In the next place, Wisting had to make wind-clothing for every man. That we had brought out proved to be too small, but the things he made were big enough. There was easily room for two more in my trousers; but they have to be so. In these regions one soon finds out that everything that is roomy is warm and comfortable, while everything that is tight — foot-gear, of course, excepted — is warm and uncomfortable. One quickly gets into a perspiration, and spoils the clothes. Besides the breeches and anorak of light wind-cloth, he made stockings of the same material. I assumed that these stockings — worn among the other stockings we had on — would have an insulating effect. Opinions were greatly divided on this point; but I must confess — in common with my four companions on the Polar journey — that I would never make a serious trip without them. They fulfilled all our expectations. The rime was deposited on them freely, and was easily brushed off. If they got wet, it was easy to dry them in almost all weathers; I know of no material that dries so quickly as this windproof stuff. Another thing was that they protected the other stockings against tears, and made them last much longer than would otherwise have been the case.
As evidence of how pleased we who took part in the long sledge journey were with these stockings, I may mention that when we reached the depot in 80deg.S. — on the homeward trip, be it noted; that is, when we looked upon the journey as over — we found there some bags with various articles of clothing. In one of these were two pairs of windproof stockings — the bag presumably belonged to an opponent of the idea — and it may be imagined that there was some fun. We all wanted them — all, without exception. The two lucky ones each seized his pair and hid it, as if it was the most costly treasure. What they wanted with them I cannot guess, as we were at home; but this example shows how we had learnt to appreciate them.
I recommend them most warmly to men who are undertaking similar expeditions. But — I must add — they must give themselves the trouble of taking off their foot-gear every evening, and brushing the rime off their stockings; if one does not do this, of course, the rime will thaw in the course of the night, and everything will be soaking wet in the morning. In that case you must not blame the stockings, but yourself.
After this it was the turn of the underclothing; there was nothing in the tailoring and outfitting department that Wisting could not manage. Among our medical stores we had two large rolls of the most beautiful fine light flannel, and of this he made underclothing for all of us. What we had brought out from home was made of extremely thick woollen material, and we were afraid this would be too warm. Personally, I wore Wisting's make the whole trip, and have never known anything so perfect. Then he had covers for the sleeping-bags to sew and patch, and one thing and another. Some people give one the impression of being able to make anything, and to get it done in no time — others not.
Hanssen had his days well occupied, industrious and handy as he was. He was an expert at anything relating to sledges, and knew exactly what had to be done. Whatever he had a hand in, I could feel sure of; he never left anything to chance. Besides lashing the sledges, he had a number of other things to do. Amongst them, he was to prepare all the whips we required — two for each driver, or fourteen altogether. Stubberud was to supply the handles. In consultation with the "Carpenters' Union," I had chosen a handle made of three narrow strips of hickory. I assumed that if these were securely lashed together, and the lashings covered with leather, they would make as strong a handle as one could expect to get. The idea of the composite handle of three pieces of wood was that it would give and bend instead of breaking. We knew by experience that a solid whip-handle did not last very long. It was arranged, then, that the handles were to be made by Stubberud, and passed on to Hanssen.
The whip-lashes were made by Hassel, in the course of the winter, on the Eskimo model. They were round and heavy — as they should be — and dangerous to come near, when they were wielded by an experienced hand. Hanssen received these different parts to join them together and make the whip. As usual, this was done with all possible care. Three strong lashings were put on each handle, and these again were covered with leather. Personally, Hanssen was not in favour of the triple hickory handle, but he did the work without raising any objection. We all remarked, it is true, that at this time, contrary to his habit, he spent the hours after supper with Wisting. I wondered a little at this, as I knew Hanssen was very fond of a game of whist after supper, and never missed it unless he had work to do. I happened one evening to express my surprise at this, and Stubberud answered at once: "He's making handles." — "What sort of handles?" — "Whip-handles; but," Stubberud added, "I'll guarantee those hickory handles I'm making. You can't have anything tougher and stronger than those." He was rather sore about it, that was easy to see; the idea was his own, too. Then — talk of the devil — in walked Hanssen, with a fine big whip in his hand. I, of course, appeared extremely surprised. "What," I said, "more whips?" — "Yes," said he; "I don't believe in those I'm making in the daytime. But here's a whip that I can trust." I must admit that it looked well. The whole handle was covered, so that one could not see what it was made of. "But," I ventured to object, "are you sure it is as strong as the others?" — "Oh, as to that," he answered, "I'm quite ready to back it against any of those — " He did not say the word, nor was there any need. His meaning was unmistakable, and "rotten whips" sounded in our ears as plainly as if he had shouted it. I had no time to observe the effect of this terrible utterance, for a determined voice called out: "We'll see about that!" I turned round, and there was Stubberud leaning against the end of the table, evidently hurt by Hanssen's words, which he took as a personal affront. "If you dare risk your whip, come on." He had taken down one of the insulted triple-handled whips from the shelf in his bunk, and stood in a fighting attitude. This promised well. We all looked at Hanssen. He had gone too far to be able to draw back; he had to fight. He took his weapon in his hand, and entered the "ring." The conditions were arranged and accepted by both parties; they were to fight until one of the handles was broken. And then the whip duel began. The opponents were very serious over it. One, two, three — the first blow fell, handle against handle. The combatants had shut their eyes and awaited the result; when they opened them again, they shone with happy surprise — both handles were as whole as before. Now each of them was really delighted with his own handle, and the blows fell faster. Stubberud, who was standing with his back to the table, got so excited over the unexpected result that, every time he raised his weapon, he gave the edge of the table a resounding smack without knowing it. How many rounds had been fought I do not know, when I heard a crack, followed by the words: "There you can see, old man!" As Stubberud left the ring, I was able to see Hanssen. He stood on the battle-field, eyeing his whip; it looked like a broken lily. The spectators had not been silent; they had followed the fight with excitement, amid laughter and shouts. "That's right, Stubberud. Don't give in!" "Bravo, Hanssen! that's a good one!"
The whips afterwards turned out remarkably well — not that they lasted out the trip, but they held together for a long while. Whip-handles are a very perishable commodity; if one used nothing but the lash, they would be everlasting, but, as a rule, one is not long satisfied with that. It is when one gives a "confirmation," as we call it, that the handle breaks. A confirmation is generally held when some sinner or other has gone wrong and refuses to obey. It consists in taking the first opportunity, when the sledge stops, of going in among the dogs, taking out the defiant one, and laying into him with the handle. These confirmations, if they occur frequently, may use up a lot of handles.
It was also arranged that Hanssen should prepare goggles in the Eskimo fashion, and he began this work; but it soon appeared that everyone had some patent of his own which was much better. Therefore it was given up, and every man made his own goggles.
Stubberud's chief work was making the sledge cases lighter, and he succeeded in doing this, but not without hard work. It took far longer than one would have thought. The wood had a good many knots, and he often had to work against the grain; the planing was therefore rather difficult and slow. He planed a good deal off them, but could "guarantee them," as he said. Their sides were not many millimetres thick; to strengthen them in the joints, corners of aluminium were put on.
In addition to remaking the sledges, Bjaaland had to get the ski ready. To fit the big, broad boots we should wear, the Huitfeldt fittings had to be much broader than usual, and we had such with us, so that Bjaaland had only to change them. The ski-bindings were like the snow-goggles; everyone had his own patent. I found the bindings that Bjaaland had put on for himself so efficient that I had no hesitation in ordering similar ones for myself; and it may be said to their honour, and to the honour of him who made them, that they were first-rate, and served me well during the whole trip. They were, after all, only a retention of the old system, but, with the help of hooks and eyes, they could be put on and taken off in an instant. And those were the conditions we demanded of our bindings — that they should hold the foot as firmly as a vice, and should be easy to hook on and take off. For we always had to take them off on the journey; if one left one's bindings out for a night, they were gone in the morning. The dogs looked upon them as a delicacy. The toe-strap also had to be removed in the evening; in other words, the ski had to be left absolutely bare.
Johansen, besides his packing, was occupied in making weights and tent-pegs. The weights were very ingeniously made; the steelyard system was adopted. If they were never used, it was not the fault of the weights — they were good enough. But the reason was that we had all our provisions so arranged that they could be taken without being weighed. We were all weighed on August 6, and it then appeared that Lindstrom was the heaviest, with 13 st. 8 lbs. On that occasion he was officially christened "Fatty." The tent-pegs Johansen made were the opposite of what such pegs usually are; in other words, they were flat instead of being high. We saw the advantage at once. Besides being so much lighter, they were many times stronger. I do not know that we ever broke a peg on the trip; possibly we lost one or two. Most of them were brought home undamaged.
Hassel worked at his whip-lashes down in the petroleum store. It was an uncomfortable place for him — always cold; but he had the lashes ready by the time he had promised them.
Prestrud made charts and copied out tables. Six of us were to have these copies. In each sledge there was a combined provision and observation book, bearing the same number as the sledge. It contained, first, an exact list of the provisions contained in each case on that sledge, and, in addition, the necessary tables for our astronomical observations. In these books each man kept a daily account of every scrap of provisions he took out; in this way we could always check the contents of the cases, and know what quantity of provisions we had. Farther on in the book the observations were entered, and the distance covered for the day, course, and so on.
That is a rough outline of what we were doing in the course of the winter in "working hours." Besides this there were, of course, a hundred things that every man had to do for his personal equipment. During the winter each man had his outfit served out to him, so that he might have time to make whatever alterations he found necessary. Every man received a heavy and a lighter suit of reindeer-skin, as well as reindeer-skin mits and stockings. He also had dogskin stockings and sealskin kamiks. In addition, there was a complete outfit of underclothing and wind-clothes. All were served alike; there was no priority at all. The skin clothing was the first to be tackled, and here there was a good deal to be done, as nothing had been made to measure. One man found that the hood of his anorak came too far down over his eyes, another that it did not come down far enough; so both had to set to work at alterations, one cutting off, the other adding a piece. One found his trousers too long, another too short, and they had to alter those. However, they managed it; the needle was always at work, either for sewing a piece on, or for hemming the shortened piece. Although we began this work in good time, it looked as if we should never have finished. The room orderly had to sweep out huge piles of strips and reindeer-hair every morning, but the next morning there were just as many. If we had stayed there, I am sure we should still be sitting and sewing away at our outfit.
A number of patents were invented. Of course, the everlasting mask for the face was to the fore, and took the form of nose-protectors. I, too, allowed myself to be beguiled into experimenting, with good reason, as I thought, but with extremely poor results. I had hit upon something which, of course, I thought much better than anything that had been previously tried. The day I put on my invention, I not only got my nose frozen, but my forehead and cheek as well. I never tried it again. Hassel was great at new inventions; he wore nose-protectors all over him. These patents are very good things for passing the time; when one actually takes the field, they all vanish. They are useless for serious work.
The sleeping-bags were also a great source of interest. Johansen was at work on the double one he was so keen on. Heaven knows how many skins he put into it! I don't, nor did I ever try to find out. Bjaaland was also in full swing with alterations to his. He found the opening at the top inconvenient, and preferred to have it in the middle; his arrangement of a flap, with buttons and loops, made it easy to mistake him for a colonel of dragoons when he was in bed. He was tremendously pleased with it; but so he was with his snow-goggles, in spite of the fact that he could not see with them, and that they allowed him to become snow-blind. The rest of us kept our sleeping-bags as they were, only lengthening or shortening them as required. We were all greatly pleased with the device for closing them — on the plan of a sack. Outside our bags we had a cover of very thin canvas; this was extremely useful, and I would not be without it for anything. In the daytime the sleeping-bag was always well protected by this cover; no snow could get in. At night it was perhaps even more useful, as it protected the bag from the moisture of the breath. Instead of condensing on the skin and making it wet, this settled on the cover, forming in the course of the night a film of ice, which disappeared again during the day, breaking off while the bag ay stretched on the sledge. This cover ought to be of ample size; it is important that it should be rather longer than the sleeping-bag, so that one may have plenty of it round the neck, and thus prevent the breath from penetrating into the bag. We all had double bags — an inner and an outer one. The inner one was of calf-skin or thin female reindeer-skin, and quite light; the outer one was of heavy buck reindeer-skin, and weighed about 13 pounds. Both were open at the end, like a sack, and were laced together round the neck. I have always found this pattern the easiest, simplest, most comfortable, and best. We recommend it to all.
Novelties in the way of snow-goggles were many. This was, of course, a matter of the greatest importance and required study — it was studied, too! The particular problem was to find good goggles without glass. It is true that I had worn nothing but a pair of ordinary spectacles, with light yellow glasses, all the autumn, and that they had proved excellent; but for the long journey I was afraid these would give insufficient protection. I therefore threw myself into the competition for the best patent. The end of it was that we all went in for leather goggles, with a little slit for the eyes. The Bjaaland patent won the prize, and was most adopted. Hassel had his own invention, combined with a nose-protector; when spread out it reminded me of the American eagle. I never saw him use it. Nor did any of us use these new goggles, except Bjaaland. He used his own goggles the whole way, but then, he was the only one who became snow-blind. The spectacles I wore — Hanssen had the same; they were the only two pairs we had — gave perfect protection; not once did I have a sign of snow-blindness. They were exactly like other spectacles, without any gauze at all round the glasses; the light could penetrate everywhere. Dr. Schanz, of Dresden, who sent me these glasses, has every right to be satisfied with his invention; its beats anything I have ever tried or seen.
The next great question was our boots. I had expressly pointed out that boots must be taken, whether the person concerned intended to wear them or not; for boots were indispensable, in case of having to cross any glacier, which was a contingency we had to reckon with, from the descriptions we had read of the country. With this proviso everyone might do as he pleased, and all began by improving their boots in accordance with our previous experience. The improvement consisted in making them larger. Wisting took mine in hand again, and began once more to pull them to pieces. It is only by tearing a thing to pieces that one can see what the work is like. We gained a good insight into the way our boots had been made; stronger or more conscientious work it would be impossible to find. It was hard work pulling them to pieces. This time mine lost a couple more soles. How many that made altogether I do not remember, but now I got what I had always called for — room enough. Besides being able to wear all the foot-coverings I had, I could also find room for a wooden sole. That made me happy; my great object was achieved. Now the temperature could be as low as it liked; it would not get through the wooden soles and my various stockings — seven pairs, I think, in all. I was pleased that evening, as the struggle had been a long one; it had taken me nearly two years to arrive at this result.
And then there was the dog-harness, which we must all have in order. The experience of the last depot journey, when two dogs fell into a crevasse through faulty harness, must not be allowed to repeat itself, We therefore devoted great care and attention to this gear, and used all the best materials we had. The result rewarded our pains; we had good, strong harness for every team.
This description will, perhaps, open the eyes of some people, and show them that the equipment of an expedition such as we were about to enter upon is not the affair of a day. It is not money alone that makes for the success of such an expedition — though, Heaven knows, it is a good thing to have — but it is in a great measure — indeed, I may say that this is the greatest factor — the way in which the expedition is equipped — the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck. But pray do not think this is an epitaph I wish to have inscribed on my own tomb. No; honour where honour is due — honour to my faithful comrades, who, by their patience, perseverance and experience, brought our equipment to the limit of perfection, and thereby rendered our victory possible.
On August 16 we began to pack our sledges; two were placed in the Crystal Palace and two in the Clothing Store. It was a great advantage to be able to do this work under cover; at this time the temperature was dancing a cancan between -58deg. and -75deg.F., with an occasional refreshing breeze of thirteen or fourteen miles an hour. It would have been almost an impossibility to pack the sledges out of doors under these conditions if it was to be done carefully and firmly; and, of course, it had to be so done. Our fixed wire-rope lashings had to be laced together with lengths of thin rope, and this took time; but when properly done, as it was now, the cases were held as though in a vice, and could not move. The zinc plates we had had under the sledges to keep them up in loose snow had been taken off; we could not see that we should have any use for them. In their place we had lashed a spare ski under each sledge, and these were very useful later. By August 22 all the sledges were ready, waiting to be driven away.
The dogs did not like the cold weather we had now had for so long; when the temperature went down between -58deg. and -75deg. F., one could see by their movements that they felt it. They stood still and raised their feet from the ground in turn, holding each foot up for a while before putting it down again on the cold surface. They were cunning and resourceful in the extreme. They did not care very much for fish, and some of them were difficult to get into the tents on the evenings when they knew there was fish. Stubberud, especially, had a great deal of trouble with one of the young dogs — Funcho was his name. He was born at Madeira during our stay there in September, 1910. On meat evenings each man, after fastening up his dogs, went, as has been described, up to the wall of the meat-tent and took his box of chopped-up meat, which was put out there. Funcho used to watch for this moment. When he saw Stubberud take the box, he knew there was meat, and then he came quietly into the tent, as though there was nothing the matter. If, on the other hand, Stubberud showed no sign of fetching the box, the dog would not come, nor was it possible to get hold of him. This happened a few times, but then Stubberud hit upon a stratagem. When Funcho, as usual — even on a fish evening — watched the scene of chaining up the other dogs from a distance, Stubberud went calmly up to the wall, took the empty box that lay there, put it on his shoulder, and returned to the tent. Funcho was taken in. He hurried joyfully into the tent, delighted, no doubt, with Stubberud's generosity in providing meat two evenings running. But there, to his great surprise, a very different reception awaited him from that he expected. He was seized by the neck and made fast for the night. After an ugly scowl at the empty box, he looked at Stubberud; what he thought, I am not sure. Certain it is that the ruse was not often successful after that. Funcho got a dried fish for supper, and had to be content with it.
We did not lose many dogs in the course of the winter. Two — Jeppe and Jakob — died of some disease or other. Knaegten was shot, as he lost almost all his hair over half his body. Madeiro, born at Madeira, disappeared early in the autumn; Tom disappeared later — both these undoubtedly fell into crevasses. We had a very good opportunity — twice — of seeing how this might happen; both times we saw the dog disappear into the crevasse, and could watch him from the surface. He went quite quietly backwards and forwards down below without uttering a sound. These crevasses were not deep, but they were steep-sided, so that the dog could not get out without help. The two dogs I have mentioned undoubtedly met their death in this way: a slow death it must be, when one remembers how tenacious of life a dog is. It happened several times that dogs disappeared, were absent for some days, and then came back; possibly they had been down a crevasse, and had finally succeeded in getting out of it again. Curiously enough, they did not pay much attention to the weather when they went on trips of this kind. When the humour took them, they would disappear, even if the temperature was down in the fifties below zero, with wind and driving snow. Thus Jaala, a lady belonging to Bjaaland, took it into her head to go off with three attendant cavaliers. We came upon them later; they were then lying quietly behind a hummock down on the ice, and seemed to be quite happy. They had been away for about eight days without food, and during that time the temperature had seldom been above -58deg. F.
August 23 arrived: calm, partly overcast, and -43.6deg.F. Finer weather for taking out our sledges and driving them over to the starting-point could not be imagined. They had to be brought up through the door of the Clothing Store; it was the largest and the easiest to get through. We had first to dig away the snow, which latterly had been allowed to collect there, as the inmates of this department had for some time past used the inner passage. The snow had blotted out everything, so that no sign of the entrance could be seen; but with a couple of strong shovels, and a couple of strong men to use them, the opening was soon laid bare. To get the sledges up was a longer business; they weighed 880 pounds apiece, and the way up to the surface was steep. A tackle was rigged, and by hauling and shoving they slowly, one by one, came up into daylight. We dragged them away to a place near the instrument-screen, so as to get a clear start away from the house. The dogs were fresh and wild, and wanted plenty of room; a case, not to mention a post, still less the instrument-screen, would all have been objects of extreme interest, to which, if there had been the slightest opportunity, their course would infallibly have been directed. The protests of their drivers would have been of little avail. The dogs had not been let loose that morning, and every man was now in his tent harnessing them. Meanwhile I stood contemplating the packed sledges that stood there ready to begin the long journey.
I tried to work up a little poetry — "the ever-restless spirit of man " — "the mysterious, awe-inspiring wilderness of ice" — but it was no good; I suppose it was too early in the morning. I abandoned my efforts, after coming to the conclusion that each sledge gave one more the idea of a coffin than of anything else, all the cases being painted black.
It was as we had expected: the dogs were on the verge of exploding. What a time we had getting them all into the traces! They could not stand still an instant; either it was a friend they wanted to wish good-morning, or it was an enemy they were longing to fly at. There was always something going on; when they kicked out with their hind-legs, raising a cloud of snow, or glared defiantly at each other, it often caused their driver an anxious moment. If he had his eye on them at this stage, he might, by intervening quickly and firmly, prevent the impending battle; but one cannot be everywhere at once, and the result was a series of the wildest fights. Strange beasts! They had been going about the place comparatively peacefully the whole winter, and now, as soon as they were in harness, they must needs fight as if their lives depended on it. At last we were all ready and away. It was the first time we had driven with teams of twelve, so that we were anxious to see the result.
It went better than we had expected; of course, not like an express train, but we could not expect that the first time. Some of the dogs had grown too fat in the course of the winter, and had difficulty in keeping up; for them this first trip was a stiff pull. But most of them were in excellent condition — fine, rounded bodies, not lumpish. It did not take long to get up the hill this time; most of them had to stop and get their wind on the slope, but there were some that did it without a halt. Up at the top everything looked just as we had left it in April. The flag was still standing where we had planted it, and did not look much the worse for wear. And, what was still stranger, we could see our old tracks southward. We drove all our sledges well up, unharnessed the dogs, and let them go. We took it for granted that they would all rush joyfully home to the flesh-pots, nor did the greater number disappoint us. They set off gaily homewards, and soon the ice was strewn with dogs. They did not behave altogether like good children. In some places there was a sort of mist over the ice; this was the cloud of snow thrown up by the combatants. But on their return they were irreproachable; one could not take any notice of a halt here and there. At the inspection that evening, it appeared that ten of them were missing. That was strange — could all ten have gone down crevasses? It seemed unlikely.
Next morning two men went over to the starting-point to look for the missing dogs. On the way they crossed a couple of crevasses, but there was no dog to be seen. When they arrived at the place where the sledges stood, there lay all ten curled up asleep. They were lying by their own sledges, and did not seem to take the slightest notice of the men's arrival. One or two of them may have opened an eye, but that was all. When they were roused and given to understand by unmistakable signs that their presence was desired at home, they seemed astonished beyond all bounds. Some of them simply declined to believe it; they merely turned round a few times and lay down again on the same spot. They had to be flogged home. Can anything more inexplicable be imagined? There they lay, three miles from their comfortable home, where they knew that abundance of food awaited them — in a temperature of -40deg.F. Although they had now been out for twenty-four hours, none of them gave a sign of wanting to leave the spot. If it had been summer, with warm sunshine, one might have understood it; but as it was — no!
That day — August 24 — the sun appeared above the Barrier again for the first time in four months. He looked very smiling, with a friendly nod for the old pressure-ridges he had seen for so many years; but when his first beams reached the starting-point, his face might well show surprise. "Well, if they're not first, after all! And I've been doing all I could to get here!" It could not be denied; we had won the race, and reached the Barrier a day before him.
The day for our actual start could not be fixed; we should have to wait until the temperature moderated somewhat. So long as it continued to grovel in the depths, we could not think of setting out. All our things were now ready up on the Barrier, and nothing remained but to harness the dogs and start. When I say all our things were ready, this is not the impression anyone would have gained who looked in on us; the cutting out and sewing were going on worse than ever. What had previously occurred to one as a thing of secondary importance, which might be done if there was time, but might otherwise quite well be dropped, now suddenly appeared as the most important part of the whole outfit; and then out came the knife and cut away, until great heaps of offcuts and hair lay about the floor; then the needle was produced, and seam after seam added to those there were already.
The days went by, and the temperature would give no sign of spring; now and then it would make a jump of about thirty degrees, but only to sink just as rapidly back to -58deg. F. It is not at all pleasant to hang about waiting like this; I always have the idea that I am the only one who is left behind, while all the others are out on the road. And I could guess that I was not the only one of us who felt this.
"I'd give something to know how far Scott is to-day."
"Oh, he's not out yet, bless you! It's much too cold for his ponies."
"Ah, but how do you know they have it as cold as this? I expect it's far warmer where they are, among the mountains; and you can take your oath they're not lying idle. Those boys have shown what they can do."
This was the sort of conversation one could hear daily. The uncertainty was worrying many of us — not all — and, personally, I felt it a great deal. I was determined to get away as soon as it was at all possible, and the objection that much might be lost by starting too early did not seem to me to have much force. If we saw that it was too cold, all we had to do was to turn back; so that I could not see there was any risk.
September came, with -43.6deg. F. That is a temperature that one can always stand, but we had better wait and see what it is going to do; perhaps it will only play its old tricks again. Next day, -63.4deg. F.; calm and clear. September 6, -20.2deg. F. At last the change had come, and we thought it was high time. Next day, -7.6deg. F. The little slant of wind that came from the east felt quite like a mild spring breeze. Well, at any rate, we now had a good temperature to start in. Every man ready; to-morrow we are off.
September 8 arrived. We turned out as usual, had breakfast, and were then on the move. We had not much to do. The empty sledges we were to use for driving up to the starting-point were ready; we only had to throw a few things on to them. But it turned out that the mere fact of having so few things was the cause of its taking a long time. We were to harness twelve dogs to the empty sledges, and we had an idea that it would cost us a struggle to get away. We helped each other, two and two, to bring the dogs to the sledges and harness them. Those who were really careful had anchored their sledges to a peg firmly fixed in the snow; others had contented themselves with capsizing their sledges; and others, again, were even more reckless. We all had to be ready before the first man could start; otherwise, it would have been impossible for those who were behind to hold in their dogs, and the result would have been a false start.
Our dogs were in a fearful state of excitement and confusion that morning, but at last everything was ready, barring one or two trifles. Then I suddenly heard a wild yell, and, spinning round, I saw a team tearing off without a driver. The next driver rushed forward to help, with the result that his dogs made off after the others. The two sledges were on ahead, and the two drivers after them in full gallop; but the odds were too unequal — in a few moments the drivers were beaten. The two runaway teams had made off in a south-westerly direction, and were going like the wind. The men had hard work; they had long ago stopped running, and were now following in the tracks of the sledges. The dogs had disappeared behind the ridges, which the men did not reach till much later.
Meanwhile the rest of us waited. The question was, what would those two do when at last they had come up with their sledges? Would they turn and go home, or would they drive up to the starting-point? Waiting was no fun under any circumstances, and so we decided to go on to the starting-point, and, if necessary, wait there. No sooner said than done, and away we went. Now we should see what command the fellows had over their dogs, for, in all canine probability, these teams would now try to follow the same course that the runaways had taken. This fear turned out not to be groundless; three managed to turn their dogs and put them in the right direction, but the other two were off on the new course. Afterwards, of course, they tried to make out that they thought we were all going that way. I smiled, but said nothing. It had happened more than once that my own dogs had taken charge; no doubt I had felt rather foolish at the time, but after all ....
It was not till noon that we all assembled with our sledges. The drivers of the runaways had had stiff work to catch them, and were wet through with their exertions. I had some thoughts of turning back, as three young puppies had followed us; if we went on, we should have to shoot them. But to turn back after all this work, and then probably have the same thing over again next morning, was not a pleasant prospect. And, above all, to see Lindstrom standing at the door, shaking with laughter — no, we had better go on. I think we were all agreed in this. The dogs were now harnessed to the loaded sledges, and the empty ones were stacked one above another. At 1.30 p.m. we were off. The old tracks were soon lost sight of, but we immediately picked up the line of flags that had been set up at every second kilometre on the last depot journey. The going was splendid, and we went at a rattling pace to the south. We did not go very far the first day — eleven and three-quarter miles — and pitched our camp at 3.30 p.m. The first night out is never very pleasant, but this time it was awful. There was such a row going on among our ninety dogs that we could not close our eyes. It was a blessed relief when four in the morning came round, and we could begin to get up. We had to shoot the three puppies when we stopped for lunch that day. The going was the same; nothing could be better. The flags we were following stood just as we had left them; they showed no trace of there having been any snowfall in the interval. That day we did fifteen and a half miles. The dogs were not yet in training, but were picking up every hour.
By the 10th they seemed to have reached their full vigour; that day none of us could hold in his team. They all wanted to get forward, with the result that one team ran into another, and confusion followed. This was a tiresome business; the dogs wore themselves out to no purpose, and, of course, the time spent in extricating them from one another was lost. They were perfectly wild that day. When Lassesen, for instance, caught sight of his enemy Hans, who was in another team, he immediately encouraged his friend Fix to help him. These two then put on all the speed they could, with the result that the others in the same team were excited by the sudden acceleration, and joined in the spurt. It made no difference how the driver tried to stop them; they went on just as furiously, until they reached the team that included the object of Lassesen's and Fix's endeavours. Then the two teams dashed into each other, and we had ninety-six dogs' legs to sort out. The only thing that could be done was to let those who could not hold in their teams unharness some of the dogs and tie them on the sledge. In this way we got things to work satisfactorily at last. We covered eighteen and a half miles that day.
On Monday, the 11th, we woke up to a temperature of -67.9deg. F. The weather was splendid, calm, and clear. We could see by the dogs that they were not feeling happy, as they had kept comparatively quiet that night. The cold affected the going at once; it was slow and unyielding. We came across some crevasses, and Hanssen's sledge was nearly in one; but it was held up, and he came out of it without serious consequences. The cold caused no discomfort on the march; on the contrary, at times it was too warm. One's breath was like a cloud, and so thick was the vapour over the dogs that one could not see one team from the next, though the sledges were being driven close to one another.
On the 12th it was -61.6deg. F., with a breeze dead against us. This was undeniably bitter. It was easy to see that the temperature was too much for the dogs; in the morning, especially, they were a pitiful sight. They lay rolled up as tightly as possible, with their noses under their tails, and from time to time one could see a shiver run through their bodies; indeed, some of them were constantly shivering. We had to lift them up and put them into their harness. I had to admit that with this temperature it would not pay to go on; the risk was too great. We therefore decided to drive on to the depot in 80deg. S., and unload our sledges there. On that day, too, we made the awkward discovery that the fluid in our compasses had frozen, rendering them useless. The weather had become very thick, and we could only guess vaguely the position of the sun. Our progress under these circumstances was very doubtful; possibly we were on the right course, but it was just as probable — nay, more so — that we were off it. The best thing we could do, therefore, was to pitch our camp, and wait for a better state of things. We did not bless the instrument-maker who had supplied those compasses.
It was 10 a.m. when we stopped. In order to have a good shelter for the long day before us, we decided to build two snow-huts. The snow was not good for this purpose, but, by fetching blocks from all sides, we managed to put up the huts. Hanssen built one and Wisting the other. In a temperature such as we now had, a snow-hut is greatly preferable to a tent, and we felt quite comfortable when we came in and got the Primus going. That night we heard a strange noise round us. I looked under my bag to see whether we had far to drop, but there was no sign of a disturbance anywhere. In the other but they had heard nothing. We afterwards discovered that the sound was only due to snow "settling." By this expression I mean the movement that takes place when a large extent of the snow surface breaks and sinks (settles down). This movement gives one the idea that the ground is sinking under one, and it is not a pleasant feeling. It is followed by a dull roar, which often makes the dogs jump into the air — and their drivers, too, for that matter. Once we heard this booming on the plateau so loud that it seemed like the thunder of cannon. We soon grew accustomed to it.
Next day the temperature was -62.5deg. F., calm, and perfectly clear. We did eighteen and a half miles, and kept our course as well as we could with the help of the sun. It was -69.3deg. F. when we camped. This time I had done a thing that I have always been opposed to: I had brought spirits with me in the form of a bottle of Norwegian aquavit and a bottle of gin. I thought this a suitable occasion to bring in the gin. It was as hard as flint right through. While we were thawing it the bottle burst, and we threw it out into the snow, with the result that all the dogs started to sneeze. The next bottle — "Aquavit, No. 1" — was like a bone, but we had learnt wisdom by experience, and we succeeded with care in thawing it out. We waited till we were all in our bags, and then we had one. I was greatly disappointed; it was not half so good as I had thought. But I am glad I tried it, as I shall never do so again. The effect was nil; I felt nothing, either in my head or my feet.
The 14th was cool — the temperature remained at -68.8deg. F. Fortunately it was clear, so that we could see where we were going. We had not gone far before a bright projection appeared on the level surface. Out with the glasses — the depot! There it lay, right in our course. Hanssen, who had driven first the whole way, without a forerunner, and for the most part without a compass, had no need to be ashamed of his performance. We agreed that it was well done, and that, no doubt, was all the thanks he got. We reached it at 10.15 a.m., and unloaded our sledges at once. Wisting undertook the far from pleasant task of getting us a cup of warm milk at -68.8deg. F. He put the Primus behind one of the cases of provisions, and set it going; strangely enough, the paraffin was still liquid in the vessel, but this was no doubt because it had been well protected in the case. A cup of Horlick's Malted Milk tasted better that day than the last time I had tried it — in a restaurant in Chicago.
Having enjoyed that, we threw ourselves on the almost empty sledges, and set our course for home. The going was difficult, but, with the light weight they now had to pull, the dogs went along well. I sat with Wisting, as I considered his team the strongest. The cold held on unchanged, and I was often surprised that it was possible to sit still on the sledges, as we did, without freezing; but we got on quite well. One or two I saw off their sledges all day, and most of us jumped off from time to time and ran by the side to get warm. I myself took to my ski and let myself be pulled along. This so-called sport has never appealed to me, but under the circumstances it was permissible; it warmed my feet, and that was the object of it. I again had recourse to this "sport" of ski-driving later on, but that was for another reason.
On the 15th, as we sat in the tent cooking and chatting, Hanssen suddenly said: "Why, I believe my heel's gone!" Off came his stockings, and there was a big, dead heel, like a lump of tallow. It did not look well. He rubbed it until he thought he "could feel something again," and then put his feet back in his stockings and got into his bag. Now it was Stubberud's turn. "Blest if I don't think there's something wrong with mine, too." Same proceeding — same result. This was pleasant — two doubtful heels, and forty-six miles from Framheim! When we started next morning it was fortunately milder — "almost summer": -40deg. F. It felt quite pleasant. The difference between -40deg. and -60deg. is, in my opinion, very perceptible. It may perhaps be thought that when one gets so far down, a few degrees one way or the other do not make any difference, but they do.
While driving that day we were obliged to let loose several of the dogs, who could not keep up; we supposed that they would follow our tracks. Adam and Lazarus were never seen again. Sara fell dead on the way without any previous symptom. Camilla was also among those let loose.
On the way home we kept the same order as on the previous days. Hanssen and Wisting, as a rule, were a long way ahead, unless they stopped and waited. We went at a tearing pace. We had thought of halting at the sixteen-mile flag, as we called it — the mark at thirty kilometres from Framheim — and waiting for the others to come up, but as the weather was of the best, calm and clear, and with our tracks on the way south perfectly plain, I decided to go on. The sooner we got the bad heels into the house, the better. The two first sledges arrived at 4 p.m.; the next at 6, and the two following ones at 6.30. The last did not come in till 12.30 a.m. Heaven knows what they had been doing on the way!
With the low temperatures we experienced on this trip, we noticed a curious snow-formation that I had never seen before. Fine — extremely fine — drift-snow collected, and formed small cylindrical bodies of an average diameter of 1 1/4 inches, and about the same height; they were, however, of various sizes. They generally rolled over the surface like a wheel, and now and then collected into large heaps, from which again, one by one, or several together, they continued their rolling. If you took one of these bodies in the hand, there was no increase of weight to be felt — not the very slightest. If you took one of the largest and crushed it, there was, so to speak, nothing left. With the temperature in the -40's, we did not see them.
As soon as we came home, we attended to the heels. Prestrud had both his heels frozen, one slightly, the other more severely, though, so far as I could determine, not so badly as the other two. The first thing we did was to lance the big blisters that had formed and let out the fluid they contained; afterwards we put on boracic compresses, night and morning. We kept up this treatment for a long time; at last the old skin could be removed, and the new lay there fresh and healthy. The heel was cured.
Circumstances had arisen which made me consider it necessary to divide the party into two. One party was to carry out the march to the south; the other was to try to reach King Edward VII. Land, and see what was to be done there, besides exploring the region around the Bay of Whales. This party was composed of Prestrud, Stubberud, and Johansen, under the leadership of the first-named.
The advantages of this new arrangement were many. In the first place, a smaller party could advance more rapidly than a larger one. Our numbers, both of men and dogs, on several of the previous trips had clearly shown the arrangement to be unfortunate. The time we took to get ready in the morning — four hours — was one of the consequences of being a large party. With half the number, or only one tent full, I hoped to be able to reduce this time by half. The importance of the depots we had laid down was, of course, greatly increased, since they would now only have to support five members of the party originally contemplated, and would thus be able to furnish them with supplies for so much more time. From a purely scientific point of view, the change offered such obvious advantages that it is unnecessary to insist upon them. Henceforward, therefore, we worked, so to speak, in two parties. The Polar party was to leave as soon as spring came in earnest. I left it to Prestrud himself to fix the departure of the party he was to lead; there was no such hurry for them — they could take things more easily.
Then the same old fuss about the outfit began all over again, and the needles were busy the whole time. Two days after our return, Wisting and Bjaaland went out to the thirty-kilometre mark with the object of bringing in the dogs that had been let loose on that part of the route and had not yet returned. They made the trip of sixty kilometres (thirty-seven and a half miles) in six hours, and brought all the stragglers — ten of them — back with them. The farthest of them were found lying by the flag; none of them showed a sign of getting up when the sledges came. They had to be picked up and harnessed, and one or two that had sore feet were driven on the sledges. In all probability most of them would have returned in a few days. But it is incomprehensible that healthy, plucky dogs, as many of them were, should take it into their heads to stay behind like that.
On September 24 we had the first tidings of spring, when Bjaaland came back from the ice and told us he had shot a seal. So the seals had begun to come up on to the ice; this was a good sign. The next day we went out to bring it in, and we got another at the same time. There was excitement among the dogs when they got fresh meat, to say nothing of fresh blubber. Nor were we men inclined to say no to a fresh steak.
On September 27 we removed the roof that had covered over the window of our room. We had to carry the light down through a long wooden channel, so that it was considerably reduced by the time it came in; but it was light — genuine daylight — and it was much appreciated.
On the 26th Camilla came back, after an absence of ten days. She had been let loose sixty-eight miles from Framheim on the last trip. When she came in, she was as fat as ever; probably she had been feasting in her solitude on one of her comrades. She was received with great ovations by her many admirers.
On September 29 a still more certain sign of spring appeared — a flight of Antarctic petrels. They came flying up to us to bring the news that now spring had come — this time in earnest. We were delighted to see these fine, swift birds again. They flew round the house several times to see whether we were all there still; and we were not long in going out to receive them. It was amusing to watch the dogs: at first the birds flew pretty near the ground; when the dogs caught sight of them, they rushed out — the whole lot of them — to catch them. They tore along, scouring the ground, and, of course, all wanted to be first. Then the birds suddenly rose into the air, and presently the dogs lost sight of them. They stood still for a moment, glaring at each other, evidently uncertain of what was the best thing to do. Such uncertainty does not, as a rule, last long. They made up their minds with all desirable promptitude and flew at each other's throats.
So now spring had really arrived; we had only to cure the frost-bitten heels and then away.
The Start for the Pole
At last we got away, on October 19. The weather for the past few days had not been altogether reliable; now windy, now calm — now snowing, now clear: regular spring weather, in other words. That day it continued unsettled; it was misty and thick in the morning, and did not promise well for the day, but by 9.30 there was a light breeze from the east, and at the same time it cleared.
There was no need for a prolonged inquiry into the sentiments of the party. — What do you think? Shall we start?" — Yes, of course. Let's be jogging on." There was only one opinion about it. Our coursers were harnessed in a jiffy, and with a little nod — as much as to say, "See you to-morrow" — we were off. I don't believe Lindstrom even came out of doors to see us start. "Such an everyday affair: what's the use of making a fuss about it?"
There were five of us — Hanssen, Wisting, Hassel, Bjaaland, and myself. We had four sledges, with thirteen dogs to each. At the start our sledges were very light, as we were only taking supplies for the trip to 80deg. S., where all our cases were waiting for us; we could therefore sit on the sledges and flourish our whips with a jaunty air. I sat astride on Wisting's sledge, and anyone who had seen us would no doubt have thought a Polar journey looked very inviting.
Down on the sea-ice stood Prestrud with the cinematograph, turning the crank as fast as he could go as we went past. When we came up on to the Barrier on the other side, he was there again, turning incessantly. The last thing I saw, as we went over the top of the ridge and everything familiar disappeared, was a cinematograph; it was coming inland at full speed. I had been engaged in looking out ahead, and turned round suddenly to throw a last glance in the direction of the spot that to us stood for all that was beautiful on earth, when I caught sight of — what do you think? A cinematograph. "He can't be taking anything but air now, can he?" — "Hardly that." The cinematograph vanished below the horizon.
The going was excellent, but the atmosphere became thicker as we went inland. For the first twelve miles from the edge of the Barrier I had been sitting with Hassel, but, seeing that Wisting's dogs could manage two on the sledge better than the others, I moved. Hanssen drove first; he had to steer by compass alone, as the weather had got thicker. After him came Bjaaland, then Hassel, and, finally, Wisting and I. We had just gone up a little slope, when we saw that it dropped rather steeply on the other side; the descent could not be more than 20 yards long. I sat with my back to the dogs, looking aft, and was enjoying the brisk drive. Then suddenly the surface by the side of the sledge dropped perpendicularly, and showed a yawning black abyss, large enough to have swallowed us all, and a little more. A few inches more to one side, and we should have taken no part in the Polar journey. We guessed from this broken surface that we had come too far to the east, and altered our course more westerly. When we had reached safer ground, I took the opportunity of putting on my ski and driving so; in this way the weight was more distributed. Before very long it cleared a little, and we saw one of our mark-flags straight ahead. We went up to it; many memories clung to the spot — cold and slaughter of dogs. It was there we had killed the three puppies on the last trip.
We had then covered seventeen miles, and we camped, well pleased with the first day of our long journey. My belief that, with all in one tent, we should manage our camping and preparations much better than before was fully justified. The tent went up as though it arose out of the ground, and everything was done as though we had had long practice. We found we had ample room in the tent, and our arrangements worked splendidly the whole time. They were as follows: as soon as we halted, all took a hand at the tent. The pegs in the valance of the tent were driven in, and Wisting crept inside and planted the pole, while the rest of us stretched the guy-ropes. When this was done, I went in, and all the things that were to go inside were handed in to me — sleeping-bags, kit-bags, cookers, provisions. Everything was put in its place, the Primus lighted, and the cooker filled with snow. Meanwhile the others fed their dogs and let them loose. Instead of the "guard," we shovelled loose snow round the tent; this proved to be sufficient protection — the dogs respected it. The bindings were taken off all our ski, and either stowed with other loose articles in a provision-case, or hung up together with the harness on the top of the ski, which were lashed upright to the front of the sledge. The tent proved excellent in every way; the dark colour subdued the light, and made it agreeable.
Neptune, a fine dog, was let loose when we had come six miles over the plain; he was so fat that he could not keep up. We felt certain that he would follow us, but he did not appear. We then supposed that he had turned back and made for the flesh-pots, but, strangely enough, he did not do that either. He never arrived at the station; it is quite a mystery what became of him. Rotta, another fine animal, was also set free; she was not fit for the journey, and she afterwards arrived at home. Ulrik began by having a ride on the sledge; he picked up later. Bjorn went limping after the sledge. Peary was incapacitated; he was let loose and followed for a time, but then disappeared. When the eastern party afterwards visited the depot in 80deg. S., they found him there in good condition. He was shy at first, but by degrees let them come near him and put the harness on. He did very good service after that. Uranus and Fuchs were out of condition. This was pretty bad for the first day, but the others were all worth their weight in gold.
During the night it blew a gale from the east, but it moderated in the morning, so that we got away at 10 a.m. The weather did not hold for long; the wind came again with renewed force from the same quarter, with thick driving snow. However, we went along well, and passed flag after flag. After going nineteen and a quarter miles, we came to a snow beacon that had been erected at the beginning of April, and had stood for seven months; it was still quite good and solid. This gave us a good deal to think about: so we could depend upon these beacons; they would not fall down. From the experience thus gained, we afterwards erected the whole of our extensive system of beacons on the way south. The wind went to the south-east during the day; it blew, but luckily it had stopped snowing. The temperature was -11.5deg. F., and bitter enough against the wind. When we stopped in the evening and set our tent, we had just found our tracks from the last trip; they were sharp and clear, though six weeks old. We were glad to find them, as we had seen no flag for some time, and were beginning to get near the ugly trap, forty-six and a half miles from the house, that had been found on the last depot journey, so we had to be careful.
The next day, the 21st, brought very thick weather: a strong breeze from the south-east, with thick driving snow. It would not have been a day for crossing the trap if we had not found our old tracks. It was true that we could not see them far, but we could still see the direction they took. So as to be quite safe, I now set our course north-east by east — two points east was the original course. And compared with our old tracks, this looked right, as the new course was considerably more easterly than the direction of the tracks. One last glance over the camping-ground to see whether anything was forgotten, and then into the blizzard. It was really vile weather, snowing from above and drifting from below, so that one was quite blinded. We could not see far; very often we on the last sledge had difficulty in seeing the first. Bjaaland was next in front of us. For a long time we had been going markedly downhill, and this was not in accordance with our reckoning; but in that weather one could not make much of a reckoning. We had several times passed over crevasses, but none of any size. Suddenly we saw Bjaaland's sledge sink over. He jumped off and seized the trace. The sledge lay on its side for a few seconds, then began to sink more and more, and finally disappeared altogether. Bjaaland had got a good purchase in the snow, and the dogs lay down and dug their claws in. The sledge sank more and more — all this happened in a few moments.
"Now I can't hold it any longer." We — Wisting and I — had just come up. He was holding on convulsively, and resisting with all his force, but it was no use — inch by inch the sledge sank deeper. The dogs, too, seemed to understand the gravity of the situation; stretched out in the snow, they dug their claws in, and resisted with all their strength. But still, inch by inch, slowly and surely, it went down into the abyss. Bjaaland was right enough when he said he couldn't hold on any longer. A few seconds more, and his sledge and thirteen dogs would never have seen the light of day again. Help came at the last moment. Hanssen and Hassel, who were a little in advance when it happened, had snatched an Alpine rope from a sledge and came to his assistance. They made the rope fast to the trace, and two of us — Bjaaland and I — were now able, by getting a good purchase, to hold the sledge suspended. First the dogs were taken out; then Hassel's sledge was drawn back and placed across the narrowest part of the crevasse, where we could see that the edges were solid. Then by our combined efforts the sledge, which was dangling far below, was hoisted up as far as we could get it, and made fast to Hassel's sledge by the dogs' traces. Now we could slack off and let go: one sledge hung securely enough by the other. We could breathe a little more freely.
The next thing to be done was to get the sledge right, up, and before we could manage that it had to be unloaded. A man would have to go down on the rope, cast off the lashings of the cases, and attach them again for drawing up. They all wanted this job, but Wisting had it; he fastened the Alpine rope round his body and went down. Bjaaland and I took up our former positions, and acted as anchors; meanwhile Wisting reported what he saw down below. The case with the cooker was hanging by its last thread; it was secured, and again saw the light of day. Hassel and Hanssen attended to the hauling up of the cases, as Wisting had them ready. These two fellows moved about on the brink of the chasm with a coolness that I regarded at first with approving eyes. I admire courage and contempt for danger. But the length to which they carried it at last was too much of a good thing; they were simply playing hide-and-seek with Fate. Wisting's information from below — that the cornice they were standing on was only a few inches thick — did not seem to have the slightest effect on them; on the contrary, they seemed to stand all the more securely.
"We've been lucky," said Wisting; "this is the only place where the crevasse is narrow enough to put a sledge across. If we had gone a little more to the left" — Hanssen looked eagerly in that direction — "none of us would have escaped. There is no surface there; only a crust as thin as paper. It doesn't look very inviting down below, either; immense spikes of ice sticking up everywhere, which would spit you before you got very far down."
This description was not attractive; it was well we had found "such a good place." Meanwhile Wisting had finished his work, and was hauled up. When asked whether he was not glad to be on the surface again, he answered with a smile that "it was nice and warm down there." We then hauled the sledge up, and for the time being all was well. "But," said Hassel, "we must be careful going along here, because I was just on the point of going in when Hanssen and I were bringing up the sledge." He smiled as though at a happy memory. Hassel had seen that it was best to be careful. There was no need to look for crevasses; there was literally nothing else to be seen.
There could be no question of going farther into the trap, for we had long ago come to the conclusion that, in spite of our precautions, we had arrived at this ugly place. We should have to look about for a place for the tent, but that was easier said than done. There was no possibility of finding a place large enough for both the tent and the guy-ropes; the tent was set up on a small, apparently solid spot, and the guys stretched across crevasses in all directions. We were beginning to be quite familiar with the place. That crevasse ran there and there, and it had a side-fissure that went so and so — just like schoolboys learning a lesson.
Meanwhile we had brought all our things as far as possible into a place of safety; the dogs lay harnessed to reduce the risk of losing them. Wisting was just going over to his sledge — he had gone the same way several times before — when suddenly I saw nothing but his head, shoulders and arms above the snow. He had fallen through, but saved himself by stretching his arms out as he fell. The crevasse was bottomless, like the rest. We went into the tent and cooked lobscouse. Leaving the weather to take care of itself, we made ourselves as comfortable as we could. It was then one o'clock in the afternoon. The wind had fallen considerably since we came in, and before we knew what was happening, it was perfectly calm. It began to brighten a little about three, and we went out to look at it.
The weather was evidently improving, and on the northern horizon there was a sign of blue sky. On the south it was thick. Far off, in the densest part of the mist, we could vaguely see the outline of a dome-like elevation, and Wisting and Hanssen went off to examine it. The dome turned out to be one of the small haycock formations that we had seen before in this district. They struck at it with their poles, and just as they expected — it was hollow, and revealed the darkest abyss. Hanssen was positively chuckling with delight when he told us about it; Hassel sent him an envious glance.
By 4 p.m. it cleared, and a small reconnoitring party, composed of three, started to find a way out of this. I was one of the three, so we had a long Alpine rope between us; I don't like tumbling in, if I can avoid it by such simple means. We set out to the east — the direction that had brought us out of the same broken ground before — and we had not gone more than a few paces when we were quite out of it. It was now clear enough to look about us. Our tent stood at the north-eastern corner of a tract that was full of hummocks; we could decide beyond a doubt that this was the dreaded trap. We continued a little way to the east until we saw our course clearly, and then returned to camp. We did not waste much time in getting things ready and leaving the place. It was a genuine relief to find ourselves once more on good ground, and we resumed our journey southward at a brisk pace.
That we were not quite out of the dangerous zone was shown by a number of small hummocks to the south of us. They extended across our course at right angles. We could also see from some long but narrow crevasses we crossed that we must keep a good look-out. When we came into the vicinity of the line of hummocks that lay in our course, we stopped and discussed our prospects. "We shall save a lot of time by going straight on through here instead of going round," said Hanssen. I had to admit this; but, on the other hand, the risk was much greater. "Oh, let's try it," he went on; "if we can't do it, we can't." I was weak, and allowed myself to be persuaded, and away we went among the haycocks. I could see how Hanssen was enjoying himself; this was just what he wanted. We went faster and faster. Curiously enough, we passed several of these formations without noticing anything, and began to hope that we should get through. Then suddenly Hanssen's three leading dogs disappeared, and the others stopped abruptly. He got them hauled up without much trouble and came over. We others, who were following, crossed without accident, but our further progress seemed doubtful, for after a few more paces the same three dogs fell in again. We were now in exactly the same kind of place as before; crevasses ran in every direction, like a broken pane of glass. I had had enough, and would take no more part in this death-ride. I announced decisively that we must turn back, follow our tracks, and go round it all. Hanssen looked quite disappointed. "Well," he said, "but we shall be over it directly." "I dare say we shall," I replied; "but we must go back first." This was evidently hard on him; there was one formation in particular that attracted him, and he wanted to try his strength with it. It was a pressure-mass that, as far as appearance went, might just as well have been formed out in the drift-ice. It looked as if it was formed of four huge lumps of ice raised on end against each other. We knew what it contained without examination — a yawning chasm. Hanssen cast a last regretful glance upon it, and then turned back.
We could now see all our surroundings clearly. This place lay, as we had remarked before, in a hollow; we followed it round, and came up the rise on the south without accident. Here we caught sight of one of our flags; it stood to the east of us, and thus confirmed our suspicion that we had been going too far to the west. We had one more contact with the broken ground, having to cross some crevasses and pass a big hole; but then it was done, and we could once more rejoice in having solid ice beneath us. Hanssen, however, was not satisfied till he had been to look into the hole. In the evening we reached the two snow-huts we had built on the last trip, and we camped there, twenty-six miles from the depot. The huts were drifted up with snow, so we left them in peace, and as the weather was now so mild and fine, we preferred the tent.
It had been an eventful day, and we had reason to be satisfied that we had come off so easily. The going had been good, and it had all gone like a game. When we started the next morning it was overcast and thick, and before we had gone very far we were in the midst of a south-wester, with snow so thick that we could hardly see ten sledge-lengths ahead of us. We had intended to reach the depot that day, but if this continued, it was more than doubtful whether we should find it. Meanwhile we put on the pace. It was a long way on, so there was no danger of driving past it. During this while it had remained clear in the zenith, and we had been hoping that the wind and snow would cease; but we had no such luck — it increased rather than dropped. Our best sledge-meter — one we knew we could depend on — was on Wisting's sledge; therefore he had to check the distance. At 1.30 p.m. he turned round to me, and pointed out that we had gone the exact distance; I called out to Hanssen to use his eyes well. Then, at that very moment, the depot showed up a few sledge-lengths to the left of us, looking like a regular palace of snow in the thick air. This was a good test both for the sledge-meter and the compass. We drove up to it and halted. There were three important points to be picked up on our way south, and one of them was found; we were all glad and in good spirits.
The ninety-nine miles from Framheim to this point had been covered in four marches, and we could now rest our dogs, and give them as much seal's flesh as they were capable of eating. Thus far the trip had been a good one for the animals; with one exception, they were all in the best condition. This exception was Uranus. We had never been able to get any fat on his bones; he remained thin and scraggy, and awaited his death at the depot, a little later, in 82deg. S. If Uranus was lanky to look at, the same could not be said of Jaala, poor beast! In spite of her condition, she struggled to keep up; she did her utmost, but unless her dimensions were reduced before we left 82deg. S., she would have to accompany Uranus to another world.
The cases of provisions and outfit that we had left here on the last trip were almost entirely snowed under, but it did not take long to dig them out. The first thing to be done was to cut up the seals for the dogs. These grand pieces of meat, with the blubber attached, did not have to be thrown at the dogs; they just helped themselves as long as there was any meat cut up, and when that was finished, they did not hesitate to attack the "joint." It was a pleasure to see them, as they lay all over the place, enjoying their food; it was all so delightfully calm and peaceful, to begin with. They were all hungry, and thought of nothing but satisfying their immediate cravings; but when this was done there was an end of the truce. Although Hai had only half finished his share, he must needs go up to Rap and take away the piece he was eating. Of course, this could not happen without a great row, which resulted in the appearance of Hanssen; then Hai made himself scarce. He was a fine dog, but fearfully obstinate; if he had once taken a thing into his head, it was not easy to make him give it up. On one of our depot journeys it happened that I was feeding Hanssen's dogs. Hai had made short work of his pemmican, and looked round for more. Ah! there was Rap enjoying his — that would just do for him. In a flash Hai was upon him, forced him to give up his dinner, and was about to convert it to his own use. Meanwhile I had witnessed the whole scene, and before Hai knew anything about it, I was upon him in turn. I hit him over the nose with the whip-handle, and tried to take the pemmican from him, but it was not so easy. Neither of us would give in, and soon we were both rolling over and over in the snow struggling for the mastery. I came off victorious after a pretty hot fight, and Rap got his dinner again. Any other dog would have dropped it at once on being hit over the nose, but not Hai.
It was a treat to get into the tent; the day had been a bitter one. During the night the wind went round to the north, and all the snow that had been blown northward by the wind of the previous day had nothing to do but to come back again; the road was free. And it made the utmost use of its opportunity; nothing could be seen for driving snow when we turned out next morning. We could only stay where we were, and console ourselves with the thought that it made no difference, as it had been decided that we were to remain here two days. But staying in a tent all day is never very amusing, especially when one is compelled to keep to one's sleeping-bag the whole time. You soon get tired of talking, and you can't write all day long, either. Eating is a good way of passing the time, if you can afford it, and so is reading, if you have anything to read; but as the menu is limited, and the library as a rule somewhat deficient on a sledging trip, these two expedients fall to the ground. There is, however, one form of entertainment that may be indulged in under these circumstances without scruple, and that is a good nap. Happy the man who can sleep the clock round on days like these; but that is a gift that is not vouchsafed to all, and those who have it will not own up to it. I have heard men snore till I was really afraid they would choke, but as for acknowledging that they had been asleep — never! Some of them even have the coolness to assert that they suffer from sleeplessness, but it was not so bad as that with any of us.
In the course of the day the wind dropped, and we went out to do some work. We transferred the old depot to the new one. We now had here three complete sledge-loads, for which there would be little use, and which, therefore, were left behind. The eastern party availed themselves of part of these supplies on their journey, but not much. This depot is a fairly large one, and might come in useful if anyone should think of exploring the region from King Edward Land southward. As things were, we had no need of it. At the same time the sledges were packed, and when evening came everything was ready for our departure. There had really been no hurry about this, as we were going to stay here on the following day as well; but one soon learns in these regions that it is best to take advantage of good weather when you have it — you never know how long it will last. There was, however, nothing to be said about the day that followed; we could doze and doze as much as we liked. The work went on regularly, nevertheless. The dogs gnawed and gnawed, storing up strength with every hour that went by.
We will now take a trip out to our loaded sledges, and see what they contain. Hanssen's stands first, bow to the south; behind it come Wisting's, Bjaaland's and Hassel's. They all look pretty much alike, and as regards provisions their loads are precisely similar.
Case No. 1 contains about 5,300 biscuits, and weighs 111 pounds.
Case No. 2: 112 rations of dogs' pemmican; 11 bags of dried milk, chocolate, and biscuits. Total gross weight, 177 pounds.
Case No. 3: 124 rations of dogs' pemmican; 10 bags of dried milk and biscuits. Gross weight, 161 pounds.
Case No. 4: 39 rations of dogs' pemmican; 86 rations of men's pemmican; 9 bags of dried milk and biscuits. Gross weight, 165 pounds.
Case No. 5: 96 rations of dogs' pemmican. Weight, 122 pounds.
Total net weight of provisions per sledge, 668 pounds.
With the outfit and the weight of the sledge itself, the total came to pretty nearly 880 pounds.
Hanssen's sledge differed from the others, in that it had aluminium fittings instead of steel and no sledge-meter, as it had to be free from iron on account of the steering-compass he carried. Each of the other three sledges had a sledge-meter and compass. We were thus equipped with three sledge-meters and four compasses. The instruments we carried were two sextants and three artificial horizons — two glass and one mercury — a hypsometer for measuring heights, and one aneroid. For meteorological observations, four thermometers. Also two pairs of binoculars. We took a little travelling case of medicines from Burroughs Wellcome and Co. Our surgical instruments were not many: a dental forceps and — a beard-clipper. Our sewing outfit was extensive. We carried a small, very light tent in reserve; it would have to be used if any of us were obliged to turn back. We also carried two Primus lamps. Of paraffin we had a good supply: twenty-two and a half gallons divided among three sledges. We kept it in the usual cans, but they proved too weak; not that we lost any paraffin, but Bjaaland had to be constantly soldering to keep them tight. We had a good soldering outfit. Every man carried his own personal bag, in which he kept reserve clothing, diaries and observation books. We took a quantity of loose straps for spare ski-bindings. We had double sleeping-bags for the first part of the time; that is to say, an inner and an outer one. There were five watches among us, of which three were chronometer watches.
We had decided to cover the distance between 80deg. and 82deg. S. in daily marches of seventeen miles. We could easily have done twice this, but as it was more important to arrive than to show great speed, we limited the distance; besides which, here between the depots we had sufficient food to allow us to take our time. We were interested in seeing how the dogs would manage the loaded sledges. We expected them to do well, but not so well as they did.
On October 25 we left 80deg. S. with a light north-westerly breeze, clear and mild. I was now to take up my position in advance of the sledges, and placed myself a few paces in front of Hanssen's, with my ski pointing in the right direction. A last look behind me: "All ready?" and away I went. I thought — no; I didn't have time to think. Before I knew anything about it, I was sent flying by the dogs. In the confusion that ensued they stopped, luckily, so that I escaped without damage, as far as that went. To tell the truth, I was angry, but as I had sense enough to see that the situation, already sufficiently comic, would be doubly ridiculous if I allowed my annoyance to show itself, I wisely kept quiet. And, after all, whose fault was it? I was really the only one to blame; why in the world had I not got away faster? I now changed my plan entirely — there is nothing to be ashamed of in that, I hope — and fell in with the awkward squad; there I was more successful. "All ready? Go!" And go they did. First Hanssen went off like a meteor; close behind him came Wisting, and then Bjaaland and Hassel. They all had ski on, and were driving with a line. I had made up my mind to follow in the rear, as I thought the dogs would not keep this up for long, but I soon had enough of it. We did the first six and a quarter miles in an hour. I thought that would do for me, so I went up to Wisting, made a rope fast to his sledge, and there I stood till we reached 85deg. 5' S. — three hundred and forty miles. Yes; that was a pleasant surprise. We had never dreamed of anything of the sort — driving on ski to the Pole! Thanks to Hanssen's brilliant talents as a dog-driver, we could easily do this. He had his dogs well in hand, and they knew their master. They knew that the moment they failed to do their duty they would be pulled up, and a hiding all round would follow. Of course, as always happens, Nature occasionally got the better of discipline; but the "confirmation" that resulted checked any repetition of such conduct for a long while. The day's march was soon completed in this way, and we camped early.
On the following day we were already in sight of the large pressure-ridges on the east, which we had seen for the first time on the second depot journey between 81deg. and 82deg. S., and this showed that the atmosphere must be very clear. We could not see any greater number than the first time, however. From our experience of beacons built of snow, we could see that if we built such beacons now, on our way south, they would be splendid marks for our return journey; we therefore decided to adopt this system of landmarks to the greatest possible extent. We built in all 150 beacons, 6 feet high, and used in their construction 9,000 blocks, cut out of the snow with specially large snow-knives. In each of them was deposited a paper, giving the number and position of the beacon, and indicating the distance and the direction to be taken to reach the next beacon to the north. It may appear that my prudence was exaggerated, but it always seemed to me that one could not be too careful on this endless, uniform surface. If we lost our way here, it would be difficult enough to reach home. Besides which, the building of these beacons had other advantages, which we could all see and appreciate. Every time we stopped to build one, the dogs had a rest, and they wanted this, if they were to keep up the pace.
We erected the first beacon in 80deg. 23' S. To begin with, we contented ourselves with putting them up at every thirteenth or fifteenth kilometre. On the 29th we shot the first dog, Hanssen's Bone. He was too old to keep up, and was only a hindrance. He was placed in depot under a beacon, and was a great joy to us — or rather to the dogs — later on.
On the same day we reached the second important point — the depot in 81deg. S. Our course took us very slightly to the east of it. The small pieces of packing-case that had been used as marks on each side of the depot could be seen a long way off. On a subsequent examination they showed no sign of snowfall; they stood just as they had been put in. In the neighbourhood of the depot we crossed two quite respectable crevasses; they were apparently filled up, and caused us no trouble. We reached the depot at 2 p.m.; everything was in the best of order. The flag was flying, and hardly looked as if it had been up a day, although it had now been waving there for nearly eight months. The drifts round the depot were about 1 1/2 feet high.
The next day was brilliant — calm and clear. The sun really baked the skin of one's face. We put all our skin clothing out to dry; a little rime will always form at the bottom of a sleeping-bag. We also availed ourselves of this good opportunity to determine our position and check our compasses; they proved to be correct. We replaced the provisions we had consumed on the way, and resumed our journey on October 31.
There was a thick fog next morning, and very disagreeable weather; perhaps we felt it more after the previous fine day. When we passed this way for the first time going south, Hanssen's dogs had fallen into a crevasse, but it was nothing to speak of; otherwise we had no trouble. Nor did we expect any this time; but in these regions what one least expects frequently happens. The snow was loose and the going heavy; from time to time we crossed a narrow crevasse. Once we saw through the fog a large open hole; we could not have been very far from it, or we should not have seen it, the weather was so thick. But all went well till we had come thirteen and a half miles. Then Hanssen had to cross a crevasse a yard wide, and in doing it he was unlucky enough to catch the point of his ski in the traces of the hindmost dogs, and fall right across the crevasse. This looked unpleasant. The dogs were across, and a foot or two on the other side, but the sledge was right over the crevasse, and had twisted as Hanssen fell, so that a little more would bring it into line with the crevasse, and then, of course, down it would go. The dogs had quickly scented the fact that their lord and master was for the moment incapable of administering a "confirmation," and they did not let slip the golden opportunity. Like a lot of roaring tigers, the whole team set upon each other and fought till the hair flew. This naturally produced short, sharp jerks at the traces, so that the sledge worked round more and more, and at the same time the dogs, in the heat of the combat, were coming nearer and nearer to the brink. If this went on, all was irretrievably lost. One of us jumped the crevasse, went into the middle of the struggling team, and, fortunately, got them to stop. At the same time, Wisting threw a line to Hanssen and hauled him out of his unpleasant position — although, I thought to myself, as we went on: I wonder whether Hanssen did not enjoy the situation? Stretched across a giddy abyss, with the prospect of slipping down it at any moment — that was just what he would like. We secured the sledge, completed our seventeen miles, and camped.
From 81deg. S. we began to erect beacons at every nine kilometres. The next day we observed the lowest temperature of the whole of this journey: -30.1deg. F The wind was south-south-east, but not very strong. It did not feel like summer, all the same. We now adopted the habit which we kept up all the way to the south — of taking our lunch while building the beacon that lay half-way in our day's march. It was nothing very luxurious — three or four dry oatmeal biscuits, that was all. If one wanted a drink, one could mix snow with the biscuit — "bread and water." It is a diet that is not much sought after in our native latitudes, but latitude makes a very great difference in this world. It anybody had offered us more "bread and water," we should gladly have accepted it.
That day we crossed the last crevasse for a long time to come, and it was only a few inches wide. The surface looked grand ahead of us; it went in very long, almost imperceptible undulations. We could only notice them by the way in which the beacons we put up often disappeared rather rapidly.
On November 2 we had a gale from the south, with heavy snow. The going was very stiff, but the dogs got the sledges along better than we expected. The temperature rose, as usual, with a wind from this quarter: +14deg. F. It was a pleasure to be out in such a temperature, although it did blow a little. The day after we had a light breeze from the north. The heavy going of the day before had completely disappeared; instead of it we had the best surface one could desire, and it made our dogs break into a brisk gallop. That was the day we were to reach the depot in 82deg. S., but as it was extremely thick, our chances of doing so were small. In the course of the afternoon the distance was accomplished, but no depot was visible. However, our range of vision was nothing to boast of — ten sledge-lengths; not more. The most sensible thing to do, under the circumstances, was to camp and wait till it cleared.
At four o'clock next morning the sun broke through. We let it get warm and disperse the fog, and then went out. What a morning it was — radiantly clear and mild. So still, so still lay the mighty desert before us, level and white on every side. But, no; there in the distance the level was broken: there was a touch of colour on the white. The third important point was reached, the extreme outpost of civilization. Our last depot lay before us; that was an unspeakable relief. The victory now seemed half won. In the fog we had come about three and a half miles too far to the west; but we now saw that if we had continued our march the day before, we should have come right into our line of flags. There they stood, flag after flag, and the little strip of black cloth seemed to wave quite proudly, as though it claimed credit for the way in which it had discharged its duty. Here, as at the depot in 81deg. S., there was hardly a sign of snowfall. The drift round the depot had reached the same height as there — 1 1/2 feet. Clearly the same conditions of weather had prevailed all over this region. The depot stood as we had made it, and the sledge as we had left it. Falling snow and drift had not been sufficient to cover even this. The little drift that there was offered an excellent place for the tent, being hard and firm. We at once set about the work that had to be done. First, Uranus was sent into the next world, and although he had always given us the impression of being thin and bony, it was now seen that there were masses of fat along his back; he would be much appreciated when we reached here on the return. Jaala did not look as if she would fulfil the conditions, but we gave her another night. The dogs' pemmican in the depot was just enough to give the dogs a good feed and load up the sledges again. We were so well supplied with all other provisions that we were able to leave a considerable quantity behind for the return journey.
Next day we stayed here to give the dogs a thorough rest for the last time. We took advantage of the fine weather to dry our outfit and check our instruments. When evening came we were all ready, and now we could look back with satisfaction to the good work of the autumn; we had fully accomplished what we aimed at — namely, transferring our base from 78deg. 38' to 82deg. S. Jaala had to follow Uranus; they were both laid on the top of the depot, beside eight little ones that never saw the light of day. During our stay here we decided to build beacons at every fifth kilometre, and to lay down depots at every degree of latitude. Although the dogs were drawing the sledges easily at present, we knew well enough that in the long-run they would find it hard work if they were always to have heavy weights to pull. The more we could get rid of, and the sooner we could begin to do so, the better.
On November 6, at 8 a.m., we left 82deg. S. Now the unknown lay before us; now our work began in earnest. The appearance of the Barrier was the same everywhere — flat, with a splendid surface. At the first beacon we put up we had to shoot Lucy. We were sorry to put an end to this beautiful creature, but there was nothing else to be done. Her friends — Karenius, Sauen, and Schwartz — scowled up at the beacon where she lay as they passed, but duty called, and the whip sang dangerously near them, though they did not seem to hear it. We had now extended our daily march to twenty-three miles; in this way we should do a degree in three days.