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The Start for the Pole - Chapter 10
At last we got away, on October 19. The weather for the past few days had not been altogether reliable; now windy, now calm -- now snowing, now clear: regular spring weather, in other words. That day it continued unsettled; it was misty and thick in the morning, and did not promise well for the day, but by 9.30 there was a light breeze from the east, and at the same time it cleared.
There was no need for a prolonged inquiry into the sentiments of the party. -- What do you think? Shall we start?" -- Yes, of course. Let's be jogging on." There was only one opinion about it. Our coursers were harnessed in a jiffy, and with a little nod -- as much as to say, "See you to-morrow" -- we were off. I don't believe Lindström even came out of doors to see us start. "Such an everyday affair: what's the use of making a fuss about it?"
There were five of us -- Hanssen, Wisting, Hassel, Bjaaland, and myself. We had four sledges, with thirteen dogs to each. At the start our sledges were very light, as we were only taking supplies for the trip to 80° S., where all our cases were waiting for us; we could therefore sit on the sledges and flourish our whips with a jaunty air. I sat astride on Wisting's sledge, and anyone who had seen us would no doubt have thought a Polar journey looked very inviting.
Down on the sea-ice stood Prestrud with the cinematograph, turning the crank as fast as he could go as we went past. When we came up on to the Barrier on the other side, he was there again, turning incessantly. The last thing I saw, as we went over the top of the ridge and everything familiar disappeared, was a cinematograph; it was coming inland at full speed. I had been engaged in looking out ahead, and turned round suddenly to throw a last glance in the direction of the spot that to us stood for all that was beautiful on earth, when I caught sight of -- what do you think? A cinematograph. "He can't be taking anything but air now, can he?" -- "Hardly that." The cinematograph vanished below the horizon.
The going was excellent, but the atmosphere became thicker as we went inland. For the first twelve miles from the edge of the Barrier I had been sitting with Hassel, but, seeing that Wisting's dogs could manage two on the sledge better than the others, I moved. Hanssen drove first; he had to steer by compass alone, as the weather had got thicker. After him came Bjaaland, then Hassel, and, finally, Wisting and I. We had just gone up a little slope, when we saw that it dropped rather steeply on the other side; the descent could not be more than 20 yards long. I sat with my back to the dogs, looking aft, and was enjoying the brisk drive. Then suddenly the surface by the side of the sledge dropped perpendicularly, and showed a yawning black abyss, large enough to have swallowed us all, and a little more. A few inches more to one side, and we should have taken no part in the Polar journey. We guessed from this broken surface that we had come too far to the east, and altered our course more westerly. When we had reached safer ground, I took the opportunity of putting on my ski and driving so; in this way the weight was more distributed. Before very long it cleared a little, and we saw one of our mark-flags straight ahead. We went up to it; many memories clung to the spot -- cold and slaughter of dogs. It was there we had killed the three puppies on the last trip.
We had then covered seventeen miles, and we camped, well pleased with the first day of our long journey. My belief that, with all in one tent, we should manage our camping and preparations much better than before was fully justified. The tent went up as though it arose out of the ground, and everything was done as though we had had long practice. We found we had ample room in the tent, and our arrangements worked splendidly the whole time. They were as follows: as soon as we halted, all took a hand at the tent. The pegs in the valance of the tent were driven in, and Wisting crept inside and planted the pole, while the rest of us stretched the guy-ropes. When this was done, I went in, and all the things that were to go inside were handed in to me -- sleeping-bags, kit-bags, cookers, provisions. Everything was put in its place, the Primus lighted, and the cooker filled with snow. Meanwhile the others fed their dogs and let them loose. Instead of the "guard," we shovelled loose snow round the tent; this proved to be sufficient protection -- the dogs respected it. The bindings were taken off all our ski, and either stowed with other loose articles in a provision-case, or hung up together with the harness on the top of the ski, which were lashed upright to the front of the sledge. The tent proved excellent in every way; the dark colour subdued the light, and made it agreeable.
Neptune, a fine dog, was let loose when we had come six miles over the plain; he was so fat that he could not keep up. We felt certain that he would follow us, but he did not appear. We then supposed that he had turned back and made for the flesh-pots, but, strangely enough, he did not do that either. He never arrived at the station; it is quite a mystery what became of him. Rotta, another fine animal, was also set free; she was not fit for the journey, and she afterwards arrived at home. Ulrik began by having a ride on the sledge; he picked up later. Björn went limping after the sledge. Peary was incapacitated; he was let loose and followed for a time, but then disappeared. When the eastern party afterwards visited the depot in 80° S., they found him there in good condition. He was shy at first, but by degrees let them come near him and put the harness on. He did very good service after that. Uranus and Fuchs were out of condition. This was pretty bad for the first day, but the others were all worth their weight in gold.
During the night it blew a gale from the east, but it moderated in the morning, so that we got away at 10 a.m. The weather did not hold for long; the wind came again with renewed force from the same quarter, with thick driving snow. However, we went along well, and passed flag after flag. After going nineteen and a quarter miles, we came to a snow beacon that had been erected at the beginning of April, and had stood for seven months; it was still quite good and solid. This gave us a good deal to think about: so we could depend upon these beacons; they would not fall down. From the experience thus gained, we afterwards erected the whole of our extensive system of beacons on the way south. The wind went to the south-east during the day; it blew, but luckily it had stopped snowing. The temperature was -11.5° F., and bitter enough against the wind. When we stopped in the evening and set our tent, we had just found our tracks from the last trip; they were sharp and clear, though six weeks old. We were glad to find them, as we had seen no flag for some time, and were beginning to get near the ugly trap, forty-six and a half miles from the house, that had been found on the last depot journey, so we had to be careful.
The next day, the 21st, brought very thick weather: a strong breeze from the south-east, with thick driving snow. It would not have been a day for crossing the trap if we had not found our old tracks. It was true that we could not see them far, but we could still see the direction they took. So as to be quite safe, I now set our course north-east by east -- two points east was the original course. And compared with our old tracks, this looked right, as the new course was considerably more easterly than the direction of the tracks. One last glance over the camping-ground to see whether anything was forgotten, and then into the blizzard. It was really vile weather, snowing from above and drifting from below, so that one was quite blinded. We could not see far; very often we on the last sledge had difficulty in seeing the first. Bjaaland was next in front of us. For a long time we had been going markedly downhill, and this was not in accordance with our reckoning; but in that weather one could not make much of a reckoning. We had several times passed over crevasses, but none of any size. Suddenly we saw Bjaaland's sledge sink over. He jumped off and seized the trace. The sledge lay on its side for a few seconds, then began to sink more and more, and finally disappeared altogether. Bjaaland had got a good purchase in the snow, and the dogs lay down and dug their claws in. The sledge sank more and more -- all this happened in a few moments.
"Now I can't hold it any longer." We -- Wisting and I -- had just come up. He was holding on convulsively, and resisting with all his force, but it was no use -- inch by inch the sledge sank deeper. The dogs, too, seemed to understand the gravity of the situation; stretched out in the snow, they dug their claws in, and resisted with all their strength. But still, inch by inch, slowly and surely, it went down into the abyss. Bjaaland was right enough when he said he couldn't hold on any longer. A few seconds more, and his sledge and thirteen dogs would never have seen the light of day again. Help came at the last moment. Hanssen and Hassel, who were a little in advance when it happened, had snatched an Alpine rope from a sledge and came to his assistance. They made the rope fast to the trace, and two of us -- Bjaaland and I -- were now able, by getting a good purchase, to hold the sledge suspended. First the dogs were taken out; then Hassel's sledge was drawn back and placed across the narrowest part of the crevasse, where we could see that the edges were solid. Then by our combined efforts the sledge, which was dangling far below, was hoisted up as far as we could get it, and made fast to Hassel's sledge by the dogs' traces. Now we could slack off and let go: one sledge hung securely enough by the other. We could breathe a little more freely.
The next thing to be done was to get the sledge right, up, and before we could manage that it had to be unloaded. A man would have to go down on the rope, cast off the lashings of the cases, and attach them again for drawing up. They all wanted this job, but Wisting had it; he fastened the Alpine rope round his body and went down. Bjaaland and I took up our former positions, and acted as anchors; meanwhile Wisting reported what he saw down below. The case with the cooker was hanging by its last thread; it was secured, and again saw the light of day. Hassel and Hanssen attended to the hauling up of the cases, as Wisting had them ready. These two fellows moved about on the brink of the chasm with a coolness that I regarded at first with approving eyes. I admire courage and contempt for danger. But the length to which they carried it at last was too much of a good thing; they were simply playing hide-and-seek with Fate. Wisting's information from below -- that the cornice they were standing on was only a few inches thick -- did not seem to have the slightest effect on them; on the contrary, they seemed to stand all the more securely.
"We've been lucky," said Wisting; "this is the only place where the crevasse is narrow enough to put a sledge across. If we had gone a little more to the left" -- Hanssen looked eagerly in that direction -- "none of us would have escaped. There is no surface there; only a crust as thin as paper. It doesn't look very inviting down below, either; immense spikes of ice sticking up everywhere, which would spit you before you got very far down."
This description was not attractive; it was well we had found "such a good place." Meanwhile Wisting had finished his work, and was hauled up. When asked whether he was not glad to be on the surface again, he answered with a smile that "it was nice and warm down there." We then hauled the sledge up, and for the time being all was well. "But," said Hassel, "we must be careful going along here, because I was just on the point of going in when Hanssen and I were bringing up the sledge." He smiled as though at a happy memory. Hassel had seen that it was best to be careful. There was no need to look for crevasses; there was literally nothing else to be seen.
There could be no question of going farther into the trap, for we had long ago come to the conclusion that, in spite of our precautions, we had arrived at this ugly place. We should have to look about for a place for the tent, but that was easier said than done. There was no possibility of finding a place large enough for both the tent and the guy-ropes; the tent was set up on a small, apparently solid spot, and the guys stretched across crevasses in all directions. We were beginning to be quite familiar with the place. That crevasse ran there and there, and it had a side-fissure that went so and so -- just like schoolboys learning a lesson.
Meanwhile we had brought all our things as far as possible into a place of safety; the dogs lay harnessed to reduce the risk of losing them. Wisting was just going over to his sledge -- he had gone the same way several times before -- when suddenly I saw nothing but his head, shoulders and arms above the snow. He had fallen through, but saved himself by stretching his arms out as he fell. The crevasse was bottomless, like the rest. We went into the tent and cooked lobscouse. Leaving the weather to take care of itself, we made ourselves as comfortable as we could. It was then one o'clock in the afternoon. The wind had fallen considerably since we came in, and before we knew what was happening, it was perfectly calm. It began to brighten a little about three, and we went out to look at it.
The weather was evidently improving, and on the northern horizon there was a sign of blue sky. On the south it was thick. Far off, in the densest part of the mist, we could vaguely see the outline of a dome-like elevation, and Wisting and Hanssen went off to examine it. The dome turned out to be one of the small haycock formations that we had seen before in this district. They struck at it with their poles, and just as they expected -- it was hollow, and revealed the darkest abyss. Hanssen was positively chuckling with delight when he told us about it; Hassel sent him an envious glance.
By 4 p.m. it cleared, and a small reconnoitring party, composed of three, started to find a way out of this. I was one of the three, so we had a long Alpine rope between us; I don't like tumbling in, if I can avoid it by such simple means. We set out to the east -- the direction that had brought us out of the same broken ground before -- and we had not gone more than a few paces when we were quite out of it. It was now clear enough to look about us. Our tent stood at the north-eastern corner of a tract that was full of hummocks; we could decide beyond a doubt that this was the dreaded trap. We continued a little way to the east until we saw our course clearly, and then returned to camp. We did not waste much time in getting things ready and leaving the place. It was a genuine relief to find ourselves once more on good ground, and we resumed our journey southward at a brisk pace.
That we were not quite out of the dangerous zone was shown by a number of small hummocks to the south of us. They extended across our course at right angles. We could also see from some long but narrow crevasses we crossed that we must keep a good look-out. When we came into the vicinity of the line of hummocks that lay in our course, we stopped and discussed our prospects. "We shall save a lot of time by going straight on through here instead of going round," said Hanssen. I had to admit this; but, on the other hand, the risk was much greater. "Oh, let's try it," he went on; "if we can't do it, we can't." I was weak, and allowed myself to be persuaded, and away we went among the haycocks. I could see how Hanssen was enjoying himself; this was just what he wanted. We went faster and faster. Curiously enough, we passed several of these formations without noticing anything, and began to hope that we should get through. Then suddenly Hanssen's three leading dogs disappeared, and the others stopped abruptly. He got them hauled up without much trouble and came over. We others, who were following, crossed without accident, but our further progress seemed doubtful, for after a few more paces the same three dogs fell in again. We were now in exactly the same kind of place as before; crevasses ran in every direction, like a broken pane of glass. I had had enough, and would take no more part in this death-ride. I announced decisively that we must turn back, follow our tracks, and go round it all. Hanssen looked quite disappointed. "Well," he said, "but we shall be over it directly." "I dare say we shall," I replied; "but we must go back first." This was evidently hard on him; there was one formation in particular that attracted him, and he wanted to try his strength with it. It was a pressure-mass that, as far as appearance went, might just as well have been formed out in the drift-ice. It looked as if it was formed of four huge lumps of ice raised on end against each other. We knew what it contained without examination -- a yawning chasm. Hanssen cast a last regretful glance upon it, and then turned back.
We could now see all our surroundings clearly. This place lay, as we had remarked before, in a hollow; we followed it round, and came up the rise on the south without accident. Here we caught sight of one of our flags; it stood to the east of us, and thus confirmed our suspicion that we had been going too far to the west. We had one more contact with the broken ground, having to cross some crevasses and pass a big hole; but then it was done, and we could once more rejoice in having solid ice beneath us. Hanssen, however, was not satisfied till he had been to look into the hole. In the evening we reached the two snow-huts we had built on the last trip, and we camped there, twenty-six miles from the depot. The huts were drifted up with snow, so we left them in peace, and as the weather was now so mild and fine, we preferred the tent.
It had been an eventful day, and we had reason to be satisfied that we had come off so easily. The going had been good, and it had all gone like a game. When we started the next morning it was overcast and thick, and before we had gone very far we were in the midst of a south-wester, with snow so thick that we could hardly see ten sledge-lengths ahead of us. We had intended to reach the depot that day, but if this continued, it was more than doubtful whether we should find it. Meanwhile we put on the pace. It was a long way on, so there was no danger of driving past it. During this while it had remained clear in the zenith, and we had been hoping that the wind and snow would cease; but we had no such luck -- it increased rather than dropped. Our best sledge-meter -- one we knew we could depend on -- was on Wisting's sledge; therefore he had to check the distance. At 1.30 p.m. he turned round to me, and pointed out that we had gone the exact distance; I called out to Hanssen to use his eyes well. Then, at that very moment, the depot showed up a few sledge-lengths to the left of us, looking like a regular palace of snow in the thick air. This was a good test both for the sledge-meter and the compass. We drove up to it and halted. There were three important points to be picked up on our way south, and one of them was found; we were all glad and in good spirits.
The ninety-nine miles from Framheim to this point had been covered in four marches, and we could now rest our dogs, and give them as much seal's flesh as they were capable of eating. Thus far the trip had been a good one for the animals; with one exception, they were all in the best condition. This exception was Uranus. We had never been able to get any fat on his bones; he remained thin and scraggy, and awaited his death at the depot, a little later, in 82° S. If Uranus was lanky to look at, the same could not be said of Jaala, poor beast! In spite of her condition, she struggled to keep up; she did her utmost, but unless her dimensions were reduced before we left 82° S., she would have to accompany Uranus to another world.
The cases of provisions and outfit that we had left here on the last trip were almost entirely snowed under, but it did not take long to dig them out. The first thing to be done was to cut up the seals for the dogs. These grand pieces of meat, with the blubber attached, did not have to be thrown at the dogs; they just helped themselves as long as there was any meat cut up, and when that was finished, they did not hesitate to attack the "joint." It was a pleasure to see them, as they lay all over the place, enjoying their food; it was all so delightfully calm and peaceful, to begin with. They were all hungry, and thought of nothing but satisfying their immediate cravings; but when this was done there was an end of the truce. Although Hai had only half finished his share, he must needs go up to Rap and take away the piece he was eating. Of course, this could not happen without a great row, which resulted in the appearance of Hanssen; then Hai made himself scarce. He was a fine dog, but fearfully obstinate; if he had once taken a thing into his head, it was not easy to make him give it up. On one of our depot journeys it happened that I was feeding Hanssen's dogs. Hai had made short work of his pemmican, and looked round for more. Ah! there was Rap enjoying his -- that would just do for him. In a flash Hai was upon him, forced him to give up his dinner, and was about to convert it to his own use. Meanwhile I had witnessed the whole scene, and before Hai knew anything about it, I was upon him in turn. I hit him over the nose with the whip-handle, and tried to take the pemmican from him, but it was not so easy. Neither of us would give in, and soon we were both rolling over and over in the snow struggling for the mastery. I came off victorious after a pretty hot fight, and Rap got his dinner again. Any other dog would have dropped it at once on being hit over the nose, but not Hai.
It was a treat to get into the tent; the day had been a bitter one. During the night the wind went round to the north, and all the snow that had been blown northward by the wind of the previous day had nothing to do but to come back again; the road was free. And it made the utmost use of its opportunity; nothing could be seen for driving snow when we turned out next morning. We could only stay where we were, and console ourselves with the thought that it made no difference, as it had been decided that we were to remain here two days. But staying in a tent all day is never very amusing, especially when one is compelled to keep to one's sleeping-bag the whole time. You soon get tired of talking, and you can't write all day long, either. Eating is a good way of passing the time, if you can afford it, and so is reading, if you have anything to read; but as the menu is limited, and the library as a rule somewhat deficient on a sledging trip, these two expedients fall to the ground. There is, however, one form of entertainment that may be indulged in under these circumstances without scruple, and that is a good nap. Happy the man who can sleep the clock round on days like these; but that is a gift that is not vouchsafed to all, and those who have it will not own up to it. I have heard men snore till I was really afraid they would choke, but as for acknowledging that they had been asleep -- never! Some of them even have the coolness to assert that they suffer from sleeplessness, but it was not so bad as that with any of us.
In the course of the day the wind dropped, and we went out to do some work. We transferred the old depot to the new one. We now had here three complete sledge-loads, for which there would be little use, and which, therefore, were left behind. The eastern party availed themselves of part of these supplies on their journey, but not much. This depot is a fairly large one, and might come in useful if anyone should think of exploring the region from King Edward Land southward. As things were, we had no need of it. At the same time the sledges were packed, and when evening came everything was ready for our departure. There had really been no hurry about this, as we were going to stay here on the following day as well; but one soon learns in these regions that it is best to take advantage of good weather when you have it -- you never know how long it will last. There was, however, nothing to be said about the day that followed; we could doze and doze as much as we liked. The work went on regularly, nevertheless. The dogs gnawed and gnawed, storing up strength with every hour that went by.
We will now take a trip out to our loaded sledges, and see what they contain. Hanssen's stands first, bow to the south; behind it come Wisting's, Bjaaland's and Hassel's. They all look pretty much alike, and as regards provisions their loads are precisely similar.
Case No. 1 contains about 5,300 biscuits, and weighs 111 pounds.
Case No. 2: 112 rations of dogs' pemmican; 11 bags of dried milk, chocolate, and biscuits. Total gross weight, 177 pounds.
Case No. 3: 124 rations of dogs' pemmican; 10 bags of dried milk and biscuits. Gross weight, 161 pounds.
Case No. 4: 39 rations of dogs' pemmican; 86 rations of men's pemmican; 9 bags of dried milk and biscuits. Gross weight, 165 pounds.
Case No. 5: 96 rations of dogs' pemmican. Weight, 122 pounds.
Total net weight of provisions per sledge, 668 pounds.
With the outfit and the weight of the sledge itself, the total came to pretty nearly 880 pounds.
Hanssen's sledge differed from the others, in that it had aluminium fittings instead of steel and no sledge-meter, as it had to be free from iron on account of the steering-compass he carried. Each of the other three sledges had a sledge-meter and compass. We were thus equipped with three sledge-meters and four compasses. The instruments we carried were two sextants and three artificial horizons -- two glass and one mercury -- a hypsometer for measuring heights, and one aneroid. For meteorological observations, four thermometers. Also two pairs of binoculars. We took a little travelling case of medicines from Burroughs Wellcome and Co. Our surgical instruments were not many: a dental forceps and -- a beard-clipper. Our sewing outfit was extensive. We carried a small, very light tent in reserve; it would have to be used if any of us were obliged to turn back. We also carried two Primus lamps. Of paraffin we had a good supply: twenty-two and a half gallons divided among three sledges. We kept it in the usual cans, but they proved too weak; not that we lost any paraffin, but Bjaaland had to be constantly soldering to keep them tight. We had a good soldering outfit. Every man carried his own personal bag, in which he kept reserve clothing, diaries and observation books. We took a quantity of loose straps for spare ski-bindings. We had double sleeping-bags for the first part of the time; that is to say, an inner and an outer one. There were five watches among us, of which three were chronometer watches.
We had decided to cover the distance between 80° and 82° S. in daily marches of seventeen miles. We could easily have done twice this, but as it was more important to arrive than to show great speed, we limited the distance; besides which, here between the depots we had sufficient food to allow us to take our time. We were interested in seeing how the dogs would manage the loaded sledges. We expected them to do well, but not so well as they did.
On October 25 we left 80° S. with a light north-westerly breeze, clear and mild. I was now to take up my position in advance of the sledges, and placed myself a few paces in front of Hanssen's, with my ski pointing in the right direction. A last look behind me: "All ready?" and away I went. I thought -- no; I didn't have time to think. Before I knew anything about it, I was sent flying by the dogs. In the confusion that ensued they stopped, luckily, so that I escaped without damage, as far as that went. To tell the truth, I was angry, but as I had sense enough to see that the situation, already sufficiently comic, would be doubly ridiculous if I allowed my annoyance to show itself, I wisely kept quiet. And, after all, whose fault was it? I was really the only one to blame; why in the world had I not got away faster? I now changed my plan entirely -- there is nothing to be ashamed of in that, I hope -- and fell in with the awkward squad; there I was more successful. "All ready? Go!" And go they did. First Hanssen went off like a meteor; close behind him came Wisting, and then Bjaaland and Hassel. They all had ski on, and were driving with a line. I had made up my mind to follow in the rear, as I thought the dogs would not keep this up for long, but I soon had enough of it. We did the first six and a quarter miles in an hour. I thought that would do for me, so I went up to Wisting, made a rope fast to his sledge, and there I stood till we reached 85° 5' S. -- three hundred and forty miles. Yes; that was a pleasant surprise. We had never dreamed of anything of the sort -- driving on ski to the Pole! Thanks to Hanssen's brilliant talents as a dog-driver, we could easily do this. He had his dogs well in hand, and they knew their master. They knew that the moment they failed to do their duty they would be pulled up, and a hiding all round would follow. Of course, as always happens, Nature occasionally got the better of discipline; but the "confirmation" that resulted checked any repetition of such conduct for a long while. The day's march was soon completed in this way, and we camped early.
On the following day we were already in sight of the large pressure-ridges on the east, which we had seen for the first time on the second depot journey between 81° and 82° S., and this showed that the atmosphere must be very clear. We could not see any greater number than the first time, however. From our experience of beacons built of snow, we could see that if we built such beacons now, on our way south, they would be splendid marks for our return journey; we therefore decided to adopt this system of landmarks to the greatest possible extent. We built in all 150 beacons, 6 feet high, and used in their construction 9,000 blocks, cut out of the snow with specially large snow-knives. In each of them was deposited a paper, giving the number and position of the beacon, and indicating the distance and the direction to be taken to reach the next beacon to the north. It may appear that my prudence was exaggerated, but it always seemed to me that one could not be too careful on this endless, uniform surface. If we lost our way here, it would be difficult enough to reach home. Besides which, the building of these beacons had other advantages, which we could all see and appreciate. Every time we stopped to build one, the dogs had a rest, and they wanted this, if they were to keep up the pace.
We erected the first beacon in 80° 23' S. To begin with, we contented ourselves with putting them up at every thirteenth or fifteenth kilometre. On the 29th we shot the first dog, Hanssen's Bone. He was too old to keep up, and was only a hindrance. He was placed in depot under a beacon, and was a great joy to us -- or rather to the dogs -- later on.
On the same day we reached the second important point -- the depot in 81° S. Our course took us very slightly to the east of it. The small pieces of packing-case that had been used as marks on each side of the depot could be seen a long way off. On a subsequent examination they showed no sign of snowfall; they stood just as they had been put in. In the neighbourhood of the depot we crossed two quite respectable crevasses; they were apparently filled up, and caused us no trouble. We reached the depot at 2 p.m.; everything was in the best of order. The flag was flying, and hardly looked as if it had been up a day, although it had now been waving there for nearly eight months. The drifts round the depot were about 1 1/2 feet high.
The next day was brilliant -- calm and clear. The sun really baked the skin of one's face. We put all our skin clothing out to dry; a little rime will always form at the bottom of a sleeping-bag. We also availed ourselves of this good opportunity to determine our position and check our compasses; they proved to be correct. We replaced the provisions we had consumed on the way, and resumed our journey on October 31.
There was a thick fog next morning, and very disagreeable weather; perhaps we felt it more after the previous fine day. When we passed this way for the first time going south, Hanssen's dogs had fallen into a crevasse, but it was nothing to speak of; otherwise we had no trouble. Nor did we expect any this time; but in these regions what one least expects frequently happens. The snow was loose and the going heavy; from time to time we crossed a narrow crevasse. Once we saw through the fog a large open hole; we could not have been very far from it, or we should not have seen it, the weather was so thick. But all went well till we had come thirteen and a half miles. Then Hanssen had to cross a crevasse a yard wide, and in doing it he was unlucky enough to catch the point of his ski in the traces of the hindmost dogs, and fall right across the crevasse. This looked unpleasant. The dogs were across, and a foot or two on the other side, but the sledge was right over the crevasse, and had twisted as Hanssen fell, so that a little more would bring it into line with the crevasse, and then, of course, down it would go. The dogs had quickly scented the fact that their lord and master was for the moment incapable of administering a "confirmation," and they did not let slip the golden opportunity. Like a lot of roaring tigers, the whole team set upon each other and fought till the hair flew. This naturally produced short, sharp jerks at the traces, so that the sledge worked round more and more, and at the same time the dogs, in the heat of the combat, were coming nearer and nearer to the brink. If this went on, all was irretrievably lost. One of us jumped the crevasse, went into the middle of the struggling team, and, fortunately, got them to stop. At the same time, Wisting threw a line to Hanssen and hauled him out of his unpleasant position -- although, I thought to myself, as we went on: I wonder whether Hanssen did not enjoy the situation? Stretched across a giddy abyss, with the prospect of slipping down it at any moment -- that was just what he would like. We secured the sledge, completed our seventeen miles, and camped.
From 81° S. we began to erect beacons at every nine kilometres. The next day we observed the lowest temperature of the whole of this journey: -30.1° F The wind was south-south-east, but not very strong. It did not feel like summer, all the same. We now adopted the habit which we kept up all the way to the south -- of taking our lunch while building the beacon that lay half-way in our day's march. It was nothing very luxurious -- three or four dry oatmeal biscuits, that was all. If one wanted a drink, one could mix snow with the biscuit -- "bread and water." It is a diet that is not much sought after in our native latitudes, but latitude makes a very great difference in this world. It anybody had offered us more "bread and water," we should gladly have accepted it.
That day we crossed the last crevasse for a long time to come, and it was only a few inches wide. The surface looked grand ahead of us; it went in very long, almost imperceptible undulations. We could only notice them by the way in which the beacons we put up often disappeared rather rapidly.
On November 2 we had a gale from the south, with heavy snow. The going was very stiff, but the dogs got the sledges along better than we expected. The temperature rose, as usual, with a wind from this quarter: +14° F. It was a pleasure to be out in such a temperature, although it did blow a little. The day after we had a light breeze from the north. The heavy going of the day before had completely disappeared; instead of it we had the best surface one could desire, and it made our dogs break into a brisk gallop. That was the day we were to reach the depot in 82° S., but as it was extremely thick, our chances of doing so were small. In the course of the afternoon the distance was accomplished, but no depot was visible. However, our range of vision was nothing to boast of -- ten sledge-lengths; not more. The most sensible thing to do, under the circumstances, was to camp and wait till it cleared.
At four o'clock next morning the sun broke through. We let it get warm and disperse the fog, and then went out. What a morning it was -- radiantly clear and mild. So still, so still lay the mighty desert before us, level and white on every side. But, no; there in the distance the level was broken: there was a touch of colour on the white. The third important point was reached, the extreme outpost of civilization. Our last depot lay before us; that was an unspeakable relief. The victory now seemed half won. In the fog we had come about three and a half miles too far to the west; but we now saw that if we had continued our march the day before, we should have come right into our line of flags. There they stood, flag after flag, and the little strip of black cloth seemed to wave quite proudly, as though it claimed credit for the way in which it had discharged its duty. Here, as at the depot in 81° S., there was hardly a sign of snowfall. The drift round the depot had reached the same height as there -- 1 1/2 feet. Clearly the same conditions of weather had prevailed all over this region. The depot stood as we had made it, and the sledge as we had left it. Falling snow and drift had not been sufficient to cover even this. The little drift that there was offered an excellent place for the tent, being hard and firm. We at once set about the work that had to be done. First, Uranus was sent into the next world, and although he had always given us the impression of being thin and bony, it was now seen that there were masses of fat along his back; he would be much appreciated when we reached here on the return. Jaala did not look as if she would fulfil the conditions, but we gave her another night. The dogs' pemmican in the depot was just enough to give the dogs a good feed and load up the sledges again. We were so well supplied with all other provisions that we were able to leave a considerable quantity behind for the return journey.
Next day we stayed here to give the dogs a thorough rest for the last time. We took advantage of the fine weather to dry our outfit and check our instruments. When evening came we were all ready, and now we could look back with satisfaction to the good work of the autumn; we had fully accomplished what we aimed at -- namely, transferring our base from 78° 38' to 82° S. Jaala had to follow Uranus; they were both laid on the top of the depot, beside eight little ones that never saw the light of day. During our stay here we decided to build beacons at every fifth kilometre, and to lay down depots at every degree of latitude. Although the dogs were drawing the sledges easily at present, we knew well enough that in the long-run they would find it hard work if they were always to have heavy weights to pull. The more we could get rid of, and the sooner we could begin to do so, the better.
On November 6, at 8 a.m., we left 82° S. Now the unknown lay before us; now our work began in earnest. The appearance of the Barrier was the same everywhere -- flat, with a splendid surface. At the first beacon we put up we had to shoot Lucy. We were sorry to put an end to this beautiful creature, but there was nothing else to be done. Her friends -- Karenius, Sauen, and Schwartz -- scowled up at the beacon where she lay as they passed, but duty called, and the whip sang dangerously near them, though they did not seem to hear it. We had now extended our daily march to twenty-three miles; in this way we should do a degree in three days.
On the 7th we decided to stop for a day's rest. The dogs had been picking up wonderfully every day, and were now at the top of their condition, as far as health and training went. With the greatest ease they covered the day's march at a pace of seven and a half kilometres (four miles and two-thirds) an hour. As for ourselves, we never had to move a foot; all we had to do was to let ourselves be towed. The same evening we had to put an end to the last of our ladies -- Else. She was Hassel's pride and the ornament of his team; but there was no help for it. She was also placed at the top of a beacon.
When we halted that evening in 82° 20' S., we saw on the south-western horizon several heavy masses of drab-coloured cloud, such as are usually to be seen over land. We could make out no land that evening, however; but when we came out next morning and directed our glasses to that quarter, the land lay there, lofty and clear in the morning sun. We were now able to distinguish several summits, and to determine that this was the land extending south-eastward from Beardmore Glacier in South Victoria Land. Our course had been true south all the time; at this spot we were about 250 miles to the east of Beardmore Glacier. Our course would continue to be true south.
The same evening -- November 8 -- we reached 83° S. by dead reckoning. The noon altitude next day gave 83° 1' S. The depot we built here contained provisions for five men and twelve dogs for four days; it was made square -- 6 feet each way -- of hard, solid blocks of snow. A large flag was placed on the top. That evening a strange thing happened -- three dogs deserted, going northward on our old tracks. They were Lucy's favourites, and had probably taken it into their heads that they ought to go back and look after their friend. It was a great loss to us all, but especially to Bjaaland; they were all three first-rate animals, and among the best we had. He had to borrow a dog from Hanssen's team, and if he did not go quite so smoothly as before, he was still able to keep up.
On the 10th we got a bearing of the mountain chain right down in south by west true. Each day we drew considerably nearer the land, and could see more and more of its details: mighty peaks, each loftier and wilder than the last, rose to heights of 15,000 feet. What struck us all were the bare sides that many of these mountains showed; we had expected to see them far more covered with snow. Mount Fridtjof Nansen, for example, had quite a blue-black look. Only quite at the summit was it crowned by a mighty hood of ice that raised its shining top to some 15,000 feet. Farther to the south rose Mount Don Pedro Christophersen; it was more covered with snow, but the long, gabled summit was to a great extent bare. Still farther south Mounts Alice Wedel Jarlsberg, Alice Gade, and Ruth Gade, came in sight; all snow-clad from peak to base. I do not think I have ever seen a more beautiful or wilder landscape. Even from where we were, we seemed to be able to see a way up from several places. There lay Liv's Glacier, for instance, which would undoubtedly afford a good and even ascent, but it lay too far to the north. It is of enormous extent, and would prove interesting to explore. Crown Prince Olav's Mountains looked less promising, but they also lay too far to the north. A little to the west of south lay an apparently good way up. The mountains nearest to the Barrier did not seem to offer any great obstruction. What one might find later, between Mounts Pedro Christophersen and Fridtjof Nansen, was not easy to say.
On the 12th we reached 84° S. On that day we made the interesting discovery of a chain of mountains running to the east; this, as it appeared from the spot where we were, formed a semicircle, where it joined the mountains of South Victoria Land. This semicircle lay true south, and our course was directed straight towards it.
In the depot in 84° S. we left, besides the usual quantity of provisions for five men and twelve dogs for four days, a can of paraffin, holding 17 litres (about 34 gallons). We had abundance of matches, and could therefore distribute them over all the depots. The Barrier continued as flat as before, and the going was as good as it could possibly be. We had thought that a day's rest would be needed by the dogs for every degree of latitude, but this proved superfluous; it looked as if they could no longer be tired. One or two had shown signs of bad feet, but were now perfectly well; instead of losing strength, the dogs seemed to become stronger and more active every day. Now they, too, had sighted the land, and the black mass of Mount Fridtjof Nansen seemed specially to appeal to them; Hanssen often had hard work to keep them in the right course. Without any longer stay, then, we left 84° S. the next day, and steered for the bay ahead.
That day we went twenty-three miles in thick fog, and saw nothing of the land. It was hard to have to travel thus blindly off an unknown coast, but we could only hope for better weather. During the previous night we had heard, for a change, a noise in the ice. It was nothing very great, and sounded like scattered infantry fire -- a few rifle-shots here and there underneath our tent; the artillery had not come up yet. We took no notice of it, though I heard one man say in the morning: "Blest if I didn't think I got a whack on the ear last night." I could witness that it had not cost him his sleep, as that night he had very nearly snored us all out of the tent. During the forenoon we crossed a number of apparently newly-formed crevasses; most of them only about an inch wide. There had thus been a small local disturbance occasioned by one of the numerous small glaciers on land. On the following night all was quiet again, and we never afterwards heard the slightest sound.
On November 14 we reached 84° 40' S. We were now rapidly approaching land; the mountain range on the east appeared to turn north-eastward. Our line of ascent, which we had chosen long ago and now had our eyes fixed upon as we went, would take us a trifle to the west of south, but so little that the digression was of no account. The semicircle we saw to the south made a more disquieting impression, and looked as if it would offer great irregularities. On the following day the character of the surface began to change; great wave-like formations seemed to roll higher and higher as they approached the land, and in one of the troughs of these we found the surface greatly disturbed. At some bygone time immense fissures and chasms would have rendered its passage practically impossible, but now they were all drifted up, and we had no difficulty in crossing.
That day -- November 15 -- we reached 85° S., and camped at the top of one of these swelling waves. The valley we were to cross next day was fairly broad, and rose considerably on the other side. On the west, in the direction of the nearest land, the undulation rose to such a height that it concealed a great part of the land from us. During the afternoon we built the usual depot, and continued our journey on the following day. As we had seen from our camping-ground, it was an immense undulation that we had to traverse; the ascent on the other side felt uncomfortably warm in the powerful sun, but it was no higher than 300 feet by the aneroid. From the top of this wave the Barrier stretched away before us, flat at first, but we could see disturbances of the surface in the distance. Now we are going to have some fun in getting to land, I thought, for it seemed very natural that the Barrier, hemmed in as it was here, would be much broken up. The disturbances we had seen consisted of some big, old crevasses, which were partly filled up; we avoided them easily. Now there was another deep depression before us; with a correspondingly high rise on the other side. We went over it capitally; the surface was absolutely smooth, without a sign of fissure or hole anywhere. Then we shall get them when we are on the top, I thought. It was rather stiff work uphill, unaccustomed as we were to slopes. I stretched my neck more and more to get a view. At last we were up; and what a sight it was that met us! Not an irregularity, not a sign of disturbance; quietly and evenly the ascent continued. I believe that we were then already above land; the large crevasses that we had avoided down below probably formed the boundary. The hypsometer gave 930 feet above the sea.
We were now immediately below the ascent, and made the final decision of trying it here. This being settled, we pitched our camp. It was still early in the day, but we had a great deal to arrange before the morrow. Here we should have to overhaul our whole supply of provisions, take with us what was absolutely necessary for the remainder of the trip, and leave the rest behind in depot. First, then, we camped, worked out our position, fed the dogs and let them loose again, and then went into our tent to have something to eat and go through the provision books.
We had now reached one of the most critical points of our journey. Our plan had now to be laid so that we might not only make the ascent as easily as possible, but also get through to the end. Our calculations had to be made carefully, and every possibility taken into account. As with every decision of importance, we discussed the matter jointly. The distance we had before us, from this spot to the Pole and back, was 683 miles. Reckoning with the ascent that we saw before us, with other unforeseen obstructions, and finally with the certain factor that the strength of our dogs would be gradually reduced to a fraction of what it now was, we decided to take provisions and equipment for sixty days on the sledges, and to leave the remaining supplies -- enough for thirty days -- and outfit in depot. We calculated, from the experience we had had, that we ought to be able to reach this point again with twelve dogs left. We now had forty-two dogs. Our plan was to take all the forty-two up to the plateau; there twenty-four of them were to be slaughtered, and the journey continued with three sledges and eighteen dogs. Of these last eighteen, it would be necessary, in our opinion, to slaughter six in order to bring the other twelve back to this point. As the number of dogs grew less, the sledges would become lighter and lighter, and when the time came for reducing their number to twelve, we should only have two sledges left. This time again our calculations came out approximately right; it was only in reckoning the number of days that we made a little mistake -- we took eight days less than the time allowed. The number of dogs agreed exactly; we reached this point again with twelve.
After the question had been well discussed and each had given his opinion, we went out to get the repacking done. It was lucky the weather was so fine, otherwise this taking stock of provisions might have been a bitter piece of work. All our supplies were in such a form that we could count them instead of weighing them. Our pemmican was in rations of 2 kilogram (1 pound 12 ounces). The chocolate was divided into small pieces, as chocolate always is, so that we knew what each piece weighed. Our milk-powder was put up in bags of 102 ounces just enough for a meal. Our biscuits possessed the same property -- they could be counted, but this was a tedious business, as they were rather small. On this occasion we had to count 6,000 biscuits. Our provisions consisted only of these four kinds, and the combination turned out right enough. We did not suffer from a craving either for fat or sugar, though the want of these substances is very commonly felt on such journeys as ours. In our biscuits we had an excellent product, consisting of oatmeal, sugar, and dried milk. Sweetmeats, jam, fruit, cheese, etc., we had left behind at Framheim.
We took our reindeer-skin clothing, for which we had had no use as yet, on the sledges. We were now coming on to the high ground, and it might easily happen that it would be a good thing to have. We did not forget the temperature of -40° F. that Shackleton had experienced in 88° S., and if we met with the same, we could hold out a long while if we had the skin clothing. Otherwise, we had not very much in our bags. The only change we had with us was put on here, and the old clothes hung out to air. We reckoned that by the time we came back, in a couple of months, they would be sufficiently aired, and we could put them on again. As far as I remember, the calculation proved correct. We took more foot-gear than anything else: if one's feet are well shod, one can hold out a long time.
When all this was finished, three of us put on our ski and made for the nearest visible land. This was a little peak, a mile and three-quarters away -- Mount Betty. It did not look lofty or imposing, but was, nevertheless, 1,000 feet above the sea. Small as it was, it became important to us, as it was there we got all our geological specimens. Running on ski felt quite strange, although I had now covered 385 miles on them; but we had driven the whole way, and were somewhat out of training. We could feel this, too, as we went up the slope that afternoon. After Mount Betty the ascent became rather steep, but the surface was even, and the going splendid, so we got on fast. First we came up a smooth mountain-side, about 1,200 feet above the sea, then over a little plateau; after that another smooth slope like the first, and then down a rather long, flat stretch, which after a time began to rise very gradually, until it finally passed into small glacier formations. Our reconnaissance extended to these small glaciers. We had ascertained that the way was practicable, as far as we were able to see; we had gone about five and a half miles from the tent, and ascended 2,000 feet. On the way back we went gloriously; the last two slopes down to the Barrier gave us all the speed we wanted. Bjaaland and I had decided to take a turn round by Mount Betty for the sake of having real bare ground under our feet; we had not felt it since Madeira in September, 1910, and now we were in November, 1911. No sooner said than done. Bjaaland prepared for an elegant "Telemark swing," and executed it in fine style. What I prepared to do, I am still not quite sure. What I did was to roll over, and I did it with great effect. I was very soon on my feet again, and glanced at Bjaaland; whether he had seen my tumble, I am not certain. However, I pulled myself together after this unfortunate performance, and remarked casually that it is not so easy to forget what one has once learnt. No doubt he thought that I had managed the "Telemark swing"; at any rate, he was polite enough to let me think so.
Mount Betty offered no perpendicular crags or deep precipices to stimulate our desire for climbing; we only had to take off our ski, and then we arrived at the top. It consisted of loose screes, and was not an ideal promenade for people who had to be careful of their boots. It was a pleasure to set one's foot on bare ground again, and we sat down on the rocks to enjoy the scene. The rocks very soon made themselves felt, however, and brought us to our feet again. We photographed each other in "picturesque attitudes," took a few stones for those who had not yet set foot on bare earth, and strapped on our ski. The dogs, after having been so eager to make for bare land when they first saw it, were now not the least interested in it; they lay on the snow, and did not go near the top. Between the bare ground and the snow surface there was bright, blue-green ice, showing that at times there was running water here. The dogs did what they could to keep up with us on the way down, but they were soon left behind. On our return, we surprised our comrades with presents from the country, but I fear they were not greatly appreciated. I could hear such words as, "Norway-stones -- heaps of them," and I was able to put them together and understand what was meant. The "presents" were put in depot, as not absolutely indispensable on the southern journey.
By this time the dogs had already begun to be very voracious. Everything that came in their way disappeared; whips, ski-bindings, lashings, etc., were regarded as delicacies. If one put down anything for a moment, it vanished. With some of them this voracity went so far that we had to chain them.
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