National Geographic : 1959 Jan
ing the hut, and these eight men spent six months sleeping in tents with only the crate as living quarters. It measured 21 feet by 9 by 8. Despite these appalling conditions, the Advance Party under Ken Blaiklock per formed their tasks. When spring came, they had the hut built and soon reconnoitered the first part of the route to the south. Now these hardy veterans would be rein forced with more men, more vehicles, and new stores with which to face the second winter and prepare for the crossing of the continent. Our ship this time was the newly built Danish polar vessel Magga Dan. South Ice, our inland scientific station and advance base 300 miles nearer the Pole, was promptly established by air. We made many flights inland, exploring and naming a num ber of physical features (page 31). The Touchdown Hills, for example, take their name from the time Flight Lt. Gordon Haslop in the de Havilland Otter was flying in bad light conditions and went down to find out the height of the lower clouds. Suddenly the Otter bounded upward as its skis at 110 knots hit some snow-covered hills so merged with the cloud as to be invisible. Fortunately he regained control. Marooned! Ship Leaves, Not to Return When a party is finally left by a ship in the Antarctic, there is a sudden brief feeling of intense loneliness. In our case, perhaps, that much misused word "marooned" could have been applied, for as in the days of the buccaneers we had been purposely set down on a desolate coast, and no ship would return to pick us up again. Our way out lay 2,000 miles across a continent. We turned to the vehicles and dog sledges that had brought us down to the ship and hastened back to Shackleton. So much to do, so few to do it! Sixteen pairs of hands were not enough... Late August, 1957, brought the returning sun, and we were eager to come to grips with what was to prove the worst part of our entire journey across the continent-reconnoitering a land route to South Ice, until then reached only by air. But atrocious weather made traveling impossible until October, in con trast to conditions across the continent where Hillary at Scott Base fortunately could start his spring journeying early in September. It was October 8 when at last we were able to leave for South Ice-David Pratt, Geoffrey Pratt, Roy Homard, and myself, with three Weasels and one Sno-Cat. While we struggled 28 through the crevasses of the Filchner Ice Shelf, our dog-team parties explored the Shackleton Range, to which they were taken by plane (page 42). From beneath us often came startling sounds caused by movement of the ice below. In one crevasse the staccato metallic sound of break ing ice made us liken it to two men building a metal shed in the dark depths beneath. Another, about five feet from our tents, was even louder, sounding as though boilermakers were at work. We noticed that while at night there were a few sudden cracks, the hammer ing increased rapidly with the rising sun, to reach a crescendo at midday, then gradually to lessen and cease by the later afternoon. Vehicles Roped Together Like Climbers After some very narrow escapes, we began driving the vehicles roped together like climb ers on a mountain. Often we also found it necessary to probe ahead on foot. In many particularly difficult stretches, each long and tiring day of prodding took us forward but half a mile. We used thin six-foot aluminum tubes to probe the layers of snow and ice, and assumed the area safe if resistance was still encountered at the full depth of the thrust. Our ice chisels, mounted on solid wooden poles, were used differently. We plunged them downward, butt end first. If they struck a crevasse bridge, it would reverberate loudly, and these we came to call "boomers." Then, with the chisel end, we would cut a hole large enough to thrust one's head, and sometimes shoulders, through the lid to see the width and direction of the crevasse. Hanging head down over a bottomless pit, with sloping blue-white sides disappearing into the depths, can be somewhat alarming especially when you know that very soon you will be driving a three- or four-ton vehicle, together with heavy sledges, over the pre carious snow bridge above the dark abyss. Despite our best efforts and the help of our flyers, who flew reconnaissance and dropped supplies, only two of four vehicles completed the trail-blazing journey, and it took us 37 days and 400 trail miles to reach South Ice. We flew back to Shackleton in 2/2 hours. Nine days later we started all over again! In a radio message to Hillary I said: WE COULD BE UP TO FORTNIGHT LATE ARRIV ING SCOTT BASE BUT WILL ENDEAVOUR REDUCE THIS THOUGH POSSIBILITY REMAINS WE DO NOT ARRIVE TILL 9 MARCH . . . . DELIGHTED YOU HAVE VEHICLES ON PLATEAU AND GOING SO WELL. CONGRATULATIONS FROM ALL.