The world of fashion insists on its minute vagaries in dress not always with an eye to utility and an explorer in the polar regions is a very fastidious person, expending a vast amount of care on his attire, but with the sole idea of comfort, warmth, and usefulness. The clothes he wears are many and often cumbersome, but they have gradually been perfected to meet the demands of the local weather conditions. After a sojourn in the ice–lands, he returns to civilization with a new concept of the value of dress. At last he can stand still without being reminded that his feet are chilly; he experiences the peculiar sensation of walking about in an airily light suit, in glove–tight boots, without helmet or mitts. It gives him such a delicious feeling of freedom that his energy is unbounded and life is a very pleasant and easy thing. Then it is that he can turn in retrospect to the time in exile, appreciate his altered circumstances and recall the many ingenuities which were evolved to make him master of his environment.
It is sufficient to say that we found the proposition of clothing one of unusual interest. Any one who was not a practised needleman and machinist was handicapped for a time, until he fell into the ways of the through–and–through and blanket–stitch, thimbles, shuttles, spools and many other things he had once affected to despise as belonging to the sphere of women’s work. It was not long before he was an enthusiast in many arts attaining to a stage of independence, in which he patented new ideas and maintained them in hot opposition to the whole community of the Hut. On some fundamental points all were in agreement, and one of them was that Adélie Land was the country par excellence for the wind–proof, drift–tight burberry.
Outside all other garments the burberry gabardine was worn. The material was light and loosely fitting, but in wind and drift it had to be hermetically sealed, so to speak, for the snow crept in wherever there was an aperture. The trousers were of double thickness, as they were exposed to the greatest wear. Attached by large buttons, toggles or lampwick braces, they reached as high as the lower part of the chest. Below, they had lamp–wick lashings which were securely bound round the uppers of boots or finnesko. In walking, the trousers would often work off the leather boots, especially if they were cut to a tailor’s length, and snow would then pour up the leg and down into the boots in a remarkably short time. To counteract this, Ninnis initiated the very satisfactory plan of sewing a short length of canvas on to the boots to increase the length of the upper.
The burberry helmet and blouse were either in one piece or separate. For use round the Hut, in thick drifts, the combination of helmet and blouse was handy and time–saving. For sledging, when low temperatures and strong winds might be expected all the time, it met the conditions well; there being no necessity to worry about keeping the neck drift–tight. Under ordinary circumstances it was very convenient to have a blouse and helmet detached, as one so often could wear the former with a well–padded woollen helmet and be reduced only as a last resource to wearing the burberry helmet.
The blouse was roomy, giving great freedom of movement. Around the neck was a draw–string, which bunched in the jacket tightly over the lower part of the helmet. There was also a draw–string round the waist. It was here that we had the greatest difficulty in making the garment fit snow–tight. If simply tied, the blouse would soon slip up from below, especially if one were working with pick and shovel, carrying cases or blocks of ice. To obviate this, some of the men sewed loops or tags of lamp–wick on to the sides of the trousers, to connect with corresponding attachments on the blouse. As an additional security, others wore an outside belt which was, even if the blouse slipped up for some distance, a line of defence against the drift–snow.
The burberry helmet completely enclosed the head except for the face, which remained uncovered at the bottom of a funnel stiffened by several rings of copper–wire. Lampwick, the universal polar ‘cord’, was sewn in short strips in front of the ears and tied at the back of the head, firmly securing the helmet. Since the voyage of the Discovery (1901–1904) lamp–wick had been used widely in sledging on account of its width, softness, comparative warmth and because of the fact that ordinary cord is not so easy to manipulate in cold weather. Large buttons of leather or bone were not nearly so popular as small, smooth lengths of stick engaging cross–wise with loops of cord — known as toggles, which became quite a mania with some members of the Expedition. Whetter, for instance, was known as the ‘Toggle King’, because of the multitude of these stick–and–cord appendages which hung from every part of his clothing.
Under the burberrys thick, but light, suits of Jaeger fleece were worn. They combined trousers and a sleeveless coat, over which a woollen jersey was worn. In calm weather these with underclothing were all–sufficient, but in the average fifty–mile wind at any temperature in the neighbourhood of zero Fahrenheit, they felt distinctly porous.
In less windy weather the luxury of discarding burberrys, either partly or wholly, was an indulgence which gave great satisfaction.
Finnesko were the favourite foot–gear — soft and commodious reindeer–skin fur boots. Once these were stuffed with Lapp saennegras or manilla fibre, and the feet covered with several pairs of socks, cold could be despised unless one were stationary for some time or the socks or padding became damp. Even though the padding were wet, violent exercise kept the temperature ‘balance’ in the warm direction, especially if one were also under the stimulus of a recent hot meal.
Of course, on smooth ice or polished snow in even moderate winds it was useless to try and keep one’s feet in finnesko, although practice gave great agility in calmer weather. As already indicated, spiked crampons on approved models, tested on the glacier–slopes in a hurricane wind, were almost always worn encasing the finnesko. With so many coverings the feet often became uncomfortably hot, and for odd jobs about the Hut and not far abroad spiked leather boots gave most satisfaction.
There were various coverings for the hands: felt mitts, mittens, instrument–gloves and wolfskin mitts.
The first were used in conjunction with fingerless mittens. The wear and tear on these was greater than on any other item of clothing. It was a common sight to see them ragged, canvas–covered, patched, repatched and again repatched, to be at last reluctantly thrown away. There were two compartments in a single glove, one for the thumb and the other for the fingers. It is much easier to keep the fingers warm when in contact with one another than by having them in separate stalls.
Instrument–gloves of wool were used for delicate manipulations, as a partial protection, since they reduced the stinging chill of cold metal at low temperatures.
Wolfskin mitts are unexcelled for use in cold windy weather. Their shaggy external hair entangles the drift–snow, which thaws, soaks the skin and refreezes until the mitt is stiff as buckram. This is their main disadvantage. These mitts or rather gauntlets were made longer in the arms than usual so as to overlap the burberry sleeves and keep the wrists warm.
Lambskin mitts with the wool facing inwards were very useful and wore well for occupations like hauling on ropes and lifting cases.
Like every other movable thing, mitts had to be made fast to prevent them blowing away. So they were slung round the neck by a yoke of lamp–wick. The mittened hand could then be removed with the assurance that the outer mitt would not be far away when it was wanted, no matter how hard the wind blew.
There has been much discussion as to the relative merits of fur and woollen clothing. After all the question has resolved itself into one of personal predilection. It has been claimed that furs are warmer and lighter. The warmth follows from the wind–proof quality of the hide which, unfortunately, also tends to retain moist exhalations from the body. In Adélie Land, the only furs we used were finnesko, wolfskin mitts and sleeping–bags of reindeer skins.
As in every part of the equipment, modifications had to be made in the circular Willesden–drill tents. To facilitate their erection in the perpetual winds they were sewn permanently on to the five bamboo poles, instead of being thrown over the latter previously set in position. Thus the tents opened like large conical umbrellas. A rawhide loop was fixed to the middle one of the three windward legs and, when raising a tent during a high wind, it was the usual thing for a man to be inside gripping the loop to pin down the windward legs and at the same time, kicking out the two leeward legs. On hard surfaces, holes were dug to receive the ends of the poles; at other times they were pressed home into the snow by the man inside the tent.
When pitched, the tent was held down by blocks of snow or ice, helped by spare food–bags, which were all piled round on a broad flounce. Ventilators, originally supplied with the tents, had to be dispensed with on account of the incessant drift. The door of the tent was an oval funnel of burberry material just large enough to admit a man and secured by a draw–string.
Strips of calico and webbing were sewn over the insides of the light tents to strengthen them for sledging in the summer. For heavy weather we also had japara sail–cloth tents with Willesden canvas flounces. These gave one a feeling of greater security and were much more wind–proof, but unfortunately twice as heavy as the first–mentioned.
A floor–cloth of light Willesden canvas covered the surface of snow or ice in the interior of the tent; performing when sledging the alternative office of a sail.
In order to cut snow, névé or ice to pile on the flounce, a pick and spade had to be included in the sledging equip meet. As a rule, a strong, pointed shovel weighing about six pounds answers very well; but in Adélie Land, the surface was so often wind–swept ice, polished porcelain–snow, or hard névé that a pick was necessary to make any impression upon it. It was found that a four–pound spade, carefully handled, and a four–pound miner’s pick provided against all emergencies.
Our sledges were similar to those of other British Antarctic expeditions; of eleven– and twelve–foot lengths. The best were Norwegian, made of ash and hickory. Others built in Sydney, of Australian woods, were admirably suited for special work. Those made of mountain–ash had the advantage of being extremely light, but the runners wore out quickly on ice and hard névé. Sledges of powellised spotted gum were very strong and stood plenty of rough usage, but were heavier than those procured in Norway. A decking of bamboo slats secured by copper–wire to the crossbars was usually employed.
A light bamboo mast and spar were fitted to each sledge. Immediately in front of the mast came the ‘cooker–box’, containing in respective compartments the primus and a bottle of spirit for lighting it, as well as spare prickers, openers and fillers for the kerosene tins, repair outfits and other odd articles. The cooker–boxes were of Venesta board, with hinged lids secured by chocks and overlapped by japara cloth to exclude as much drift–snow as possible. An instrument–box was secured to the sledge near the rear and just forward of a Venesta or aluminium tray on which the kerosene contained in one–gallon tins was carried. In several cases the tray was widened to receive as well a case containing a dip–circle. Rearmost of all was a wooden crosspiece to which the shaft of the sledge–meter was attached through a universal joint. On the middle section of the sledge between the cooker–box and instrument–box, sleeping–bags, food–bags, clothes–bags, tent, alpine rope, theodolite legs, and other articles, were arranged, packed and immovably stiffened by buckled straps passing from side to side.
Sledging harness for both men and dogs was constructed of canvas. In the former case, a wide belt of triple thickness encircled the body at the hips, sewn to braces of narrower strips passing over the shoulders, while hauling–rope was attached to the belt behind. The strength of the whole depended on the care bestowed in sewing the parts together, and, since his life might depend upon it, no one made anything else but a thorough job of his harness.
Ninnis and Mertz ran a tailoring business for the dogs, who were brought one by one into the outer Hut to be measured for harness. After many lengths had been cut with scissors the canvas bands were put through and sewn together on the large sewing–machine and then each dog was fitted and the final alterations were made. The huskies looked quite smart in their ‘suits’.
Upon the primus heater, alone, did we rely for cooking the meals on sledging journeys. First used for purposes of sledging by Dr Nansen in his journey across Greenland, the primus is only economically managed after some practice. To light a primus in a draughty tent at a low temperature calls for some forbearance before one is a thorough master of the art. A sledging cook will often make a disagreeable faux pas by extinguishing the primus in the preparation of hoosh. This is most readily done by lowering too quickly the outside cover over the rest of the cooker. Fumes of vaporizing kerosene soon fill the tent and when matches are found, the cooker pulled to pieces, the primus relighted and the choking vapours have cleared, one is apt to think that all is well. The hoosh is quite as successful as usual, but the cocoa, made from water in the annulus, has a tincture of kerosene which cannot be concealed.
In the ‘Nansen Cooker’, which we used, a maximum result is secured from the heat of the primus. The hot gases from the combustion of the kerosene, before they escape into the outside air, have to circulate along a tortuous path, passing from the hot interior to the colder exterior compartments, losing heat all the time. Thus a hot hoosh is preparing in the central vessel side by side with the melting of snow for cocoa or tea in the annulus. By the combination of ‘Nansen Cooker’ and primus stove one gallon of kerosene oil properly husbanded is made to last for twelve days in the preparation of the ordinary ration for three men.
The subject of food is one which requires peculiar consideration and study. It is assumed that a polar expedition must carry all its food–stuffs in that variety and quantity which may approximately satisfy normal demands. Fortunately, the advance of science has been such that necessaries like vegetables, fruit, meats and milk are now preserved so that the chances of bacterial contamination are reduced to a minimum. A cold climate is an additional security towards the same end.
Speaking generally, while living for months in an Antarctic hut, it is a splendid thing to have more than the mere necessaries of life. Since one is cut off from the ordinary amenities of social existence, it is particularly necessary that equipment and food should be of the very best; in some measure to replace a lack which sooner or later makes itself keenly felt. Explorers, after all, are only mortal.
Luxuries, then, are good in moderation, and mainly for their psychological effect. After a spell of routine, a celebration is the natural sequel, and if there are delicacies which in civilization are more palatable than usual, why not take them to where they will receive a still fuller and heartier appreciation? There is a corresponding rise in the ‘tide of life’ and the ennui of the same task, in the same place, in the same wind, is not so noticeable. So we did not forget our asparagus and jugged hare.
In the matter of sledging foods, one comes down to a solid basis of dietetics. But even dietetics as a science has to stand aside when actual experience speaks. Dietetics deals with proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and calories: all terms which need definition and comprehension before the value of a sledging ration can be fundamentally understood. When the subject was first introduced into table conversation at the Hut, it was regarded somewhat suspiciously as ‘shop’. But it gradually won interest simply because it was of such vital concern.
In sledging there is undoubtedly a critical allowance which will yield the best results. Circumstances alter cases, and the correct ration under one set of conditions cannot be expected to coincide with that in another situation. Thus, the journey may be conducted under conditions of great cold or of comparative warmth, by man–hauling or auxiliary power, at sea–level or on an altitude, through regions where there is a reasonable hope of securing additions of meat by the way, or across barren tracts devoid of game. In each instance particular demands must be supplied.
In selecting the articles of diet, idiosyncrasies of individuals should be consulted in reason, and under no consideration should anything be taken which bears the slightest stigma of contamination. It remains, then, to discriminate those foods which contribute the greatest amount of nutriment for a given weight, and which, inter se, preserve a proper dietetic balance. Variety is very desirable, provided that there is no important sacrifice in nutrient value. The proof of a wisely selected ration is to find at the end of a long sledge journey that the sole craving is for an increase in the ration. Of course, such would be the ideal result of a perfect ration, which does not exist.
Considering that an ordinary individual in civilization may only satisfy the choice demands of his appetite by selecting from the multifarious bill of fare of a modern restaurant, it will be evident that the same person, though already on the restricted diet of an explorer, cannot be suddenly subjected to a sledging ration for any considerable period without a certain exercise of discipline.
For example, the Eastern Coastal Party, sledging at fairly high temperatures over the sea–ice, noted that the full ration of hoosh produced at times a mild indigestion, they drank much liquid to satisfy an intense thirst and on returning to the Hut found their appetites inclined to tinned fruit and penguins’ eggs. Bickerton’s and Bage’s parties, though working at a much higher altitude, had a similar experience. The former, for instance, could not at first drink the whole allowance of thick, rich cocoa without a slight nausea. The latter saved rations during the first two weeks of their journey, and only when they rose to greater heights and were in fine condition did they appreciate the ration to the full. Again, even when one becomes used to the ration, the sensation of full satisfaction does not last for more than an hour. The imagination reaches forward to the next meal, perhaps partly on account of the fact that marching is often monotonous and the scenery uninspiring. Still, even after a good evening hoosh, the subconscious self may assert itself in food–dreams. The reaction from even a short sledging trip, where food has been plentiful, is to eat a good deal, astonishing in amount to those who for the time being have lived at the Hut.
It may appear that a serious case is being made against the polar sledging ration. On the whole, it was found to be excellent and the best that experience had been able to devise. Entering the polar zones, one must not be over–fastidious, but take it as a matter of course that there will be self–denial and deprivation of small luxuries.
The energy exerted by man, and the requirements of tissue–building are derived from the organic compounds known as proteins,1 fats and carbohydrates, though in a slight degree from other substances, most important of which are minute quantities of mineral matter.
A calorie as used in dietetics is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one kilogramme of water at 0°C to 1°C. The heat–value of food–stuffs, stated in calories, can be quickly reckoned when chemical analyses stating their protein, fat and carbohydrate contents are available. It has been ascertained that one gramme of protein or carbohydrate yields 4.1 calories, whilst the same amount of fat produces 9.3 calories. Thus the value of fat–containing foods in a sledging ration is at once apparent.
Theoretically, any of the three classes of foods mentioned might be thought to supply adequate energy, if taken in sufficient amount. Practically, however, protein and carbohydrate are essential, and it is better to have a mixture of all three. So, in concentrating foods for sledging, the largest possible proportion of fat, compatible with other considerations, is included.
Ordinarily, a normal man consumes some four or five pounds weight of solid food per diem, of which 50 per cent, it is rather surprising to learn, is water. When sledging, one has the satisfaction of knowing that all but the smallest quantity of the food dragged is solid nutriment. The water is added when the meals are cooked. It is just in this artificial addition that the sledging ration is not perfect, though as a synthesis it satisfies the demands of dietetics. Food containing water, as cooked meat oozing with its own gravy is a more palatable thing than dried meat–powder to which boiling water has been added. In the same way, a dry, hard biscuit plus liquid is a different thing from a spongy loaf of yeast bread with its high percentage of water. One must reckon with the psychic factor in eating. When sledging, one does not look for food well served as long as the food is hot, nourishing and filling. So the usage of weeks and a wolfish appetite make hoosh a most delicious preparation; but when the days of an enforced ration are over, the desire for appetizing well–served food reasserts itself. The body refuses to be treated merely as an engine.
The daily polar sledging ration for one man has been concentrated to a figure just above two pounds in weight, For instance, in recent Antarctic expeditions, Scott, in 1903, used 34.7 ozs, Shackleton in 1908 used 34.82 ozs and our own amounted to 34.25 ozs. Exclusive of tea, pepper and salt, Shackleton’s ration and that adopted by Wild at the Western Base and ourselves in Adélie Land were identical — 34 ozs. Reverting to earlier explorers, for the sake of comparisons, McClintock in 1850 brought his minimum down to 42 ozs, Nares in 1875 to 40 ozs, Greely in 1882 to 41.75 ozs, and Abruzzi in 1900 to 43.5 ozs.
Our allowance was made up as follows, the relative amounts in the daily sledging ration for one man being stated: plasmon biscuit, 12 ozs; pemmican, 8 ozs; butter, 2 ozs; plasmon chocolate, 2 ozs; glaxo (dried milk), 5 ozs; sugar, 4 ozs; cocoa, 1 oz; tea, 0.25 oz. It will be instructive to make a short note on each item.
Plasmon biscuit was made of the best flour mixed with 30 per cent of plasmon powder. Each biscuit weighed 2.25 ozs, and was made specially thick and hard to resist shaking and bumping in transit as well as the rough usage of a sledging journey. The effect of the high percentage of plasmon, apart from its nutritive value, was to impart additional toughness to the biscuit, which tested our teeth so severely that we should have preferred something less like a geological specimen and more like ordinary ‘hard tack’. The favourite method of dealing with these biscuits was to smash them with an ice–axe or nibble them into small pieces and treat the fragments for a while to the solvent action of hot cocoa. Two important proteins were present in this food: plasmon, a trade–name for casein, the chief protein of milk, and gluten, a mixture of proteins in flour.
The pemmican we used consisted of powdered dried beef (containing the important protein, myosin) and 50 per cent of pure fat in the form of lard. The large content of fat contributes to its high caloric value, so that it is regularly included in sledging diets. Hoosh is a stodgy, porridge–like mixture of pemmican, dried biscuit and water, brought to the boil and served hot. Some men prefer it cooler and more dilute, and to this end dig up snow from the floor of the tent with their spoons, and mix it in until the hoosh is ‘to taste’. Eating hoosh is a heightened form of bliss which no sledger can ever forget.
Glaxo is a proprietary food preparation of dried milk, manufactured in New Zealand. It is without doubt an ideal food for any climate where concentration is desirable and asepsis cannot be neglected. The value of milk as an all–round food is well known. It contains protein as casein, fat as cream and in fine globules, carbohydrate as lactose (milk sugar) and mineral substances whose importance is becoming more recognized. At the Western Base, Wild’s party invented glaxo biscuits; an unbaked mixture of flour and dried milk, which were in themselves a big inducement to go sledging. At the Hut, making milk from the dried powder required some little experience. Cold water was added to the dried powder, a paste was made and warm or hot water poured in until the milk was at the required strength. One of the professional ‘touches’ was to aerate the milk, after mixing, by pouring it from jug to jug.
Butter, although it contains nearly 20 per cent of water is a food of high heat–value and is certainly more easily digested than fat, such as dripping, with a higher melting–point. Ours was fresh Victorian butter, packed in the ordinary export boxes, and carried to the Antarctic on the open bridge of the Aurora. With a sheath–knife, the sledging cook cut off three small chunks of two ounces each from the frozen butter every day at lunch. To show how the appetite is affected by extreme cold, one feels that butter is a wholesome thing just in itself, being more inclined to eat a pound than two ounces.
Sugar — the carbohydrate, sucrose — has special qualities as a food since it is quickly assimilated, imparting within a few minutes fresh energy for muscular exertion. Athletes will support this; in fact, a strong solution of sugar in water is used as a stimulant in long–distance running and other feats of endurance. Wild, for instance, found as a matter of experience that chocolate was preferable to cheese as a sledging food, even though similar weights had approximately the same food–value.
Cocoa and tea were the two sledging beverages. The cocoa was used for two meals, the first and the last in the day, and the tea for lunch. Both contain stimulating alkaloids, theobromine and caffeine, and fat is a notable constituent of cocoa. Of course, their chief nourishing value, as far as we were concerned, lay in the glaxo and sugar added.
Lastly, plasmon chocolate is a preparation of pure chocolate (a mixture of ground cocoa, white sugar and starch) with the addition of 10 per cent of plasmon.
As food for the dogs, there was nothing better than dried seal–steaks with the addition of a little blubber. Ordinary pemmican is readily eaten, but not appreciated by the dogs in the same way as seal meat. To save weight, the meat was dried over the stove without heating it sufficiently to cook it. By this measure, almost 50 per cent in weight was saved.
The Hut was all agog with movement and bustle on the days when rations were being made up and packed. Starting from the earliest stage in the process, there would be two men in the outer Hut grinding plasmon biscuit into powder. One would turn away for dear life and the other smash the biscuit with a hammer on a metal slab and feed continuously into the grinder. The atmosphere would be full of the nauseous vapours of blubber arising from dishes on the stove where seal meat was drying for the dogs. Ninnis and Mertz superintended in this department, in careless moments allowing the blubber to frizzle and diffuse its aroma through the Hut.
Inside, spread along the eighteen–foot table would be the weighers, the bag–makers or machinists, and the packers. The first made up a compound of cocoa, glaxo and sugar — cocoa compound; mixed glaxo and sugar and stirred together, pemmican and biscuit — pemmican compound. These were weighed and run into calico bags, rapidly supplied by several machinists farther along the table. In spare moments the weighers stowed chocolate, whole biscuits, butter and tea into 190 sacks of various sizes. Lastly, the packers had strong canvas tanks, as they were called, designed to hold food for a week and a fortnight respectively. Into these the rations were carefully distributed, butter in the centre, whole biscuits near the top. Then the tanks were tightly closed, and one man operated with palm and sail–needle, sewing them up with twine. At the same time, a side–line was run in pemmican which was removed semi–frozen from the air–tight tins, and shaved into small pieces with a strong sheath–knife. Butter, too, arrived from the refrigerator–store and was subdivided into two–ounce or pound lumps.
Meanwhile, other occupations were in full swing. An amateur cobbler, his crampon on a last, studded its spiked surface with clouts, hammering away in complete disregard of the night–watchman’s uneasy slumbers. The big sewing–machine raced at top–speed round the flounce of a tent, and in odd corners among the bunks were groups mending mitts, strengthening sleeping–bags and patching burberrys. The cartographer at his table beneath a shaded acetylene light drew maps and sketched, the magnetician was busy on calculations close by. The cook and messman often made their presence felt and heard. In the outer Hut, the lathe spun round, its whirr and click drowned in the noisy rasp of the grinder and the blast of the big blow–lamp. The last–named, Bickerton, ‘bus–driver’ and air–tractor expert, had converted, with the aid of a few pieces of covering tin, into a forge. A piece of red–hot metal was lifted out and thrust into the vice; Hannam was striker and Bickerton holder. General conversation was conducted in shouts, Hannam’s being easily predominant.
The sum total of sounds was sufficient for a while to make every one oblivious to the clamour of the restless wind.