South: the story of Shackleton’s last expedition 1914-1917, by Ernest Shackleton

CHAPTER XIII

The Ross Sea Party

I now turn to the fortunes and misfortunes of the Ross Sea Party and the ‘Aurora’. In spite of extraordinary difficulties occasioned by the breaking out of the ‘Aurora’ from her winter quarters before sufficient stores and equipment had been landed, Captain Aeneas Mackintosh and the party under his command achieved the object of this side of the Expedition. For the depot that was the main object of the Expedition was laid in the spot that I had indicated, and if the transcontinental party had been fortunate enough to have crossed they would have found the assistance, in the shape of stores, that would have been vital to the success of their undertaking. Owing to the dearth of stores, clothing, and sledging equipment, the depot party was forced to travel more slowly and with greater difficulty than would have otherwise been the case. The result was that in making this journey the greatest qualities of endurance, self-sacrifice, and patience were called for, and the call was not in vain, as you reading the following pages will realize. It is more than regrettable that after having gone through those many months of hardship and toil, Mackintosh and Hayward should have been lost. Spencer-Smith during those long days, dragged by his comrades on the sledge, suffering but never complaining, became an example to all men. Mackintosh and Hayward owed their lives on that journey to the unremitting care and strenuous endeavours of Joyce, Wild, and Richards, who, also scurvy-stricken but fitter than their comrades, dragged them through the deep snow and blizzards on the sledges. I think that no more remarkable story of human endeavour has been revealed than the tale of that long march which I have collated from various diaries. Unfortunately, the diary of the leader of this side of the Expedition was lost with him. The outstanding feature of the Ross Sea side was the journey made by these six men. The earlier journeys for the first year did not produce any sign of the qualities of leadership amongst the others. Mackintosh was fortunate for the long journey in that he had these three men with him: Ernest Wild, Richards, and Joyce.

Before proceeding with the adventures of this party I want to make clear in these pages how much I appreciate the assistance I received both in Australia and New Zealand, especially in the latter dominion. And amongst the many friends there it is not invidious on my part to lay special stress on the name of Leonard Tripp, who has been my mentor, counsellor, and friend for many years, and who, when the Expedition was in precarious and difficult circumstances, devoted his energy, thought, and gave his whole time and advice to the best interests of our cause. I also must thank Edward Saunders, who for the second time has greatly helped me in preparing an Expedition record for publication.

To the Dominion Government I tender my warmest thanks. To the people of New Zealand, and especially to those many friends — too numerous to mention here — who helped us when our fortunes were at a low ebb, I wish to say that their kindness is an ever-green memory to me. If ever a man had cause to be grateful for assistance in dark days, I am he.

The ‘Aurora’, under the command of Captain Aeneas Mackintosh, sailed from Hobart for the Ross Sea on December 24, 1914. The ship had refitted in Sydney, where the State and Federal Governments had given generous assistance, and would be able, if necessary, to spend two years in the Antarctic. My instructions to Captain Mackintosh, in brief, were to proceed to the Ross Sea, make a base at some convenient point in or near McMurdo Sound, land stores and equipment, and lay depots on the Great Ice Barrier in the direction of the Beardmore Glacier for the use of the party that I expected to bring overland from the Weddell Sea coast. This programme would involve some heavy sledging, but the ground to be covered was familiar, and I had not anticipated that the work would present any great difficulties. The ‘Aurora’ carried materials for a hut, equipment for landing and sledging parties, stores and clothing of all the kinds required, and an ample supply of sledges. There were also dog teams and one of the motor-tractors. I had told Captain Mackintosh that it was possible the transcontinental journey would be attempted in the 1914-15 season in the event of the landing on the Weddell Sea coast proving unexpectedly easy, and it would be his duty, therefore, to lay out depots to the south immediately after his arrival at his base. I had directed him to place a depot of food and fuel-oil at lat. 84 degrees S. in 1914-15, with cairns and flags as guides to a sledging party approaching from the direction of the Pole. He would place depots farther south in the 1915-16 season.

The ‘Aurora’ had an uneventful voyage southwards. She anchored off the sealing-huts at Macquarie Island on Christmas Day, December 25. The wireless station erected by Sir Douglas Mawson’s Australian Antarctic Expedition could be seen on a hill to the north-west with the Expedition’s hut at the base of the hill. This hut was still occupied by a meteorological staff, and later in the day the meteorologist, Mr. Tulloch, came off to the ship and had dinner aboard. The ‘Aurora’ had some stores for the Macquarie Island party, and these were sent ashore during succeeding days in the boats. The landing-place was a rough, kelp-guarded beach, where lay the remains of the New Zealand barque ‘Clyde’. Macquarie Island anchorages are treacherous, and several ships engaged in the sealing and whaling trade have left their bones on the rocky shores, where bask great herds of seals and sea-elephants. The ‘Aurora’ sailed from the island on December 31, and three days later they sighted the first iceberg, a tabular berg rising 250 ft. above the sea. This was in lat. 62 degrees 44’ S., long. 169 degrees 58’ E. The next day, in lat. 64 degrees 27’ 38” S., the ‘Aurora’ passed through the first belt of pack-ice. At 9 a.m. on January 7, Mount Sabine, a mighty peak of the Admiralty Range, South Victoria Land, was sighted seventy-five miles distant.

It had been proposed that a party of three men should travel to Cape Crozier from winter quarters during the winter months in order to secure emperor penguins’ eggs. The ship was to call at Cape, Crozier, land provisions, and erect a small hut of fibro-concrete sheets for the use of this party. The ship was off the Cape on the afternoon of January 9, and a boat put off with Stenhouse, Cope, Joyce, Ninnis, Mauger, and Aitken to search for a landing-place. “We steered in towards the Barrier,” wrote Stenhouse, “and found an opening leading into a large bight which jutted back to eastward into the Barrier. We endeavoured without success to scale the steep ice-foot under the cliffs, and then proceeded up the bay. Pulling along the edge of perpendicular ice, we turned into a bay in the ice-cliff and came to a cul-de-sac, at the head of which was a grotto. At the head of the grotto and on a ledge of snow were perched some adelie penguins. The beautiful green and blue tints in the ice-colouring made a picture as unreal as a stage setting. Coming back along the edge of the bight towards the land, we caught and killed one penguin, much to the surprise of another, which ducked into a niche in the ice and, after much squawking, was extracted with a boat-hook and captured. We returned to our original landing, and were fortunate in our time, for no sooner had we cleared the ledge where Ninnis had been hanging in his endeavour to catch the penguin than the barrier calved and a piece weighing hundreds of tons toppled over into the sea.

“Since we left the ship a mist had blown up from the south, and when we arrived back at the entrance to the bay the ship could be but dimly seen. We found a slope on the ice-foot, and Joyce and I managed, by cutting steps, to climb up to a ledge of debris between the cliffs and the ice, which we thought might lead to the vicinity of the emperor penguin rookery. I sent the boat back to the ship to tell the captain of our failure to find a spot where we could depot the hut and stores, and then, with Joyce, set out to walk along the narrow land between the cliffs and the ice to the southward in hopes of finding the rookery. We walked for about a mile along the foot of the cliffs, over undulating paths, sometimes crawling carefully down a gully and then over rocks and debris which had fallen from the steep cliffs which towered above us, but we saw no signs of a rookery or any place where a rookery could be. Close to the cliffs and separated from them by the path on which we travelled, the Barrier in its movement towards the sea had broken and showed signs of pressure. Seeing a turn in the cliffs ahead, which we thought might lead to better prospects, we trudged on, and were rewarded by a sight which Joyce admitted as being the grandest he had ever witnessed. The Barrier had come into contact with the cliffs and, from where we viewed it, it looked as if icebergs had fallen into a tremendous cavern and lay jumbled together in wild disorder. Looking down into that wonderful picture one realized a little the eternalness’ of things.

“We had not long to wait, and, much as we wished to go ahead, had to turn back. I went into a small crevasse; no damage. Arriving back at the place where we left the boat we found it had not returned, so sat down under an overhang and smoked and enjoyed the sense of loneliness. Soon the boat appeared out of the mist, and the crew had much news for us. After we left the ship the captain manoeuvred her in order to get close to the Barrier, but, unfortunately, the engines were loath to be reversed when required to go astern and the ship hit the Barrier end on. The Barrier here is about twenty feet high, and her jib-boom took the weight and snapped at the cap. When I returned Thompson was busy getting the broken boom and gear aboard. Luckily the cap was not broken and no damage was done aloft, but it was rather a bad introduction to the Antarctic. There is no place to land the Cape Crozier hut and stores, so we must build a hut in the winter here, which will mean so much extra sledging from winter quarters. Bad start, good finish! Joyce and I went aloft to the crow’s-nest, but could see no opening in the Barrier to eastward where a ship might enter and get farther south.”

Mackintosh proceeded into McMurdo Sound. Heavy pack delayed the ship for three days, and it was not until January 16 that she reached a point off Cape Evans, where he landed ten tons of coal and ninety-eight cases of oil. During succeeding days Captain Mackintosh worked the ‘Aurora’ southward, and by January 24 he was within nine miles of Hut Point. There he made the ship fast to sea-ice, then breaking up rapidly, and proceeded to arrange sledging parties. It was his intention to direct the laying of the depots himself and to leave his first officer, Lieut. J. R. Stenhouse, in command of the ‘Aurora’, with instructions to select a base and land a party.

The first objective was Hut Point, where stands the hut erected by the ‘Discovery’ expedition in 1902. An advance party, consisting of Joyce (in charge), Jack, and Gaze, with dogs and fully loaded sledges, left the ship on January 24; Mackintosh, with Wild and Smith, followed the next day; and a supporting party, consisting of Cope (in charge), Stevens, Ninnis, Haywood, Hooke, and Richards, left the ship on January 30. The first two parties had dog teams. The third party took with it the motor-tractor, which does not appear to have given the good service that I had hoped to get from it. These parties had a strenuous time during the weeks that followed. The men, fresh from shipboard, were not in the best of training, and the same was true of the dogs. It was unfortunate that the dogs had to be worked so early after their arrival in the Antarctic. They were in poor condition and they had not learned to work together as teams. The result was the loss of many of the dogs, and this proved a serious matter in the following season. Captain Mackintosh’s record of the sledging in the early months of 1915 is fairly full. It will not be necessary here to follow the fortunes of the various parties in detail, for although the men were facing difficulties and dangers, they were on well-travelled ground, which has been made familiar to most readers by the histories of earlier Expeditions.

Captain Mackintosh and his party left the ‘Aurora’ on the evening of January 25. They had nine dogs and one heavily loaded sledge, and started off briskly to the accompaniment of a cheer from their shipmates. The dogs were so eager for exercise after their prolonged confinement aboard the ship that they dashed forward at their best speed, and it was necessary for one man to sit upon the sledge in order to moderate the pace. Mackintosh had hoped to get to Hut Point that night, but luck was against him. The weather broke after he had travelled about five miles, and snow, which completely obscured all landmarks, sent him into camp on the sea-ice. The weather was still thick on the following morning, and the party, making a start after breakfast, missed its way. “We shaped a course where I imagined Hut Point to be,” wrote Captain Mackintosh in his diary, “but when the sledge-meter showed thirteen miles fifty yards, which is four miles in excess of the distance from the slip to Hut Point, I decided to halt again. The surface was changing considerably and the land was still obscured. We have been travelling over a thick snow surface, in which we sink deeply, and the dogs are not too cheerful about it.” They started again at noon on January 27, when the weather had cleared sufficiently to reveal the land, and reached Hut Point at 4 p.m. The sledge-meter showed that the total distance travelled had been over seventeen miles. Mackintosh found in the but a note from Joyce, who had been there on the 25th, and who reported that one of his dogs had been killed in a fight with its companions. The hut contained some stores left there by earlier Expeditions. The party stayed there for the night. Mackintosh left a note for Stenhouse directing him to place provisions in the hut in case the sledging parties did not return in time to be taken off by the ship. Early next morning Joyce reached the hut. He had encountered bad ice and had come back to consult with Mackintosh regarding the route to be followed. Mackintosh directed him to steer out towards Black Island in crossing the head of the Sound beyond Hut Point.

Mackintosh left Hut Point on January 28. He had taken some additional stores, and he mentions that the sledge now weighed 1200 lb. This was a heavy load, but the dogs were pulling well and he thought it practicable. He encountered difficulty almost at once after descending the slope from the point to the sea-ice, for the sledge stuck in soft snow and the party had to lighten the load and relay until they reached a better surface. They were having trouble with the dogs, which did not pull cheerfully, and the total distance covered in the day was under four miles. The weather was warm and the snow consequently was soft. Mackintosh had decided that it would be best to travel at night. A fall of snow held up the party throughout the following day, and they did not get away from their camp until shortly before midnight. “The surface was abominably soft,” wrote Mackintosh. “We harnessed ourselves on to the sledge and with the dogs made a start, but we had a struggle to get off. We had not gone very far when in deeper snow we stopped dead. Try as we would, no movement could be produced. Reluctantly we unloaded and began the tedious task of relaying. The work, in spite of the lighter load on the sledge, proved terrific for ourselves and for the dogs. We struggled for four hours, and then set camp to await the evening, when the sun would not be so fierce and the surface might be better. I must say I feel somewhat despondent, as we are not getting on as well as I expected, nor do we find it as easy as one would gather from reading.”

The two parties met again that day. Joyce also had been compelled to relay his load, and all hands laboured strenuously and advanced slowly. They reached the edge of the Barrier on the night of January 30 and climbed an easy slope to the Barrier surface, about thirty feet above the sea-ice. The dogs were showing signs of fatigue, and when Mackintosh camped at 6.30 a.m. on January 31, he reckoned that the distance covered in twelve and a half hours had been about two and a half miles. The men had killed a seal at the edge of the sea-ice and placed the meat on a cairn for future use. One dog, having refused to pull, had been left behind with a good feed of meat, and Mackintosh hoped the animal would follow. The experiences of the party during the days that followed can be indicated by some extracts from Mackintosh’s diary.

“Sunday, January 31. — Started off this afternoon at 3 p.m. Surface too dreadful for words. We sink into snow at times up to our knees, the dogs struggling out of it panting and making great efforts. I think the soft snow must be accounted for by a phenomenally fine summer without much wind. After proceeding about 1000 yds. I spotted some poles on our starboard side. We shaped course for these and found Captain Scott’s Safety Camp. We unloaded a relay here and went back with empty sledge for the second relay. It took us four hours to do just this short distance. It is exasperating. After we had got the second load up we had lunch. Then we dug round the poles, while snow fell, and after getting down about three feet we came across, first, a bag of oats, lower down two cases of dog-biscuit — one with a complete week’s ration, the other with seal-meat. A good find. About forty paces away we found a venesta-lid sticking out of the snow. Smith scraped round this with his ice-axe and presently discovered one of the motor-sledges Captain Scott used. Everything was just as it had been left, the petrol-tank partly filled and apparently undeteriorated. We marked the spot with a pole. The snow clearing, we proceeded with a relay. We got only half a mile, still struggling in deep snow; and then went back for the second load. We can still see the cairn erected at the Barrier edge and a black spot which we take to be the dog.

“February 1. — We turned out at 7.30 p. m., and after a meal broke camp. We made a relay of two and a half miles. The sledge-meter stopped during this relay. Perhaps that is the cause of our mileage not showing. We covered seven and a half miles in order to bring the load two and a half miles. After lunch we decided, as the surface was getting better, to make a shot at travelling with the whole load. It was a back-breaking job. Wild led the team, while Smith and I pulled in harness. The great trouble is to get the sledge started after the many unavoidable stops. We managed to cover one mile. This even is better than relaying. We then camped — the dogs being entirely done up, poor brutes.

“February 2. — We were awakened this afternoon, while in our bags, by hearing Joyce’s dogs barking. They have done well and have caught us up. Joyce’s voice was heard presently, asking us the time. He is managing the full load. We issued a challenge to race him to the Bluff, which he accepted. When we turned out at 6.30 p.m. his camp was seen about three miles ahead. About 8 p.m., after our hoosh, we made a start, and reached Joyce’s camp at 1 a.m. The dogs had been pulling well, seeing the camp ahead, but when we arrived off it they were not inclined to go on. After a little persuasion and struggle we got off, but not for long. This starting business is terrible work. We have to shake the sledge and its big load while we shout to the dogs to start. If they do not pull together it is useless. When we get the sledge going we are on tenter-hooks lest it stop again on the next soft slope, and this often occurs. Sledging is real hard work; but we are getting along:”

The surface was better on February 2, and the party covered six miles without relaying. They camped in soft snow, and when they started the next day they were two hours relaying over one hundred and fifty yards. Then they got into Joyce’s track and found the going better. Mackintosh overtook Joyce on the morning of February 4 and went ahead, his party breaking trail during the next march. They covered ten miles on the night of the 4th. One dog had “chucked his hand in” on the march, and Mackintosh mentions that he intended to increase the dogs’ allowance of food. The surface was harder, and during the night of February 5 Mackintosh covered eleven miles twenty-five yards, but he finished with two dogs on the sledge. Joyce was travelling by day, so that the parties passed one another daily on the march.

A blizzard came from the south on February 10 and the parties were confined to their tents for over twenty-four hours. The weather moderated on the morning of the next day, and at 11 a.m. Mackintosh camped beside Joyce and proceeded to rearrange the parties. One of his dogs had died on the 9th, and several others had ceased to be worth much for pulling. He had decided to take the best dogs from the two teams and continue the march with Joyce and Wild, while Smith, Jack, and Gaze went back to Hut Point with the remaining dogs. This involved the adjustment of sledge-loads in order that the proper supplies might be available for the depots. He had eight dogs and Smith had five. A depot of oil and fuel was laid at this point and marked by a cairn with a bamboo pole rising ten feet above it. The change made for better progress. Smith turned back at once, and the other party went ahead fairly rapidly, the dogs being able to haul the sledge without much assistance from the men. The party built a cairn of snow after each hour’s travelling to serve as guides to the depot and as marks for the return journey. Another blizzard held the men up on February 13, and they had an uncomfortable time in their sleeping-bags owing to low temperature.

During succeeding days the party plodded forward. They were able to cover from five to twelve miles a day, according to the surface and weather. They built the cairns regularly and checked their route by taking bearings of the mountains to the west. They were able to cover from five to twelve miles a day, the dogs pulling fairly well. They reached let. 80 degrees S. on the afternoon of February 20. Mackintosh had hoped to find a depot laid in that neighbourhood by Captain Scott, but no trace of it was seen. The surface had been very rough during the afternoon, and for that reason the depot to be laid there was named Rocky Mountain Depot. The stores were to be placed on a substantial cairn, and smaller cairns were to be built at right angles to the depot as a guide to the overland party. “As soon as breakfast was over,” wrote Mackintosh the next day, “Joyce and Wild went off with a light sledge and the dogs to lay out the cairns and place flags to the eastward, building them at every mile. The outer cairn had a large flag and a note indicating the position of the depot. I remained behind to get angles and fix our position with the theodolite. The temperature was very low this morning, and handling the theodolite was not too warm a job for the fingers. My whiskers froze to the metal while I was taking a sight. After five hours the others arrived back. They had covered ten miles, five miles out and five miles back. During the afternoon we finished the cairn, which we have built to a height of eight feet. It is a solid square erection which ought to stand a good deal of weathering, and on top we have placed a bamboo pole with a flag, making the total height twenty-five feet. Building the cairn was a fine warming jab, but the ice on our whiskers often took some ten minutes thawing out. To-morrow we hope to lay out the cairns to the westward, and then to shape our course for the Bluff.”

The weather, became bad again during the night. A blizzard kept the men in their sleeping-bags on February 21, and it was not until the afternoon of the 23rd that Mackintosh and Joyce made an attempt to lay out the cairns to the west. They found that two of the dogs had died during the storm, leaving seven dogs to haul the sledge. They marched a mile and a half to the westward and built a cairn, but the weather was very thick and they did not think it wise to proceed farther. They could not see more than a hundred yards and the tent was soon out of sight. They returned to the camp, and stayed there until the morning of February 24, when they started the return march with snow still falling. “We did get off from our camp,” says Mackintosh, “but had only proceeded about four hundred yards when the fog came on so thick that we could scarcely see a yard ahead, so we had to pitch the tent again, and are now sitting inside hoping the weather will clear. We are going back with only ten days’ provisions, so it means pushing on for all we are worth. These stoppages are truly annoying. The poor dogs are feeling hungry; they eat their harness or any straps that may be about. We can give them nothing beyond their allowance of three biscuits each as we are on bare rations ourselves; but I feel sure they require more than one pound a day. That is what they are getting now. . . . After lunch we found it a little clearer, but a very bad light. We decided to push on. It is weird travelling in this light. There is no contrast or outline; the sky and the surface are one, and we cannot discern undulations, which we encounter with disastrous results. We picked up the first of our outward cairns. This was most fortunate. After passing a second cairn everything became blotted out, and so we were forced to camp, after covering 4 miles 703 yds. The dogs are feeling the pangs of hunger and devouring everything they see. They will eat anything except rope. If we had not wasted those three days we might have been able to give them a good feed at the Bluff depot, but now that is impossible. It is snowing hard.”

The experiences of the next few days were unhappy. Another blizzard brought heavy snow and held the party up throughout the 25th and 26th. “Outside is a scene of chaos. The snow, whirling along with the wind, obliterates everything. The dogs are completely buried, and only a mound with a ski sticking up indicates where the sledge is. We long to be off, but the howl of the wind shows how impossible it is. The sleeping-bags are damp and sticky, so are our clothes. Fortunately, the temperature is fairly high and they do not freeze. One of the dogs gave a bark and Joyce went out to investigate. He found that Major, feeling hungry, had dragged his way to Joyce’s ski and eaten off the leather binding. Another dog has eaten all his harness, canvas, rope, leather, brass, and rivets. I am afraid the dogs will not pull through; they all look thin and these blizzards do not improve matters. . . . We have a week’s provisions and one hundred and sixty miles to travel. It appears that we will have to get another week’s provisions from the depot, but don’t wish it. Will see what luck to-morrow. Of course, at Bluff we can replenish.”

“We are now reduced to one meal in the twenty-four hours,” wrote Mackintosh a day later. “This going without food keeps us colder. It is a rotten, miserable time. It is had enough having this wait, but we have also the wretched thought of having to use the provisions already depot-ed, for which we have had all this hard struggle.” The weather cleared on the 27th, and in the afternoon Mackintosh and Joyce went back to the depot, while Wild remained behind to build a cairn and attempt to dry the sleeping-bags in the sun. The stores left at the depot had been two and a quarter tins of biscuit (42 lb. to the tin), rations for three men for three weeks in bags, each intended to last one week, and three tins of oil. Mackintosh took one of the weekly bags from the depot and returned to the camp. The party resumed the homeward journey the next morning, and with a sail on the sledge to take advantage of the southerly breeze, covered nine miles and a half during the day. But the dogs had reached almost the limit of their endurance; three of them fell out, unable to work longer, while on the march. That evening, for the first time since leaving the ‘Aurora’, the men saw the sun dip to the horizon in the south, a reminder that the Antarctic summer was nearing its close.

The remaining four dogs collapsed on March 2. “After lunch we went off fairly well for half an hour. Then Nigger commenced to wobble about, his legs eventually giving under him. We took him out of his harness and let him travel along with us, but he has given us all he can, and now can only lay down. After Nigger, my friend Pompey collapsed. The drift, I think, accounts a good deal for this. Pompey has been splendid of late, pulling steadily and well. Then Scotty, the last dog but one, gave up. They are all lying down in our tracks. They have a painless death, for they curl up in the snow and fall into asleep from which they will never wake.” We are left with one dog, Pinkey. He has not been one of the pullers, but he is not despised. We can afford to give him plenty of biscuit. We must nurse him and see if we cannot return with one dog at least. We are now pulling ourselves, with the sail (the floor-cloth of the tent) set and Pinkey giving a hand. At one stage a terrific gust came along and capsized the sledge. The sail was blown off the sledge, out of its guys, and we prepared to camp, but the wind fell again to a moderate breeze, so we repaired the sledge and proceeded.

“It is blowing hard this evening, cold too. Another wonderful sunset. Golden colours illuminate the sky. The moon casts beautiful rays in combination with the more vivid ones from the dipping sun. If all was as beautiful as the scene we could consider ourselves in some paradise, but it is dark and cold in the tent and I shiver in a frozen sleeping-bag. The inside fur is a mass of ice, congealed from my breath. One creeps into the bag, toggles up with half-frozen fingers, and hears the crackling of the ice. Presently drops of thawing ice are falling on one’s head. Then comes a fit of shivers. You rub yourself and turn over to warm the side of the bag which has been uppermost. A puddle of water forms under the body. After about two hours you may doze off, but I always wake with the feeling that I have not slept a wink.”

The party made only three and a half miles on March 3. They were finding the sledge exceedingly heavy to pull, and Mackintosh decided to remove the outer runners and scrape the bottom. These runners should have been taken off before the party started, and the lower runners polished smooth. He also left behind all spare gear, including dog-harness in order to reduce weight, and found the lighter sledge easier to pull. The temperature that night was — 28 Fahr., the lowest recorded during the journey up to that time. “We are struggling along at a mile an hour,” wrote Mackintosh on the 5th. “It is a very hard pull, the surface being very sticky. Pinkey still accompanies us. We hope we can get him in. He is getting all he wants to eat. So he ought.” The conditions of travel changed the next day. A southerly wind made possible the use of the sail, and the trouble was to prevent the sledge bounding ahead over rough sastrugi and capsizing. The handling of ropes and the sail caused many frost-bites, and occasionally the men were dragged along the surface by the sledge. The remaining dog collapsed during the afternoon and had to be left behind. Mackintosh did not feel that he could afford to reduce the pace. The sledge-meter, had got out of order, so the distance covered in the day was not recorded. The wind increased during the night, and by the morning of the 7th was blowing with blizzard force. The party did not move again until the morning of the 8th. They were still finding the sledge very heavy and were disappointed at their slow progress, their marches being six to eight miles a day. On the 10th they got the Bluff Peak in line with Mount Discovery. My instructions had been that the Bluff depot should be laid on this line, and as the depot had been placed north of the line on the outward journey, owing to thick weather making it impossible to pick up the landmarks, Mackintosh intended now to move the stores to the proper place. He sighted the depot flag about four miles away, and after pitching camp at the new depot site, he went across with Joyce and Wild and found the stores as he had left them.

“We loaded the sledge with the stores, placed the large mark flag on the sledge, and proceeded back to our tent, which was now out of sight. Indeed it was not wise to come out as we did without tent or bag. We had taken the chance, as the weather had promised fine. As we proceeded it grew darker and darker, and eventually we were travelling by only the light of stars, the sun having dipped. After four and a half hours we sighted the little green tent. It was hard pulling the last two hours and weird travelling in the dark. We have put in a good day, having had fourteen hours’ solid marching. We are now sitting in here enjoying a very excellent thick hoosh. A light has been improvised out of an old tin with methylated spirit.”

The party spent the next day in their sleeping-bags, while a blizzard raged outside. The weather was fine again on March 12, and they built a cairn for the depot. The stores placed on this cairn comprised a six weeks’ supply of biscuit and three weeks’ full ration for three men, and three tins of oil. Early in the afternoon the men resumed their march northwards and made three miles before camping. “Our bags are getting into a bad state,” wrote Mackintosh, “as it is some time now since we have had an opportunity of drying them. We use our bodies for drying socks and such-like clothing, which we place inside our jerseys and produce when required. Wild carries a regular wardrobe in this position, and it is amusing to see him searching round the back of his clothes for a pair of socks. Getting away in the mornings is our bitterest time. The putting on of the finneskoe is a nightmare, for they are always frozen stiff, and we have a great struggle to force our feet into them. The icy sennegrass round one’s fingers is another punishment that causes much pain. We are miserable until we are actually on the move, then warmth returns with the work. Our conversation now is principally conjecture as to what can have happened to the other parties. We have various ideas.”

Saturday, March 13, was another day spent in the sleeping-bags. A blizzard was raging and everything was obscured. The men saved food by taking only one meal during the day, and they felt the effect of the short rations in lowered vitality. Both Joyce and Wild had toes frost-bitten while in their bags and found difficulty in getting the circulation restored. Wild suffered particularly in this way and his feet were very sore. The weather cleared a little the next morning, but the drift began again before the party could break camp, and another day had to be spent in the frozen bags.

The march was resumed on March 15. “About 11 p.m. last night the temperature commenced to get lower and the gale also diminished. The lower temperature caused the bags, which were moist, to freeze hard. We had no sleep and spent the night twisting and turning. The morning brought sunshine and pleasure, for the hot hoosh warmed our bodies and gave a glow that was most comforting. The sun was out, the weather fine and clear but cold. At 8.30 a.m. we made a start. We take a long time putting on our finneskoe, although we get up earlier to allow for this. This morning we were over four hours’ getting away. We had a fine surface this morning for marching, but we did not make much headway. We did the usual four miles before lunch. The temperature was — 23 Fahr. A mirage made the sastrugi appear to be dancing like some ice-goblins. Joyce calls them ‘dancing jimmies.’ After lunch we travelled well, but the distance for the day was only 7 miles 400 yds. We are blaming our sledge-meter for the slow rate of progress. It is extraordinary that on the days when we consider we are making good speed we do no more than on days when we have a tussle.”

“March 15. — The air temperature this morning was — 35 Fahr. Last night was one of the worst I have ever experienced. To cap everything, I developed toothache, presumably as a result of frost-bitten cheek. I was in positive agony. I groaned and moaned, got the medicine-chest, but could find nothing there to stop the pain. Joyce, who had wakened up, suggested methylated spirit, so I damped some cotton-wool, then placed it in the tooth, with the result that I burnt the inside of my mouth. All this time my fingers, being exposed (it must have been at least 50 deg. below zero), were continually having to be brought back. After putting on the methylated spirit I went back to the bag, which, of course, was frozen stiff. I wriggled and moaned till morning brought relief by enabling me to turn out. Joyce and Wild both had a bad night, their feet giving them trouble. My feet do not affect me so much as theirs. The skin has peeled off the inside of my mouth, exposing a raw sore, as the result of the methylated spirit. My tooth is better though. We have had to reduce our daily ration. Frost-bites are frequent in consequence. The surface became very rough in the afternoon, and the light too, was bad owing to cumulus clouds being massed over the sun. We are continually falling, for we are unable to distinguish the high and low parts of the sastrugi surface. We are travelling on our ski. We camped at 6 p.m. after travelling 6 miles 100 yds. I am writing this sitting up in the bag. This is the first occasion I have been able to do thus for some time, for usually the cold has penetrated through everything should one have the bag open. The temperature is a little higher to-night, but still it is -21 Fahr. (53 degrees of frost). Our matches, among other things, are running short, and we have given up using any except for lighting the Primus.”

The party found the light bad again the next day. After stumbling on ski among the sastrugi for two hours, the men discarded the ski and made better progress; but they still had many falls, owing to the impossibility of distinguishing slopes and irregularities in the grey, shadowless surface of the snow. They made over nine and a half miles that day, and managed to cover ten miles on the following day, March 18, one of the best marches of the journey. “I look forward to seeing the ship. All of us bear marks of our tramp. Wild takes first place. His nose is a picture for Punch to be jealous of; his ears, too, are sore, and one big toe is a black sore. Joyce has a good nose and many minor sores. My jaw is swollen from the frost-bite I got on the cheek, and I also have a bit of nose. . . . We have discarded the ski, which we hitherto used, and travel in the finneskoe. This makes the sledge go better but it is not so comfortable travelling as on ski. We encountered a very high, rough sastrugi surface, most remarkably high, and had a cold breeze in our faces during the march. Our beards and moustaches are masses of ice. I will take care I am clean-shaven next time I come out. The frozen moustache makes the lobes of the nose freeze more easily than they would if there was no ice alongside them. . . . I ask myself why on earth one comes to these parts of the earth. Here we are, frostbitten in the day, frozen at night. What a life!” The temperature at 1 p.m. that day was — 23 Fahr., i.e. 55 degrees of frost.

The men camped abreast of “Corner Camp,” where they had been on February 1, on the evening of March 19. The next day, after being delayed for some hours by bad weather, they turned towards Castle Rock and proceeded across the disturbed area where the Barrier impinges upon the land. Joyce put his foot through the snow-covering of a fairly large crevasse, and the course had to be changed to avoid this danger. The march for the day was only 2 miles 900 yds. Mackintosh felt that the pace was too slow, but was unable to quicken it owing to the bad surfaces. The food had been cut down to close upon half-rations, and at this reduced rate the supply still in hand would be finished in two days. The party covered 7 miles 570 yds. on the 21st, and the hoosh that night was “no thicker than tea.”

“The first thought this morning was that we must do a good march,” wrote Mackintosh on March 22. “Once we can get to Safety Camp (at the junction of the Barrier with the sea-ice) we are right. Of course we can as a last resort abandon the sledge and take a run into Hut Point, about twenty-two miles away. . . . We have managed quite a respectable forenoon march. The surface was hard, so we took full advantage of it. With our low food the cold is penetrating. We had lunch at 1 p.m., and then had left over one meal at full rations and a small quantity of biscuits. The temperature at lunch-time was — 6 Fahr. Erebus is emitting large volumes of smoke, travelling in a south-easterly direction, and a red glare is also discernible. After lunch we again accomplished a good march, the wind favouring us for two hours. We are anxiously looking out for Safety Camp.” The distance for the day was 8 miles 1525 yds.

“March 23, 1915. — No sooner had we camped last night than a blizzard with drift came on and has continued ever since. This morning finds us prisoners. The drift is lashing into the sides of the tent and everything outside is obscured. This weather is rather alarming, for if it continues we are in a bad way. We have just made a meal of cocoa mixed with biscuit-crumbs. This has warmed us up a little, but on empty stomachs the cold is penetrating.”

The weather cleared in the afternoon, but too late for the men to move that day. They made a start at 7 a.m. on the 24th after a meal of cocoa and biscuit-crumbs.

“We have some biscuit-crumbs in the bag and that is all. Our start was made under most bitter circumstances, all of us being attacked by frost-bites. It was an effort to bare hands for an instant. After much rubbing and ‘bringing back’ of extremities we started. Wild is a mass of bites, and we are all in a bad way. We plugged on, but warmth would not come into our bodies. We had been pulling about two hours when Joyce’s smart eyes picked up a flag. We shoved on for all we were worth, and as we got closer, sure enough, the cases of provisions loomed up. Then what feeds we promised to give ourselves. It was not long before we were putting our gastronomic capabilities to the test. Pemmican was brought down from the depot, with oatmeal to thicken it, as well as sugar. While Wild was getting the Primus lighted he called out to us that he believed his ear had gone. This was the last piece of his face left whole — nose, cheeks, and neck all having bites. I went into the tent and had a look. The ear was a pale green. I quickly put the palm of my hand to it and brought it round. Then his fingers went, and to stop this and bring back the circulation he put them over the lighted Primus, a terrible thing to do. As a result he was in agony. His ear was brought round all right, and soon the hot hoosh sent warmth tingling through us. We felt like new beings. We simply ate till we were full, mug after mug. After we had been well satisfied, we replaced the cases we had pulled down from the depot and proceeded towards the Gap. Just before leaving Joyce discovered a note left by Spencer-Smith and Richards. This told us that both the other parties had returned to the Hut and apparently all was well. So that is good. When we got to the Barrier-edge we found the ice-cliff on to the newly formed sea-ice not safe enough to bear us, so we had to make a detour along the Barrier-edge and, if the sea ice was not negotiable, find a way up by Castle Rock. At 7 p.m., not having found any suitable place to descend to the sea-ice we camped. To-night we have the Primus going and warming our frozen selves. I hope to make Hut Point to-morrow.”

Mackintosh and his companions broke camp on the morning of March 25, with the thermometer recording 55 degrees of frost, and, after another futile search for a way down the ice-cliff to the sea-ice, they proceeded towards Castle Rock. While in this course they picked up sledge-tracks, and, following these, they found a route down to the sea-ice. Mackintosh decided to depot the sledge on top of a well-marked undulation and proceed without gear. A short time later the three men, after a scramble over the cliffs of Hut Point, reached the door of the hut.

“We shouted. No sound. Shouted again, and presently a dark object appeared. This turned out to be Cope, who was by himself. The other members of the party had gone out to fetch the gear off their sledge, which they also had left. Cope had been laid up, so did not go with them. We soon were telling each other’s adventures, and we heard then how the ship had called here on March 11 and picked up Spencer-Smith, Richards, Ninnis, Hooke, and Gaze, the present members here being Cope, Hayward, and Jack. A meal was soon prepared. We found here even a blubber-fire, luxurious, but what a state of dirt and grease! However, warmth and food are at present our principal objects. While we were having our meal Jack and Hayward appeared. . . . Late in the evening we turned into dry bags. As there are only three bags here, we take it in turns to use them. Our party have the privilege. . . . I got a letter here from Stenhouse giving a summary of his doings since we left him. The ship’s party also have not had a rosy time.”

Mackintosh learned here that Spencer-Smith, Jack, and Gaze, who had turned back on February 10, had reached Hut Point without difficulty. The third party, headed by Cope, had also been out on the Barrier but had not done much. This party had attempted to use the motor-tractor, but had faded to get effective service from the machine and had not proceeded far afield. The motor was now lying at Hut Point. Spencer-Smith’s party and Cope’s party had both returned to Hut Point before the end of February.

The six men now at Hut Point were cut off from the winter quarters of the Expedition at Cape Evans by the open water of McMurdo Sound. Mackintosh naturally was anxious to make the crossing and get in touch with the ship and the other members of the shore party; but he could not make a move until the sea-ice became firm, and, as events occurred, he did not reach Cape Evans until the beginning of June. He went out with Cope and Hayward on March 29 to get his sledge and brought it as far as Pram Point, on the south side of Hut Point. He had to leave the sledge there owing to the condition of the sea-ice. He and his companions lived an uneventful life under primitive conditions at the hut. The weather was bad, and though the temperatures recorded were low, the young sea-ice continually broke away. The blubber-stove in use at the hut seemed to have produced soot and grease in the usual large quantities, and the men and their clothing suffered accordingly. The whites of their eyes contrasted vividly with the dense blackness of their skins. Wild and Joyce had a great deal of trouble with their frost-bites. Joyce had both feet blistered, his knees were swollen, and his hands also were blistered. Jack devised some blubber-lamps, which produced an uncertain light and much additional smoke. Mackintosh records that the members of the party were contented enough but “unspeakably dirty,” and he writes longingly of baths and clean clothing. The store of seal-blubber ran low early in April, and all hands kept a sharp look-out for seals. On April 15 several seals were seen and killed. The operations of killing and skinning made worse the greasy and blackened clothes of the men. It is to be regretted that though there was a good deal of literature available, especially on this particular district, the leaders of the various parties had not taken advantage of it and so supplemented their knowledge. Joyce and Mackintosh of course had had previous Antarctic experience: but it was open to all to have carefully studied the detailed instructions published in the books of the three last Expeditions in this quarter.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/shackleton/ernest/s52s/chapter13.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29