale azure of the ice, we introduced the subject of occupation
as if it were a sudden afterthought.
It was soon decided
to enlarge the Cave to accommodate five men, the other four consenting
to squeeze into Stillwell's big tent. McLean volunteered to
join Stillwell's party in the tent, while Correll and I were
to stay in the Cave with Murphy and company.
I went outside
and selected ten weeks' provisions from the pile of food-tanks
and piled them beside the sledge. McLean attended to the thermograph
which Bage and I had installed in the autumn. Meanwhile, in a fifty-mile
wind, Stillwell and his men erected the tent. Hunter and Laseron
started with picks and shovels to enlarge the Cave, and, working
in relays, we had soon expanded it to eight feet by seven feet.
The men from the tent came down to ``high dinner'' at
eight o'clock. They reported weather conditions unimproved and
the temperature -3 degrees F.
Early next morning I dug my
way out and found that the surface drift had increased with a wind
of fifty-five miles per hour. It was obviously impossible to start.
After breakfast it was arranged that those outside should have
their meals separately, digging down at intervals to let us know
the state of the weather. It was not pleasant for us, congested
as we were in the Cave, to have visitors sliding down through the
opening with a small avalanche of snow in their train. Further,
to increase their own discomfort, they arrived covered in snow,
and what they were unable to shake off thawed and wet them, subsequently
freezing again to the consistency of a starched collar.
opening was, therefore, kept partly closed with a food-tank. The
result was that a good deal of snow came in, while the hole diminished
in size. For a man to try to crawl out in stiff burberrys appeared
as futile as for a porcupine to try to go backwards up a canvas
The day passed slowly in our impatience. We took turns
at reading `The Virginian', warmed by a primus stove which in
a land of plenty we could afford to keep going. Later in the afternoon
the smokers found that a match would not strike, and the primus
went out. Then the man reading said that he felt unwell and could
not see the words. Soon several others commented on feeling ``queer,''
and two in the sleeping-bags had fallen into a drowsy slumber.
On this evidence even the famous Watson would have ``dropped to
it,'' but it was some time before it dawned on us that the
oxygen had given out. Then there was a rush for shovels. The snow,
ice and food-tank were tightly wedged, at the mouth of the entrance,
and it took some exertion to perforate through to the outside air
with an ice-axe. At once every one speedily recovered. Later, another
party had a worse experience, not forgetting to leave a warning
note behind them. We should have done the same.
was no better by the evening, and during the night the minimum thermometer
registered -12 degrees F.
At six o'clock on Sunday morning,
November 10, McLean dug down to us with the news that the wind had
abated to thirty miles per hour with light surface drift.
We hurried through breakfast, rolled up the bags and started
packing the sledge. Three 100-lb. food-tanks, one 50-lb. bag opened
for ready use, and four gallons of kerosene were selected. Stillwell
took for us a 50-lb. food-tank, a 56-lb. tin of wholemeal biscuits,
and a gallon of kerosene. With the 850 lbs. of food, 45 lbs. of
kerosene, three sleeping-bags of 10 lbs. each, a tent of 40 lbs.,
86 lbs. of clothing and personal gear for three men, a cooker, primus,
pick, shovel, ice-axe, alpine rope, dip-circle, theodolite, tripod,
smaller instruments such as aneroid, barometer and thermometer,
tools, medical outfit and sledge-fittings, our total load amounted
to nearly 800 lbs., and Stillwell's was about the same.
All were ready at 9 A.M., and, shaking hands with Murphy's
party, who set off due south, we steered with Stillwell to the south-east.
The preliminary instructions were to proceed south-east from the
Cave to a distance of eighteen miles and there await the arrival
of Dr. Mawson and his party, who were to overtake us with their
The first few miles gave a gradual rise of one
hundred feet per mile, so that, with a heavy load against wind and
drift, travelling was very slow. The wind now dropped to almost
calm, and the drift cleared. In the afternoon progress was hampered
by crevasses, which were very frequent, running east and west and
from one to twenty feet in width. The wider ones were covered with
firm snow-bridges; the snow in places having formed into granular
and even solid ice. What caused most delay were the detours of several
hundreds of yards which had to be made to find a safe crossing
over a long, wide crevasse. At 6.30 P.M. we pitched camp, having
only made five miles from the Cave.
We got away at 9 A.M.
the next morning. Throughout the whole journey we thought over the
same mysterious problem as confronted many another sledger: Where
did the time go to in the mornings? Despite all our efforts we could
not cut down the interval from ``rise and shine'' to the
start below two hours.
Early that day we had our first experience
of the treacherous crevasse. Correll went down a fissure about three
feet wide. I had jumped across it, thinking the bridge looked thin,
but Correll stepped on it and went through. He dropped vertically
down the full length of his harness--six feet. McLean and I soon
had him out. The icy walls fell sheer for about sixty feet, where
snow could be seen in the blue depths. Our respect for crevasses
rapidly increased after this, and we took greater precautions, shuddering
to think of the light-hearted way we had trudged over the wider
At twelve miles, blue, wind-swept ice gave place to
an almost flat snow surface. Meanwhile the sky had rapidly clouded
over, and the outlook was threatening. The light became worse, and
the sastrugi indistinguishable. Such a phenomenon always occurs
on what we came to call a ``snow-blind day.'' On these days
the sky is covered with a white, even pall of cloud, and cloud and
plateau seem as one. One walks into a deep trench or a sastruga
two feet high without noticing it. The world seems one huge, white
void, and the only difference between it and the pitch-dark night
is that the one is white and the other black.
commenced at 2.30 P.M., the wind rising to forty-five miles per
hour with heavy drift. Thirteen miles out we pitched camp.
This, the first ``snow-blind day'' claimed McLean for
its victim. By the time we were under cover of the tent, his eyes
were very sore, aching with a throbbing pain. At his request I placed
a zinc-cocaine tablet in each eye. He spent the rest of the day
in the darkness of his sleeping-bag and had his eyes bandaged all
next day. Up till then we had not worn goggles, but were careful
afterwards to use them on the trying, overcast days.
four and a half days the weather was too bad to travel. On the 14th
the wind increased and became steady at sixty miles per hour, accompanied
by dense drifting snow. We found it very monotonous lying in the
tent. As always happens during heavy drifts, the temperature outside
was high, on this day averaging about 12 degrees F.; inside the
tent it was above freezing-point, and the accompanying thaw was
Stillwell's party had pitched their
tent about ten paces to the leeward side of ours, of which stratagem
they continually reminded us. Going outside for food to supply our
two small meals per day was an operation fraught with much discomfort
to all. This is what used to happen. The man on whom the duty fell
had to insinuate himself into a bundle of wet burberrys, and, as
soon as he was outside, they froze stiff. When, after a while, he
signified his intention of coming in, the other two would collect
everything to one end of the tent and roll up the floor-cloth. Plastered
with snow, he entered, and, despite every precaution, in removing
burberrys and brushing himself he would scatter snow about and increase
the general wetness. On these excursions we would visit Stillwell's
tent and be hospitably, if somewhat gingerly, admitted; the inmates
drawing back and pulling away their sleeping-bags as from one with
a fell disease. As a supporting party they were good company, among
other things, supplying us with tobacco ad libitum. When we parted,
five days after, we missed them very much.
During the night
the wind blew harder than ever--that terrible wind, laden with snow,
that blows for ever across the vast, mysterious plateau, the ``wind
that shrills all night in a waste land, where no one comes or hath
come since the making of the world.'' In the early hours
of the morning it reached eighty miles per hour.
9 next morning did the sky clear and the drift diminish. Considering
that it had taken us eight days to do thirteen miles, we decided
to move on the 16th at any cost.
Our library consisted of
`An Anthology of Australian Verse', Thackeray's `Vanity
Fair' and `Hints to Travellers' in two volumes. McLean spent
much of the time reading the Anthology and I started `Vanity Fair'.
The latter beguiled many weary hours in that tent during the journey.
I read a good deal aloud and McLean read it afterwards. Correll
used to pass the days of confinement arranging rations and costs
for cycling tours and designing wonderful stoves and cooking utensils,
all on the sledging, ``cut down weight'' principle.
On the 16th we were off at 9 A.M. with a blue sky above and
a ``beam'' wind of thirty-five miles per hour. Up a gentle
slope over small sastrugi the going was heavy. We went back to help
Stillwell's party occasionally, as we were moving a little faster.
Just after lunch I saw a small black spot on the horizon to
the south. Was it a man? How could Dr. Mawson have got there? We
stopped and saw that Stillwell had noticed it too. Field-glasses
showed it to be a man approaching, about one and a half miles away.
We left our sledges in a body to meet him, imagining all kinds of
wonderful things such as the possibility of it being a member of
Wild's party--we did not know where Wild had been landed. All
the theories vanished when the figure assumed the well-known form
of Dr. Mawson. He had made a little more south than we, and his
sledges were just out of sight, about two miles away.
Mertz and Ninnis came into view with a dog-team, which was harnessed
on to one sledge. All hands pulled the other sledge, and we came
up fifteen minutes later with Dr. Mawson's camp at eighteen
and a quarter miles. In the good Australian way we sat round a large
pot of tea and after several cups put up our two tents.
was a happy evening with the three tents grouped together and the
dogs securely picketed on the great plateau, forming the only spot
on the limitless plain. Every one was excited at the prospect of
the weeks ahead; the mystery and charm of the ``unknown''
had taken a strange hold on us.
Ninnis and Mertz came
into our tent for a short talk before turning in. Mertz sang the
old German student song:
Studio auf einer Reis'
zu helfen weis
Immer fort durch's Dick und Dunn
Schlendert es durch's Leben hin.
We were nearly all University graduates. We knew
that this would be our last evening together till all were safely
back at the Hut. No thought was farther from our minds than that
it was the last evening we would ever spend with two companions,
who had been our dear comrades for just a year.
into sleeping-bags, a messenger brought me dispatches from the general's
tent--a letter on the plateau. This proved to be the instructions
to the Eastern Coastal Party. Arriving back at the Hut by January
15, we were to ascertain as much as possible of the coast lying
east of the Mertz Glacier, investigating its broad features and
carrying out the following scientific work: magnetic, biological
and geological observations, the character, especially the nature
and size of the grains of ice or snow surfaces, details of sastrugi,
topographical features, heights and distances, and meteorology.
On Sunday, November 17, we moved on together to the east with
the wind at fifteen miles an hour, the temperature being 9 degrees
F. The sun shone strongly soon after the start, and with four miles
to our credit a tent was run up at 1 P.M., and all lunched together
on tea, biscuit, butter and chocolate. Up to this time we had had
only three al fresco lunches, but, as the weather seemed to be much
milder and the benefit of tea and a rest by the way were so great,
we decided to use the tent in future, and did so throughout the
In the afternoon, Dr. Mawson's party forged
ahead, the dogs romping along on a downhill grade. We took the bit
in our teeth as we saw them sitting on their sledges, growing smaller
and smaller in front of us. We came up with them again as they had
waited to exchange a few more words at a point on the track where
a long extent of coast to the east came into view.
bade a final adieu to Dr. Mawson, Mertz and Ninnis. The surface
was on the down grade towards the east, and with a cheer and farewell
wave they started off, Mertz walking rapidly ahead, followed by
Ninnis and Dr. Mawson with their sledges and teams. They were soon
lost to view behind the rolling undulations.
A mile farther
on we pitched camp at 8 P.M. in a slight depression just out of
sight of the sea. Every one slept soundly after a good day's
November 18 was a bright dazzling day, the sky dotted
with fleecy alto-cumulus. At 6 A.M. we were out to find Stillwell's
party moving in their tent. There was a rush for shovels to fill
the cookers with snow and a race to boil hoosh.
At this camp
we tallied up the provisions, with the intention of taking what
we might require from Stillwell and proceeding independently of
him, as he was likely to leave us any day. There were fifty-nine
days to go until January 15, 1913, the latest date of arrival back
at the Hut, for which eight weeks' rations were considered to
be sufficient. There were seven weeks' food on the sledge, so
Stillwell handed over another fifty-pound bag as well as an odd
five pounds of wholemeal biscuit. The total amount of kerosene was
five gallons, with a bottle of methylated spirit.
after eight o'clock we caught sight of Dr. Mawson's camp,
and set sail to make up the interval. This we did literally as there
was a light westerly breeze--the only west wind we encountered during
the whole journey.
The sledge was provided with a bamboo
mast, seven feet high, stepped behind the cooker-box and stayed
fore and aft with wire. The yard was a bamboo of six feet, slung
from the top of the mast, its height being varied by altering the
length of the slings. The bamboo was threaded through canvas leads
in the floor-cloth which provided a spread of thirty square feet
of sail. It was often such an ample area that it had to be reefed
With the grade sloping gently down and the wind
freshening, the pace became so hot that the sledge often overran
us. A spurious ``Epic of the East'' (see `Adelie Blizzard')
Crowd on the sail--
Let her speed full
and free ``on the run''
Over knife-edge and glaze,
marble polish and pulverized chalk
The finnesko glide
in the race, and there's no time for talk.
It's all in the game and the fun.
We rapidly neared Dr. Mawson's camp, but when
we were within a few miles of it, the other party started in a south-easterly
direction and were soon lost to sight. Our course was due east.
At thirty-three and a half miles the sea was in sight, some
fine flat-topped bergs floating in the nearest bay. Suddenly a dark,
rocky nunatak sprang into view on our left. It was a sudden contrast
after ten days of unchanging whiteness, and we felt very anxious
to visit this new find. As it was in Stillwell's limited territory
left it to him.
According to the rhymester it was:
A rock by the way--
A spot in the circle
A grey, craggy spur plunging stark through
the deep-splintered ice.
A trifle! you say, but a glow
of warm land may suffice
To brighten a day
to a midsummer night.
After leaving Aladdin's Cave, our sledge-meter
had worked quite satisfactorily. Just before noon, the casting attaching
the recording-dial to the forks broke--the first of a series of
break-downs. Correll bound it up with copper wire and splints borrowed
from the medical outfit.
The wind died away and the sail
was of little use. In addition to this, we met with a slight up
grade on the eastern side of the depression, our rate diminishing
accordingly. At 7 P.M. the tent was pitched in dead calm, after
a day's run of fifteen miles with a full load of almost eight
hundred pounds--a record which remained unbroken with us till near
the end of the outward journey. Looking back, the nunatak and bergs
were still visible.
Both parties were under way at 8 A.M.
next day (November 19) on a calm and sunny morning. The course by
sun-compass was set due east.
At noon I took a latitude
``shot'' with the three-inch Cary theodolite. This little
instrument proved very satisfactory and was easily handled in the
cold. In latitude 67 degrees 15' south, forty- six and a half
miles east of the Hut, we were once more on level country with a
high rise to the north-east and another shallow gully
A fog which had been moving along the sea-front in an opaque
wall drifted over the land and enveloped us. Beautiful crystals
of ice in the form of rosettes and small fern-fronds were deposited
on the cordage of the sail and mast. One moment the mists would
clear, and the next, we could not see more than a few hundred yards.
We now parted with Stillwell, Hodgeman and Close, who turned
off to a rising knoll--Mount Hunt--visible in the north-east, and
disappeared in the fog.
After the halt at noon the sastrugi
became much larger and softer. The fog cleared at 2 P.M. and the
sun came out and shone very fiercely. A very inquisitive skua gull--the
first sign of life we had seen thus far--flew around the tent and
settled on the snow near by. In the calm, the heat was excessive
and great thirst attacked us all the afternoon, which I attempted
to assuage at every halt by holding snow in my hands and licking
the drops of water off my knuckles—--a cold and unsatisfactory expedient.
We travelled without burberrys--at that time quite a novel sensation--wearing
only fleece suits and light woollen undergarments. Correll pulled
for the greater part of the afternoon in underclothing alone.
At forty-nine and a half miles a new and wonderful panorama
opened before us. The sea lay just below, sweeping as a narrow gulf
into the great, flat plain of debouching glacier-tongue which ebbed
away north into the foggy horizon. A small ice-capped island was
set like a pearl in the amethyst water. To the east, the glacier
seemed to fuse with the blue line of the hinterland. Southward,
the snowy slope rose quickly, and the far distance was unseen.
We marched for three-quarters of a mile to where a steep down
grade commenced. Here I made a sketch and took a round of angles
to all prominent features, and the conspicuous, jutting, seaward
points of the glacier. McLean and Correll were busy making a snow
cairn, six feet high, to serve as a back-sight for angles to be
taken at a higher eminence southward.
We set out for the
latter, and after going one and a half miles it was late enough
to camp. During the day we had all got very sunburnt, and our faces
were flushed and smarting painfully. After the long winter at the
Hut the skin had become more delicate than usual.
clear sky, the wind came down during the night at forty-five miles
per hour, lashing surface drift against the walls of the tent. It
was not till ten o'clock that the sledge started, breaking a
heavy trail in snow which became more and more like brittle piecrust.
There was at first a slight descent, and then we strained up the
eminence to the south over high sastrugi running almost north and
south. Capsizes became frequent, and to extricate the heavy sledge
from some of the deep furrows it was necessary to unload the food-bags.
The drift running over the ground was troublesome when we sat down
for a rest, but, in marching, our heads were just clear of it.
It was a long laborious day, and the four miles indicated by
the inexorable sledge-meter seemed a miserable result. However,
near the top of the hill there was a rich reward. A small nunatak
slanted like a steel-blue shadow on the side of a white peak to
the south-west. There was great excitement, and the sledge slid
along its tracks with new life. It was rock without a doubt, and
there was no one to dispute it with us. While speculating wildly
as to its distance, we came unexpectedly to the summit of the hill.
The wind had subsided, the sky was clear and the sun stood low
in the south-west. Our view had widened to a noble outlook. The
sea, a delicate turquoise-blue, lay in the foreground of the low,
white, northern ice-cliffs. Away to the east was the dim suggestion
of land across the bed of the glacier, about which circled the southerly
highlands of the plateau, buried at times in the haze of distance.
Due south, twenty miles away, projecting from the glacier, was another
island of rock. The nunatak first seen, not many miles to the south-west,
was a snowy mountain streaked with sprouting rock, rising solitary
in an indentation of the land. We honoured our Ship by calling it
Aurora Peak, while our camp stood on what was thenceforth to be
It was obvious that this was the place for
our first depot. I had decided, too, to make it the first magnetic
station and the point from which to visit and explore Aurora Peak.
None of us made any demur over a short halt. Correll had strained
his back during the day from pulling too hard, and was troubled
with a bleeding nose. My face was very sore from sunburn, with one
eye swollen and almost closed, and McLean's eyes had not yet
recovered from their first attack of snow-blindness.
21 was a day in camp. Most of the morning I spent trying, with Correll's
help, to get the declination needle to set. Its pivot had been destroyed
in transit and Correll had replaced it by a gramophone needle, which
was found too insensitive. There was nothing to do but use the three-inch
theodolite, which, setting to one degree, would give a good result,
with a mean of thirty-two settings, for a region with such variable
magnetic declination. A latitude ``shot'' was made at noon,
and in the afternoon I took a set of dip determinations. These,
with a panoramic sketch from the camp, a round of angles to conspicuous
points and an observation at 5.30 P.M. for time and azimuth completed
the day's work. Correll did the recording.
McLean had built an eight-feet snow mound, erected a depot flag
upon it and taken several photographs.
The next day was devoted
to an excursion to Aurora Peak. The weather was, to our surprise,
quite clear and calm. Armed with the paraphernalia for a day's
tour, we set off down the slope. Correll put the primus stove and
the inner pot of the cooker in the ready food-bag, McLean slung
on his camera and the aneroid barometer, while I took my ruck-sack
with the rations, as well as field-glasses and an ice-axe. In case
of crevasses, we attached ourselves to an alpine rope in long procession.
According to the ``Epic'' it was something like this:
We saddled up, adventure-bent;
up the house--I mean the tent--
enough for three young men
With appetite to equal ten.
A day's outing across the vale.
Aurora Peak! What
ho! All hail!
We waltzed a'down the silvered
Connected by an Alpine rope;
in front with ice-axe armed,
For fear that we should
Glad was the hour, and--what a lark!
Explorers three? ``Save the mark!''
The mystery of the nunatak was about to be solved.
Apparently it rose from the level of the glacier, as our descent
showed its eastern flank more clearly outlined. It was three miles
to the bottom of the gully, and the aneroid barometer registered
one thousand one hundred and ninety feet. The surface was soft and
yielding to finnesko crampons, which sank through in places till
the snow gripped the knees.
Ascending on the other side we
crossed a small crevasse and the peak towered above us. The northern
side terminated in a perpendicular face of ice, below which a deep
basin had been ``scalloped'' away; evidently kept clear
by eddies of wind. In it lay broken fragments of the overhanging
cliff. The rock was a wide, outcropping band curving steeply to
the summit on the eastern aspect.
After a stiff climb we
hurried eagerly to the rock as if it were a mine of inexhaustible
treasure. The boulders were all weathered a bright red and were
much pitted where ferruginous minerals were leached out. The rock
was a highly quartzose gneiss, with black bands of schist running
through it. Moss and lichens were plentiful, and McLean collected
The rocky strip was eighty feet wide and three
hundred feet high, so, making a cache of the primus, provisions
and burberrys, we followed it up till it became so steep that it
was necessary to change to the snow. This was in the form of hard
neve with patches of ice. I went first, cutting steps with the ice-axe,
and the others followed on the rope. The last ten of more than one
hundred steps were in an almost vertical face, which gave a somewhat
At 11.30 A.M. we stood on the summit
at an altitude of one thousand seven hundred and fifty feet, while
across the valley to the north-east rose Mount Murchison, one hundred
and fourteen feet higher. The top of the ridge was quite a knife-edge,
with barely space for standing. It ran mainly north and south, dipping
in the centre, to curve away sharply westward to a higher eminence.
At the bend was an inaccessible patch of rock. The surrounding view
was much the same at that on Mount Murchison.
The Union Jack
and the Australian flag were erected on a bamboo, and photographs
taken. At the same time, low, threatening clouds rapidly emerged
from the southeast, covering the sun and creating the ``snow-blind''
light. This was rather alarming as the climb had been difficult
enough under a clear sky, and the descent was certainly much more
difficult. So we hastily ate some chocolate and discussed the best
Prospecting to the north, in search of a long snow
ramp which appeared to run away in that direction, we scrambled
down to the edge of a wide snowy crevasse full of blue chinks.
Turning back, we considered the chances of sliding down a steep
scoured hollow to the west and finally decided to descend by the
track we had cut.
McLean started off first down the steps
and was out of sight in a few moments. When the rope tightened,
Correll followed him and then I came last. It was very ticklish
work feeling for the steps below with one's feet, and, as we
signalled to one another in turn after moving a step, it took more
than an hour to reach a safe position on the rocks. With every step
I drove my axe into the ice, so that if the others had fallen there
would still have been a last chance.
There was no time to
be wasted; light snow was falling with the prospect of becoming
thicker. In the gully the snowfall became heavy, limiting the view
to within a few hundred yards. We advanced up the hill in what seemed
to be the steepest direction, but circled half-way round it before
finding out that the course was wrong. Aimlessly trying to place
the broad flat summit I came across tracks in the snow, which were
then carefully followed and led to the tent. The wind was rising
outside and the hoosh in steaming mugs was eaten with extra relish
in our snug retreat.
Specimens were labelled to be deposed
and provisions were arranged for the rest of the journey. It was
evident that we had superfluous clothing, and so the weight of the
kit-bags was scrupulously cut down. By the time we crawled into
sleeping-bags, everything dispensable was piled alongside the depot-flag.
We slept the sleep of the weary and did not hear the flapping
tent nor the hissing drift. At 6 A.M. the wind was doing forty miles
per hour and the air was filled with snow. It must have been a new
climate, for by noon the sun had unexpectedly broken through, the
wind was becoming gusty and the drift trailed like scud over the
With six weeks' food we set off on a new trail
after lunch. The way to the eastern glacier--Mertz Glacier--issued
through the mouth of the gully, which ran in an easterly direction
between Aurora Peak and Mount Murchison. On Mount Murchison ice-falls
and crevasses began a short distance east of our first line of descent,
but yet I thought a slight deviation to the east of south would
bring us safely into the valley, and, at the same time, cut off
a mile. Alas! it proved to be one of those ``best-laid schemes.''
The load commenced to glide so quickly as we were leaving the
crest of the mountain that Correll and McLean unhitched from the
hauling line and attached themselves by the alpine rope to the rear
of the sledge, braking its progress. I remained harnessed in front
keeping the direction. For two miles we were going downhill at a
running pace and then the slope became suddenly steeper and the
sledge overtook me. I had expected crevasses, in view of which I
did not like all the loose rope behind me. Looking round, I shouted
to the others to hold back the sledge, proceeding a few steps while
doing so. The bow of the sledge was almost at my feet, when--whizz!
I was dropping down through space. The length of the hauling rope
was twenty-four feet, and I was at the end of it. I cannot say that
``my past life flashed before me.'' I just had time to think
``Now for the jerk--will my harness hold?'' when there was
a wrench, and I was hanging breathless over the blue depth. Then
the most anxious moment came--I continued to descend. A glance showed
me that the crevasse was only four feet wide, so the sledge could
not follow me, and I knew with a thankful heart that I was safe.
I only descended about two feet more, and then stopped. I knew my
companions had pulled up the sledge and
would be anchoring it
with the ice-axe.
I had a few moments in which to take in
my surroundings. Opposite to me was a vertical wall of ice, and
below a beautiful blue, darkening to black in that unseen chasm.
On either hand the rift of the crevasse extended, and above was
the small hole in the snow bridge through which I had shot.
Soon I heard McLean calling, ``Are you all right?''
And I answered in what he and Correll thought an alarmingly distant
voice. They started enlarging the hole to pull me out, until
lumps of snow began to fall and I had to yell for mercy. Then I
felt they were hauling, and slowly I rose to daylight.
crevasse ran westward along the gully, forcing us to make a detour
through a maze of smaller cracks. We had to retreat up the hill
in one place, throwing off half the load and carrying it on in relays.
There was a blistering sun and the work was hard. At last the sledge
came to a clear run and tobogganed into the snow-filled valley,
turning eastward towards its outlet.
At the evening camp
the sledge-meter indicated that our distance eastward of the Hut
was sixty miles, one thousand two hundred yards. The northern face
of the gully was very broken and great sentinel pillars of ice stood
out among the yawning caves, some of them leaning like the tower
of Pisa, others having fallen and rolled in shattered blocks. Filling
the vision to the south-west was Aurora Peak, in crisp silhouette
against a glorious radiant of cirrus cloud.
day through our peaceful smoke-rings, I was rather comforted by
the fact that the fall into the crevasse had thoroughly tested my
harness. Correll expressed himself as perfectly satisfied with his
test. McLean seemed to feel somewhat out of it, being the only one
without a crevasse experience; which happy state he maintained until
the end, apparently somewhat to his disappointment.
24th we broke camp at 9 A.M., continuing down the gully towards
the glacier. A lofty wall of rocks, set within a frame of ice, was
observed on our left, one mile away. To it we diverged and found
it to be gneiss similar to that of Aurora Peak. Several photos were
The land was at our back and the margin of the glacier
had been crossed. Only too soon we were in the midst of terribly
crevassed ground, through which one could only thread a slow and
zig-zag course. The blue ice was riven in every direction by gaping
quarries and rose smooth and slippery on the ridges which broke
the surface into long waves. Shod with crampons, the rear of the
sledge secured by a tail-rope, we had a trying afternoon guiding
the load along the narrow ridges of ice with precipices on either
hand. Fortunately the wind was not above twenty miles per hour.
As the frivolous ``Epic'' had it:
Odds fish! the solid sea is sorely rent,
And all around we're pent
With quarries, chasms,
pits, depressions vast,
Their snow-lids overcast.
A devious track, all curved and serpentine
On jutting brinks and precipices
Precariously we steer.
We pushed on to find a place in which to camp, as
there was scarcely safe standing-room for a primus stove. At seventy
miles the broken ice gave way to a level expanse of hard sastrugi
dotted all over with small mounds of ice about four feet high. After
hoosh, a friendly little Wilson petrel came flying from the northern
sea to our tent. We considered it to be a good omen.
day the icy mounds disappeared, to be replaced by a fine, flat surface,
and the day's march amounted to eleven and a quarter miles.
At 11 A.M. four snow petrels visited us, circling
round in great curiosity. It is a cheerful thing to see these birds
amid the lone, inhospitable ice.
We were taking in the surroundings
from our position off the land scanning the far coast to the south
for rock and turning round to admire the bold contours of Aurora
Peak and Mount Murchison at our back. Occasionally there were areas
of rubbly snow, blue ice and crevasses completely filled with snow,
of prodigious dimensions, two hundred to three hundred yards wide
and running as far as the eye could travel. The snow filling them
was perfectly firm, but, almost always along the windward edge,
probing with an ice-axe would disclose a fissure. This part of the
Mertz Glacier was apparently afloat.
The lucky Wilson petrel
came again in the evening. At this stage the daily temperatures
ranged between 10 degrees F. and near freezing- point. The greater
part of November 26 was passed in the tent, within another zone
of crevasses. The overcast sky made the light so bad that it became
dangerous to go ahead. At 5.30 P.M. we started, and managed to do
five and a half miles before 8 P.M.
It was rather an eventful
day, when across the undulating sastrugi there appeared a series
of shallow valleys running eastward. As the valleys approached closer,
the ground sloped down to meet them, their sides becoming steeper,
buckled and broken. Proceeding ahead on an easterly course, our
march came to an abrupt termination on an ice-bluff.
lay a perfectly flat snow-covered plain--the sea-ice. In point of
fact we had arrived at the eastern side of the Mertz Glacier and
were about fifteen miles north of the mainland. Old sea-ice, deeply
covered in snow, lay ahead for miles, and the hazy, blue coast sank
below the horizon in the south-east, running for a time parallel
to the course we were about to take. It was some time before we
realized all this, but at noon on the following day there came the
first reminder of the proximity of sea-water.
An Adelie penguin,
skiing on its breast from the north, surprised us suddenly by a
loud croak at the rear of the sledge. As astonished as we were,
it stopped and stared, and then in sudden terror made off. But before
starting on its long trek to the land, it had to be captured and
To the south the coast was marked by two faces
of rock and a short, dark spur protruding from beneath the ice-cap.
As our friendly penguin had made off in that direction, we elected
to call the place Penguin Point, intending to touch there on the
return journey. During the afternoon magnetic dips and a round of
angles to the prominences of the mainland were taken.
next evidence on the sea-ice question came in the shape of a line
of broken slabs of ice to the north, sticking out of the snow like
the ruins of an ancient graveyard. At one hundred and fifteen miles
the line was so close that we left the sledge to investigate it,
finding a depression ten feet deep, through which wound a glistening
riband of sea-water. It reminded one of a creek in flat, Australian
country, and the illusion was sustained by a dark skua gull--in
its slow flight much like a crow. It was a fissure in old thick
Sunday, and the first day of December, brought good
weather and a clear view of the mainland. A bay opened to the east
of Penguin Point, from which the coast trended to the south-east.
Across a crack in the sea-ice we could just distinguish a low indented
line like the glacier-tongue, we had already crossed. It might have
been a long promontory of land for all we knew. Behind it was a
continuous ice-blink and on our left, to the north, a deep blue
``water sky.'' It seemed worth while continuing on an easterly
parallel with the coast.
faced by another glacier-tongue; a fact which remained unproven
for a week at least. From the sea-ice on to the glacier-- the Ninnis
Glacier--there was a gentle rise to a prominent knoll of one hundred
and seventy feet. Here our distance from the Hut amounted to one
hundred and fifty-two miles, and the spot was reckoned a good situation
for the last depot.
In taking magnetic observations, it was
interesting to find that the ``dip'' amounted to 87 degrees
44', while the declination, which had varied towards the west,
swung at this our most northerly station a few degrees to the east.
We were curving round the South Magnetic Pole. Many points on the
coast were fixed from an adjoining hill to which Correll and I trudged
through sandy snow, while McLean stayed behind erecting the depot-mound,
placing a food-bag, kerosene tin, black cloth and miner's pick
on the top.
With four weeks' provisions we made a new
start to cross the Ninnis Glacier on December 3, changing course
to E. 30 degrees N., in great wonderment as to what lay ahead. In
this new land interest never flagged. One never could foresee what
the morrow would bring forth.
Across rolling ``downs''
of soft, billowy snow we floundered for twenty-four miles, on the
two following days. Not a wind-ripple could be seen. We were evidently
in a region of comparative calms, which was a remarkable thing,
considering that the windiest spot in the world was less than two
hundred miles away.
After several sunny days McLean and I
had very badly cracked lips. It had been often remarked at the Hut
that the standard of humour greatly depreciated during the winter
and this caused McLean and me many a physical pang while sledging,
as we would laugh at the least provocation and open all the cracks
in our lips. Eating hard plasmon biscuits was a painful pleasure.
Correll, who was immune from this affliction, tanned to the rich
hue of the ``nut-brown maiden.''
On December 5, at
the top of a rise, we were suddenly confronted with a new vision--``Thalassa!''
was our cry, ``the sea!'' but a very different sea from
that which brought such joy to the hearts of the wandering Greeks.
Unfolded to the horizon was a plain of pack-ice, thickly studded
with bergs and intersected by black leads of open water. In the
north-east was a patch of open sea and above it, round to the north,
lowering banks of steel-blue cloud. We had come to the eastern side
of Ninnis Glacier.
At this point any analogy which could
possibly have been found with Wilkes's coastline ceased. It
seems probable that he charted as land the limits of the pack-ice
The excitement of exploring this new realm was to
be deferred. Even as we raised the tent, the wind commenced to whistle
and the air became surcharged with snow. Three skua gulls squatted
a few yards away, squawking at our approach, and a few snow petrels
sailed by in the gathering blizzard.
Through the 6th, 7th and 8th and most of the 9th
it raged, during which time we came definitely to the conclusion
that as social entertainers we were complete failures. We exhausted
all the reserve topics of conversation, discussed our Universities,
sports, friends and homes. We each described the scenery we liked
best; notable always for the sunny weather and perfect calm. McLean
sailed again in Sydney Harbour, Correll cycled and ran his races,
I wandered in the South Australian hills or rowed in the ``eights,''
while the snow swished round the tent and the wind roared over the
wastes of ice.
Avoiding a few crevasses on the drop to sea-level
on December 10, the sledge was manoeuvred over a tide-crack between
glacier and sea-ice. The latter was traversed by frequent pressure-ridges;
broken pinnacles being numerous.
six days out on the broken sea-ice were full of incident. The weather
was gloriously sunny till the 13th, during which time the sledge
had to be dragged through a forest of pinnacles and over areas of
soft, sticky slush which made the runners execrable for hours. Ponds
of open water, by which basked a few Weddell seals, became a familiar
sight. We tried to maintain a south-easterly course for the coast,
but miles were wasted in the tortuous maze of ice--``a wildering
Theban ruin of hummock and serrac.''
broke down and gave the ingenious Correll a proposition which he
ably solved. McLean and I had a chronic weakness of the eyes from
the continual glare. Looking at the other two fellows with their
long protruding goggles made me think of Banquo's ghost: ``Thou
hast no speculation in those eyes that thou
dost glare with.''
I had noticed that some of the tide-cracks had opened widely
and, when a blizzard blew on December 13, the thought was a skeleton
in my brain cupboard.
On the 15th an Emperor penguin was
seen sunning himself by a pool of water, so we decided to kill the
bird and carry some meat in case of emergency. McLean found the
stomach full of fish and myriads of cestodes in the intestines.
By dint of hard toil over cracks, ridges and jagged, broken
blocks, we came, by diverging to the south-west, to the junction
between shifting pack and fast bay-ice, and even there, we afterwards
shuddered to find, it was at least forty-five miles, as the penguin
skis, to the land.
It was a fine flat surface on which the
sledge ran, and the miles commenced to fly by, comparatively speaking.
Except for an occasional deep rift, whose bottom plumbed to the
sea-water, the going was excellent. Each day the broken ice on our
left receded, the mainland to the south grew closer and traces of
rock became discernible on the low, fractured cliffs.
December 17 a huge rocky bluff--Horn Bluff--stood out from the shore.
It had a ram-shaped bow like a Dreadnought battleship and, adjoining
it, there were smaller outcrops of rock on the seaward ice-cliffs.
On its eastern side was a wide bay with a well-defined cape--Cape
Freshfield-- at the eastern extremity about thirty miles away.
The Bluff was a place worth exploring. At a distance of more
than fifteen miles, the spot suggested all kinds of possibilities,
and in council we argued that it was useless to go much farther
east, as to touch at the land would mean a detour on the homeward
track and time would have to be allowed for that.
At a point
two hundred and seventy miles from the Hut, in latitude 68 degrees
18' S., longitude 150 degrees 12' E., we erected our ``farthest
east'' camp on December 18, after a day's tramp of eighteen
miles. Here, magnetic ``dips'' and other observations were
made throughout the morning of the 19th. It was densely overcast,
with sago snow falling, but by 3 P.M. of the same day the clouds
had magically cleared and the first stage of the homeward journey
XVI - HORN BLUFF AND PENGUIN POINT