National Geographic : 1939 Jul
MY FOUR ANTARCTIC EXPEDITIONS Explorations of 1933-39 Have Stricken Vast Areas from the Realm of the Unknown BY LINCOLN ELLSWORTH AFTER embarking on four Antarctic expeditions, I have no hesitancy in putting down the last one, from which I have just returned, as the longest and hardest I have ever been on. While I was cooped up in a tiny cabin just big enough to hold a bunk, a wash stand, and a three-tier bookshelf, with no opportunity for any exercise, not even a bath, my good ship the Wyatt Earp wal lowed and rocked in the trough of one of the wickedest oceans in the world-the Indian. Sixty-five days passed after we left Cape town before we sighted the great ice bar rier of the Antarctic Continent. Of this total of 65 days, 45 were spent in getting through the heavy pack ice. For 13 days at one time the propeller never turned, while we awaited a favorable wind to loosen the pack which held us prisoners. It must have been an exceptional ice year, for during these 45 days we passed through pack ice extending a distance of 813 miles north and south, and much of it was heavy two-year-old ice. Such a voyage with its delays wears nerves down considerably, especially when one realizes that an Antarctic summer is but two months long, and that time for fly ing is only a small fraction of the summer. By the time we got through the pack, we were three weeks too late to attempt the flight I cherished-2,000 miles across the continent to the Bay of Whales-but we did explore from the air, and claim for the' United States, an area almost the size of Nebraska. ANTARCTICA IS TWO-THIRDS AS BIG AS NORTH AMERICA Four expeditions, all told, at a total cost of $400,000-such was the debt incurred. But what about the profit? Now, the sole purpose of all four expe ditions was the exploration of the interior of this great southern continent (map, page 132). "The highest object that human beings can set before themselves is not the pur suit of any such chimera as the annihila- tion of the unknown," said Huxley. "It is simply the unwearied endeavor to remove its boundaries a little farther from our little sphere of action." A continent two-thirds the size of North America-was it mountainous, was it low land, or was it high plateau? Was it a single land-mass, or did a sea level channel connect the deeply indenting Ross Sea on one side with the Weddell Sea on the other? These were the problems that I wanted, if possible, to shed some light on. BROKEN PLANE ENDED FIRST ATTEMPT The object of my first expedition in 1933 was to fly across Antarctica from the Ross Sea to the Weddell Sea and return to my base ship in the Bay of Whales, a total distance of 2,900 miles. After a voyage of 2,500 miles from New Zealand, we had no more than assembled the plane on the frozen bay before the ice broke up and the plane was so badly dam aged we had to return it to America for repairs. Meanwhile it was decided to winter the base ship, Wyatt Earp, in New Zealand pending a decision for the following year. I finally decided to make a one-way flight from the opposite direction; that is, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea, and to camp at the Bay of Whales until the Wyatt Earp could come around and pick us up about a month later.* So the following spring we made the long journey across the South Pacific to Snow Hill Island, one of the three ice-free islands in the Wed dell Sea. But again we were frustrated and never had a chance to get started, for during the three months we waited we had no suitable weather in which to make a trans-Antarc tic flight-only an unbroken period of snow squalls and winds. We had to realize that flying weather in * See "My Flight Across Antarctica," by Lincoln Ellsworth, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for July, 1936; "Exploring the Ice Age in Antarc tica," by Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, October, 1935; and "Conquest of Antarctica by Air," by Admiral Byrd, August, 1930.