THE WESTERN BASE--ESTABLISHMENT AND EARLY ADVENTURES
by F. Wild
At 7 A.M. on February 21, 1912, the `Aurora'
steamed away to the north leaving us on the Shackleton Ice-Shelf,
while cheers and hearty good wishes were exchanged with the ship's
company. On the sea-ice, that day, there stood with me my comrades--the
Western Party; G. Dovers, C. T. Harrisson, C. A. Hoadley, S. E.
Jones, A. L. Kennedy, M. H. Moyes and A. D. Watson.
to the top of the cliff, where the remainder of the stores and gear
were hauled up. Tents were then erected and the work of hut-building
at once commenced. The site selected for our home was six
hundred and forty yards inland from the spot where the stores were
landed, and, as the edge of the glacier was very badly broken, I
was anxious to get a supply of food, clothing and fuel moved back
from the edge to safety as soon as possible.
Of the twenty-eight
Greenland dogs that had reached Antarctica in the `Aurora',
nineteen were landed in Adelie Land and nine with us. So far, none
of these had been broken in for sledging, and all were in poor condition.
Their quarters on the ship had been very cramped, and many times
they had been thoroughly soaked in salt water, besides enduring
several blizzards in Antarctic waters.
Kennedy and Jones ``turned the first sod'' in the foundations
of the hut, while Dovers, Moyes, Watson and I sledged along supplies
of timber and stores. Inward from the brink of the precipice, which
was one hundred feet in height, the surface was fairly good for
sledges, but, owing to crevasses and pressure-ridges, the course
was devious and mostly uphill.
Until the building was completed,
the day's work commenced at 6 A.M., and, with only half an hour
for a midday meal, continued until 7 P.M. Fortunately, the weather
was propitious during the seven days when the carpenters and joiners
ruled the situation; the temperature ranging from -12 degrees F.
to 25 degrees F., while a moderate blizzard interrupted one day.
The chief trouble was that the blizzard deposited six feet of snow
around the stack of stores and coal at the landing-place, thereby
adding considerably to our labour. As evidence of the force of the
wind, the floe was broken and driven out past the foot of the ``flying-fox,''
tearing away the lower anchor and breaking the sheer-legs on the
An average day's work on the stores consisted
in bringing thirteen loads over a total distance of nine and a half
miles. First of all, the cases had to be dug out of the snow-drifts,
and loading and unloading the sledges was scarcely less arduous.
On February 27, while working on the roof, Harrisson made an
addition to our geographical knowledge. Well to the north of the
mainland, and bearing a little north of east, he could trace the
outline of land. Subsequently this was proved to be an island, thirty-two
miles distant, and seventeen miles north of the mainland. It was
twenty miles long and fifteen miles wide, being entirely ice-covered.
Later on, it was charted as Masson Island.
On the 28th, the
hut was fit for habitation, the stove was installed, and meals were
cooked and eaten in moderate comfort. The interior of the house
was twenty feet square, but its area was reduced by a lobby entrance,
three feet by five feet, a dark-room three feet by six feet situated
on one side, and my cabin six feet six inches square in one corner.
The others slept in seven bunks which were ranged at intervals round
the walls. Of the remaining space, a large portion was commodiously
occupied by the stove and table.
On three sides, the roof
projected five feet beyond the walls and formed a veranda which
was boarded up, making an excellent store-room and work-room. This
was a splendid idea of Dr. Mawson's, enabling us to work during
the severest storms when there was no room in the hut, and incidentally
supplying extra insulation and rendering the inside much warmer.
The main walls and roof were double and covered with weather-proof
felt. Daylight was admitted through four plate-glass skylights in
A blizzard effectually prevented outdoor work on
February 29, and all hands were employed in the hut, lining the
roof and walls and fixing shelves for cooking and other utensils.
An attack was made on the transport of stores next day. As a
result of twelve hours' work, five and a half tons of coal were
dragged up and stowed under the veranda. It was Hoadley's birthday,
and the cook made a special feature of the dinner. With extra dainties
like figs, cake and a bottle of wine, we felt that the occasion
was fitly celebrated. On March 2, more stores were amassed round
the house; Hoadley, Harrisson and I doing odd jobs inside, opening
cans, sorting out stores, fitting bunks, shelves and the acetylene
While undoing some packages of small boards, Hoadley
found that a space had been arranged in the centre of one of the
bundles, and a box of cigars inserted by some of the men originally
employed upon the construction of the hut in Melbourne. Enclosed
was a letter of hearty good wishes.
During the afternoon,
Dovers and Kennedy lowered a small sledge down to the floe and brought
up a seal and three Adelie penguins. These served for a while as
fresh food for ourselves and the dogs.
Sunday March 3 was
the finest day we had up till then experienced, and, since the work
was now sufficiently advanced to make us comparatively comfortable
and safe, I determined to make a proper Sunday of it. All hands
were called at 8.30 A.M. instead of 6 A.M. After breakfast a few
necessary jobs were done and at noon a short service was held. When
lunch was over, the skis were unpacked, and all went for a run to
the east in the direction of Masson Island.
surface was excellent for travelling, but I soon found that it would
be dangerous to walk about alone without skis, as there were a number
of crevasses near the hut, some of considerable size; I opened one
twenty-five feet wide. They were all well bridged and would support
a man on skis quite easily.
A heavy gale, with falling snow
and blinding drift, came on early the next day and continued for
forty-eight hours; our worst blizzard up to that time. The temperature,
below zero before the storm, rose with the wind to 30 degrees F.
Inside, all were employed preparing for a sledging trip I intended
to make to the mainland before the winter set in. We were greatly
handicapped by the want of a sewing machine.** When unpacked, the
one which had been brought was found to be without shuttles, spools
and needles. Large canvas bags, made to contain two weeks' provisions
for a sledging unit of three men, were in the equipment, but the
smaller bags of calico for the different articles of food had to
be sewn by hand. Several hundred of these were required, and altogether
the time consumed in making them was considerable.
accident the small sewing machine belonging to Wild's party
was landed at the Main Base--ED.
Emerging on the morning
of the 6th. after the blizzard had blown itself out, we found that
snow-drifts to a depth of twelve feet had collected around the hut.
For entrance and exit, a shaft had to be dug and a ladder made.
The stores, stacked in heaps close by, were completely covered,
and another blizzard swooping down on the 7th made things still
worse. This ``blow,'' persisting till the morning of the
9th, was very heavy, the wind frequently attaining velocities judged
to reach ninety miles per hour, accompanied by drift so thick that
it was impossible to go outside for anything.
erection of the wireless masts, everything was now ready for the
sledging journey. On the day when the wind abated, a party set to
work digging holes for the masts and stay-posts. The former were
to be fifty-two feet high, four and a half feet being buried in
the ice. Unfortunately, a strong breeze with thick drift sprang
up just as hoisting operations had started, and in a few minutes
the holes were filled up and the workers had to run for shelter.
Meanwhile, four men had succeeded in rescuing all the buried stores,
some being stowed alongside the hut, and the remainder stacked up
again on a new level.
On came another severe blizzard, which
continued with only a few minutes' interval until the evening
of the 12th. During the short lull, Jones, Dovers and Hoadley took
a sledge for a load of ice from a pressure-ridge rather less than
two hundred yards from the hut. While they were absent, the wind
freshened again, and they had great difficulty in finding a way
to the entrance.
It was very disappointing to be delayed
in this manner, but there was consolation in the fact that we were
better off in the hut than on the glacier, and that there was plenty
of work inside. The interior was thus put in order much earlier
than it would otherwise have been.
In erecting the hut, it
was found that a case of nuts and bolts was missing, and many places
in the frame had in consequence to be secured with nails. For a
while I was rather doubtful how the building would stand a really
heavy blow. There was, however, no need for uneasiness, as the first
two blizzards drifted snow to such a depth in our immediate vicinity
that, even with the wind at hurricane force, there was scarcely
a tremor in the building.
The morning of Wednesday March
13 was calm and overcast. Breakfast was served at six o'clock.
We then set to work and cleared away the snow from the masts and
stay-posts, so that by 8.30 A.M. both masts were in position. Before
the job was over, a singular sight was witnessed. A large section
of the glacier--many thousands of tons--calved off into the sea.
The tremendous waves raised by the fall of this mass smashed into
fragments all the floe left in the bay. With the sea-ice went the
snow-slopes which were the natural roadway down. A perpendicular
cliff, sixty to one hundred feet above the water, was all that remained,
and our opportunities of obtaining seals and penguins in the future
were cut off. Of course, too, the old landing-place no longer existed.
The whole of the sledging provisions and gear were brought out,
weighed and packed on the sledges; the total weight being one thousand
two hundred and thirty-three pounds. Dovers, Harrisson, Hoadley,
Jones, Moyes and myself were to constitute the party.
It was necessary for two men to remain behind at
the base to keep the meteorological records, to wind chronometers,
to feed the dogs and to bring up the remainder of the stores from
the edge of the ice-cliff. Kennedy, the magnetician, had to stay,
as two term days** were due in the next month. It was essential
that we should have a medical man with us, so Jones was included
in the sledging party; the others drawing lots to decide who should
remain with Kennedy. The unlucky one was Watson.
set apart by previous arrangement for magnetic ``quick runs.''
To the south of the Base, seventeen miles distant at the nearest
point, the mainland was visible, entirely ice-clad, running almost
due east and west. It appeared to rise rapidly to about three thousand
feet, and then to ascend more gradually as the great plateau of
the Antarctic continent. It was my intention to travel inland beyond
the lower ice-falls, which extended in an irregular line of riven
bluffs all along the coast, and then to lay a depot or depots which
might be useful on the next season's journeys. Another reason
for making the journey was to give the party some experience in
sledging work. The combined weight of both sledges and effects was
one thousand two hundred and thirty-three pounds, and the total
amount of food carried was four hundred and sixty pounds.
While the sledges were being loaded, ten skua gulls paid us
a visit, and, as roast skua is a very pleasant change of food, Jones
shot six of them.
At 1 P.M. we left the hut, making an east-south-east
course to clear a pressure-ridge; altering the course once more
to south-east. The coast in this direction looked accessible, whereas
a line running due south would have brought us to some unpromising
ice-falls by a shorter route.
The surface was very good and
almost free from crevasses; only one, into which Jones fell to his
middle, being seen during the afternoon's march. Not wishing
to do too much the first day, especially after the ``soft''
days we had been forced to spend in the hut during the spell of
bad weather, I made two short halts in the afternoon and camped
at 5 P.M., having done seven and half miles.
On the 11th
we rose at 5 A.M., and at 7 A.M. we were on the march. For the two
hours after starting, the surface was tolerable and then changed
for the worse; the remainder of the day's work being principally
over a hard crust, which was just too brittle to bear the weight
of a man, letting him through to a soft substratum, six or eight
inches deep in the snow. Only those who have travelled in country
like this can properly realize how wearisome it is.
A.M. the course was altered to south, as there appeared to be a
fairly good track up the hills. The surface of the glacier rose
and fell in long undulations which became wider and more marked
as the land approached. By the time we camped, they were three-quarters
of a mile from crest to crest, with a drop of thirty feet from crest
to trough. Despite the heavy trudging we covered more than thirteen
I made the marching hours 7 A.M. to 5 P.M., so that
there was time to get the evening meal before darkness set in; soon
after 6 P.M.
The march commenced about seven o'clock
on March 15, the thermometer registering -8 degrees F., while a
light southerly breeze made it feel much colder. The exercise soon
warmed us up and, when the breeze died away, the remainder of the
day was perfectly calm.
A surface of ``pie-crust''
cut down the mileage in the forenoon. At 11 A.M. we encountered
many crevasses, from two to five feet wide, with clean-cut sides
and shaky bridges. Hoadley went down to his head in one, and we
all got our legs in others.
It became evident after lunch
that the land was nearing rapidly, its lower slopes obscuring the
higher land behind. The crevasses also became wider, so I lengthened
the harness with an alpine rope to allow more room and to prevent
more than two men from being over a chasm at the same time. At 4
P.M. we were confronted with one sixty feet wide. Crevasses over
thirty feet in width usually have very solid bridges and may be
considered safe, but this one had badly broken edges and one hundred
yards on the right the lid had collapsed. So instead of marching
steadily across, we went over singly on the alpine rope and hauled
the sledges along in their turn, when all had crossed in safety.
Immediately after passing this obstacle the grade
and, between three and five o'clock, we rose two hundred feet,
traversing several large patches of neve.
That night the
tent stood on a field of snow covering the lower slopes of the hills.
On either hand were magnificent examples of ice-falls, but ahead
the way seemed open.
With the exception of a preliminary
stiffness, every one felt well after the toil of the first few days.
In bright sunlight next morning all went to examine the ice-falls
to the east, which were two miles away. Roping up, we made an ascent
half-way to the top which rose five hundred feet and commanded a
grand panorama of glacier and coast. Soon the wind freshened and
drift began to fly. When we regained the tents a gale was blowing,
with heavy drift, so there was nothing to do but make ourselves
as comfortable as possible inside.
All through Saturday night
the gale raged and up till 11.30 A.M. on Sunday March 16. On turning
out, we found that the tents and sledges were covered deeply in
snow, and we dug continuously for more than two hours before we
were able to pack up and get away. Both sledges ran easily for nearly
a mile over neve, when the gradient increased to one in ten, forcing
us to relay. It was found necessary to change our finnesko for spiked
boots. Relaying regularly, we gradually mounted six hundred feet
over neve and massive sastrugi. With a steep slope in front, a halt
was made for the night. The sunset was a picture of prismatic colours
reflected over the undulating ice-sheet and the tumbling cascades
of the glacier.
On the evening of March 18 the altitude of
our camp was one thousand four hundred and ten feet, and the slope
was covered with sastrugi ridges, three to four feet in height.
Travelling over these on the following day we had frequent capsizes.
The outlook to the south was a series of irregular terraces,
varying from half a mile to two miles in breadth and twenty to two
hundred feet in height. These were furrowed by small valleys and
traversed by ridges, but there was not a sign of rock anywhere.
The temperature varied from 4 degrees to 14 degrees F. during
the day, and the minimum recorded at night was -11 degrees F.
Another nine miles of slow ascent brought us to two thousand
feet, followed by a rise of two hundred and twenty feet in seven
and three-quarter miles on March 21. Hauling over high broken sastrugi
was laborious enough to make every one glad when the day was over.
The rations were found sufficient, but the plasmon biscuits were
so hard that they had to be broken with a geological hammer.
There now swept down on us a blizzard** which lasted for a whole
week, on the evening of March 21. According to my diary, the record
is as follows:
``Friday, March 22. Snowing heavily all day,
easterly wind: impossible to travel as nothing can be seen more
than ten to twelve yards away. Temperature high, 7 degrees to 18
** It is a singular fact that this blizzard occurred
on the same date as that during which Captain Scott and his party
lost their lives.
``Saturday, March 23. Blowing hard at turn-out
time, so did not breakfast until 8.30. Dovers is cook in my tent
this week. He got his clothes filled up with snow while bringing
in the cooker, food-bag, etc. The wind increased to a fierce gale
during the day, and all the loose snow which fell yesterday was
``About 5 P.M. the snow was partially blown away
from the skirt or ground cloth, and the tent bulged in a good deal.
I got into burberries and went out to secure it; it was useless
to shovel on snow as it was blown off immediately. I therefore dragged
the food-bags off the sledge and dumped them on. The wind and drift
were so strong that I had several times to get in the lee of the
tent to recover my breath and to clear the mask of snow from my
``We are now rather crowded through the tent bulging
in so much, and having cooker and food-bag inside.
March 24. Had a very bad night. The wind was chopping about from
south-east to north and blowing a hurricane. One side of the tent
was pressed in past the centre, and I had to turn out and support
it with bag lashings. Then the ventilator was blown in and we had
a pile of snow two feet high over the sleeping-bags; this kept us
warm, but it was impossible to prevent some of it getting into the
bags, and now we are very wet and the bags like sponges. There were
quite two hundredweights of snow on us; all of which came through
a hole three inches wide.
``According to report from the
other tent they are worse off than we are; they say they have four
feet of snow in the tent. All this is due to the change of wind,
making the ventilator to windward instead of leeward.
25, 26 and 27. Blizzard still continues, less wind but more snowfall.
``Thursday, March 28. Heavy falling snow and drift, south-east
wind. At noon, the wind eased down and snow ceased falling, so we
slipped into our burberry over-suits and climbed out to dig for
``Nothing could be seen except about two feet of
the tops of the tents, which meant that there was a deposit of five
feet of freshly fallen snow. The upper two feet was soft and powdery,
offering no resistance; under that it was still soft, so that we
sank to our thighs every step and frequently to the waist. By 4.30
P.M. both sledges were rescued, and it was ascertained that no gear
had been lost. We all found that the week of idleness and confinement
had weakened us, and at first were only able to take short spells
at the digging. The sky and barometer promise fine weather to-morrow,
but what awful work it will be pulling!''
A.M. on March 29 the weather was bright and calm. As a strong wind
had blown throughout the night, a harder surface was expected. Outside,
we were surprised to find a fresh wind and thick, low drift; owing
to the tents being snowed up so high, the threshing of the drift
was not audible. To my disgust the surface was as soft as ever.
It appeared that the only resort was to leave the provisions for
the depot on the nearest ridge and return to the Base. The temperature
was -20 degrees F., and, while digging out the tents, Dovers had
his nose frost-bitten.
It took six of us well over an hour
to drag the necessary food half a mile up a rise of less than one
hundred feet; the load, sledge included, not being five hundred
pounds. Nearly all the time we were sinking thigh-deep, and the
sledge itself was going down so far that the instrument-box was
pushing a mass of snow in front of it. Arriving on the ridge, Moyes
found that his foot was frozen and he had to go back to camp, as
there was too much wind to bring it round in the open.
food and oil were left at this depot for three men for six weeks;
also a minimum thermometer.
In a fresh breeze and flying
drift we were off at 10 A.M. next day. At first we were ambitious
and moved away with two sledges, sinking from two to three feet
all the time. Forty yards was as much as we could do without a rest,
and by lunch time nine hundred yards was the total. Now the course
was downhill, and the two sledges were pulled together, creeping
along with painful slowness, as walking was the hardest work imaginable.
After one of the most strenuous days I have ever experienced, we
camped; the sledge-meter recorded one mile four hundred and fifty
A spell of two days' blizzard cooped us up once
more, but improved the surface slightly. Still, it was dreadfully
soft, and, but for the falling gradient, we would not have made
what we did; five miles six hundred and ten yards, on April 2. On
that and the following day it was fortunate that the road chosen
was free of crevasses.
At the foot of the hills I had decided
to reduce the rations but, as the track had grown firm once more,
and we were only twenty-five miles from the hut, with a week's
food, I thought it would be safe to use the full allowance.
Soon after leaving the hills (April 4), a direct course to the
hut was made. There was no mark by which to steer, except a ``water-sky''
to the north, the hinterland being clouded over. During the afternoon,
the sun occasionally gleamed through a tract of cirro- stratus cloud
and there was a very fine parhelion: signs of an approaching blizzard.
At 4.30 P.M. we had done seventeen and a half miles, and, as all
hands were fresh and willing, I decided to have a meal and go on
again, considering that the moon was full and there were only six
miles to be done.
After supper the march was continued till
8.30 P.M., by which time we were due for a rest. I had begun to
think that we had passed the hut.
April 5 was far from being
a Good Friday for us. At 2 A.M. a fresh breeze rose and rapidly
increased to a heavy gale. At 10 A.M. Hoadley and I had to go out
to secure the tent; the weather-side bulged in more than half the
width of the tent and was held by a solid load of drift, but the
other sides were flapping so much that almost all the snow had been
shaken off the skirt. Though only five yards away from it we could
not see the other tent. At noon Hoadley again went out to attend
to the tent and entirely lost himself within six feet of it. He
immediately started to yell and I guessed what was the matter at
once. Dovers and I shouted our best, and Hoadley groped his way
in with a mask of snow over his face. He told us that the wind which
was then blowing a good eighty miles an hour, knocked him down immediately
he was outside, and, when he struggled to his feet again, he could
see nothing and had no idea in what direction lay the tent.
The space inside was now so limited by the combined pressure
of wind and snow that we did not light the primus, eating lumps
of frozen pemmican for the evening meal.
The blizzard continued
with unabated violence until eleven o'clock next morning, when
it moderated within an hour to half a gale. We turned out and had
a good hot meal. Then we looked to see how the others had fared
and found that their tent had collapsed. Getting at once into wind-proof
clothing, we rushed out and were horrified to see Harrisson in his
bag on the snow. He quickly assured us that he was all right. After
carrying him, bag and all, into our tent, he emerged quite undamaged,
but very hungry.
Jones and Moyes now had to be rescued; they
were in a most uncomfortable position under the fallen tent. It
appears that the tent had blown down on the previous morning at
ten o'clock, and for thirty-six hours they had had nothing to
eat. We did not take long to dig them out.
The wind dropped
to a moderate breeze, and, through the falling snow, I could make
out a ``water-sky'' to the west. The three unfortunates
said that they felt fit to travel, so we got under way. The surface
was soft and the pulling very heavy, and I soon saw that the strain
was largely due to the weakness of the three who had been without
food. Calling a halt, I asked Jones if it would do to go on; he
assured me that they could manage to go on with an effort, and the
march was resumed.
Not long after, Dovers sighted the wireless
mast, and a quarter of an hour later we were safely in the hut,
much to the surprise of Kennedy and Watson, who did not expect us
to be travelling in such weather, and greatly to our own relief.
According to the sledge-meter, the last camp had only been two miles
one hundred yards from home, and if anything had been visible on
the night of April 4, we could have got in easily.
very pleased with the way all the party had shaped. They had worked
splendidly and were always cheerful, although conditions had been
exceptionally trying during this journey. No one was any the worse
for the hardships, except for a few blistered fingers from frost-bites.
The party lost weight at the average of two and a half pounds; Harrisson
was the greatest loser, being reduced six pounds. Out of the twenty-five
days we were away, it was only possible to sledge on twelve days.
The total distance covered, including relay work, was nearly one
hundred and twenty-two miles, and the greatest elevation reached
on the southern mainland was two thousand six hundred feet above
Kennedy and Watson had been very busy during our
absence. In a few days they had trained five of the dogs to pull
in harness, and transported the remainder of the stores from the
landing-place, arranging them in piles round the hut. The weather
at the Base had been quite as bad as that experienced by us on the
In the first blizzard both wireless masts were
broken down. Watson and Kennedy managed to repair and re-erect one
of the masts, but it was only thirty-seven feet in height. Any final
hopes of hearing wireless signals were dispelled by the discovery
that the case containing the detector and several other parts necessary
receiving-station were missing.
Watson had fitted
up a splendid dark-room, as well as plenty of shelves and racks
for cooking utensils.
Kennedy was able to secure a series
of observations on one of his term days, but, before the next one,
the tent he was using was blown to ribbons.
XX - THE WESTERN BASE--WINTER AND SPRING