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PEARY'S LATER VOYAGES.
The appetite of the polar adventurer was now well whetted for the pursuit of a northern goal; his spirit and his physique had both become sturdy; and he was ready to accomplish greater work.
Such a triumph as "farthest north," was, however, to be delayed for many years. Although Peary went north again in 1893, he did not attempt to reach the pole, yet his investigations were of moment to science. He had read of a great "iron mountain," which was first heard of through Ross, an English explorer, in 1818. Now, more than seventy years later, the American explorer determined to find that mountain and determine its nature. He did find it, and proved that it was a marvelous rock indeed, — a meteorite, the largest known, and weighing more than ninety tons.
Experiences similar to those described in the last chapter characterized this trip, as Mrs. Peary was her husband's companion on this trip also; and the voyage was distinguished by another event, also. A daughter was born to the Pearys while they were in the Arctic region. Though sixteen years old, she is still known as "the snow baby."
In 1896 and 1897 Peary made short trips to his adopted country, Greenland, and made discoveries of minor importance. In the latter year he brought home a number of wonderful meteorites.
By this time the Peary Arctic Club, under whose auspices the pole-reaching exploit was carried out, had come into being, and under its auspices Peary made a long journey, lasting from 1898 to 1902. This was an important expedition, full of thrilling experiences and also of large scientific value.
During these four years Peary spent away from his home and beyond the realm of white men he rounded the northern extremity of the Greenland archipelago, which is the most northerly land in the world. He named the cape he found there after Morris K. Jesup, the Philadelphia capitalist, who was enthusiastic in Peary's support, and who died without seeing his protégé's final success. On this trip Peary attained a far northern record, reaching 84 degrees north latitude. The expedition of 1905-6, however, was more important than any Peary had undertaken as a stepping-stone toward his attainment of the North pole. This time he dashed as far as latitude 87, the highest mark yet attained by any polar explorer. This expedition is worth considering in some detail. Peary and his followers left New York July 16, 1905. The loyal old Kite had long since been out of service, and a staunch new boat, one of the best ever designed for polar service, was the vessel on which the explorer rode out of New York harbor. It had been christened by Mrs. Peary, who appropriately broke a piece of ice over its bows, and its name was the Roosevelt. As the reader will recognize, this was the same craft that took Peary to Greenland on the pole-finding trip of 1909.
The Roosevelt sailed up Baffin Bay to Etah, Greenland, the favorite port for Arctic travelers, and there was put in final shape for a hard journey amid the ice. After taking on board a large party of Eskimos, to act as hunters and guides, the boat sailed from Etah Aug. 17 of the same year. Among the most important travelers were 200 Eskimo dogs. After cruising about for some time in an effort to find the best place "from which to begin a swift journey toward the pole, Peary ran his craft into a nook under Cape Sheridan, one of the most northerly capes of Grant Land. Here some terrible experiences were met, which are vividly told in one of Peary's own accounts of the expedition:
"Sept. 16," says Peary, "a large floe pivoted around Cape Sheridan, crushing everything before it, until at last it held the ship mercilessly between its blue side and the unyielding face of the ice-foot. Its slow, resistless motion was frightful, yet fascinating. * * * The pressure was terrific; the Roosevelt's ribs and interior bracing cracked like the discharge of musketry. The main deck amidships bulged up several inches, the main rigging hung slack, and the masts and rigging shook as in a violent gale; then, with a mighty tremor and a sound which reminded one of an athlete inhaling his breath for a .supreme effort, the ship jumped upward. The big floe snapped against the edge of the ice-foot forward and aft under us, crumpling up its edge and driving it inshore some yards, and the commotion was transferred to the outer edge of the floe, which crumbled away with a dull roar as other floes smashed against it and tore off great pieces in the onward rush — leaving us stranded but safe. This incident, of course, put an end to all thoughts of further advance."
Further advance by ship, Peary meant. He had no thought of being disheartened by savage ice or bitter cold. The whole party prepared to quit the Roosevelt, and take to the sledges. Before this was possible, however, a long winter was to be faced, and food must be procured for scores of men. It was impossible to make the sledge-trip in the darkness of the winter, but it was still possible to hunt game, for those experienced enough to bring down their prey without the light of the sun to aid their eyesight. Peary and his Eskimo went forth and became huntsmen. They brought down 250 musk oxen, which form one of the staples of food in that region. Also they were fortunate enough to find many score of the rare and beautiful Arctic reindeer, which are snow-white and as graceful as their brethren of farther south.
On October 12 they saw the sun go down, to be seen no more for months. Then the black winter, in which the little ship cast forth the only light for hundreds of miles around. The winter passed without serious mishap to any of the human members of the party; but eighty of the dogs died of poisoning caused by the whale-meat which had been taken along for their sustenance. This caused the hunting to be redoubled, since the trip was all but hopeless should the remainder of the animals suffer the same fate.
It was a hard winter in more ways than one. Sometimes the ice would break away from the shore, and the seas would dash against the Roosevelt, threatening to swamp her.
"Simultaneously," says Peary, "a violent southerly gale blew up, threatening to tear the ship from her moorings. The port anchor and cable and every steel and manila cable on board were made fast to the ice-foot. * * * The next three weeks were a period of constant anxiety, the ice-pack surging back and forth along shore on each tide, and liable to crush in upon us at any time. Every one slept in his clothes, all lanterns and portable lights were kept below and trimmed, and provision was made for the instant extinguishment of all fires."
Peary does not add that it became necessary to put out the fires, and the party must have been thankful that what little heat they had was spared. With February the sun reappeared, and those on board ship were split up into four parties, to take dogs and sledges and work northward. Peary headed the last sledge-party. The sun shone out on March 6. A few days later Peary encountered several of the other parties and learned from them of the difficulties of advance. He then determined that supporting parties were useless, and that he himself must make a dash. "At Storm Camp," he writes, "we abandoned everything noi absolutely necessary and I bent every energy to setting a record pace.
'The first march of ten hours, myself in the lead with the compass, sometimes on a dog trot, the sledges following in Indian file with drivers running beside or behind, placed us thirty miles to the good — my Eskimos said forty. Four hours out on the second march I overtook Henson (head of one of the supporting parties) in his third camp, beside a lead which was closed. When I arrived, he hitched up and followed behind my hurrying party. I had with me now seven men and six teams with less than half a load for each.
"As we advanced, the character of the ice improved, the floes becoming much larger and pressure ridges infrequent, but the cracks and narrow leads increased, and were nearly all active. These cracks were uniformly at right angles to our course, and the ice on the northern side was moving more rapidly eastward than that on the southern.
"As dogs gave out, unable to keep the pace, they were fed to the others. April 20 we came into a region of open leads, trending nearly north and south, and the ice motion became more pronounced. Hurrying on between these leads, a forced march was made. Then we slept a few hours, and starting again soon after midnight, pushed on till noon of the 21st.
"My observation then gave 87° 6'. So far as history records this is the nearest approach to the north pole ever made by human beings.
"I thanked God with as good a grace as possible for what I had been able to accomplish, though it was but an empty bauble compared with the splendid jewel for which I was straining my life out. But, looking at the skeleton forms of my remaining dogs and the nearly empty sledges, and bearing in mind the drifting ice and the unknown quantity of the big lead between us and the nearest land, I felt that I had cut the margin as narrow as could be. reasonably expected.
"My flags were flung out from the summit of the highest pinnacle near us, and a hundred feet or so beyond this, I left a bottle containing a brief record and a piece of the silk flag which six years before I had carried around the northern end of Greenland."
The scientific results of this expedition were the following:
Reached 87 degrees N. latitude April 21, 1906.
Traversed and delineated an unknown portion of the north coast of Grant Land.
Discovered new land near Parallel 83 and Meridian 100.
Made a new and accurate census of the Eskimo people.
More important than the scientific results, however, were the moral results. Attainment of a point within three degrees of the pole showed Peary that by a little more effort, a little more suffering, and a little more luck, he could compass the few score miles and "nail the stars and stripes" to the pole.
The great year of 1909 was near.