HORN BLUFF AND PENGUIN POINT
by C. T.
What thrill of grandeur ours
When first we
viewed the column'd fell!
What idle, lilting verse can tell
Of giant fluted towers,
O'er-canopied with immemorial snow
And riven by a glacier's azure flow?
As we neared Horn Bluff, on the first stage of our
homeward march, the upper layers of snow were observed to disappear,
and the underlying ice became thinner; in corrugated sapphire plains
with blue reaches of sparkling water. Cracks bridged with flimsy
snow continually let one through into the water. McLean and I both
soaked our feet and once I was immersed to the thighs, having to
stop and put on dry socks and finnesko. It was a chilly process
allowing the trousers to dry on me.
The mountain, pushing
out as a great promontory from the coast amid the fast sea-ice,
towered up higher as our sledge approached its foot. A great shadow
was cast on the ice, and, when more than a mile away, we left the
Awed and amazed, we beheld the lone vastness
of it all and were mute. Rising out of the flat wilderness over
which we had travelled was a mammoth vertical barrier of rock rearing
its head to the skies above. The whole face for five miles was one
magnificent series of organ-pipes. The deep shade was heightened
by the icy glare beyond it. Here was indeed a Cathedral of Nature,
where the ``still, small voice'' spoke amid an ineffable
Far up the face of the cliff snow petrels fluttered
like white butterflies. It was stirring to think that these majestic
heights had gazed out across the wastes of snow and ice for countless
ages, and never before had the voices of human beings echoed in
the great stillness nor human eyes surveyed the wondrous scene.
From the base of the organ-pipes sloped a mass of debris; broken
blocks of rock of every size tumbling steeply to the splintered
hummocks of the sea-ice.
Standing out from the top of this
talus-slope were several white ``beacons,'' up to which
we scrambled when the tent was pitched. This was a tedious task
as the stones were ready to slide down at the least touch, and often
we were carried down several yards by a general movement. Wearing
soft finnesko, we ran the risk of getting a crushed foot among the
large boulders. Amongst the rubble were beds of clay, and streams
of thaw-water trickled down to the surface of a frozen lake.
After rising two hundred feet, we stood beneath the beacons
which loomed above to a height of one hundred and twenty-eight feet.
The organ-pipes were basaltic** in character but, to my great joy,
I found the beacons were of sedimentary rock. After a casual examination,
the details were left till the morrow.
** To be exact the
igneous rook was a very thick sill of dolerite,
we had a small celebration on raisins, chocolate and apple-rings,
besides the ordinary fare of hoosh, biscuit and cocoa. Several times
we were awakened by the crash of falling stones. Snow petrels had
been seen coming home to their nests in the beacons, which were
weathered out into small caves and crannies. From the camp we could
hear their harsh cries.
The scene in the morning sun was
a brilliant one. The great columnar rampart ran almost north and
south and the tent was on its eastern side. So what was in dark
shadow on the day before was now radiantly illumined.
remained behind on the sea-ice with a theodolite to take heights
of the various strata. McLean and I, armed with aneroid, glasses,
ruck-sack, geological hammer (ice-axe) and camera, set out for the
foot of the talus-slope.
The beacons were found to be part
of a horizontal, stratified series of sandstones underlying the
igneous rock. There were bands of coarse gravel and fine examples
of stream-bedding interspersed with seams of carbonaceous shale
and poor coal. Among the debris were several pieces of sandstone
marked by black, fossilized plant-remains. The summits of the beacons
were platforms of very hard rock, baked by the volcanic overflow.
The columns, roughly hexagonal and weathered to a dull-red, stood
above in sheer perpendicular lines of six hundred and sixty feet
After taking a dozen photographs of geological
and general interest and stuffing the sack and our pockets with
specimens, we picked a track down the shelving talus to a lake of
fresh water which was covered with a superficial crust of ice beneath
which the water ran. The surface was easily broken and we fetched
the aluminium cover of the cooker, filling it with three gallons
of water, thus saving kerosene for almost a day.
had collected samples of soil, lichens, algae and moss, and all
the treasures had been labelled, we lunched and harnessed-up once
more for the homeward trail.
For four miles we ran parallel
to the one-thousand-foot wall of Horn Bluff meeting several boulders
stranded on the ice, as well as the fragile shell of a tiny sea-urchin.
The promontory was domed with snow and ice, more than one thousand
two hundred feet above sea-level. From it streamed a blue glacier
overflowing through a rift in the face. Five miles on our way, the
sledge passed from frictionless ice to rippled snow and with a march
of seven miles, following lunch, we pitched camp.
was tired that night, and our prayer to the Sleep Merchant in the
book of Australian verse was for:
Twenty gallons of balmy sleep,
and deep, and mild,
Of the excellent brand you used to
When I was a little child.
For three days, December 22, 23 and 24, the wind
soughed at thirty miles per hour and the sky was a compact nimbus,
unveiling the sun at rare moments. Through a mist of snow we steered
on a north-west course towards the one-hundred-and-fifty-two mile
depot. The wind was from the south-east true, and this information,
with hints from the sun-compass, gave us the direction. With the
sail set, on a flat surface, among ghostly bergs and over narrow
leads we ran for forty-seven miles with scarce a clear view of what
lay around. The bergs had long ramps of snow leading close up to
their summits on the windward side and in many cases the intervals
between these ramps and the bergs were occupied by deep moats.
One day we were making four knots an hour under all canvas through
thick drift. Suddenly, after a gradual ascent, I was on the edge
of a moat, thirty feet deep. I shouted to the others and, just in
time, the sledge was slewed round on the very brink.
The toil of it none may share;
must the way be won
Through fervid or frozen air
the overland journey's done.
Christmas Day! The day that ever reminds one of
the sweet story of old, the lessons of childhood, the joys of Santa
Claus--the day on which the thoughts of the wildest wanderer turn
to home and peace and love. All the world was cheerful; the sun
was bright, the air was calm. It was the hometrail, provisions were
in plenty, the sledge was light and our hearts lighter.
eastern edge of Ninnis Glacier was near, and, leaving the sea-ice,
we were soon straining up the first slope, backed by a line of ridges
trending north-east and south-west, with shallow valleys intervening.
On the wind-swept crests there were a few crevasses well packed
It was a day's work of twelve miles and we
felt ready for Christmas dinner. McLean was cook and had put some
apple-rings to soak in the cooker after the boil-up at lunch. Beyond
this and the fact that he took some penguin-meat into the tent,
he kept his plans in the deepest mystery. Correll and I were kept
outside making things snug and taking the meteorological observations,
until the word came to enter. When at last we scrambled in, a delicious
smell diffused through the tent, and there was a sound of frying
inside the cooker-pot. We were presented with a menu which read:
``Peace on earth, good will to men.''
Xmas 1912 KING GEORGE V. LAND
200 miles east of Winter Quarters.
MENU DU DINER
Biscuit de plasmon Ration
du lard glace
Monsieur l'Empereur Pingouin
Piece de Resistance
Pemmican naturel a l'Antarctique
Hotch-potch de pommes et de raisins
Liqueur bien ancienne de l'Ecosse
The hors d'oeuvre of bacon ration was a welcome
surprise. McLean had carried the tin unknown to us up till this
moment. The penguin, fried in lumps of fat taken from the pemmican,
and a little butter, was delicious. In the same pot the hoosh was
boiled and for once we noted an added piquancy. Next followed the
plum-pudding--dense mixture of powdered biscuit, glaxo, sugar, raisins
and apple-rings, surpassing the
finest, flaming, holly-decked,
Then came the toasts. McLean produced
the whisky from the medical kit and served it out, much diluted,
in three mugs. There was not three ounces in all, but it flavoured
I was asked to call ``The King.'' McLean
proposed ``The Other Sledgers'' in a noble speech, wishing
them every success; and then there were a few drops left to drink
to ``Ourselves,'' whom Correll eulogized to our complete
satisfaction. We then drew on the meagre supply of cigarettes and
lay on our bags, feeling as comfortable as the daintiest epicure
after a twelve-course dinner, drinking his coffee and smoking his
We talked till twelve o'clock, and then went outside
to look at the midnight sun, shining brightly just above the southern
horizon. Turning in, we were once more at home in our dreams.
By a latitude shot at noon on Boxing Day, I found that our position
was not as far north as expected. The following wind had been probably
slightly east of south-east and too much westing had been made.
From a tangle of broken ridges whose surface was often granular,
half-consolidated ice, the end of the day opened up a lilac plain
of sea-ice ahead. We were once more on the western side of Ninnis
Glacier and the familiar coast of Penguin Point, partly hidden by
an iceberg, sprang into view. The depot hill to the north-west could
be recognized, twenty miles away, across a wide bay. By hooch-time
we had found a secure path to the sea-ice, one hundred and eighty
The wind sprang up opportunely on the morning
of the 27th, and the sun was serene in a blue sky. Up went the sail
and with a feather-weight load we strode off for the depot eighteen
miles distant. Three wide rifts in the sea-ice exercised our ingenuity
during the day's march, but by the time the sun was in the south-west
the sledge was sawing through the sandy snow of the depot hill.
It was unfortunate that the food of this depot had been cached so
far out of our westerly course, as the time expended in recovering
it might have been profitably given to a survey of the mainland
east of Penguin Point. At 6.20 P.M., after eighteen and a quarter
miles, the food-bag was sighted on the mound, and that night the
dinner at our one-hundred-and-fifty-two-mile depot was marked by
some special innovations.
Penguin Point, thirty miles away,
bore W. 15 degrees S., and next day we made a bid for it by a march
of sixteen miles. There was eleven days' ration on the sledge
to take us to Mount Murchison, ninety miles away; consequently the
circuitous route to the land was held to be a safe ``proposition.''
Many rock faces became visible, and I was able to fix numerous
prominent points with the theodolite.
At three miles
off the coast, the surface became broken by ridges, small bergs
and high, narrow cupolas of ice surrounded by deep moats. One of
these was very striking. It rose out of a wind-raked hollow to a
height of fifty feet; just the shape of an ancient Athenian helmet.
McLean took a photograph.
As at Horn Bluff, the ice became
thinner and freer of snow as we drew near the Point. The rocky wall
under which the tent was raised proved to be three hundred feet
high, jutting out from beneath the slopes of ice. From here the
coast ran almost south on one side and north-west on the other.
On either hand there were dark faces corniced with snow.
The next day was devoted to exploration. Adelie penguins waddled
about the tide-crack over which we crossed to examine the rock,
which was of coarse-grained granite, presenting great, vertical
faces. Hundreds of snow petrels flew about and some stray skua gulls
Near the camp, on thick ice, were several large
blocks of granite which had floated out from the shore and lay each
in its pool of thaw-water, covered with serpulae and lace coral.
Correll, our Izaak Walton, had brought a fishing-line and some
penguin-meat. He stopped near the camp fishing while McLean and
I continued down the coast, examining the outcrops. The type of
granite remained unchanged in the numerous exposures.
noticed a continuous rustling sound for some time and found at length
that it was caused by little streams of ice-crystals running down
the steep slopes in cascades, finally pouring out in piles on the
sea-ice. The partial thaw in the sunlight causes the semi-solid
ice to break up into separate grains. Sometimes whole areas of the
surface, in delicate equilibrium, would suddenly flow rapidly away.
For three miles we walked, and as the next four
miles of visible coast presented no extensive outcrops, we turned
back for lunch.
During the afternoon, on the summit of the
Point, it was found that an uneven rocky area, about a quarter of
a mile wide, ran backwards to the ice-falls of the plateau. The
surface was very broken and weathered, covered in patches by abundant
lichens and mosses. Fossicking round in the gravel, Correll happened
on some tiny insect-like mites living amongst the moss or on the
moist under side of slabs of stone. This set us all insect-hunting.
Alcohol was brought in a small bottle from the tent, and into this
they were swept in myriads with a camel's-hair brush. From the
vantage-point of a high rock in the neighbourhood the long tongue
of Mertz Glacier could be seen running away to the north.
At 8.30 A.M., on New Year's Eve, we set off for another
line of rocks about four miles away to the west. There were two
masses forming an angle in the ice-front and consisting of two main
ridges rising to a height of two hundred and fifty feet, running
back into the ice-cap for a mile, and divided by a small glacier.
This region was soon found to be a perfect menagerie of life.
Seals lay about dozing peacefully by the narrow lanes of water.
Adelie penguins strutted in procession up and down the little glacier.
To reach his rookery, a penguin would leap four feet on to a ledge
of the ice-foot, painfully pad up the glassy slope and then awkwardly
scale the rocks until he came to a level of one hundred and fifty
feet. Here he took over the care of a chick or an egg, while the
other bird went to fish. Skua gulls flew about, continually molesting
the rookeries. One area of the rocks was covered by a luxuriant
growth of green moss covering guano and littered skeletons--the
site of a deserted rookery.
Correll and I went up to where
the ridges converged, selecting numerous specimens of rock and mineral
and finding thousands of small red mites in the moist gravel. Down
on the southern ridge we happened on a Wilson petrel with feathered
nestlings. At this point McLean came along from the west with the
news of silver-grey petrels and Cape pigeons nesting in hundreds.
He had secured two of each species and several eggs. This was indeed
a discovery, as the eggs of the former birds had never before been
found. Quite close to us were many snow petrels in all kinds of
unexpected crevices. The light was too dull for photographing, but,
while I took magnetic ``dips'' on the following morning,
McLean visited the silver-grey petrels and Cape pigeons and secured
a few ``snaps.''
The last thing we did before leaving
the mainland was to kill two penguins and cut off their breasts
and this meat was, later, to serve us in good stead.
the Mertz Glacier at any time would have been an unpleasant undertaking,
but to go straight to Mount Murchison (the site of our first depot
on the outward journey) from Penguin Point meant spanning it in
a long oblique line. It was preferable to travel quickly and safely
over the sea-ice on a north-westerly course, which, plotted on the
chart, intersected our old one-hundred-mile camp on the eastern
margin of the glacier; then to cross by the route we already knew.
By January 2 we had thrown Penguin Point five miles behind,
and a spell of unsettled weather commenced; in front lay a stretch
of fourteen miles over a good surface. The wind was behind us, blowing
between thirty and forty miles per hour, and from an overcast sky
light snow was falling. Fortunately there were fleeting glimpses
of the sun, by which the course could be adjusted. Towards evening
the snow had thickened, but thanks to the splendid assistance afforded
by a sail, the white jutting spurs of the edge of Mertz Glacier
were dimly visible.
A blizzard took possession of the next
day till 7 P.M., when we all sallied out and found the identical
gully in which was the one-hundred-mile camp of the outward journey.
The light was still bad and the sky overcast, so the start was postponed
till next morning.
There was food for five days on a slightly
reduced ration and the depot on Mount Murchison was forty miles
Once we had left the sea-ice and stood on the glacier,
Aurora Peak with its black crest showed through the glasses. Once
there, the crevasses we most dreaded would be over and the depot
A good fourteen and a quarter miles slipped
by on January 4--a fine day. On January 5 the ``plot began to thicken.''
The clouds hung above like a blanket, sprinkling light snow. The
light was atrocious, and a few open rents gave warning of the western
zone of pitfalls. All the while there was a shifting spectral chaos
of whiteness which seemed to benumb the faculties and destroy one's
sense of reality. We decided to wait for a change in the weather.
During the night the snow ceased, and by lunch time on the 6th
the sledge-meter recorded ten miles. The strange thing was that
the firm sastrugi present on the outward journey were now covered
inches in snow, which became deeper as we marched westward.
It was now a frequent occurrence for one of us to pitch forward
with his feet down a hidden crevasse, sometimes going through to
the waist. The travelling was most nerve-racking. When a foot went
through the crust of snow, it was impossible to tell on which side
of the crevasse one happened to be, or in what direction it ran.
The only thing to do was to go ahead and trust in Providence.
At last we landed the sledge on a narrow ridge of hard snow,
surrounded by blue, gaping pits in a pallid eternity of white. It
was only when the tent was pitched that a wide quarry was noticed
a few yards away from the door.
It was now fourteen miles
to the top of Mount Murchison and we had only two more days'
rations and one and a half pounds of penguin-meat.
7th the light was worse than ever and snow fell. It was only six
miles across the broken country between us and the gully between
Mt. Murchison and Aurora Peak, where one could travel with some
surety. A sharp look-out was kept, and towards 11 P.M. a rim of
clear sky overtopped the southern horizon. We knew the sun would
curve round into it at midnight, so all was made ready for marching.
When the sun's disc emerged into the rift there was light;
but dim, cold and fleeting. The smallest irregularity on the surface
threw a shadow hundreds of yards long. The plain around was a bluish-grey
checquer-board of light and shade; ahead, sharp and clear against
the leaden sky, stood beautiful Aurora Peak, swathed in lustrous
gold-- the chariot of the goddess herself. The awful splendour of
the scene tended to depress one and make the task more trying. I
have never felt more nervous than I did in that ghostly light in
the tense silence, surrounded by the hidden horror of fathomless
depths. All was covered with a uniform layer of snow, growing deeper
and heavier at every step. I was ahead and went through eight times
in about four miles. The danger lay in getting the sledge and one,
two, or all of us on a weak snow-bridge at the same time. As long
as the sledge did not go down we were comparatively safe.
At 1.30 A.M. the sun was obscured and the light waned to dead
white. Still we went on, as the entrance of the gully between Aurora
Peak and Mount Murchison was near at hand and we had a mind to get
over the danger-zone before a snowstorm commenced.
A.M. we breathed freely on ``terra firma,'' even though
one sunk through a foot of snow to feel it. It had taken six hours
to do the last five and three-quarter miles, and, being tired out
with the strain on muscles and nerves, we raised the tent, had a
meal, and then slept till noon on the 8th. It was eight miles to
the depot, five miles up the gully and three miles to the summit
of Mount Murchison; and no one doubted for a moment that it could
not be done in a single day's march.
Advancing up the
gully after lunch, we found that the surface became softer, and
we were soon sinking to the knees at every step. The runners, too,
sank till the decking rested on the snow, and it was as much as
we could do to shift the sledge, with a series of jerks at every
step. At 6 P.M. matters became desperate. We resolved to make a
depot of everything unnecessary, and to relay it up the mountain
The sledge-meter, clogged with snow and almost
submerged, was taken off and stood up on end to mark a depot, whilst
a pile was made of the dip-circle, theodolite and tripod, pick,
alpine rope, ice-axe, all the mineral and biological specimens and
Even thus lightened, we could scarcely move
the sledge, struggling on, sinking to the thighs in the flocculent
deluge. Snow now began to fall so thickly that it was impossible
to see ahead.
At 7 P.M. we finished up the last scraps of
pemmican and cocoa. Biscuit, sugar and glaxo had given out at the
noon meal. There still remained one and a half pounds of penguin
meat, several infusions of tea and plenty of kerosene for the primus.
We staggered on till 10.30 P.M., when the weather became so
dense that the sides of the gully were invisible. Tired out, we
camped and had some tea. In eight hours we had only made four and
a half miles, and there was still the worst part to come.
In our exhausted state we slept till 11 P.M. of January 9, awaking
to find the sky densely overcast and a light fog in the air. During
a rift which opened for a few minutes there was a short glimpse
of the rock on Aurora Peak. Shredding half the penguin-meat, we
boiled it up and found the stew and broth excellent.
A.M. we started to struggle up the gully once more, wading along
in a most helpless fashion, with breathing spells every ten yards
or less. Snow began to fall in such volume that at last it was impossible
to keep our direction with any certainty. The only thing to do was
to throw up the tent as a shelter and wait. This we did till 4.30
A.M.; but there must have been a cloud-burst, for the heavy flakes
toppled on to the tent like tropical rain. We got into sleeping-bags,
and tried to be patient and to forget that we were hungry.
Apparently, during our seven weeks' absence, the local precipitation
had been almost continual, and snow now lay over this region in
stupendous amount. Even when one sank three feet, it was not on
to the firm sastrugi over which we had travelled out of the valley
on the outward journey, for these lay still deeper. It was hoped
that the ``snowdump'' did not continue over the fifty miles
to the Hut, but we argued that on the windy plateau this could scarcely
It was evident that without any more food, through
this bottomless, yielding snow, we could never haul the sledge up
to the depot, a rise of one thousand two hundred feet in three miles.
One of us must go up and bring food back, and I decided to do so
as soon as the weather cleared.
We found the wait for clearer
weather long and trying with empty stomachs. As the tobacco-supply
still held out, McLean and I found great solace in our pipes. All
through the rest of the day and till 5 P.M. of the next, January
10, there was not a rift in the opaque wall of flakes. Then to our
intense relief the snow stopped, the clouds rolled to the north,
and, in swift transformation--a cloudless sky with bright sunshine!
With the rest of the penguin-meat--a bare half-pound--we had another
thin broth. Somewhat fortified, I took the food-bag and shovel,
and left the tent at 5.30 A.M.
Often sinking to the thighs,
I felt faint at the first exertion. The tent scarcely seemed to
recede as I toiled onwards towards the first steep slope. The heavy
mantle of snow had so altered the contours of the side of the gully
that I was not sure of the direction of the top of the mountain.
Resting every hundred yards, I floundered on hour after hour,
until, on arriving at a high point, I saw a little shining mound
standing up on a higher point, a good mile to the east. After seven
hours' wading I reached it and found that it was the depot.
Two feet of the original eight-foot mound projected above the
surface, with the bamboo pole and a wire-and-canvas flag rising
another eighteen inches. On this, a high isolated mountain summit,
six feet of snow had actually accumulated. How thankful I was that
I had brought a shovel!
At seven feet I ``bottomed''
on the hard snow, without result. Then, running a tunnel in the
most probable direction, I struck with the shovel the kerosene tin
which was on the top of the food-bag. On opening the bag, the first
items to appear were sugar, butter and biscuits; the next quarter
of an hour I shall not forget!
I made a swag of five days'
provisions, and, taking a direct route, attacked the three miles
downhill in lengths of one hundred and fifty yards. Coming in sight
of the tent, I called to my companions to thaw some water for a
drink. So slow was progress that I could speak to them a quarter
of an hour before reaching the tent. I had been away eleven and
a half hours, covering about seven miles in all.
Correll were getting anxious about me. They said that they had felt
the cold and were unable to sleep. Soon I had produced the pemmican
and biscuit, and a scalding hoosh was made. The other two had had
only a mug of penguin broth each in three days, and I had only broken
my fast a few hours before them.
After the meal, McLean and
Correll started back to the cache, two miles down the gully, to
select some of the geological and biological specimens and to fetch
a few articles of clothing. The instruments, the greater part of
the collection of rocks, crampons, sledge-meter and other odds and
ends were all left behind. Coming back with the loads slung like
swags they found that by walking in their old footsteps they made
By 8 P.M. all had rested, every unnecessary
fitting had been stripped off the sledge and the climb to the depot
commenced. I went ahead in my old trail, Correll also making use
of it; while McLean broke a track for himself. The work was slow
and heavy; nearly six hours were spent doing those three miles.
It was a lovely evening; the yellow sun drifting through orange
cloudlets behind Aurora Peak. We were in a more appreciative mood
than on the last midnight march, exulting in the knowledge of ten
days' provisions at hand and fifty-three miles to go to reach
In the manner of the climate, a few wisps of misty
rack came sailing from the south-east, the wind rose, snow commenced
to fall and a blizzard held sway for almost three days. It was just
as well that we had found that depot when we did.
miles to the Hut melted away in the pleasures of anticipation. The
first two miles, on the morning of January 14, gave us some strenuous
work, but they were luxurious in comparison with what we expected;
soon, however, the surface rapidly and permanently improved. A forty-mile
wind from the south-east was a distinct help, and by the end of
the day we had come in sight of the nunatak first seen after leaving
the Hut(Madigan Nunatak).
In two days forty miles lay behind.
Down the blue ice-slopes in slippery finnesko, and Aladdin's
Cave hove in sight. We tumbled in, to be assailed by a wonderful
odour which brought back orchards, shops, people--a breath of civilization.
In the centre of the floor was a pile of oranges surmounted by two
luscious pineapples. The Ship was in! There was a bundle of letters--Bage
was back from the south--Wild had been landed one thousand five
hundred miles to the west--Amundsen had reached the Pole! Scott
was remaining in the Antarctic for another year. How we shouted
and read all together!
XVII - WITH STILLWELL'S AND BICKERTON'S PARTIES