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

Total Distance Travelled: Travelling over Bea-ioe: The Drygalski Glacier: Backstairs Passage: Results of Journey: How to spend a Week at the Magnetic Pole  

IF one may be permitted to take a brief retrospect of our journey, the following considerations present themselves: The total distance travelled from Cape Royds to the Magnetic Pole and back to our depot on the Drygalski Glacier was about 1260 miles. Of this, 740 miles was relay work, and we dragged a weight of, at first, a little over half a ton, and finally somewhat under half a ton for the whole of this distance. For the remaining 520 miles from the Drygalski Depot to the Magnetic Pole and back we dragged a weight, at first, of 670 lb., but this finally became reduced to about 450 lb., owing to consumption of food and oil, by the time that we returned to our depot.

We were absent on our sledge journey for one hundred and twenty-two days, of which five days were spent in our tent during heavy blizzards, and five days partly in experimenting in cooking with blubber and partly in preparing supplies of seal meat for the journey from the sea ice over the high plateau, and three days in addition were taken up in reconnoitring, taking magnetic observations, &c. We therefore covered this distance of 1260 miles in 109 travelling days, an average of about eleven and a half miles a day.

We had laid two depots before our final start, but as these were distant only ten miles and fifteen miles respectively from our winter quarters, they did not materially help us. We had no supporting-party, and with the exception of help from the motorcar in laying out these short depots, we pulled the sledges for the whole distance without assistance except, on rare occasions, from the wind.

The travelling over the sea ice was at first pretty good, but from Cape Bernacchi to the Nordenskjold Ice Barrier we were much hampered by screwed pack-ice with accompanying high and hard snow ridges. Towards the latter part of October and during November and part of December the thawing surface of saline snow, clogging and otherwise impeding our runners, made the work of sledging extremely laborious. Moreover, on the sea ice especially towards the last part of our journey over it   we had ever present the risk of a blizzard breaking the ice up suddenly all around us, and drifting us out to sea. There can be no doubt, in view of the wide lanes of open water in the sea ice on the south side of the Drygalski Glacier, when we reached it on November 30, that we got to glades firma only in the nick of time.

Then there was the formidable obstacle of the Drygalski Glacier, with its wide and deep chasms, its steep ridges and crevasses, the passage of this glacier proving so difficult that, although only a littlb over twenty miles in width, it took us a fortnight to get across. On the far side of the Drygalski was the open sea forcing us to travel shorewards over the glacier surface. Then had come the difficult task of pioneering a way up to the high plateau the attempt to force a passage up the Mount Nansen Glacier our. narrow escapes from having our sledge engulfed in crevasses the heavy blizzard with deep new fallen snow and then our retreat from that region of high-pressure ridges and crevasse entanglements our abandonment of the proposed route up the snout of the Bellingshausen Glacier, and finally our successful ascent up the small tributary glacier, the "backstairs passage," to the south of Mount Larsen.

On the high plateau were: the difficulty of respiration, biting winds with low temperatures, difficult sledging sometimes against blizzards over broad undulations and high sastrugi, the cracking of our lips, fingers, and feet, exhaustion from insufficient rations, disappointment at finding that the Magnetic Pole had shifted further inland than the position previously assigned to it. Then, after we had just succeeded by dint of great efforts in reaching the Pole of verticity, came the necessity for forced marches, with our sledge, of from sixteen to twenty miles a day in order to reach the coast with any reasonable prospect of our being picked up by the Nimrod.

Then came our choice of the difficult route down the snout of the Bellingshausen Glacier, and our consequent difficulties in surmounting the ice-pressure ridges; then the difficulty of sledging over the "tile-ice" surface, the opposing ice barrancas formed by the thaw water while we were on the high plateau; the final heavy snow blizzard; our loss of direction when sledging in bad light and falling snow, and finally our arrest by the deep barranca of what afterwards was known as Relief Inlet.

But ours were not the only, nor the greatest, difficulties connected with our journey. There were many disappointments, dangers, and hardships for the captain, officers, and crew of the Nimrod in their search for us along that two hundred miles of desolate and, for a great part, inaccessible coast-line. How often black spots ashore, proving on nearer view to be seals or penguins, had been mistaken for depot flags; how often the glint of sunlight off brightly reflecting facets of ice had been thought to be "hellos," only the disappointed ones can tell; how often, too, the ship was all but aground, at other times all but beset in the ice-pack in the efforts to get a clearer view of the shore-line in order to discover our depot I This is a tale that the brave men who risked their lives to save ours will scorn to tell, but it is nevertheless true.

As the result of our journey to the Magnetic Pole and back, Mawson was able to join up in his continuous triangulation survey, Mount Erebus with Mount Melbourne, and to show with approximate accuracy the outline of the coast-line, and the position and height of several new mountains. He and I obtained geological collections, sketches, and notes especially on glacial geology along the coast-line, and he also took a series of photographs; while Mackay determined our altitudes on the plateau by means of the hypsometer. Mawson also made magnetic determinations, and I was able to gather some meteorological information.

Unfortunately the time available during our journey was too short for detailed magnetic, geological, or meteorological observations. Nevertheless, we trust that the information obtained has justified the journey. At all events we have pioneered a route to the Magnetic Pole, and we hope that the path thus found will prove of use to future observers.

It is easy, of course, to be wise after the event, but there is no doubt that had we known that there was going to be an abundance of seals all along the coast, and had we had an efficient team of dogs, we could have accomplished our journey in probably half the time that it actually occupied. Future expeditions to the South Magnetic Pole would probably do well to land a strong and well-equipped party, either at Relief Inlet or, better, as near to Backstairs Passage as the ship can be taken, and as early in December as the state of the sea ice makes navigation possible. A party of three, with a supporting-party also of three, with good dog teams and plenty of fresh seal meat, could travel together for about seventy miles inland; then the supporting-party might diverge and ascend Mount Nansen from its inland extremity. The other party, meanwhile, might proceed to the Magnetic Pole at not less than fifteen miles a day. This should admit of their spending from a week to a fortnight at the Pole, and they should then be able to return to the coast early in February. Meanwhile, there would be plenty of scope for a third party to explore the foot-hills of Mount Larsen and Mount Nansen, search and map their wonderful moraines, and examine the deeply indented rocky coast-line from Nansen to the as yet untrodden volcano Mount Melbourne.

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