Chapter 21: The Western Base - Blocked on the shelf ice
Chapter 21: The Western Base - Blocked on the shelf ice
By F Wild
We started away on the main eastern journey with a spurt of eleven miles on a calm and cloudless day, intending to follow our former track over the shelf ice to the Hippo Nunatak. The surface varied; soft patches putting a steady brake on the ardour of the first, fresh hours of marching.
In the afternoon, it was only necessary to wear a shirt, singlet, heavy pyjama trousers, finnesko and socks, and even then one perspired freely. The temperature stood at 17°F. The dogs pulled their load well, requiring help only over loose snow.
The evening of Friday November 1, 1912, saw us past Masson Island and about ten miles from the mainland. All day there had been a chill easterly breeze, the temperature being well below zero. The sky was hazy with cirro–stratus and a fine halo ‘ringed’ the sun.
Looking out from the tent in the morning we saw that the clouds were dense and lowering, but the breezes were light and variable until 5 pm, when an east–northeast wind arose, bringing snow in its train. Travelling through foggy drift, we could just ascertain that the Bay of Winds had opened up on the right. The day’s march was a good one of sixteen miles thirty–five yards.
The Bay of Winds did not belie its name. Throughout November 3 the wind veered about in gusts and after lunch settled down to a hard southeaster.
We had made a good start; more than sixty–two miles in a little over four days. The camp was halfway across the Bay of Winds, with the Alligator Nunatak six miles off on the ‘starboard bow’ and the Rock of the Avalanches seventeen miles straight ahead. Passing glimpses were caught of the Hippo twenty–four miles distant.
On November 5, after a day’s blizzard, there was much accumulated snow to shovel away from tents and sledges. Finding the hauling very arduous, we headed in for the land to find a better surface, passing the Alligator Nunatak close on its southern side.
At noon on the 6th, the sledges were running parallel to the Rock of the Avalanches, three miles away, and soon afterwards we came to a large boulder; one of four in a line from the rock cliffs, from which they had been evidently transported, as they were composed of the same gneiss.
The Hippo was close at hand at four o’clock and, on nearing the shattered ice about the depot, we released the dogs and pulled the sledge ourselves. On being freed, they galloped over to the rock and were absent for over an hour. When they returned, Amundsen’s head was daubed with egg yolk, as we thought. This was most probable as scores of snow petrels were flying about the rocks.
A nasty shock was awaiting us at the depot. The sledge, which had been left on end, two feet buried in hard snow and with a mound six feet high built round it, had been blown completely away. The stays, secured to food bags, were both broken; one food bag weighing sixty–eight pounds having been lifted ten feet. This was a very serious loss as the total load to be carried now amounted to one thousand one hundred and eighty pounds, which was too great a weight to be supported by one sledge.
It appeared, then, that the only thing to do was to include Harrisson in the party, so that we could have his sledge. This would facilitate our progress considerably, but against that was the fact that Moyes would be left alone at the Base under the belief that Harrisson had perished.
A gale was blowing on the 7th, but as we were partly under the lee of the Hippo, it was only felt in gusts. A visit was made to the Nunatak; Harrisson to examine the birds, Watson for geology and photography, while I climbed to the summit with the field glasses to look for the missing sledge. Kennedy remained at the camp to take a series of magnetic observations.
There were hundreds of snow petrels pairing off, but no eggs were seen in any of the nest crevices. They were so tame that it was quite easy to catch them, but they had a habit of ejecting their partially digested food, a yellow oily mess, straight at one. This was the stuff we had thought was egg yolk on Amundsen’s head the previous night.
Upon returning to camp, the search for the sledge was continued. After prospecting with a spade in possible snow drifts and crevasse lids, we walked out fan wise, in the direction of the prevailing wind, but with no result. I decided, therefore, to take Harrisson with me. I was extremely sorry for Moyes, but it could not be helped.
On the way back towards the land to the south, we found that the surface had improved in the morning’s gale. Camp was finally pitched on a slope close to the high land.
The coast, from the Base to this spot – Delay Point – runs almost due east and west and with no deep indentations except the Bay of Winds. To the west, the slope from the inland plateau is fairly gradual and therefore not badly broken, but still farther west it is much steeper, coming down from two thousand feet in a very short distance, over tumbling ice fields and frozen cascades. Several outcrops of dark rock lay to the east, one of them only two miles away.
The wind velocity fluctuated between sixty and eighty miles per hour, keeping us securely penned. Harrisson and Kennedy, after battling their way to our tent for a meal, used the second primus and cooker, brought for Harrisson, in their own tent. All we could do was to smoke and listen to the fierce squalls and lashing drift. I had brought nothing to read on the trip, making up the weight in tobacco. Watson had Palgrave’s Golden Lyrics, Kennedy, an engineer’s handbook, and Harrisson, a portion of the Reign of Mary Tudor. There was a tiny pack of patience cards, but they were in the instrument box on the sledge and none of us cared to face the gale to get them.
The wind, on the 10th, saw fit to moderate to half a gale; the drift creeping low and thick over the ground; the land visible above it. Donning burberrys, we made an excursion to the rocks ahead. Two miles and a climb of six hundred feet were rather exhausting in the strong wind. There were about eighty acres of rock exposed on the edge of the ice cap, mainly composed of mica schists and some granite; the whole extensively weathered. A line of moraine ran from the rocks away in an east–northeast direction.
Most of the next day was broken by a heavy gale and, since the prospect ahead was nothing but bare, rough ice, we passed the day in making everything ready for a start and repaired a torn tent. The rent was made by Amundsen, who dragged up the ice axe to which he was tethered and, in running round the tent, drove the point of the axe through it, narrowly missing Kennedy’s head inside.
Tuesday November 12 was an interesting day. The greater part of the track was over rippled, level ice, thrown into many billows, through devious pressure hummocks and between the inevitable crevasses. The coast was a kaleidoscope of sable rocks, blue cascades, and fissured ice falls. Fifteen miles ahead stood an island twenty miles long, rising in bare peaks and dark knolls. This was eventually named David Island.
The dogs were working very well and, if only a little additional food could be procured for them, I knew they could be kept alive. Zip broke loose one night and ate one of my socks which was hanging on the sledge to dry; it probably tasted of seal blubber from the boots. Switzerland, too, was rather a bother, eating his harness whenever he had a chance.
On the 14th, a depot was formed, consisting of one week’s provisions and oil; the bags being buried and a mound erected with a flag on top. Kennedy took a round of angles to determine its position.
At the end of two snowy days, after we had avoided many ugly crevasses, our course in an east–southeast line pointed to a narrow strait between David Island and the mainland. On the southern side of the former, there was a heaped line of pressure ice, caused by the flow from a narrow bay being stopped by the Island. After lunch, on the 16th, there was an hour’s good travelling and then we suddenly pulled into a half mile of broken surface – the confluence of the slowly moving land ice and of the more rapidly moving ice from a valley on our right, from which issued Reid Glacier. It was impossible to steer the dogs through it with a load, so we lightened the loads on both sledges and then made several journeys backwards and forwards over the more broken areas, allowing the dogs to run loose. The crevasses ran tortuously in every direction and falls into them were not uncommon. One large lid fell in just as a sledge had cleared it, leaving a hole twelve feet wide, and at least a hundred feet deep. Once over this zone, the sledges were worked along the slope leading to the mainland where we were continually worried by their slipping sideways.
Ahead was a vast sea of crushed ice, tossed and piled in every direction. On the northern horizon rose what we concluded to be a flat–topped, castellated berg. Ten days later, it resolved itself into a tract of heavy pressure ridges.
Camping after nine and a half miles, we were surprised, on moving east in the morning, to sight clearly the point – Cape Gerlache – of a peninsula running inland to the southwest. A glacier from the hinterland, pushing out from its valley, had broken up the shelf ice on which we were travelling to such an extent that nothing without wings could cross it. Our object was to map in the coastline as far east as possible, and the problem, now, was whether to go north or south. From our position the former looked the best, the tumbled shelf ice appearing to smooth out sufficiently, about ten miles away, to afford a passage east, while, to the south, we scanned the Denman Glacier, as it was named, rolling in magnificent cascades, twelve miles in breadth, from a height of more than three thousand feet. To get round the head of this ice stream would mean travelling inland for at least thirty miles.
So north we went, getting back to our old surface over a heavy ‘cross sea’, honeycombed with pits and chasms; many of them with no visible bottom. There was half a mile to safety, but the area had to be crossed five times; the load on the twelve–foot sledge being so much, that half the weight was taken off and the empty sledges brought back for the other half. Last of all came the dogs’ sledge. Kennedy remarked during the afternoon that he felt like a fly walking on wire netting.
The camp was pitched in a line of pressure, with wide crevasses and ‘hell holes’ within a few yards on every side. Altogether the day’s march had been a miserable four miles. On several occasions, during the night, while in this disturbed area, sounds of movement were distinctly heard; cracks like rifle shots and others similar to distant heavy guns, accompanied by a weird, moaning noise as of the glacier moving over rocks.
November 18 was a fine, bright day: temperature 8° to 20°F. Until lunch, the course was mainly north for more than five miles. Then I went with Watson to trace out a road through a difficult area in front. At this point, there broke on us a most rugged and wonderful vision of ice scenery.
The Denman Glacier moving much more rapidly than the Shackleton Shelf, tore through the latter and, in doing so, shattered both its own sides and also a considerable area of the larger ice sheet. At the actual point of contact was what might be referred to as gigantic bergschrund: an enormous chasm over one thousand feet wide and from three hundred feet to four hundred feet deep, in the bottom of which crevasses appeared to go down for ever. The sides were splintered and crumpled, glittering in the sunlight with a million sparklets of light. Towering above were titanic blocks of carven ice. The whole was the wildest, maddest and yet the grandest thing imaginable.
The turmoil continued to the north, so I resolved to reconnoitre westward and see if a passage were visible from the crest of David Island.
The excursion was postponed till next day, when Kennedy, Watson and I roped up and commenced to thread a tangled belt of crevasses. The island was three and a half miles from the camp, exposing a bare ridge and a jutting bluff, nine hundred feet high – Watson Bluff. At the Bluff the rock was almost all gneiss, very much worn by the action of ice. The face to the summit was so steep and coarsely weathered that we took risks in climbing it. Moss and lichens grew luxuriantly and scores of snow petrels hovered around, but no eggs were seen.
Owing to an overcast sky, the view was not a great deal more enlightening than that which we had had from below. The Denman Glacier swept down for forty miles from over three thousand feet above sea level. For twenty miles to the east torn ice masses lay distorted in confusion, and beyond that, probably sixty miles distant, were several large stretches of bare rock–like islands.
On November 20, a strong northeast wind blew, with falling snow. Nothing could be seen but a white blanket, above, below and all around; so, with sudden death lurking in the bottomless crevasses on every hand, we stayed in camp.
A blizzard of great violence blew for two days and the tent occupied by Kennedy and myself threatened to collapse. We stowed all our gear in the sleeping bags or in a hole from which snow had been dug for cooking. By the second day we had become extremely tired of lying down. One consolation was that our lips, which were very sore from exposure to the sun and wind, had now a chance of healing.
Next afternoon, the gale moderated sufficiently for us to go once more to David Island, in clearer weather, to see the outlook from the bluff. This time the sun was shining on the mainland and on the extension of the glacier past the bluff to the north. The distant southern slopes were seamed with a pattern of crevasses up to a height of three thousand feet. To the north, although the way was certainly impassable for twelve miles, it appeared to become smoother beyond that limit. We decided to try and cross in that direction.
We persevered on the 24th over many lines of pressure ice and then camped near an especially rough patch. Watson had the worst fall on that day, going down ten feet vertically into a crevasse before his harness stopped him. After supper, we went to locate a trail ahead, and were greatly surprised to find salt water in some of the cracks. It meant that in two days our descent had been considerable, since the great bergschrund farther south was well over three hundred feet in depth and no water had appeared in its depths.
A few extracts from the diary recall a situation which daily became more serious and involved:
Monday, November 25. A beautiful day so far as the weather and scenery are concerned but a very hard one. We have been amongst ‘Pressure’, with a capital P, all day, hauling up and lowering the sledges with an alpine rope and twisting and turning in all directions, with waves and hills, monuments, statues, and fairy palaces all around us, from a few feet to over three hundred feet in height. It is impossible to see more than a few hundred yards ahead at any time, so we go on for a bit, then climb a peak or mound, choose a route and struggle on for another short stage…
We have all suffered from the sun today; Kennedy has caught it worst, his lips, cheeks, nose and forehead are all blistered. He has auburn hair and the tender skin which frequently goes with it…
Tuesday, November 26. Another very hard day’s work. The first half mile took three hours to cover; in several places we had to cut roads with ice axes and shovels and also to build a bridge across a water lead. At 1 pm we had done just one mile. I never saw or dreamt of anything so gloriously beautiful as some of the stuff we have come through this morning. After lunch the country changed entirely. In place of the confused jumble and crush we have had, we got on to névé slopes; huge billows, half a mile to a mile from crest to crest, meshed with crevasses…
We all had falls into these during the day: Harrisson dropping fifteen feet. I received rather a nasty squeeze through falling into a hole whilst going downhill, the sledge running on to me before I could get clear, and pinning me down. So far as we can see, the same kind of country continues, and one cannot help thinking about having to return through this infernal mess. The day’s distance – only one thousand and fifty yards.
Wednesday, November 27. When I wrote last night about coming back, I little thought it would be so soon. We turn back tomorrow for the simple reason that we cannot go on any farther.
In the morning, for nearly a mile along a valley running southeast, the travelling was almost good; then our troubles commenced again.
Several times we had to resort to hand–hauling with the alpine rope through acres of pitfalls. The bridges of those which were covered were generally very rotten, except the wide ones. Just before lunch we had a very stiff uphill pull and then a drop into a large basin, three–quarters of a mile in diameter.
The afternoon was spent in vain searching for a road… On every side are huge waves split in every direction by crevasses up to two hundred feet in width. The general trend of the main crevasses is north and south…
I have, therefore, decided to go back and if possible follow the road we came by, then proceed south on to the inland ice cap and find out the source of this chaos. If we are able to get round it and proceed east, so much the better; but at any rate, we shall be doing something and getting somewhere. We could push through farther east from here, but it would be by lowering the gear piecemeal into chasms fifty to one hundred feet deep, and hauling it up on the other side; each crevasse taking at least two hours to negotiate. For such slow progress I don’t feel justified in risking the lives of the party.
Snow fell for four days, at times thickly, unaccompanied by wind. It was useless to stir in our precarious position. Being a little in hand in the ration of biscuits, we fed the dogs on our food, their own having run out. I was anxious to keep them alive until we were out of the pressure ice.
From this, our turning point out on the shelf ice, the trail lay over eighteen inches of soft snow on December 3, our former tracks, of course, having been entirely obliterated. The bridged crevasses were now entirely hidden and many weak lids were found.
At 9 am Harrisson, Watson and I roped up to mark a course over a very bad place, leaving Kennedy with the dogs. We had only gone about one hundred yards when I got a very heavy jerk on the rope and, on looking round, found that Watson had disappeared. He weighs two hundred pounds in his clothes and the crevasse into which he had fallen was fifteen feet wide. He had broken through on the far side and the rope, cutting through the bridge, stopped in the middle so that he could not reach the sides to help himself in any way. Kennedy brought another rope over and threw it down to Watson and we were then able to haul him up, but it was twenty minutes before he was out. He reappeared smiling, and, except for a bruise on the shin and the loss of a glove, was no worse for the fall.
At 2.30 pm we were all deadbeat, camping with one mile one thousand seven hundred yards on the meter. One third of this distance was relay work and, in several places, standing pulls with the alpine rope. The course was a series of Z’s, S’s, and hairpin turns, the longest straight stretch one hundred and fifty yards, and the whole knee–deep in soft snow, the sledges sinking to the cross bars.
The 4th was a repetition of the previous day – a terribly hard two and a half miles. We all had ‘hangman’s drops’ into crevasses. One snow bridge, ten feet wide, fell in as the meter following the twelve foot sledge was going over behind it.
The 5th was a day of wind, scurrying snow and bad light. Harrisson went out to feed the dogs in the morning and broke through the lid of a crevasse, but fortunately caught the side and climbed out.
The diary again:
Friday, December 6. Still bad light and a little snowfall, but we were off at ten o’clock. I was leading and fell into at least a dozen crevasses, but had to be hauled out of one only. At 1.30 pm we arrived at the open lead we had crossed on the outward journey and found the same place. There had been much movement since then and we had to make a bridge, cutting away projections in some places and filling up the seawater channels with snow and ice. Then Harrisson crossed with the aid of two bamboo poles, and hauled me over on a sledge. Harrisson and I on one side and Kennedy and Watson on the other then hauled the sledges backwards and forwards, lightly loaded one way and empty the other, until all was across. The shelf ice is without doubt afloat, if the presence of seawater and diatomaceous stains on the ice is of any account. We camped tonight in the same place as on the evening of November 25, so with luck we should be out of this mess tomorrow. Switzerland had to be killed as I cannot afford any more biscuit. Amundsen ate his flesh without hesitation, but Zip refused it.
Sure enough, two days sufficed to bring us under the bluff on David Island. As the tents were being pitched, a skua gull flew down. I snared him with a line, using dog’s flesh for bait and we had stewed skua for dinner. It was excellent.
While I was cooking the others climbed up the rocks and brought back eight snow petrels and five eggs, with the news that many more birds were nesting. After supper we all went out and secured sixty eggs and fifty–eight birds. It seemed a fearful crime to kill these beautiful, pure white creatures, but it meant fourteen days’ life for the dogs end longer marches for us.
Fresh breeze, light snow and a bad light on the 9th; we remained in camp. Two more skuas were snared for the evening’s dinner. The snow petrels’ eggs were almost as large as hens’ eggs and very good to eat when fresh. Many of them had been under the birds rather too long, but although they did not look so nice, there was little difference in the taste. I was very glad to get this fresh food, as we had lived on tinned meat most of the year and there was always the danger of scurvy.
The light was too changeable to make a satisfactory start until the evening of December 11, when we managed to dodge through four and a half miles of broken ice, reaching the mainland close to our position on November 16, and camping for lunch at midnight. In front was a clear mile on a peninsula and then the way led across Robinson Bay, seven miles wide, fed by the Northcliffe Glacier.
Another night march was commenced at 8 pm The day had been cloudless and the sun very warm, softening the surface, but at the time of starting it was hardening rapidly. Crossing the peninsula we resolved to head across Robinson Bay as the glacier’s surface was still torn up. We ended with a fine march of twelve miles one thousand two hundred yards.
The fine weather continued and we managed to cross three and a half miles of heavy sastrugi, pressure ridges and crevasses, attaining the first slopes of the mainland at 10 pm on December 14. The discovery of two nunataks springing out of the Piedmont Glacier to the south, lured us on.
The first rock – Possession Nunataks – loomed ahead, two hundred feet above, up a slope of half a mile. Here a depot of provisions and spare gear was made, sufficient to take us back to the Hippo. The rock was found by Watson to be gneiss, rich in mica, felspar and garnets. We lunched in this place and resumed our march at midnight.
The second nunatak was on the course; a sharp peak in the south, hidden by the contour of the uprising ridges. In four miles we steadily ascended eight hundred feet. While we were engaged pitching camp, a Cape pigeon flew overhead.
There were advantages in travelling at night. The surface was firmer, our eyes were relieved from the intense glare and our faces no longer blistered. On the other hand, there were disadvantages. The skirt of the tent used to get very wet through the snow thawing on it in the midday sun, and froze solid when packed up; the floor cloths and sleeping bags, also, never had a chance of drying and set to the same icy hardness. When we had mounted higher I intended to return to work by day.
It was not till the altitude was three thousand feet that we came in sight of the far peak to the south. We were then pulling again in daylight. The ice falls of the Denman Glacier on the left were still seen descending from the plateau, while down on the plain we saw that the zone of disrupted ice, into which the short and intricate track of our northern attempt had been won, extended for quite thirty miles.
The surface then softened in a most amazing fashion and hauling became a slow, dogged strain with frequent spells. A little over four miles was the most we could do on the 18th, and on the 19th the loads were dragging in a deluge of dry, flour–like snow. A long halt was made at lunch to repair a badly torn tent.
The peak ahead was named Mount Barr–Smith. It was fronted by a steep rise which we determined to climb next day. On the eastern margin of the Denman Glacier were several nunataks and higher, rising ground.
Following a twenty–four hours’ blizzard, the sky was overcast, with the usual dim light filtering through a mist of snow. We set off to scale the mountain, taking the dip circle with us. The horizon was so obscured that it was useless to take a round of angles. Fifteen miles south of Mount Barr–Smith, and a little higher there was another peak, to be subsequently called Mount Strathcona; also several intervening outcrops. Not a distinct range of mountains as we had hoped. The Denman Glacier sweeps round these projecting rocks from the southwest, and the general flow of the ice sheet is thereby concentrated within the neck bounded by the two peaks and the higher land to the east. Propelled by the immense forces of the hinterland, this stream of ice is squeezed down through a steep valley at an accelerated speed, and, meeting the slower moving Shackleton Shelf, rends it from top to bottom and presses onward. Thus chaos, ice quake, and ruin.
Our tramp to Mount Barr–Smith was through eighteen inches of soft snow, in many places a full two feet deep. Hard enough for walking, we knew from experience what it was like for sledging. There was only sufficient food for another week and the surface was so abominably heavy that in that time, not allowing for blizzards, it would have been impossible to travel as far as we could see from the summit of Mount Barr–Smith, while four miles a day was the most that could have been done. Our attempt to make east by rounding the Denman Glacier to the south had been foiled, but by turning back at that point, we stood a chance of saving our two remaining dogs, who had worked so well that they really deserved to live.
Sunday December 22 broke with a fresh breeze and surface drift; overhead a clear sky. We went back to Mount Barr–Smith, Kennedy taking an observation for latitude, Watson making a geological survey and collecting specimens, Harrisson sketching. The rocks at the summit were granites, gneisses and schists. The latitude worked out at 67° 10.4’ S, and we were a little more than one hundred and twenty miles in an air line from the hut.
In the next two days, downhill, we ‘bullocked’ through eleven miles, reaching a point where the depot at Possession Nunataks was only sixteen miles away. The surface snow was very sticky in places, clogging the runners badly, so that they had to be scraped every half mile. Stewed skua was the feature of our Christmas Eve supper.
From the diary:
Christmas Day, Wednesday. Turned out and got away at 8 am, doing nine miles before lunch down a steep descent. The sun was very hot, and after lunch the surface became sticky, but at 5 pm we reached the depot, having done fifteen miles one hundred yards and descended two thousand three hundred feet.
I am afraid I shall have to go back to travelling by night, as the snow is so very soft down here during the day; not soft in the same way as the freshly fallen powdery stuff we had on the hills, but half thawed and wet, freezing at night into a splendid surface for the runners. The shade temperature at 5.30 pm today was 29°F, and a thermometer laid in the sun on the dark rocks went up to 87°F.
Some time ago, a plum pudding was found in one of our food bags, put there, I believe, by Moyes. We ate it tonight in addition to the ordinary ration, and, with a small taste of spirits from the medical store, managed to get up quite a festive feeling. After dinner the Union Jack and Australian Ensign were hoisted on the rocks and I formally took possession of the land in the name of the Expedition, for King George V and the Australian Commonwealth.
Queen Mary Land is the name which, by gracious sanction, was eventually affixed to that area of new land.
Night marches commenced at 1 am on December 27. The sail was hoisted for the first time and the fresh breeze was of great assistance. We were once more down on the low peninsula and on its highest point, two hundred feet above the shelf ice, Kennedy took a round of angles.
Along the margin of the shelf the crevasses were innumerable and, as the sun was hot and the snow soft and mushy, we pitched camp about six miles from the bluff on David Island.
At 6 am on the 28th we rounded the bluff and camped under its leeward face. After lunch there was a hunt for snow petrels. Fifty–six were caught and the eggs, which all contained chicks, were given to the dogs.
It was my intention to touch at all the rocks on the mainland on the way home, as time and weather permitted. Under a light easterly breeze we scudded along with sail set and passed close to several outcrops. Watson examined them, finding gneiss and granite principally, one type being an exceptionally coarse granite, very much weathered. A mile of bad crevasses caused some delay; one of the dogs having a fall of twelve feet into one abyss.
Next day, the Hippo hove in sight and we found the depoted food in good condition. The course had been over high pressure waves and in some places we had to diverge on account of crevasses and – fresh water! Many of the hollows contained water from thawed snow, and in others there was a treacherous crust which hid a slushy pool. The march of eighteen miles landed us just north of the Avalanche Rocks.
While we were erecting the tents there were several snow slips, and Watson, Kennedy and I walked landwards after supper to try for a ‘snap’ of one in the act of falling, but they refused to oblige us. It was found that one or more avalanches had thrown blocks of ice, weighing at least twenty tons, two hundred yards past the hole in which we spent five days on the depot journey. They had, therefore, travelled six hundred yards from the cliff.
The Alligator Nunatak was explored on January 2, 1913. It was found to be half a mile long, four hundred feet high and four hundred and fifty feet in width, and, like most of the rock we had seen, mainly gneiss.
There was half a gale blowing on the 4th and though the wind was abeam, the sail was reefed and we moved quickly. The dogs ran loose, their feet being very sore from pulling on rough, nobbly ice. The day’s run was the record up to that time – twenty–two miles. Our camp was in the vicinity of two small nunataks discovered in August 1912. We reckoned to be at the Base in two days and wondered how poor Moyes was faring.
Early on the 5th, the last piece of broken country fell behind, and one sledge being rigged with full sail, the second sledge was taken in tow. Both dogs had bleeding feet and were released, running alongside. During the halt for lunch a sail was raised on the dogs’ sledge, using tent poles as a mast, a floor cloth for a sail, an ice axe for an upper yard and a bamboo for a lower yard. Getting under way we found that the lighter sledge overran ours; so we cast off and Harrisson took the light sledge, the sail working so well that he rode on top of the load most of the time. Later in the afternoon the wind increased so much that the dogs’ sledge was dismasted and taken in tow once more, the sail on the forward sledge being ample for our purpose.
At 4 pm we had done twenty miles, and, everybody feeling fresh, I decided to try and reach ‘The Grottoes’, fifteen miles away. The wind increasing to a gale with hurtling drift, the sail was reefed, and even then was more than enough to push along both sledges. Two of us made fast behind and maintained a continual brake to stop them running away. At 9 pm the gale became so strong that we struck sail and camped. Altogether, the day’s run was thirty–five miles.
An hour’s march next morning, and, through the glasses, we saw the mast and soon afterwards the hut. Just before reaching home, we struck up a song, and in a few seconds Moyes came running out. When he saw there were four of us, he stood on his head.
As we expected, Moyes had never thought of Harrisson coming with me and had quite given him up as dead. When a month had elapsed – the time for which Harrisson had food – Moyes packed a sledge with provisions for Harrisson, himself and the dogs and went out for six days. Then, recognising the futility of searching for any one in that white waste of nothingness, he returned. He looked well, after his lonely nine weeks, but said that it was the worst time he had ever had in his life. Moyes reported that the Western party were delayed in starting by bad weather until November 7.
The total distance sledged during our main summer eastern journey was two hundred and thirty–seven miles, including thirty–two of relay work, but none of the many reconnoitring miles. Out of seventy days, there were twenty–eight on which the weather was adverse. On the spring depot journey the travelling had been so easy that I fully expected to go four hundred or five hundred miles eastward in the summer. It was therefore, a great disappointment to be blocked as we were.
This version of Home of the Blizzard has been edited and published by the Australian Antarctic Division.