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THE RETURN MARCH
JANUARY 17 TO FEBRUARY 5
March of 250 Miles back to our Depot on Drygalski Glacier: Sugar in the Hoosh: A Question of Route: Ice Dongas: Nearing the Coast: A Barranea: Severe Climbing: Our Unhappy Lot: A Double Detonator: Mawson in a Crevasse: Afternoon Tea on board the Nimrod
I called the camp a little before 10 A.M. the following morning. We now discussed the situation and our chances of catching the Nimrod, if she came in search of us along the coast in the direction of our depot on the Drygalski Glacier. We had agreed, before we decided to do the extra four days' march to the shifted position of the Magnetic Pole, that on our return journey we would do not less than thirteen miles a day. At the Magnetic Pole we were fully 260 statute miles distant, as the skua flies, from our depot on the Drygalski Glacier. As we had returned eleven of these miles on the day previous, we still had 249 miles to cover. We accordingly decided to try and get back to our Drygalski depot by February 1. This gave us fifteen days. Consequently we would have to average sixteen and two-third miles a day in order to reach the coast in the time specified. This, of course, did not allow for any delay on account of blizzards, and we had seen from the evidence of the large sastrugi that blizzards of great violence must occasionally blow in these quarters, and from the direction of the sastrugi during our last few days' march it was clear that the dominant direction of the blizzard would be exactly in our teeth. The prospect, therefore, of reaching our depot in the specified time did not appear bright. Providentially we had most beautiful and glorious weather for our start on January 17. It remained fine for the whole day, and we were greatly favoured by a light wind which now blew from between north-west and west-north-west--a perfectly fair wind for our journey. In fact the wind changed direction with us. It had helped us by blowing from the southeast, just before we reached the Magnetic Pole, and now it was blowing in the opposite direction, helping us home. That day, in spite of the late start, we sledged sixteen miles.
On January 18 the weather again was fine, and we had a hard day's sledging. Unfortunately Mawson's left leg became very lame and pained him a good deal. Our run for the day was sixteen miles two hundred yards. This was the end of my week's cooking, and we were able to indulge that night in a fairly abundant hoosh, also in very milky and sweet cocoa, and Mackay admitted that he actually felt moderately full after it for the first time since we had left the Drygalski Depot.
The following day, January 19, we boiled the hypsometer at our camp, and found the level to be about 7350 ft. above the sea. The boiling-point was 196.75° Fahr. That morning we had quite an unusual diversion. Mawson, who is a bold culinary experimenter, being messman for the week, tried the experiment of surreptitiously introducing a lump of sugar into the pemmican. Mackay detected an unusual flavour in the hoosh, and cross-questioned Mawson severely on the subject. Mawson admitted a lump of sugar. Mackay was thereupon roused to a high pitch of indignation, and stated that this awful state of affairs was the result of going out sledging with "two foreigners." We had a great struggle that day to make our sixteen miles, but we just managed it.
Owing to some miscalculation, for which I was responsible, we discovered that we had no tea for this week, our sixth week out, unless we took it out of the tea-bag for the seventh week. Accordingly we halved the tea in the seventh week bag, and determined to collect our old tea-bags at each of our old camps as we passed them, and boil these bags together with the small pittance of fresh tea. And here I may mention the tastes of the party in the matter of tea somewhat differed. Mackay liked his tea thoroughly well and long boiled, whereas Mawson and I liked it made by just bringing the water to the boil; as soon as we smelt the aroma of tea coming from underneath the outer lid of the cooker we used to shut off the primus lamp immediately and decant the tea into the pannikins. Mackay had always objected to this procedure when we were sledging along the sea ice where water boils at about 212° Fahr.; now, however, he had a strong scientific argument in his favour for keeping the pot boiling for a few minutes after the tea had been put in. He pointed out that at our present altitude water boiled at just over 196° Fahr., a temperature which he maintained was insufficient to extract the proper juices and flavour from the tea, unless the boiling was very much prolonged. Mawson, however, averred — on chemical and physical grounds — that with the diminished atmospheric pressure certain virtuous constituents of the tea could be extracted at a lower temperature. The discussion was highly scientific and exhilarating, though not very finite. It was agreed as a compromise to allow the boiling to continue for three or four minutes after the water had come to the boil before the tea was poured out. As in our progress coastwards we were continually coming upon more old tea-bags at our old camps, and always collected these and did not throw away any that had been used before we soon had quite an imposing collection of muslin bags with old tea leaves, and with the thorough boiling that they now got there wail a strong flavour of muslin super-added to that of old tea. Nevertheless this drink was nectar.
January 20. We were still able to-day to follow our sledge tracks, which was a great blessing, the magnetic needle being of so little use to us. We had the wind slightly against us, bringing up a little low drift. Again we made our sixteen-mile run, though with great difficulty, for the wind had been blowing freshly all day on our starboard bow.
In view of the good progress that we had made, and after carefully calculating out the provisions left over, Mawson, who was at this time messman, proposed that we should return to nearly full rations, as we were becoming much exhausted through insufficient food. This proposal was, of course, hailed with delight.
On January 21 there was a light wind with low temperature, clear sky and hot sun, which combined to consolidate the surface over which we were sledging. By this time Mackay and Mawson's raw lips, which had been cracked and bleeding for about a fortnight previously, were now much better. Mawson's lame leg had also improved. Again we did our sixteen-mile run.
January 22. We were up soon after 7 A.M. It was a clear day with bright sunshine. The wind started soon after 5 A.nt., constantly freshening, as it usually did in this part of the plateau, till about 3 P.M. Then it gradually died down by about 10 p.m. The temperature at 7.15 A.M. was minus 20° Fahr., and at this altitude we found the wind very trying. To-day we had to sledge over a great deal of pie-crust snow, which was very fatiguing. We had since the day before yesterday lost our old sledge tracks. To-day we sledged fifteen miles.
January 23. The weather was bright and cold with a light southerly wind. This day was very fatiguing, the sledging being over patches of soft snow and pie-crust snow. At the same time we were conscious that although we were sledging up and down wide undulations we were on the whole going down hill, and the new mountain (first seen by Mackay on January 21) was already showing up as an impressive massif. The air was cold and piercing. Mawson's right leg was still painful. That night we were all very much exhausted, and were obliged to allow ourselves fully eight hours' sleep. Our run was sixteen miles.
January 24. To-day we had more heavy sledging over a lot of pie-crust snow and soft snow. The wind was blowing somewhat against us at about twelve miles an hour, the temperature being minus 4 Fahr. in the afternoon. A low drift was sweeping in waves over the snow desert; it was a desolate scene. Later in the day we were cheered by the sight of Mount Baxter.
Towards evening we had some discussion as to whether we were following approximately our old out-going tracks. Mackay thought we were nearer to the new mountain than before, I thought we were farther to the south-west, Mawson, who was leading, contended that we were pretty well on our old course. Just then I discovered that we were actually on our old sledge tracks, which showed up plainly for a short distance between the newly formed sastrugi. This spoke volumes for Mawson's skill as a navigator. Distance sledged sixteen miles.
January 25. It was blowing a mild blizzard. We estimated at lunch time that we were about eighty and a half miles distant now from our Mount Larsen Depot. The temperature during the afternoon was minus 3° Fahr. We all felt, as usual, much fatigued after the day's sledging. For the past four or five days we each took an Easton syrup tabloid for the last stage but one before reaching camp, and this certainly helped to keep us going. This evening the blizzard died down about 8 P.M., and Mount Nansen was sighted just before we camped.
January 26. We lost our old sledge tracks again to-day. The weather turned cloudy in the afternoon, and the light was very bad. We now reached a surface of hard marble-like aye, which descended by short steep slopes. We did not at first realise that we were about to descend what we had termed the Ice Falls on the outward journey. Every now and then the sledge would take charge and rush down this marble staircase, bumping very heavily over the steps. Mawson and I frequently came heavy croppers. Mawson put on crampons outside his finnesko to enable him to get a grip of the slippery surface, but my crampons were frozen so hard and so out of shape that I was unable to get them on, so I followed behind and steadied the sledge as it continued bumping its way down the marble steps. At last we reached once more a flattened surface and camped. Our run for the day was fourteen and a half miles.
January 27. This morning we all felt very slack after the night spent in the closely covered sleeping-bag, the sky at the time being cloudy. During the morning fine snow fell and the weather was quite thick to the south and east of us. Mawson steered us by the trend of the sastrugi. As the day wore on, the weather cleared up and we had a good view of the new mountain, Mount New Zealand, and Mount Baxter. The pulling at first was very hard, being up-hill, but later we had a good run down hill to the spot where we camped for lunch. After lunch we sledged down a still steeper slope, the sledge occasionally taking charge. At this spot Mackay partially fell into a crevasse. To-day we were much cheered by the sight at last of Mount Larsen. By the time we reached the spot where we camped that night we had a good clear view of Larsen. The distance travelled was sixteen miles. We were now only about forty miles from our Mount Larsen Depot.
January 28. We turned out of the sleeping-bag to-day at about 6.30 A.M. A blizzard was blowing, and after breakfast we had much difficulty in the cold wind in getting up the mast and sail. Mackay, who usually did the greater part of this work, got his hands rather badly frost-bitten before our preparations were completed. We used the thick green canvas floor-cloth as a sail; the tent-poles served us for a mast, and a piece of bamboo did duty as a yard.
The wind was blowing at, perhaps, about twenty-five miles an hour, and as soon as we started the sledge, it began to travel at such a hot pace that Mackay and Mawson, with their long legs, were kept walking at the top of their speed, while I, with my shorter ones, was kept on a jog trot. Occasionally, in an extra strong puff of wind, the sledge took charge. On one of these occasions it suddenly charged into me from behind, knocked my legs from under me, and nearly juggernauted me. I was quickly rescued from this undignified position under the sledge runners by Mawson and Mackay. We had now arrived at a part of the plateau where the monotonous level or gently undulating surface gave place to sharp descents. It was necessary in these cases for one of us to untoggle from the front of the sledge and to toggle on behind, so as to steer and steady it. About noon, when we were in full career, the bow of the sledge struck one of the high sastrugi obliquely and the sledge was capsized heavily, but fortunately nothing was broken. After righting the sledge, we camped for lunch.
At lunch, with a faint hope of softening the stern heart of our messman for the week — Mackay — and inducing him to give us an extra ration of food, I mildly informed him that it was my birthday. He took the hint and we all fared sumptuously at lunoh and dinner that day. The day's run was twenty miles. It had been one of the most fatiguing days that we had as yet experienced, and we were all utterly exhausted when we turned into our sleeping-bag at 8.30 P.M.
January 29. We were up at about 8 A.nr., and found that the plateau wind was still blowing at a speed of about fifteen miles an hour. After our experience of the preceding day we decided that we would not make sail on the sledge, and as a matter of fact, found that pulling the sledge in the ordinary way was far less wearying than the sailing had proved the preceding day. We pulled on steadily hour after hour, and Mounts Nansen and Larsen grew every moment clearer and larger, and we began to hope that we might be able to reach our depot at Mount Larsen that night. But later in the day, Mawson's sprained leg caused him a good deal of pain, and we had almost decided to camp at a point nearly twenty miles from our preceding camp, when Mackay's sharp eyes sighted, at a distance of about a mile, our little blue flag, tied to the ice-axe at our depot. We soon reached the depot, fixed up the tent, had a good hoosh, and turned into the sleeping-bag past midnight.
We were up at 9 A.M. on January 30. The day was sunny, but ominous clouds were gathering overhead as well as to the south. After breakfast we collected the material at our depot, chiefly ski boots, ice-axes, oil, a little food, and geological specimens, and loaded these on to our sledge. We found that, owing to the alternate thawing and freezing of the snow at our depot, our ski boots were almost filled with solid ice. The work of chipping out this ice proved a slow and tedious job, and we did not get started until about 11 A.M. Soon after we got going we found ourselves for a time in a meshwork of crevasses. These, were from a foot up to about twenty feet in width.
After crossing a number of crevasses, we discovered that the wheel of our sledge meter had disappeared. Probably it had got into one of the crevasses, and gone to the bottom. As we were now so close to the end of our journey, the loss of this, which earlier in our travels would have been a serious disaster, was not of much importance. We had run about eight miles before we discovered the loss of our sledge meter wheel. At lunch-time Mawson compounded a wonderful new hoosh made out of seal liver, pounded up with a geological hammer, and mixed with crushed biscuit.
We had some discussion as to whether it would be better to descend on to the sea ice by the old track up which we had come, which we termed Backstairs Passage, or make down the main Larsen Glacier to the point where it junctioned with the Drygalski Glacier. Mackay was in favour of the former, Mawson and I of the latter. Had we descended by our old route, we should have had to retrace our steps and become involved in a very arduous uphill piece of sledging necessitating an ascent of at least 1000 to 1500 ft. in a distance of a little over a mile. As subsequent events proved, Mackay was right and we were wrong.
We held on down the main glacier with the imposing cliffs and slopes of dark-red granite and blackish eruptive rock intermixed with it close on our left. Mawson's leg was now so bad that it was only with considerable pain and difficulty that he could proceed, and both Mackay's and my eyes were affected a good deal by snow blindness and were painful. We found as we advanced that at about six miles easterly from our lunch camp, the surface of the Mount Larsen Glacier descended at a very steep angle. Somewhat ahead to the right it was clear that, where it junctioned with the Drygalski Glacier, it was seamed by enormous crevasses and traversed by strong pressure ridges. We held on with our sledge on a course which took us close to the north side of the glacier. At last the descent became so steep that it was with the utmost difficulty that we could hold the sledge back and prevent its charging down the slope. We halted here and Mackay went ahead to reconnoitre. Presently he came back and said that the narrow strip of snow covering the glacier ice, near its contact with the rocky cliffs on our left, was continuous right down to the bottom of the slope, and he thought it was practicable, if we made rope brakes for the runners on our sledge, to lower it down this steep slope in safety. He fixed on some brakes of brown tarred rope by just twisting the rope spirally around the sledge runners. We then cautiously started the sledge down the steepest bit of the slope, all of us ready to let go in case the sledge took charge. The rope brake worked wonders, and it was even necessary to put a slight pull on the sledge in places in order to get it down the steep snow surface. We had left the great crevasses and ice falls near the junction of the Mount Larsen and Drygalski Glaciers a little to our right.
We now found ourselves on an ice-surface quite unlike anything which we had hitherto experienced. In the foreground were some small frozen lakes close to the foot of the granite hills; on the far side of the lakes were beautiful glacial moraines. All around the lakes, and for a considerable distance up the ice slopes descending towards them, the surface of the ice was formed of a series of large thin anastomosing curved plates of ice.
After sledging for a short distance over surfaces of this kind, sloping somewhat steeply to the small lakes, we decided to camp on the pale green ice of one of these lakes. Mawson tested this ice and found that it was strong enough to hold, though evidently of no great thickness. We sledged along this lake for a few hundred yards to its north-east end. There was a little snow here which would do for loading the skirt of our tent. By this time the sky was thickly overcast. We fixed up the tent, chopping little holes in the surface of the smooth ice, in which to socket the ends of the tent-poles, and while Mackay cooked, Mawson and I snowed the skirt. This was subsequent to a little reconnoitring which we each did. It was 2 A.M. before we camped on the lake ice, and 4 A.M. before we turned into our sleeping-bag.
January 31. We were up about 11 A.M., having slept soundly after the very exhausting work of our previous day's sledging. During the night it had snowed heavily, there being fully from three to four inches of newly fallen snow covering everything around us, and it was still snowing while we were having breakfast. After breakfast the snow nearly ceased, and we took half the load off our sledge and started with the remainder to try and work a passage out of the ice-pressure ridges of the combined Drygalski and Larsen Glaciers on to the smoother sea ice, and eventually on to the Drygalski Ice Barrier. While Mawson and Mackay pulled, I steadied the sledge on the lower side in rounding the steep sidelings. We were still sledging over the leafy or tile ice, which mostly crunched underfoot with a sharp tinkling sound. We skirted the lateral moraine for a distance of over half a mile, following a depression in the ice-surface apparently produced by a stream, the outlet of the waters of the small lakes. At one spot Mawson crashed right through into the water beneath, and got wet up to his thighs. In spite of my efforts to keep it on even keel, the sledge frequently capsized on these steep sidelings. At last, after struggling up and down heavy slopes, and over low-lying areas of rotten ice, which every here and there let us through into the water beneath, we arrived at the foot of an immense ice-pressure ridge. It was a romantic-looking spot, though at the time we did not exactly appreciate its beauties. To our left was a huge cliff of massive granite rising up steeply to heights of about 2000 ft. The combined pressure of the Drygalski and Mount Larsen Glaciers had forced the glacier ice up into great ridges, trending somewhat obliquely to the coast cliff.
We went back to the tent where we got some hot tea, of which Mawson, particularly, was very glad, as he was somewhat cooled down as the result of his wetting. Then we packed up the remainder of our belongings on the sledge and dragged it down to where we had dumped the half-load on the near side of the pressure ridge. Mackay reconnoitred ahead, and found that the large-pressure ridge, which appeared to bar our progress towards our depot, gradually came nearer and nearer in to the granite cliff, until it pressed hard against the cliff face. Obviously, then, we were impounded by this huge pressure ridge, and would have to devise some means of getting over it. Taking our ice-axes we smoothed a passage, across part of the ridge. This proved a very tough piece of work. We then unloaded the sledge and passed each one of our packages over by hand. Finally we dragged the sledge up and hoisted it over and lowered it down safely on the other side. After this we reloaded the sledge and dragged it for some considerable distance over more of the leafy ice-surface alternating with flattish depressions of rotten ice and snow, with water just beneath. We were now troubled, not only by the tile-ice surface, but also by small channels with steep banks, apparently eroded by glacial streams which had been flowing, as the result of the thaw, while we were on the Magnetic Pole plateau. We were also worried from time to time as to how to get over the vast number of intersecting crevasses which lay in our path.
Little by little the surface Unproved as we sledged towards our depot. After lunch, the sledging surface, though still heavy, owing to the newly fallen snow, improved a little, but we soon found our progress barred by what may be termed an ice donga, apparently an old channel formed by a river of thaw water. We encountered three such dongas that afternoon. They were from a few feet up to fifty or a hundred feet or more in width, and from ten to twenty feet deep, and bounded by precipitous or overhanging sides.
After a considerable amount of reconnoitring by Mackay and Mawson, and often making considerable detours with our sledge, we managed to cross them. Our difficulties were increased by the innumerable crevasses and steep ice ridges. Some of these crevasses were open, while others were roofed over with tough snow. We fell into these crevasses from time to time, and on one occasion, Mackay and I fell into the same crevasse simultanteously, he up to his shoulders and I up to my waist. Fortunately we were able, by throwing out our arms, to prevent ourselves from falling right through the snow lid. While we were sledging on through the night amongst this network of crevasses, the sky became heavily overcast, and it commenced to snow. At last we succeeded in getting within less than a mile of the moraine containing the boulders of remarkable sphenediorite, specimens of which we had collected at that spot on our outward journey. Here we camped and turned into our sleeping-bag at 7 A.M. on February 1.
It continued snowing heavily (luring the day, the fall being about six inches in depth. Mawson's sprained leg pained him a great deal. We estimated that we were now only about sixteen miles, as the skua flies, from our depot on the Drygalski Glacier, but as we had only two days' food left, it became imperative to push on without delay. We started sledging in the thick driving snow on the evening of February 1. The surface was covered with a layer of soft snow, nine inches in thickness, but in the drifts it was, of course, deeper. The work of sledging under these circumstances was excessively laborious and exhausting, and besides it was impossible to keep our proper course while the blizzard lasted. Accordingly, we camped at 8 P.M., and after our evening meal we rolled into our sleeping-bag and slid into the dreamless sleep that comes to the worn and weary wanderer.
At 8 A.M. on February 2 we were rejoiced to find the sun shining in a clear sky. We intended making a desperate attempt this day to reach our depot, as we knew that the Nimrod would be due — perhaps overdue — by the night. We saw as we looked back that our track of yesterday was about as straight as a corkscrew. Once more we pulled out over the soft snow, and although refreshed somewhat by our good sleep we found the work extremely trying and toilsome. We crossed an ice donga, and about four miles out reached the edge of a second donga. Here we decided to leave everything but our sledge, tent, sleeping-bag, 000king-apparatus, oil and food, and make a forced march right on to the Drygalski Depot. Accordingly we camped, had tea and two biscuits each, and fixed up our depot, including the Lloyd-Creak dip circle, theodolite and legs, geological collections, &c., and marked the spot with a little blue flag tied on to an ice-axe.
We now found the sledge, thus lightened, distinctly easier to pull, and after making a slight detour, crossed the donga by a snow bridge. Soon we reached another donga, and successfully crossed it. At three and a half miles further at 8 P.M. we camped again and had a little cheese and biscuit. After this short halt we pulled on again, steering north-8°-east magnetic. Mawson occasionally swept the horizon with our excellent field-glasses in hopes of sighting our depot. Suddenly he exclaimed that he saw the depot flag dictinctly on its ice mound, apparently about seven miles distant, but it was well round on the starboard bow of our sledge on a bearing of south-38°-west magnetic. Mackay and I were much excited at Mawson's discovery. Mackay seized the field-glasses as soon as Mawson put them down and directed them to the spot indicated, but could see no trace of the flag; then I looked through the glasses with equally negative results. Mawson opined that we must both be snow-blind. Then he looked through them again, and at once exclaimed that he could see no trace of the flag now. The horizon seemed to be walloping up and down, just as though it was boiling, evidently the result of a mirage. Mawson, however, was so confident that he had seen the flag when he first looked, that we altered course to south-38°-west magnetic, and after we had gone a little over a mile, and reached the top of a slight eminence in the ice-surface, we were rejoiced to hear the announcement that he could now see the depot flag distinctly. We kept on sledging for several miles further. At midnight, when the temperature had fallen to zero, I felt that the big toe of my right foot was getting frost-bitten. My ski boots had all day been filled with the soft snow and the warmth of my foot had thawed the snow, so that my socks were wet through; and now, since the springing up of the wind and the sudden fall in temperature, the water in the socks had turned to ice. So we halted, got up the tent, started the primus and prepared for a midnight meal, while, with Mawson's assistance, I got off my frozen ski boots and socks and restored the circulation in my toe, and put on some socks less icy than those I had just taken off.
We were much refreshed by our supper, and then started off again, thinking that at last we should reach our depot, or at all events, the small inlet a little over a mile distant from it, but "the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley." There was an ominous white streak ahead of us with a dark streak just behind it, and we soon saw that this was due to a ravine or barranca in the snow- and ice-surface interposing itself between ourselves and our depot. We soon reached the near cliff of the barranca.
The barranca was about two hundred yards in width, and from thirty to forty feet deep. It was bounded by a vertical cliff or very steeply inclined slope on the near side, the northwest side, and by an overhanging cliff festooned with stalactites on the south-east side. To the north-east a strip of dark seawater was visible between the walls of the barranca, which evidently communicated by a long narrow channel with the ocean outside, some three miles distant. Inland, the barranca extended for many miles as far as the eye could reach. The bottom of the barranca immediately beneath us was floored with sea ice covered with a few inches of snow. This ice was traversed by large tide-cracks, and we were much excited to see that there were a number of seals and Emperor penguins dotted over the ice floor. We determined to try and cross the barranca. We looked up and down the near cliff for a practicable spot where we could let down our sledge, and soon found a suitable slope, a little to the north-east of us, formed by a steep snow drift. We sledged on to this spot, and making fast the alpine rope to the bow of the sledge, lowered it cautiously, stern first, to the bottom. The oil-cans in the rear of the sledge were rattled up somewhat when it struck bottom, but no harm was done. At the bottom we had some trouble in getting the sledge over the gaping tide-cracks, some ten to fifteen feet deep and three to five feet wide.
Arrived at the middle of the floor of the barranca, Mackay killed two Emperor penguins, and took their breasts and livers to replenish our exhausted larder. Meanwhile, Mawson crossed to the far side of the floor of the barranca on the look-out for a possible spot where we might swarm up. I joined him a few minutes later, and as I was feeling much exhausted after the continuous forced marches back from the Magnetic Pole, asked him to take over the leadership of the expedition. I considered that under the circumstances I was justified in taking this step. We had accomplished the work assigned to us by our leader, having reached the Magnetic Pole. We were within two or three miles of our Drygalski Depot, and although the only food left there was two days' supply of broken biscuits with a little cheese, we had a good prospect of meat-supply, as the barranca abounded in seals and penguins, so that for the present we had no reason to apprehend the danger of starvation. On the other hand, as regards our ultimate personal safety, our position was somewhat critical. We were not even certain that the Nimrod had arrived at all in Ross Sea that season, though we thought it, of course, very probable that she had. In the next case, on the assumption that she had arrived, it was very possible that in view of the great difficulties of making a thorough search along the two hundred miles of coast, at any part of which we might have been camped — difficulties arising from heavy belts of pack-ice and icebergs, as well as from the deeply indented character of that bold and rugged coast — it was quite possible that the Nimrod would miss sighting our depot flags altogether. In the event of the Nimrod not appearing within a few days, it would be necessary to take immediate and strenuous action with a view either to wintering at the spot, or with a view to an attempt to sledge back around the great mountain massifs and over the many steeply crevassed glaciers for over two hundred miles to our winter quarters at Cape Royds. Even now, in the event of some immediate strenuous action being necessary, if the Nimrod were to suddenly appear at some point along the coast, I thought it would be best for Mawson, who was less physically exhausted than myself, to be in charge. He had, throughout the whole journey, shown excellent capacity for leadership, fully justifying the opinion held of him by Lieutenant Shackleton when providing in my instructions that in the event of anything happening to myself Mawson was to assume the leadership. When I spoke to him on the subject, he at first demurred, but finally said that he would act for a time, and would think the matter over at his leisure before definitely deciding to become permanently the leader. I offered to give him authority in writing as leader, but this he declined to receive.
Meanwhile, the examination of the cliff face on the south-east side of the barranca showed that there was one very difficult but apparently possible means of ascent. We returned to where we had left Mackay, and then we three dragged the sledge around to the edge of a rather formidable tide-crack, behind which lay the mound of snow up which we hoped to climb; our idea being to unpack our sledge, drag it to the top of this steep mound, and, rearing it on end at the top of the mound, use it as a ladder for scaling the overhanging cliff above. Mackay managed to cross the tide-crack, using the bamboo poles of our tent as a bridge, and after some difficulty, reached the top of the snow mound under the overhanging cliff. Much to our disappointment, however, he discovered that the mound was formed of very soft snow, his ice-axe sinking in to the whole depth of the handle directly he placed it on top of the mound. It was obvious that as our sledge would sink in to at least an equal depth, the top of it would then be too short to enable any of us to scale the overhanging cliff by its means. We were, therefore, reluctantly compelled to drag our sledge back again over the tide-cracks to the north-west side of the barranca down which we had previously lowered our sledge. We then discovered that, as in classical times, while the descent to Avernus was easy, it was difficult and toilsome to retrace one's steps. With Mawson ahead with the ice-axe and towing rope, and Mackay and I on either side of the sledge in the rear, we managed by pulling and pushing together to force the sledge up a few inches at a time. At each short halt, Mawson would stick in the ice-axe, take a turn of the leading rope around it, and support the sledge in this way for a brief interval while we all got our breath. At last the forty feet of steep slope was successfully negotiated, and we found ourselves once more on the level plain at the top of the barranca, but, of course, on the wrong side in reference to our depot. As we were within three miles of the open sea we thought it would be safe to camp here, as had the Nimrod sighted our depot flag and stood in to the coast, we could easily have hurried down to the entrance of the inlet and made signals to her.
We had now been up since 8 A.M. on the previous day, and were very thankful to be able to enter our tent, and have a meal off a stew of minced penguin liver. We then turned into the sleeping-bag at about 7 A.M. Just about a quarter of an hour after we had turned in, as we learnt later, the Nimrod must have passed, bound north towards Mount Melbourne, within three miles of the ice cliff on which our tent was now situated. Owing, however, to a light wind with snow drift, she was unable to sight either our depot flag or tent.
February 3. After sleeping in the bag from 7 A.M. until 11 A.M. we got up and had breakfast, packed our sledge, and started along the north bank of the snow canon. The snow and ice at the bottom were dotted with basking seals and moulting Emperor penguins. Fully a hundred seals could be counted in places in a distance of as many yards along the canon. At about one mile from the camp we reached a small branch canon, which we had to head off by turning to our right. We now proceeded about one and a half miles further along the edge of the main canon, and in our then tired and weak state were much dispirited to find that it still trended inland for a considerable distance. We now halted by the sledge while Mackay went ahead to try and find a crossing, and presently Mawson and I were rejoiced to hear him shout that he had discovered a snow bridge across the canon. Presently he rejoined us, and together we pulled the sledge to the head of the snow bridge. It was a romantic spot. A large slice of the snow or nevi) cliff had fallen obliquely across the canon, and its surface had then been raised and partially levelled up with soft drift snow. There was a crevasse at both the near and far ends of the bridge, and the middle was sunk a good deal below the abutments. Stepping over the crevasse at the near end, we launched the sledge with a run down to the centre of the bridge, then struggled up the steep slope facing us, Mackay steadying the sledge from falling off the narrow causeway, while we all three pulled for all we were worth. In another minute or two we were safely across with our sledge, thankful that we had now surmounted the last obstacle that intervened between us and our depot.
While heading for the depot we sighted an Emperor penguin close to our track. Mackay quickly slew him, and took his flesh and liver for our cooking-pot. Two miles further on we camped. Mawson minced the Emperor's flesh and liver, and after adding a little snow, I boiled it over our primus so as to make one and a half pots of soupy mincemeat for each of us.
This was the most satisfying meal we had had for many a long day. After lunch we sledged on for over one and a half miles further towards the depot, and at about 10.30 P.M. reached an ice mound on the south side of the inlet in which the snow canon terminated seawards. This camping spot was a little over a mile distant from our depot. We were now all thoroughly exhausted and decided to camp. The spot we had selected seemed specially suitable, as from the adjacent ice mound we could get a good view of the ocean beyond the Drygalski Barrier. While Mawson and I got up the tent, Mackay went to kill a seal at the shore of the inlet. He soon returned with plenty of seal meat and liver. He said that he had found two young seals, and had killed one of them; that they had both behaved in a most unusual manner, scuttling away quickly and actively at his approach, instead of waiting without moving, as did most of the Weddell seals, of which we had hitherto had experience. We discovered later that these two seals belonged to the comparatively rare variety known as Ross seal. After a delicious meal of seal blubber, blood, and oil, with fried meal and liver, cooked by Mawson, Mawson and I turned into the sleeping-bag, leaving Mackay to take the first of our four hour watches on the look-out for the Nimrod. During his watch he walked up to our depot and dug out our biscuit tin, which had served us as a blubber lamp and cooker, together with the cut-down paraffin tin which we had used as a frying-pan. Both these he carried down to our tent. There he lit the blubber lamp just outside the tent and cooked some penguin meat, regaling himself at intervals, during his four hours' watch, with dainty morsels from the savoury dish. When he called me up at 4 A.M. I found that he had thoughtfully put into the frying-pan a junk of Emperor's breast, weighing about two pounds, for me to toy with during my watch. A chilly wind was blowing off the plateau and I was truly thankful for an occasional nibble at the hot penguin meat. After cooking some more penguin meat I called up Mawson soon after 8 A.M. on February 4, and immediately afterwards turned into the bag, and at once dropped off sound asleep.
Mawson did not call Mackay and myself until after 2 P.M. We at once .rolled up the sleeping-bag, and Mawson cooked a generous meal of seal and penguin meat and blubber, while Mackay made a thin soupy broth on the primus. Meanwhile, I went on to the ice mound with the field-glasses, but could see nothing in the way of a ship to seaward and returned to the tent. We all thoroughly enjoyed our liberal repast, and particularly relished the seal's blood, gravy, and seal oil.
Alter the meal we discussed our future plans. We decided that we had better move the tent that afternoon up to our old depot, where it would be a conspicuous object from the sea, and where, too, we could command a more extensive view of the ocean. We also talked over what we had best do in the event of the Nimrod not turning up, and decided that we ought to attempt to sledge overland to Hut Point, keeping ourselves alive on the way, as best we might, with seal meat. It must be admitted that the prospect of tackling two hundred miles of coast, formed largely of steep rocky foreshores, alternating with heavily crevassed glacier ice, was not a very bright one. We also discussed the date at which we ought to start trekking southwards. Mackay thought we ought to commence making our preparations at once, and that unless the Nimrod arrived within a few days we ought to start down the coast with our sledge, tent, sleeping-bag, cooker, and seal meat, leaving a note at the depot for the Nimrod, in case she should arrive later, asking her to look out for us along the coast, and if she couldn't sight us, to lay depots of food and oil for us at certain specified spots. He considered that by this method we could make sure of beginning the long journey in a sound state of health, and, if, fortunate, might reach Hut Point before the beginning of the equinoctial gales in March. Mawson and I, on the other hand, thought that we ought to wait on at our present camp until late in February.
From whatever point of view we looked at it, our present lot was not a happy one. The possibility of a long wait in the gloomy region of the Drygalski Glacier, with its frequent heavy snows at this season of the year, and leaden sky vaulted over the dark sea, was not pleasing to contemplate. Still less cheerful u as the prospect of a long, tedious, and dangerous sledge journey towards Hut Point. Even the diet of seal and penguin, just for the moment so nice, largely because novel, would soon savour of toujoure perdrix.
Dispirited by forebodings of much toil and trouble, we were just preparing to set our weary limbs in motion to. pack up our belongings for the short trek up to the depot, when Bang ! went something, seemingly close to the door of our tent; the sound thrilled us; in another instant the air reverberated with a big boom ! much louder than the first sound. Mawson gave tongue first, roaring out, "A gun from the ship!" and dived for the tent door. As the latter was narrow and funnel-shaped there was for the moment some congestion of traffic. I dashed my head forwards to where I saw a small opening, only in time to receive a few kicks from the departing Mawson. Just as I was recovering my equilibrium, Mackay made a wild charge, rode me down, and trampled over my prostrate body. When at length I struggled to my feet, Mawson had got a lead of a hundred yards and Mackay of about fifty. "Bring something to wave," shouted Mawson, and I rushed back to the tent and seized Mackay's rucksack. As I ran forward this time, what a sight met my gaze. There was the dear old Nimrod, not a quarter of a mile away, steaming straight towards us up the inlet, her bows just rounding the entrance. At the sight of the three of us running frantically to meet the ship, hearty ringing cheers burst forth from all on board. How those cheers stirred every fibre of one's being t It would be hard, indeed, for any one, not situated as we had been, to realise the sudden revulsion of our feelings. In a moment, as dramatic as it was heavenly, we seemed to have passed from death into life. My first feelings were of intense relief and joy; then of fervent gratitude to the kind Providence which had so mercifully led our friends to our deliverance.
A sudden shout from Mackay called me back to earth, "Mawson's fallen into a deep crevasse. Look out, it's just in front of you!" I then saw that Mackay was kneeling on the snow near the edge of a small oblong sapphire-blue hole in the neve "Are you all right, Mawson?" he sang out, and from the depth came up the welcome word, "Yes." Mackay then told me that Mawson was about twenty feet down the crevasse. We decided to try and pull him up with the sledge harness, and hurried back to the sledge, untoggled the harness, ran back with it to the crevasse, and let one end down to Mawson. We found, however, that our combined strength was insufficient to pull him up, and that there was a risk, too, of the snow lid at the surface falling in on Mawson, if weight was put upon it, unless it was strengthened with some planking. Accordingly, we gave up the attempt to haul Mawson up, and while I remained at the crevasse holding one end of the sledge harness Mackay hurried off for help to the Nimrod, which was now berthing alongside of the south wall of the inlet, about two hundred yards distant. Mackay shouted to those on board, "Mawson has fallen down a crevasse, and we got to the Magnetic Pole." The accident had taken place so suddenly that those on board had not realised in the least what had happened. A clear, firm, cheery voice, that was strange to me, was now heard issuing prompt orders for a rescue party. Almost in less time than it takes to write it, officers and sailors were swarming over the bows of the Nimrod, and dropping on to the ice barrier beneath. I called down to Mawson that help was at hand. He said that he was quite comfortable at present; that there was sea water at the bottom of the crevasse, but that he had been able to sustain himself a couple of feet above it on the small ledge that had arrested his fall. Meanwhile, the rescue party, headed by the first officer of the Nimrod, J. K. Davis, had arrived on the scene. The crevasse was bridged with a suitable piece of sawn timber, and Davis, with that spirit of thoroughness which characterises all his work, promptly had himself lowered down the crevasse. On reaching the bottom he transferred the rope by which he had been lowered to Mawson, and with a long pull and a strong pull and a pull altogether, the company of the Nimrod soon had Mawson safe on top, none the worse for the accident with the exception that his back was slightly bruised. As soon as the rope was cast free from Mawson, it was let down again for Davis, and presently he, too, was safely on top.
And now we had a moment of leisure to see who constituted the rescue party. There were the dear old faces so well known on our voyage together the previous year, and interspersed with them were a few new faces. Here were our old comrades, Armytage and Brocklehurst, Dr. Michell, Harbord (the officer who — as we learned later — had sighted our depot flag), our good stewards Ansell and Ellis, the genial boatswain Cheetham, Paton, and a number of others. What a joyous grasping of hands and hearty all-round welcoming followed. Foremost among them all to welcome us was Captain Evans, who had commanded the S.S. Koonya, which towed the Nimrod from Lyttleton to beyond the Antarctic Circle, and it goes without saying that the fact that the Nimrod was now in command of a master of such experience, so well and favourably known in the shipping world of New Zealand and Australia, gave us the greatest satisfaction. He hastened to assure me of the safety and good health of my wife and family. While willing hands packed up our sledge, tent, and other belongings, Captain Evans walked with us to the rope ladder hanging over the bows of the Nimrod.
Quickly as all this had taken place, Mackay had already found time to secure a pipe and some tobacco from one of our crew, and was now puffing away to his heart's content. We were soon all on the deck of the Nimrod once more, and were immediately stood up in a row to be photographed. As soon as the cameras had worked their wicked will upon us, for we were a sorry sight, our friends hurried us off for afternoon tea. After our one hundred and twenty-two days of hard toil over the sea ice of the coast and the great snow desert of the hinterland, the little ship seemed to us as luxurious as an ocean liner. To find oneself seated once more in a comfortable chair, and to be served with new-made bread, fresh butter, cake, and tea, was Elysium.
We heard of the narrow escape of Armytage, Priestley, and Brocklehurst, when they were being carried out to sea, with only two days' provisions, on a small ice-floe surrounded by killer-whales; and how, just after the momentary grounding of the floe, they were all just able to leap ashore at a spot where they were picked up later by the Nimrod. We also heard of the extraordinary adventures and escape of Mackintosh and MacGillan in their forced march overland, without tent or sleeping-bag, from Mount Bird to Cape Royds; of the departure of the supporting-party to meet the Southern Party; and, in short, of all the doings at Cape Royds and on the Nimrod since we had last heard any news. Pleasantly the buzz of our friends' voices blended itself with the gentle fizzing of steam from the Nimrod's boiler, and surely since the days of John Gilpin "were never folk so glad" as were we three.
After afternoon tea came the joy of reading the home letters, and finding that the news was good. Later we three had a novel experience, the first real wash for over four months. After much diligent work with hot water, soap, and towel, some of the outer casing of dirt was removed, and bits of our real selves began to show through the covering of seal oil and soot. Dinner followed at 6 P.M., and it is scarcely necessary to add that, with our raging appetites and all the new types of dainty food around us, we over-ate ourselves. This did not prevent us from partaking liberally of hot cocoa and gingerbread biscuits before turning in at 10 P.M. None but those whose bed for months has been on snow and ice can realise the luxury of a real bunk, blankets, and pillow, in a snug little cabin. A few minutes' happy reverie preceded sound sleep. At last our toilsome march was over, the work that had been given us to do was done, and done just in the nick of time; the safety of those nearest and dearest to us was assured, and we could now lay down our weary limbs to rest.
Providence one felt one owed
one's life to the patient and thorough search, sound judgment, and fine
seamanship of Captain Evans, and the devotion to duty of his officers
and no pen can describe how that night one's heart overflowed with
for all the blessings of that day. One's last thought in the twilight
comes between wakefulness and sleep is expressed in the words of our
record on the gramophone, the hymn so grandly sung by Evan Williams:
"So long Thy power bath blest me, sure it still will lead me on."