Web Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
The Heart of the Antarctic
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter
Kellscraft Studio Logo

Appearanoe of a Bird in 83- 40' South Latitude: Our last Pony engulfed, December 7: Dangerous Travelling in a Maze of Crevasses:
Discovery of Coal at an altitude of 6100 ft.

 December 5. Broke camp sharp at 8 A.M. and proceeded south down an icy slope to the main glacier. The ice was too slippery for the pony, so Wild took him by a circuitous route to the bottom on snow. At the end of our ice slope, down which the sledge skidded rapidly, though we had put on rope brakes and hung on to it as well as we could, there was a patch of soft snow running parallel with the glacier, which here trended about south-west by south. Close ahead of us were the massed-up, fantastically shaped and split masses of pressure across which it would have been impossible for us to have gone, but, fortunately, it was not necessary even to try, for close into the land was a snow slope free from all crevasses, and along this gentle rise we made our way. After a time this snow slope gave place to blue ice, with numberless cracks and small crevasses across which it was quite impossible for the pony to drag the sledge without a serious risk of a broken leg in one of the many holes, the depth of which we could not ascertain. We therefore unharnessed Socks, and Wild took him over this bit of ground very carefully, whilst we others first hauled our sledge and then the pony sledge across to a patch of snow under some gigantic granite pillars over 2000 ft. in height, and here, close to some thaw water, we made our lunch camp. I was still badly snow-blind, so stayed in camp whilst Marshall and Adams went on to spy out a good route to follow after lunch was over. When they returned they informed me that there was more cracked-up blue ice ahead, and that the main pressure of the glacier came in very close to the pillar of granite that stood before us, but that beyond that there appeared to be a snow slope and good going. The most remarkable thing they reported was that as they were walking along a bird, brown in colour with a white line under each wing, flew just over their heads and disappeared to the south. It is, indeed, strange to hear of such an incident in latitude 83 40' South. They were sure it was not a skua gull, which is the only bird I could think of that would venture down here, and the gull might have been attracted by the last dead pony, for when in latitude 80 30' South, on my last southern trip, a skua gull arrived shortly after we had killed a dog.

After lunch we started again, and by dint of great exertions managed, at 6 P.M., to camp after getting both sledges and then the pony over another couple of miles of crevassed blue ice. We then went on and had a look ahead, and saw that we are going to have a tough time to-morrow to get along at all. I can see that it will, at least, mean relaying three or four times across nearly half a mile of terribly crevassed ice, covered in places with treacherous snow, and razor-edged in other places, all of it sloping down towards the rock debris strewn shore on the cliff side. We are camped under a wonderful pillar of granite that has been rounded by the winds into a perfectly symmetrical shape, and is banded by lines of gneiss. There is just one little patch of snow for our tents, and even that bridges some crevasses. Providence will look over us to-night, for we can do nothing more. One feels that at any moment some great piece of rock may come hurtling down, for all round us are pieces of granite, ranging from the size of a hazel-nut to great boulders twenty to forty tons in weight, and on one snow slope is the fresh track of a fallen rock. Still we can do no better, for it is impossible to spread a tent on the blue ice, and we cannot get any further to-night. We are leaving a depot here. My eyes are my only trouble, for their condition makes it impossible for me to pick out the route or do much more than pull. The distance covered to-day was 9 miles with 4 miles relay.

December 6. Started at 8 A.M. to-day in fine weather to get our loads over the half-mile of crevassed ice that lay between us and the snow slope to the south-south-west. We divided up the load and managed to get the whole lot over in three journeys, but it was an awful job, for every step was a venture, and I, with one eye entirely blocked up because of snow-blindness, felt it particularly uncomfortable work. However, by 1 P.M. all our gear was safely over, and the other three went back for Socks. Wild led him, and by 2 P.M. we were all camped on the snow again. Providence has indeed looked after us. At 3 P.M. we started south-south-west up a long slope to the right of the main glacier pressure. It was very heavy going, and we camped at 5 P.M. close to a huge crevasse, the snow bridge of which we crossed. There is a wonderful view of the mountains, with new peaks and ranges to the south-east, south and south-west. There is a dark rock running in conjunction with the granite on several of the mountains. We are now over 1700 ft. up on the glacier, and can see down on to the Barrier. The cloud still hangs on the mountain ahead of us; it certainly looks as though it were a volcano cloud, but it may be due to condensation. The lower current clouds are travelling very fast from south-south-east to north-north-west. The weather is fine and clear, and the temperature plus 17 Fahr.



 December 7. Started at 8 A.M., Adams, Marshall and self pulling one sledge. Wild leading Socks behind. We travelled up and down slopes with very deep snow, into which Socks sank up to his belly, and we plunged in and out continuously, making it very trying work. Passed several crevasses on our right hand and could see more to the left. The light became bad at 1 P.M., when we camped for lunch, and it was hard to see the crevasses, as most were more or less snow covered. After lunch the light was better, and as we marched along we were congratulating ourselves upon it when suddenly we heard a shout of " help

from Wild. We stopped at once and rushed to his assistance. and saw the pony sledge with the forward end down a crevasse and Wild reaching out from the side of the gulf grasping the sledge. No sign of the pony. We soon got up to Wild, and he scrambled out of the dangerous position, but poor Socks had gone. Wild had a miraculous escape. He was following up our tracks, and we had passed over a crevasse which was entirely covered with snow, but the weight of the pony broke through the snow crust and in a second all was over. Wild says he just. felt a sort of rushing wind, the leading rope was snatched from his hand, and he put out his arms and just caught the further edge of the chasm. Fortunately for Wild and us, Socks' weight snapped the swingle-tree of the sledge, so it was saved, though the upper bearer is broken. We lay down on our stomachs and looked over into the gulf, but no sound or sign came to us; black bottomless pit it seemed to be. We hitched the pony sledge to ourselves and started off again. now with a weight of 1000 lb. for the four of us. Camped at 6.20 P.M., very tired, having to retreat from a maze of crevasses and rotten ice on to a patch where we could pitch our tents. We are indeed thankful for Wild's escape. When I think over the events of the day I realise what the loss of the sledge would have meant to us. We would have had left only two sleeping-bags for the four of us, and I doubt whether we could have got back to winter-quarters with the short equipment. Our chance of reaching the Pole would have been gone. We take on the maize to eat ourselves. There is one ray of light in this bad day, and that is that anyhow we could not have taken Socks on much further. We would have had to shoot him to-night, so that although his loss is a serious matter to us, for we had counted on the meat, still we know that for traction purposes he would have been of little further use. When we tried to camp to-night we stuck our ice-axes into the snow to see whether there were any more hidden crevasses, and everywhere the axes went through. It would have been folly to have pitched our camp in that place, as we might easily have dropped through during the night. We had to retreat a quarter of a mile to pitch the tent. It was very unpleasant to turn back, even for this short distance, but on this job one must expect reverses.

December 8. Started at 8 A.M. and immediately began dodging crevasses and pits of unknown depth. Wild and I were leading, for, thank heaven, my eyes are fit and well again. We slowly toiled up a long crevassed slope, and by lunch time were about 1900 ft. up the glacier had covered 6 miles 150 yards of an uphill drag, with about 250 lb. per man to haul. After lunch we still travelled up, but came on to blue glacier ice almost free from crevasses, so did much better, the sledges running easily. We camped at 6 P.M., the day's journey having been 12 miles 150 yards. The slope we went up in the morning was not as bad as we had anticipated, but quite bad enough for us to be thankful that we are out, at any rate for a time, from the region of hidden crevasses. The hypsometer to-night gave our height as 2300 ft. above sea-level. It is beautifully fine still. We have been wonderfully fortunate in this, especially in view of the situation we are in.

December 9. Another splendid day as far as the weather is concerned, and much we needed it, for we have had one of our hardest day's work and certainly the most dangerous so far. We started at 7.45 A.M. over the blue ice, and in less than an hour were in a perfect maze of crevasses, some thinly bridged with snow and others with a thicker and therefore more deceptive covering. Marshall went through one and was only saved by his harness. He had quite disappeared down below the level of the ice, and it was one of those crevasses that open out from the top, with no bottom to be seen, and I daresay there was a drop of at least 1000 ft. Soon after, Adams went through, then I did. The situation became momentarily more dangerous and uncertain. The sledges, skidding about, came up against the sheer, knife-like edges of some of the crevasses, and thus the bow of the second sledge, which had been strained when Socks fell, gave way. We decided to relay our gear over this portion of the glacier until we got on to safer ground, and it was well past eleven o'clock before we had got both sledges on to better ice. We camped at 11.45 A.M. to get the sun's meridian altitude, and, to save time while watching the sun's rise and fall, decided to lunch at noon. The latitude we found to be 84 2' South, which is not so bad considering that we have been hauling our heavy load of 250 lb. per man uphill for the last two days. At noon we were nearly 2500 ft. above sea-level. In the afternoon we had another heavy pull, and now are camped between two huge crevasses, but on a patch of hard snow. We pitched camp at 6 P.M., very tired and extremely hungry after dragging uphill all the afternoon for over five hours. It is 8 P.M. now, and we are nearly 3000 ft. above sea-level. Low cumulus clouds are hanging to the south of us, as they have done for many days past, obscuring any view in that direction. We are anxiously hoping to find soon a level and inland ice-sheet so that we can put on more speed. The distance to-day was 11 miles 1450 yards plus two miles relay. The talk now is mainly about food and the things we would like to eat, and at meal-times our hoosh disappears with far too great speed. We are all looking forward to Christmas Day, for then, come what may, we are going to be full of food.

December 10. Falls, bruises, cut shins, crevasses, razor-edged ice, and a heavy upward pull have made up the sum of the day's trials, but there has been a measure of compensation in the wonderful scenery, the marvellous rocks arid the covering of a distance of 11 miles 860 yards towards our goal. We started at 7.30 A.M. amongst crevasses, but soon got out of them and pulled up a long slope of snow. Our altitude at noon was 3250 ft. above sea-level. Then we slid down a blue ice slope, after crossing crevasses. Marshall and I each went down one. We lunched at 1 P.M. and started at 2 P.M. up a long ridge by the side moraine of the glacier. It was heavy work, as the ice was split and presented knife-like edges between the cracks, and there were also some crevasses. Adams got into one. The going was terribly heavy, as the sledges brought up against the ice-edges every now and then, and then there was a struggle to get them started again. We changed our foot-gear, substituting ski-booth for the finnesko, but nevertheless had many painful falls on the treacherous blue ice, cutting our hands and shins. We are all much bruised. We camped on a patch of snow by the land at 6 P.M. The rocks of the moraine are remarkable, being of every hue and description. I cannot describe them, but we will carry specimens back for the geologists to deal with. The main rocks of the "Cloud-Maker," the mountain under which we are camped, appear to be slates, reef-quartz and a very hard, dark brown rock, the name of which I do not know. The erratics of marble, conglomerate, and breccia are beautiful, showing a great mass of wonderful colours, but these rocks we cannot take away. We can only take with us small specimens of the main rocks, as weight is of importance to us, and from these small specimens the geologists must determine the character of the land. This mountain is the one we thought might be an active volcano when we saw it from the mountain at the foot of the glacier, but the cloud has blown away from its head to-day, and we can see definitely that it is not a volcano. It is a remarkable sight as it towers above us with the snow clinging to its sides. To-night there is a cold north wind. I climbed about 600 ft. up the mountain and got specimens of the main rocks in situ. The glacier is evidently moving very slowly, and not filling as much of the valley as it did at some previous date, for the old moraines lie higher up in terraces. Low cumulus clouds to the south are hiding some of the new land in that direction. We are all very hungry and tired to-night after the day's fight with glacier. Whilst I went up the mountain to spy out the land the others ground up the balance of the maize, brought for pony feed, between flat stones, in order that we may use it ourselves to eke out our supply of food. The method of preparation was primitive, but it represented the only way of getting it fit to cook without the necessity of using more oil than we can spare for lengthy boiling. The temperature was plus 12 Fahr. at noon to-day, and is plus 14 nu w at 8 P.M. We are getting south and we hope to reach the inland ice in a couple of days; then our marching will be faster. The weather is still fine.



 December 11. A heavy day. We started away at 7.40 A.M. and tried to keep alongside the land, but the ice of the glacier sloped so much that we had to go on to the ridge, where the sledges could run without side-slipping. This slipping cuts the runners very badly. We crossed the medial moraine, and found rock there with what looked like plant impressions. We collected some specimens.

In the afternoon we found the surface better, as the cracks were nearly all filled up with water turned to ice. We camped for lunch on rubbly ice. After lunch we rounded some pressure ridges fairly easily, and then pulled up a long ice-slope with many sharp points. All the afternoon we were passing over ice in which the cracks had been closed up, and we began to have great hopes that the end of the glacier was in sight, and that we would soon be able to put in some good marches on the plateau. At 5 P.M. we found more cracks and a mass of pressure ice ahead and land appeared as the clouds ahead lifted. I cannot tell what it means, but the position makes us anxious. The sledges will not stand much more of this ice work, and we are still 340 geographical miles away from the Pole. Thank God the weather is fine still. We camped at 6 P.M. on hard ice between two crevasses. There was no snow to pack round the tents, so we had to put the sledges and the provision bags on the snow cloths. We made the floor level inside by chipping away the points of ice with our ice-axes. We were very hungry after hoosh tonight. Awkward features about the glacier are the little pits filled with mud, of which I collected a small sample.1 It seems to be ground-down rock material, but what the action has been I cannot tell. The hot sun, beating down on this mud, makes it gradually sink into the body of the glacier, leaving a rotten ice covering through which we often break. It is like walking over a cucumber frame, and sometimes the boulders that have sunk down through the ice can be seen 3 or 4 ft. below the surface. The ice that has formed above the sunken rocks is more clear than the ordinary glacier ice. We are 3700 ft. up, and made 8 miles 900 yards to the good to-day. We have the satisfaction of feeling that we are getting south, and perhaps to-morrow may see the end of all our difficulties. Difficulties are just things to overcome after all. Every one is very fit.

December 12. Our distance three miles for the day expresses more readily than I can write it the nature of the day's work. We started at 7.40 A.M. on the worst surface possible, sharp-edged blue ice full of chasms and crevasses, rising to hills and descending into gullies; in fact, a surface that could not be equalled in any polar work for difficulty in travelling. Our sledges are suffering greatly, and it is a constant strain on us both to save the sledges from breaking or going down crevasses, and to save ourselves as well. We are a mass of bruises where we have fallen on the sharp ice, but, thank God, no one has even a sprain. It has been relay work to-day, for we could only take on one sledge at a time, two of us taking turns at pulling the sledge whilst the others steadied and held the sledge to keep it straight. Thus we would advance one mile, and then return over the crevasses and haul up the other sledge. By repeating this to-day for three miles we marched nine miles over a surface where many times a slip meant death. Still we have advanced three miles to the south, and to-night we are camped on a patch of neve. By using our ice-axes we made a place for the tent. The weather is still splendidly fine, though low clouds obscure our horizon to the south. We are anxiously hoping to cross the main pressure to-morrow, and trust that we will then have better travelling. Given good travelling, we will not be long in reaching our goal. Marshall is putting in the bearings and angles of the new mountains. They still keep appearing to the west and east. Distance 3 miles 500 yards, with relays 9 miles 1500 yards.

December 13. We made a start at 8 A.M. and once again went up hill and down dale, over crevasses and blue, ribbed ice, relaying the sledges. We had covered about a mile when we came to a place where it seemed almost impossible to proceed. However, to our right, bearing about south-west by south, there seemed to be better surface and we decided to make a detour in that direction in order, if possible, to get round the pressure. While returning for one of the sledges I fell on the ice and hurt my left knee, which was a serious matter, or rather might have been. I have had a bandage on all the afternoon while pulling, and the knee feels better now, but one realises what it would mean if any member of our party were to be damaged under these conditions and in this place. This afternoon we came on to a better surface, and were able to pull both sledges instead of relaying. We are still gradually rising, and to-night our hypsometer gives 203.7, or 4370 ft. up. There is a cool southerly wind indeed, more than we have had before, and as we have only a patch of nave on the glacier for our tents, we had to take the provision bags and gear off the sledges to keep the tent-cloths down. The temperature is plus 19 Fahr. New mountains are still appearing to the west-south-west as we rise. We seem now to be going up a long yellow track, for the ice is not so blue, and we are evidently travelling over an old moraine, where the stones have sunk through the ice when its onward movement has been retarded. I am sure that the bulk of the glacier is growing less, but the onward movement still continues, though at a much slower pace than at some previous period. The gain for the day was five miles, and in addition we did four miles relay work.

December 14. This has been one of our hardest day's work so far. We have been steering all day about south-south-west up the glacier, mainly in the bed of an ancient moraine, which is full of holes through which the stones and boulders have melted down long years ago. It has been snowing all day with a high temperature, and this has made everything very wet. We have ascended over 1000 ft. to-day, our altitude at 6 P.M. being 5600 ft. above sea-level, so the mountains to the west must be from 10,000 to 15,000 ft. in height, judging from their comparative elevation. My knee is better to-day. We have had a heavy pull and many falls on the slippery ice. Just before camping, Adams went through some snow, but held up over an awful chasm. Our sledges are much the worse for wear, and the one with the broken bow constantly strikes against the hard, sharp ice, pulling us up with a jerk and often flinging us down. At this high altitude the heavy pulling is very trying, especially as we slip on the snow covering the blue ice. There has evidently been an enormous glaciation here, and now it is dwindling away. Even the mountains show signs of this. To-night our hopes are high that we are nearly at the end of the rise and that soon we will reach our longed-for plateau. Then southward indeed ! Food is the determining factor with us. We did 7i miles to-day.

December 15. Started at 7.40 A.M. in clear weather. It was heavy going uphill on the blue ice, but gradually we rose the land ahead, and it seemed as though at last we were going to have a change, and that we would see something new. At lunchtime we were on a better surface, with patches of snow, and we could see stretching out in front of us what was apparently a long, wide plain. It looked as though now really we were coming to the level ground for which we have longed, especially as the hypsometer gave us an altitude of 7230 ft., but this altitude at night came down to 5830 ft., so the apparent height may be -due to barometric pressure and change of weather, for in the afternoon a stiff breeze from the south-west sprang up. The temperature was plus 18 Fahr. at noon, and when the wind came up it felt cold, as we were pulling in our pyjama trousers, with nothing underneath. We have been going steadily uphill all the afternoon, but on a vastly improved surface, consisting of hard neve instead of blue ice and no cracks, only covered-in crevasses, which are easily seen. Ahead of us really lies the plateau. We can also see ahead of us detached mountains, piercing through the inland ice, which is the road to the south for us. Huge mountains stretch out to the east and west. After last week's toil and anxiety the change is delightful. The distance covered to-day was 13 miles 200 yards.

December 16. We started at 7 A.M., having had breakfast at 5.30 A.M. It was snowing slightly for the first few hours, and then the weather cleared. The surface was hard and the going good. We camped at noon and took sights for latitude, and ascertained that our position was 84 50' South. Ahead of us we could see a long slope, icy and crevassed, but we did 13 miles 1650 yards for the day. We camped at 5.30 P.M., and got ready our depot gear. We have decided to travel as lightly as possible, taking only the clothes we are wearing, and we will leave four days' food, which I calculate should get us back to the last depot on short ration. We have now traversed nearly one hundred miles of crevassed ice, and risen 6000 ft. on the largest glacier in the world. One more crevassed slope, and we will be on the plateau, please God, We are all fit and well. The temperature to-night is plus 15 Fahr., and the wind is blowing freshly from the south-west. There are splendid ranges of mountains to the west-south-west, and we have an extended view of glacier and mountains. Ahead of us lie three sharp peaks, connected up and forming an island in what is apparently inland ice or the head of the glacier. The peaks lie due south of us. To the eastward and westward of this island the ice bears down from the inland ice-sheet, and joins the head of the glacier proper. To the westward the mountains along the side of the glacier are all of the bluff type, and the lines of stratification can be seen plainly. Still further to the westward, behind the frontal range, lie sharper peaks, some of them almost perfect cones. The trend of the land from the "Cloudmaker" is about south-southwest. We are travelling up the west side of the glacier. On the other side, to the east, there is a break in the bluff mountains, and the land beyond runs away more to the south-east. The valley is filled with pressure ice, which seems to have come from the inland ice-sheet. The mountains to the south-east also show lines of stratification. I hope that the photographs will be clear enough to give an idea of the character of this land. These mountains are not beautiful in the ordinary acceptance of the term, but they are magnificent in their stern and rugged grandeur. No foot has ever trod on their mighty sides, and until we reached this frozen land no human eyes had seen their forms.

December 17. We made a start at 7.20 A.M. and had an uphill pull all the morning over blue ice with patches of snow, which impeded our progress until we learned that the best way was to rush the sledges over them, for it was very difficult to keep one's footing on the smooth ice, and haul the sledges astern over the snow. By 1 P.M. we had done eight miles of this ,uphill work, and in the afternoon we did four more. We had worked from 7.23 A.M. until 6.40 P.M. with one hour's rest for lunch only and it seems as though twelve miles was not much, but the last two hours' going was very stiff. We had to take on one sledge at a time up the icy slope, and even then we had to cut steps with our ice-axes as we went along. The work was made more difficult by the fact that a strong southerly wind was dead in our faces. The second sledge we hauled up the rise by means of the alpine rope. We made it fast to the sledge, went on with the first sledge till the rope was stretched out to its full length, then cut a place to stand on, and by our united efforts hauled the sledge up to where we stood. We repeated this until we had managed to reach a fairly level spot with both the sledges, and we pitched our tents on a small patch of snow. There was not enough of the snow to make fast the snow-cloths of the tents, and we had to take the gear off the sledges and pile that round to supplement the snow. We have burned our boats behind us now as regards warm clothing, for this afternoon we made a depot in by the rocks of the island we are passing, and there left everything except the barest necessaries. After dinner to-night Wild went up the hill-side in order to have a look at the plateau. He came down with the news that the plateau is in sight at last, and that to-morrow should see us at the end of our difficulties. He also brought down with him some very interesting geological specimens, some of which certainly look like coal. The quality may be poor, but I have little doubt that the stuff is coal. If that proves to be the case, the discovery will be most interesting to the scientific world. Wild tells me that there are about six seams of this dark stuff, mingled with sandstone, and that the seams are from 4 in. to 7 or 8 ft. in thickness. There are vast quantities of it lyiag on the hill-side. We took a photograph of the sandstone, and I wish very much that we could spare tin e to examine the rocks more thoroughly. We may be able to co this on the way back. We have but little time for geological work, for our way is south and time is short, but we found that the main rock is sandstone and on our way back we will collect some. I expect that this will be the most southerly rock that we shall obtain, for we ought to reach the plateau tomorrow, and then there will be no more land close to us. It is gusty to-night, but beautifully clear. The altitude, according to the hypsometer, is 6100 ft.


NOTE. When I showed the specimens to Professor David after our return to the Nimrod, he stated definitely that some of them were coal and others " mother of coal."


1 These pits are known as "cryoconite holes."

Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.