As far as we could see, the inland ice was an unbroken
plateau with no natural landmarks. From the hinterland in a vast
solid stream the ice flowed, with heavily crevassed downfalls near
the coast. Traversing this from north to south was a narrow belt,
reasonably free from pitfalls, running as a spur down to the sea.
To reach the Hut in safety it would be necessary for sledging parties
returning from the interior to descend by this highway. The problem
was to locate the path. Determinations of latitude and longitude
would guide them to the neighbourhood of Commonwealth Bay, but the
coastline in the vicinity of Winter Quarters, with the rocks and
islets, would not come into view until within two miles, as above
that point the icy slopes filled the foreground up to the distant
berg-studded horizon. Delays in reaching the Hut owing to the difficult
descent might have serious consequences, for provisions are usually
short near the conclusion of a sledging journey.
of making artificial landmarks was, therefore, most obvious. Already
we had a flagstaff two miles to the south. It was now my intention
to run a line of similar marks backwards to the plateau.
Bage, Madigan and I were to form a reconnoitring party to plant
these flags, and to make a journey of a few days' duration into
the hinterland, to see its possibilities, and with a view to an
extended sledging campaign to commence as soon as possible after
our return. It was decided not to make use of the dogs until later
in the year, when they would be in better form.
continued, accompanied by more or less drift-snow. This appeared
to be the settled state of the weather. We decided to move out as
soon as a moderate phase should occur.
On the afternoon of
February 28 the weather cleared up for several hours, and we decided
to leave on the following day. The wind resumed operations once
more, but fell off late on February 29, when we made a start. We
intended to get the packed sledge up the first steep slope, there
to leave it until the morrow. The drift was slight and low, flowing
along like a stream below our knees. Bickerton, Hurley and Mertz
assisted us with the hauling. At a distance of a little more than
a mile, at an elevation of five hundred feet, the sledge was anchored
and we returned to the Hut for the night.
Next morning the
weather cleared still more, and we left just before noon. Three
miles out, a mast and flag were erected, when our companions of
the day before, who had again assisted us, turned back. At five
and a half miles the brow of the main rise was reached, and the
gradient became much flatter beyond it. The elevation was found
to be one thousand five hundred feet.
To the south nothing
was visible but a great, wan, icy wilderness. To the north a headland
appeared on either hand, each about twenty-five miles away, and
between them lay an expanse of sea dotted with many bergs. The nearer
portions of the coast, together with the Mackellar Islets, were
lost to view on account of the curvature of the foreground.
During most of the day we had travelled over a surface of clear
ice, marked by occasional scars where fissuring, now healed, had
at some time taken place. Beyond the three-mile flag, however, the
ice was gashed at frequent intervals, producing irregular crevasses,
usually a few yards in length and, for the most part, choked with
snow. At five and a half miles we were on the edge of a strip of
snow, half a mile across, whose whiteness was thrown in dazzling
contrast against the foil of transparent, dark ice.
dusk, and light drift commenced to scud by, so, as this was a suitable
place to erect a flag, we decided to camp for the night. Some hours
later I woke up to hear a blizzard blowing outside, and to find
Madigan fumbling amongst some gear at the head-end of the tent.
From inside my bag I called out to inquire if there was anything
wrong, and received a reply that he was looking for the primus-pricker.
Then he slipped back into his sleeping-bag, and all became quiet,
except for the snow beating against the tent. So I presumed that
he had found it. Revolving the incident in my mind, and dimly wondering
what use he could have for a primus-pricker in the middle of the
night, I again fell asleep. In the morning the blizzard was still
blowing, accompanied by a good deal of drift. On inquiry I found
that Madigan knew nothing of his midnight escapade.
It was a
touch of somnambulism.
It would serve no useful purpose to
go on in thick drift, for the main object of our journey was to
define the best route through the crevassed zone; and that could
only be done on a clear day. I decided, accordingly, that if the
weather did not improve by noon to leave the sledge with the gear
and walk back to the Hut, intending
to make another attempt when
conditions became more settled.
Whilst the others erected
a flagstaff and froze the legs of a drift-proof box (containing
a thermograph) into the ice, I made lunch and prepared for our departure.
The tent was taken down and everything lashed securely on the sledge.
It was nearly 3 P.M. when we set out in thick drift, and in
two hours we were at the Hut; the weather having steadily improved
as we descended. On comparing notes with those at home it appeared
that we, at the fifteen hundred feet level, had experienced much
more wind and drift than they at sea-level.
Webb and his
assistants were beginning to make quite a display at the Magnetograph
House. The framework, which had already been erected once, to be
demolished by the wind, was now strongly rebuilt and was ready for
the outside covering of boards.
From the night of our return
to March 8 there was a high wind accompanied by much drift; for
some hours it continued at eighty miles per hour, the mean temperature
being about 15 degrees F., with a minimum of 5 degrees F.
Up to this date the dogs had been kept on the chain, on account
of their depredations amongst the seals and penguins. The severe
weather now made it necessary to release them. Thenceforth, their
abode for part of the day was inside the veranda, where a section
was barricaded-off for their exclusive use. Outside in heavy drift
their habit was to take up a position in the lee of some large object,
such as the Hut. In such a position they were soon completely buried
and oblivious to the outside elements. Thus one would sometimes
a dog, hidden beneath the snow; and the dog often showed
less surprise than the offending man. What the dogs detested most
of all during the blizzard-spells was the drift-snow filling their
eyes until they were forced to stop and brush it away frantically
with their paws. Other inconveniences were the icy casing which
formed from the thawing snow on their thick coats, and the fact
that when they lay in one position, especially on ice, for any length
of time they become frozen down, and only freed themselves at the
expense of tufts of hair. In high winds, accompanied by a low temperature,
they were certainly very miserable, unless in some kind of shelter.
Several families were born at this time, but although we did
everything possible for them they all perished, except one; the
offspring of Gadget. This puppy was called ``Blizzard.''
It was housed for a while in the veranda and, later on, in the Hangar.
Needless to say, Blizzard was a great favourite and much in demand
as a pet.
On the night of March 7, Caruso, who had been in
poor condition for some time, was found to have a gaping wound around
the neck. It was a clean cut, an inch deep and almost a foot in
length. The cause was never satisfactorily explained, though a piece
of strong string embedded in the wound evidently made the incision.
Caruso was brought inside, and, whilst Whetter administered chloroform,
McLean sewed up the wound. After careful attention for some days,
it healed fairly well, but as the dog's general health was worse,
it was deemed
advisable to shoot him.
The outer shell
of the Magnetograph House was nearly completed, affording a protection
for those who worked on the interior linings. When completed, the
walls and roof consisted of two coverings of tongued and grooved
pine boards and three layers of thick tarred paper.
there still remained a breach in the wall, Hurley repaired there
with his cinematograph camera and took a film showing the clouds
of drift-snow whirling past. In those days we were not educated
in methods of progression against heavy winds; so, in order to get
Hurley and his bulky camera back to the Hut, we formed a scrum on
the windward side and with a strong ``forward'' rush beat
our formidable opponent.
On March 8 the blizzard died away
and a good day followed. All hands joined in building a solid stone
outside of the Magnetograph House. This piece of work, in which
thirty tons of rock were utilized, was completed on the following
day. The wall reached almost to the roof on every side. The unprotected
roof was lagged with sacks and sheep-skins and, after this had been
effected, the hut became practically windtight. The external covering
controlled the influx of cold from the penetrating winds, and, on
the other hand, the conduction of the sun's warmth in summer.
Thus a steady temperature was maintained; a most desirable feature
in a magnetograph house. Webb had the instruments set up in a few
days, and they were working before the end of the month.
After the calm of March 8, the wind steadily increased and became
worse than ever. Madigan, who was in charge of the whale-boat, kept
it moored in the boat-harbour under shelter of the ice-foot. An
excursion was made to the fish traps, buoyed half a mile off shore,
on February 8, and it was found that one had been carried away in
the hurricane. The other was brought in very much battered. That
night it was decided at the first opportunity to haul up the boat
and house it for the winter. Alas! the wind came down again too
increasing in force, with dense drift. It was still
in full career on the 12th, when Madigan came in with the news that
the boat had disappeared. It was no fault of the rope-attachments
for they were securely made and so we were left to conclude that
a great mass of ice had broken away from the overhanging shelf and
carried everything before it.
The regularity of the high-velocity
winds was already recognized as one of the most remarkable features
of Adelie Land. By itself such wind would have been bad enough,
but, accompanied by dense volumes of drifting snow, it effectually
put a stop to most outdoor occupations.
The roof and walls
of the veranda being covered with a single layer of tongued and
grooved boards, the snow drove through every chink. The cases outside
were a partial protection, but the cracks were innumerable, and
in the course of twenty-four hours the snow inside had collected
in deep drifts. This required to be shovelled out each day or the
veranda would have been entirely blocked.
Much time was spent
endeavouring to make it drift-tight; but as the materials at our
disposal were very limited, the result was never absolutely satisfactory.
The small veranda serving as an entrance-porch was deluged with
snow which drove in past the canvas doorway. The only way to get
over this trouble was to shovel out the accumulations every morning.
On one occasion, when Close was nightwatchman, the drift poured
through in such volume that each time he wished to go outside it
took him half an hour to dig his way out. On account of this periodic
influx, the vestibule doorway to the workroom was moved to the other
end of the wall, where the invading snow had farther to travel and
was consequently less obstructive.
One advantage of the deposit
of snow around the Hut was that all draughts were sealed off. Before
this happened it was found very difficult to keep the inside temperature
up to 40° F. A temperature taken within the Hut varied according
to the specific position in reference to the walls and stove. That
shown by the thermometer attached to the standard barometer, which
was suspended near the centre of the room, was taken as the ``hut
temperature''. Near the floor and walls it was lower, and
higher, of course, near the stove.
On one occasion, in the early
days, I remember the ``hut temperature'' being 19°
F., notwithstanding the heat from the large range. Under these conditions
the writing-ink and various solutions all over the place froze,
and, when the night-watchman woke up the shivering community he
had many clamorous demands to satisfy. The photographer produced
an interesting product from the dark room--a transparent cast of
a developing-dish in which a photographic plate left overnight to
wash was firmly set.
We arranged to maintain an inside temperature
of 40 degrees F.; when it rose to 50 degrees F. means were taken
to reduce it. The cooking-range, a large one designed to burn anthracite
coal, was the general warming apparatus. To raise the temperature
quickly, blocks of seal blubber, of which there was always a supply
at hand, were used. The coal consumption averaged one hundred pounds
a day, approximately, this being reduced at a later date to seventy-five
pounds by employing a special damper for the chimney. The damper
designed for ordinary climates allowed too much draught to be sucked
through during the high winds which prevailed continually.
The chimney was fitted with a cowl which had to be specially
secured to keep it in place. During heavy drifts the cowl became
choked with snow and ice, and the Hut would rapidly fill with smoke
until some one, hurriedly donning burberrys, rushed out with an
ice-axe to chip an outlet for the draught. The chimney was very
short and securely stayed, projecting through the lee side of the
roof, where the pressure of the wind was least felt.
first good display of aurora polaris was witnessed during the evening
of March 12, though no doubt there had been other exhibitions obscured
by the drift. As the days went by and the equinox drew near, auroral
phenomena were with few exceptions visible on clear evenings. In
the majority of cases they showed up low in the northern sky.
In the midst of a torment of wind, March 15 came as a beautiful,
sunny, almost calm day. I remarked in my diary that it was ``typical
Antarctic weather,'' thinking of those halcyon days which
belong to the climate of the southern shores of the Ross Sea. In
Adelie Land, we were destined to find, it was hard to number more
than a dozen or two in the year.
A fine day! the psychological
effect was remarkable; pessimism vanished, and we argued that with
the passing of the equinox there would be a marked change for the
better. Not a moment was lost: some were employed in making anchorages
for the wireless masts; others commenced to construct a Hangar to
house the air-tractor sledge.
In building the Hangar, the
western wall of the Hut was used for one side; the low southern
end and the western wall were constructed of full and empty cases,
the lee side was closed with a tarpaulin and blocks of snow and
over all was nailed a roof of thick timber--part of the air-tractor's
case. To stiffen the whole structure, a small amount of framework,
in the form of heavy uprights, was set in the ground. The dimensions
inside were thirty-four feet by eleven feet; the height, eleven
feet at the northern and six feet at the southern end. As a break-wind
a crescent-shaped wall of benzine cases was built several yards
to the south. As in the case of the veranda, it was very difficult
to make the Hangar impervious to drift; a certain quantity of snow
always made its way in, and was duly shovelled out.
Seals had suddenly become very scarce, no doubt
disgusted with the continuous winds. Every one that came ashore
was shot for food. Unfortunately, the amount of meat necessary for
the dogs throughout the winter was so great that dog-biscuits had
to be used to eke it out.
Only a few penguins remained by
the middle of March. They were all young ones, waiting for the completion
of their second moult before taking to the sea. The old feathers
hung in untidy tufts, and the birds were often in a wretched plight
owing to the wind and drift-snow. Many were added to the bleaching
carcases which fill the crevices or lie in heaps on ancient rookeries
among the rocky ridges. None were free from the encumbrance of hard
cakes of snow which often covered their eyes or dangled in pendent
icicles from their bodies. The result was very ludicrous.
Hurley obtained some excellent photographs of the seals and
penguins, as of all other subjects. So good were they that most
of us withdrew from competition. His enthusiasm and resourcefulness
knew no bounds. Occasional days, during which cameras that had been
maltreated by the wind were patched up, were now looked upon as
inevitable. One day, when Webb and Hurley were both holding on to
the cinematograph camera, they were blown away, with sundry damages
all around. It was later in the year when Hurley with his whole-plate
camera broke through the sea-ice--a sad affair for the camera.
The good conditions on the 15th lasted only a few hours, and
back came the enemy as bad as ever. On the 18th the wind was only
thirty miles per hour, giving us an opportunity of continuing the
buildings outside. It was only by making the most of every odd hour
when the weather was tolerable that our outdoor enterprises made
any headway. Sometimes when it was too windy for building we were
able to improve our knowledge of the neighbourhood.
at Stillwell's map is instruct*e as to the extent and character
of the rocky area. It is devoid of any forms of vegetation sufficiently
prominent to meet the casual eye. Soil is lacking, for all light
materials and even gravel are carried away by the winds. The bare
rock rises up into miniature ridges, separated by valleys
occupied by ice-slabs and lakelets. Snow fills all the crevices
and tails away in sloping ramps on the lee side of every obstacle.
In midsummer a good deal thaws, and, re-freezing, is converted into
ice. The highest point of the rock is one hundred and forty feet.
The seaward margin is deeply indented, and the islets
tell of a continuation of the rugged, rocky surface below the sea.
On the northern faces of the ridges, fronting the ice-foot, large,
yellowish patches mark the sites of penguin rookeries. These are
formed by a superficial deposit of guano which never becomes thick,
for it blows away as fast as it accumulates. Standing on the shore,
one can see kelp growing amongst the rocks even in the shallowest
spots, below low-water level.
To the south, the rocks are
overridden by the inland ice which bears down upon and overwhelms
them. The ice-sheet shows a definite basal moraine, which means
that the lowest stratum, about forty feet in thickness, is charged
with stones and earthy matter. Above this stratum the ice is free
from foreign matter and rises steeply to several hundred feet, after
which the ascending gradient is reduced.
glacier moves down to the sea, regularly but slowly; the rate of
movement of some portions of the adjacent coastal ice cliffs was
found to be one hundred feet per annum. The rocky promontory at
Winter Quarters, acting as an obstacle, reduces the motion of the
ice to an annual rate measured in inches only. Perhaps the conditions
now prevailing are those of a comparative ``drought,'' for
there is clear evidence that our small promontory was at one time
completely enveloped. In a broad way this is illustrated by the
topography, but the final proof came when Stillwell and others discovered
rock-faces polished and grooved by the ice.
there may have been in the past, the position of the margin of the
glacier must have remained for a long period in its present situation.
The evidence for this is found in the presence of a continuous,
terminal moraine, at or just in advance of the present ice-front.
This moraine, an accumulation of stones of all kinds brought to
their present resting-place by the ice-sheet, was in itself a veritable
museum. Rocks, showing every variety in colour and form, were assembled,
transported from far and wide over
the great expanse of the continent.
A section of the coastal slope of the Continental
Ice Sheet inland
from Winter Quarters, Adelie Land
Stillwell found these moraines a ``happy hunting-ground''
for the geologist. His plane-table survey and rock collections are
practical evidence of work carried out in weather which made it
seldom short of an ordeal.
The story of the buried land to
the south is in large measure revealed in the samples brought by
the ice and so conveniently dumped. Let us swiftly review the operations
leading to the deposition of this natural museum.
ice of the hinterland moves forward, it plucks fragments from the
rocky floor. Secure in its grip, these are used as graving-tools
to erode its bed. Throwing its whole weight upon them it grinds
and scratches, pulverizes and grooves. The rocky basement is gradually
reduced in level, especially the softer regions. The tools are faceted,
polished and furrowed, for ever moving onwards. Finally, the rock-powder
or ``rock-flour,'' as it is termed, and the boulders, thenceforth
known as ``erratics,'' arrive at the terminal ice-face.
Here, the melting due to the sun's heat keeps pace with the
``on-thrust'' and some of the erratics may remain stationary,
or else, floating in the sea, a berg laden with boulders breaks
off and deposits its load in the depths of the ocean. Each summer
the ice-face above the rocks at Winter Quarters thawed back a short
distance and the water ran away in rivulets, milky-white on account
of the ``rock-flour'' in suspension. The pebbles and boulders
too heavy to be washed away remained behind to form the moraine.
The ``erratics'' comprised a great variety
of metamorphic and igneous rocks, and, on a more limited scale,
sedimentary types. Amongst the latter were sandstones, slates, shales
Apart from the moraines, the rock exposed
in situ was mainly a uniform type of gneiss, crumpled and folded,
showing all the signs of great antiquity--pre-Cambrian, in the geological
phrase. Relieving the grey sheen of the gneiss were dark bands of
schist which tracked about in an irregular manner. Sporadic quartz
veins here and there showed a light tint. They were specially interesting,
for they carried some less common minerals such as beryl, tourmaline,
garnet, coarse mica and ores of iron, copper and molybdenum. The
ores were present in small quantities, but gave promise of larger
bodies in the vicinity and indicated the probability of mineral
wealth beneath the continental ice-cap.
VII - THE BLIZZARD