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Archive for the ‘Chapter XII: Awaiting the Crozier Party’ Category

Wednesday, July 5th 1911

Wednesday, July 5th, 1911

Atkinson has a bad hand to-day, immense blisters on every finger giving them the appearance of sausages. To-night Ponting has photographed the hand.

As I expected, some amendment of Atkinson’s tale as written last night is necessary, partly due to some lack of coherency in the tale as first told and partly a reconsideration of the circumstances by Atkinson himself.

It appears he first hit Inaccessible Island, and got his hand frostbitten before he reached it. It was only on arrival in its lee that he discovered the frostbite. He must have waited there some time, then groped his way to the western end thinking he was near the Ramp. Then wandering away in a swirl of drift to clear some irregularities at the ice foot, he completely lost the island when he could only have been a few yards from it.

He seems in this predicament to have clung to the old idea of walking up wind, and it must be considered wholly providential that on this course he next struck Tent Island. It was round this island that he walked, finally digging himself a shelter on its lee side under the impression that it was Inaccessible Island. When the moon appeared he seems to have judged its bearing well, and as he travelled homeward he was much surprised to see the real Inaccessible Island appear on his left. The distance of Tent Island, 4 to 5 miles, partly accounts for the time he took in returning. Everything goes to confirm the fact that he had a very close shave of being lost altogether.

For some time past some of the ponies have had great irritation of the skin. I felt sure it was due to some parasite, though the Soldier thought the food responsible and changed it.

To-day a tiny body louse was revealed under Atkinson’s microscope after capture from ‘Snatcher’s’ coat. A dilute solution of carbolic is expected to rid the poor beasts of their pests, but meanwhile one or two of them have rubbed off patches of hair which they can ill afford to spare in this climate. I hope we shall get over the trouble quickly.

The day has been gloriously fine again, with bright moonlight all the afternoon. It was a wondrous sight to see Erebus emerge from soft filmy clouds of mist as though some thin veiling had been withdrawn with infinite delicacy to reveal the pure outline of this moonlit mountain.

Dr Atkinson’s frostbitten hand. July 5th 1911
“Dr Atkinson’s frostbitten hand. July 5th 1911”

Dr Atkinsons frostbitten hand. July 5th 1911
“Dr Atkinsons frostbitten hand. July 5th 1911”

Dr Atkinsons frostbitten hand. July 5th 1911
“Dr Atkinsons frostbitten hand. July 5th 1911”

Tuesday, July 4th 1911

Tuesday, July 4th, 1911

A day of blizzard and adventure.

The wind arose last night, and although the temperature advanced a few degrees it remained at a very low point considering the strength of the wind.

This forenoon it was blowing 40 to 45 m.p.h. with a temperature -25º to -28º. No weather to be in the open.

In the afternoon the wind modified slightly. Taylor and Atkinson went up to the Ramp thermometer screen. After this, entirely without my knowledge, two adventurous spirits, Atkinson and Gran, decided to start off over the floe, making respectively for the north and south Bay thermometers, ‘Archibald’ and ‘Clarence.’ This was at 5.30; Gran was back by dinner at 6.45, and it was only later that I learned that he had gone no more than 200 or 300 yards from the land and that it had taken him nearly an hour to get back again.

Atkinson’s continued absence passed unnoticed until dinner was nearly over at 7.15, although I had heard that the wind had dropped at the beginning of dinner and that it remained very thick all round, with light snow falling.

Although I felt somewhat annoyed, I had no serious anxiety at this time, and as several members came out of the hut I despatched them short distances to shout and show lanterns and arranged to have a paraffin flare lit on Wind Vane Hill.

Evans, P.O., Crean and Keohane, being anxious for a walk, were sent to the north with a lantern. Whilst this desultory search proceeded the wind sprang up again from the south, but with no great force, and meanwhile the sky showed signs of clearing and the moon appeared dimly through the drifting clouds. With such a guide we momentarily looked for the return of our wanderer, and with his continued absence our anxiety grew. At 9.30 Evans, P.O., and his party returned without news of him, and at last there was no denying the possibility of a serious accident. Between 9.30 and 10 proper search parties were organised, and I give the details to show the thoroughness which I thought necessary to meet the gravity of the situation. I had by this time learnt that Atkinson had left with comparatively light clothing and, still worse, with leather ski boots on his feet; fortunately he had wind clothing.

P.O. Evans was away first with Crean, Keohane, and Demetri, a light sledge, a sleeping-bag, and a flask of brandy. His orders were to search the edge of the land and glacier through the sweep of the Bay to the Barne Glacier and to Cape Barne beyond, then to turn east along an open crack and follow it to Inaccessible Island. Evans (Lieut.), with Nelson, Forde, and Hooper, left shortly after, similarly equipped, to follow the shore of the South Bay in similar fashion, then turn out to the Razor Back and search there. Next Wright, Gran, and Lashly set out for the bergs to look thoroughly about them and from thence pass round and examine Inaccessible Island. After these parties got away, Meares and Debenham started with a lantern to search to and fro over the surface of our promontory. Simpson and Oates went out in a direct line over the Northern floe to the ‘Archibald’ thermometer, whilst Ponting and Taylor re-examined the tide crack towards the Barne Glacier. Meanwhile Day went to and fro Wind Vane Hill to light at intervals upon its crest bundles of tow well soaked in petrol. At length Clissold and I were left alone in the hut, and as the hours went by I grew ever more alarmed. It was impossible for me to conceive how an able man could have failed to return to the hut before this or by any means found shelter in such clothing in such weather. Atkinson had started for a point a little more than a mile away; at 10.30 he had been five hours away; what conclusion could be drawn? And yet I felt it most difficult to imagine an accident on open floe with no worse pitfall than a shallow crack or steep-sided snow drift. At least I could feel that every spot which was likely to be the scene of such an accident would be searched. Thus 11 o’clock came without change, then 11.30 with its 6 hours of absence. But at 11.45 I heard voices from the Cape, and presently the adventure ended to my extreme relief when Meares and Debenham led our wanderer home. He was badly frostbitten in the hand and less seriously on the face, and though a good deal confused, as men always are on such occasions, he was otherwise well.

His tale is confused, but as far as one can gather he did not go more than a quarter of a mile in the direction of the thermometer screen before he decided to turn back. He then tried to walk with the wind a little on one side on the bearing he had originally observed, and after some time stumbled on an old fish trap hole, which he knew to be 200 yards from the Cape. He made this 200 yards in the direction he supposed correct, and found nothing. In such a situation had he turned east he must have hit the land somewhere close to the hut and so found his way to it. The fact that he did not, but attempted to wander straight on, is clear evidence of the mental condition caused by that situation. There can be no doubt that in a blizzard a man has not only to safeguard the circulation in his limbs, but must struggle with a sluggishness of brain and an absence of reasoning power which is far more likely to undo him.

In fact Atkinson has really no very clear idea of what happened to him after he missed the Cape. He seems to have wandered aimlessly up wind till he hit an island; he walked all round this; says he couldn’t see a yard at this time; fell often into the tide crack; finally stopped under the lee of some rocks; here got his hand frostbitten owing to difficulty of getting frozen mit on again, finally got it on; started to dig a hole to wait in. Saw something of the moon and left the island; lost the moon and wanted to go back; could find nothing; finally stumbled on another island, perhaps the same one; waited again, again saw the moon, now clearing; shaped some sort of course by it – then saw flare on Cape and came on rapidly – says he shouted to someone on Cape quite close to him, greatly surprised not to get an answer. It is a rambling tale to-night and a half thawed brain. It is impossible to listen to such a tale without appreciating that it has been a close escape or that there would have been no escape had the blizzard continued. The thought that it would return after a short lull was amongst the worst with me during the hours of waiting.

2 A.M. – The search parties have returned and all is well again, but we must have no more of these very unnecessary escapades. Yet it is impossible not to realise that this bit of experience has done more than all the talking I could have ever accomplished to bring home to our people the dangers of a blizzard.

Monday, July 3rd – 1911

Monday, July 3rd, 1911

Another quiet day, the sky more suspicious in appearance. Thin stratus cloud forming and dissipating overhead, curling stratus clouds over Erebus. Wind at Cape Crozier seemed a possibility.

Our people have been far out on the floe. It is cheerful to see the twinkling light of some worker at a water hole or hear the ring of distant voices or swish of ski.

Sunday, July 2nd 1911

Sunday, July 2nd, 1911

There was wind last night, but this morning found a settled calm again, with temperature as usual about -35º. The moon is rising again; it came over the shoulder of Erebus about 5 P.M., in second quarter. It will cross the meridian at night, worse luck, but such days as this will be pleasant even with a low moon; one is very glad to think the Crozier Party are having such a peaceful time.

Sunday routine and nothing much to record.

Saturday, July 1st, 1911

Saturday, July 1st, 1911

We have designed new ski boots and I think they are going to be a success. My object is to stick to the Huitfeldt binding for sledging if possible. One must wear finnesko on the Barrier, and with finnesko alone a loose binding is necessary. For this we brought ‘Finon’ bindings, consisting of leather toe straps and thong heel binding. With this arrangement one does not have good control of his ski and stands the chance of a chafe on the ‘tendon Achillis.’ Owing to the last consideration many had decided to go with toe strap alone as we did in the Discovery. This brought into my mind the possibility of using the iron cross bar and snap heel strap of the Huitfeldt on a suitable overshoe.

Evans, P.O., has arisen well to the occasion as a boot maker, and has just completed a pair of shoes which are very nearly what we require.

The soles have two thicknesses of seal skin cured with alum, stiffened at the foot with a layer of venesta board, and raised at the heel on a block of wood. The upper part is large enough to contain a finnesko and is secured by a simple strap. A shoe weighs 13 oz. against 2 lbs. for a single ski boot – so that shoe and finnesko together are less weight than a boot.

If we can perfect this arrangement it should be of the greatest use to us.
Wright has been swinging the pendulum in his cavern. Prodigious trouble has been taken to keep the time, and this object has been immensely helped by the telephone communication between the cavern, the transit instrument, and the interior of the hut. The timekeeper is perfectly placed. Wright tells me that his ice platform proves to be five times as solid as the fixed piece of masonry used at Potsdam. The only difficulty is the low temperature, which freezes his breath on the glass window of the protecting dome. I feel sure these gravity results are going to be very good.

The temperature has been hanging in the minus thirties all day with calm and clear sky, but this evening a wind has sprung up without rise of temperature. It is now -32º, with a wind of 25 m.p.h. – a pretty stiff condition to face outside!

Friday, June 30th 1911

Friday, June 30th, 1911

The temperature is steadily falling; we are descending the scale of negative thirties and to-day reached its limit, -39º. Day has manufactured a current vane, a simple arrangement: up to the present he has used this near the Cape. There is little doubt, however, that the water movement is erratic and irregular inside the islands, and I have been anxious to get observations which will indicate the movement in the ‘Strait.’ I went with him to-day to find a crack which I thought must run to the north from Inaccessible Island. We discovered it about 2 to 2 1/2 miles out and found it to be an ideal place for such work, a fracture in the ice sheet which is constantly opening and therefore always edged with thin ice. Have told Day that I think a bottle weighted so as to give it a small negative buoyancy, and attached to a fine line, should give as good results as his vane and would be much handier. He now proposes to go one better and put an electric light in the bottle.

We found that our loose dogs had been attacking a seal, and then came across a dead seal which had evidently been worried to death some time ago. It appears Demetri saw more seal further to the north, and this afternoon Meares has killed a large one as well as the one which was worried this morning.

It is good to find the seals so close, but very annoying to find that the dogs have discovered their resting-place.

The long spell of fine weather is very satisfactory.

Thursday, June 29th 1911

Thursday, June 29th, 1911

It seemed rather stuffy in the hut last night – I found it difficult to sleep, and noticed a good many others in like case. I found the temperature was only 50º, but that the small uptake on the stove pipe was closed. I think it would be good to have a renewal of air at bed time, but don’t quite know how to manage this.

It was calm all night and when I left the hut at 8.30. At 9 the wind suddenly rose to 40 m.p.h. and at the same moment the temperature rose 10º. The wind and temperature curves show this sudden simultaneous change more clearly than usual. The curious circumstance is that this blow comes out of a clear sky. This will be disturbing to our theories unless the wind drops again very soon.
The wind fell within an hour almost as suddenly as it had arisen; the temperature followed, only a little more gradually. One may well wonder how such a phenomenon is possible. In the middle of a period of placid calm and out of a clear sky there suddenly rushed upon one this volume of comparatively warm air; it has come and gone like the whirlwind.

Whence comes it and whither goeth?

Went round the bergs after lunch on ski – splendid surface and quite a good light.

We are now getting good records with the tide gauge after a great deal of trouble. Day has given much of his time to the matter, and after a good deal of discussion has pretty well mastered the principles. We brought a self-recording instrument from New Zealand, but this was passed over to Campbell. It has not been an easy matter to manufacture one for our own use. The wire from the bottom weight is led through a tube filled with paraffin as in Discovery days, and kept tight by a counter weight after passage through a block on a stanchion rising 6 feet above the floe.

In his first instrument Day arranged for this wire to pass around a pulley, the revolution of which actuated the pen of the recording drum. This should have been successful but for the difficulty of making good mechanical connection between the recorder and the pulley. Backlash caused an unreliable record, and this arrangement had to be abandoned. The motion of the wire was then made to actuate the recorder through a hinged lever, and this arrangement holds, but days and even weeks have been lost in grappling the difficulties of adjustment between the limits of the tide and those of the recording drum; then when all seemed well we found that the floe was not rising uniformly with the water. It is hung up by the beach ice. When we were considering the question of removing the whole apparatus to a more distant point, a fresh crack appeared between it and the shore, and on this ‘hinge’ the floe seems to be moving more freely.

Wednesday, June 28th 1911

Wednesday, June 28th, 1911

The temperature has been hovering around -30º with a clear sky – at midday it was exceptionally light, and even two hours after noon I was able to pick my way amongst the boulders of the Ramp. We miss the Crozier Party. Lectures have ceased during its absence, so that our life is very quiet.

Tuesday, June 27th 1911

Tuesday, June 27th, 1911

The Crozier Party departed this morning in good spirits – their heavy load was distributed on two 9-feet sledges. Ponting photographed them by flashlight and attempted to get a cinematograph picture by means of a flash candle. But when the candle was ignited it was evident that the light would not be sufficient for the purpose and there was not much surprise when the film proved a failure. The three travellers found they could pull their load fairly easily on the sea ice when the rest of us stood aside for the trial. I’m afraid they will find much more difficulty on the Barrier, but there was nothing now to prevent them starting, and off they went.

With helping contingent I went round the Cape. Taylor and Nelson left at the Razor Back Island and report all well. Simpson, Meares and Gran continued and have not yet returned.

Gran just back on ski; left party at 5 1/4 miles. Says Meares and Simpson are returning on foot. Reports a bad bit of surface between Tent Island and Glacier Tongue. It was well that the party had assistance to cross this.

This winter travel is a new and bold venture, but the right men have gone to attempt it. All good luck go with them.

Coal Consumption
Bowers reports that present consumption (midwinter) = 4 blocks per day (100 lbs.).
An occasional block is required for the absolute magnetic hut. He reports 8 1/2 tons used since landing. This is in excess of 4 blocks per day as follows:

8 1/2 tons in 150 days = 127 lbs. per diem.
= 889 lbs. per week, or nearly 8 cwt.
= 20 1/2 tons per year.

Report August_ 4.

Used to date = 9 tons = 20,160 lbs.

Say 190 days at 106 lbs. per day.

Coal remaining 20 1/2 tons.

Estimate 8 tons to return of ship.

Total estimate for year, 17 tons. We should have 13 or 14 tons for next year.

Lieut Bowers and Mr Cherry-Garrard beside their sledge, just before strating for their Winter journey to Cape Crozier.
“Lieut Bowers and Mr Cherry-Garrard beside their sledge, just before strating for their Winter journey to Cape Crozier.”


Tuesday, June 27th, 1911

Quotations on the Flyleaf
‘Where the (Queen’s) Law does not carry it is irrational to exact an observance of other and weaker rules.’ – RUDYARD KIPLING.

Confident of his good intentions but doubtful of his fortitude.

‘So far as I can venture to offer an opinion on such a matter, the purpose of our being in existence, the highest object that human beings can set before themselves is not the pursuit of any such chimera as the annihilation of the unknown; but it is simply the unwearied endeavour to remove its boundaries a little further from our little sphere of action.’ – HUXLEY.