National Geographic : 1938 Aug
OUR SEARCH FOR THE LOST AVIATORS from Spitsbergen, Greenland, Fridtjof Nan sen Land (Franz Josef Land), New Si berian Islands, and Wrangell Island. I might mention in passing that the real objective of the submarine expedition under the Arctic ice, which I hope to carry out, is to provide with that submarine comfort able living quarters and a mobile base for scientists who will later maintain a weather forecasting station between Point Barrow and the North Pole, an area where there are no islands. A TROUSER TRAGEDY Continuing bad weather marooned us at Coppermine, and, while overhauling the plane, Al Cheesman spoiled his fur trousers with oil. But the corporal of police saved the day by selling Al his only pair, and chilled his legs in woolen pants until new fur ones could be made. On August 28 our reports predicted bad weather over the Arctic Ocean, but fairly clear conditions as far north as Prince Patrick Island. I decided to fly as far north as possible, land, and await clear con ditions. With our short-wave radio in the plane we could receive weather reports direct. We took off and made two landings, once being forced to move when a shift in the wind drove drifting ice toward us. With better weather indicated to the north, we flew out over the ice, but found that while the sky was fairly clear of clouds, low, thick fog-mostly the product of frost smoke from the open water between the floes-hid the ice from our view; so we re turned to Coppermine. On our three flights we had covered a flying distance of over 5,000 miles, but more than half the distance had been flown over clouds or in fog. There were five of us in the machine, all keeping a keen lookout whenever con ditions were favorable. I spent most of my time in the navigator's cockpit at the nose of the machine, wearing four-power spectacle binoculars. When any dark ob ject or anything suspicious was observed, I would use a high-powered set for close inspection. If we had sighted the missing men, we had food, fuel, and a radio ready to drop to them on parachutes. Then, if possible, I would have landed and picked them up at once, for they might be carried far away on the drifting ice before a rescue ship could reach the point where they first were seen. Navigation over the ice proved difficult, because of the erratic behavior of our four compasses, frequent clouds, and varying winds. Sometimes the compasses would set up a swinging motion, and when we took the readings, each would give a different one, sometimes differing as much as 40 degrees. This was partly because of the nearness of the North Magnetic Pole, which was only about 600 miles away, and partly, I think, because of vibrations set up in the plane. We had been using a gasoline supply of the Royal Canadian Air Force, deposited at Coppermine for just such an emergency, but since our plane burned about 75 gallons an hour, the supply was soon used up. Therefore, I decided to move our base to Aklavik (page 155), about 600 miles west of Coppermine. At Aklavik the timber extends north almost to the Arctic Ocean, so the town, although more than 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle, lacks the appearance of being in the Arctic. Spruce trees grow to a height of 50 to 60 feet, while larch and willow and many other shrubs line the river banks. Aklavik is on the flat Delta of the Mac kenzie, one of the world's great rivers, which flows north into the Arctic Ocean.* The village is on a bend of the westernmost of the Mackenzie's four main mouths. The houses of the village, scattered along the river bank, present a frontage as im posing as that of a good-sized provincial town. There are two large mission sta tions, both equipped to accommodate some 200 or more pupils. SCHOOLS, BUT NO JAIL The Eskimo and Indian children live in dormitories, attending school about four or five years. They learn domestic science and other things useful in their way of life. The hospital has the most modern equipment, except for lack of running hot and cold water. Since there is no jail, an Eskimo serving a life sentence for murder was confined in the hospital. Every day he was taken about the village for exercise by a police man, always over the same route. While we were there the Governor General of * See "On Mackenzie's Trail to the Polar Sea," by Amos Burg, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, August, 1931.