National Geographic : 1959 Jan
presently we too began to make better prog ress, thankfully completing 32 miles that day after finally being able to drive two or three consecutive miles in top gear. On this day, as well, we regretfully abandoned the Muskeg tractor Hopalong, a hard-working friend whose memorial is an empty sledge and a pile of 14 empty fuel drums at 85° 15' south latitude. From January 6 onward, the dog teams ran with the vehicles, and that day we made 30 howling, yelping miles. During the night of the 6th, John Lewis and his RAF party flew almost over our camp on their nonstop flight from South Ice to Scott Base in the expedition's Otter-the first trans-Antarctic flight ever even attempted in a small single-engine aircraft. The flight had been delayed by weather, and, unaware that this was the day, we were asleep when they tried to raise us by radio as they passed. Ice About 6,500 Feet Thick Our routine called for seismic shots every 30 miles, gravity tests every 15 miles, and the use of the ramsonde-an instrument to measure variations in the hardness of the snow due to the weather of other years-once or twice a day. The ramsonde had an annoy ing habit of getting stuck when driven deep, requiring the digging of a pit to extricate it. A seismic shot on January 9 at a point 240 miles from the Pole showed the ice to be about 6,500 feet thick. As our altitude at this time was 7,850, bedrock must have been 1,350 feet above sea level-lower than in the vicinity of South Ice, so much nearer to the coast. Mysteriously now the dog drivers, Blaik lock and Stephenson, developed a sudden ill ness. Both had severe stomach disorders, nausea, and temperatures of 101° F. We quickly pitched their tent and made them as comfortable as possible in their sleeping bags. During the past days four others had suf fered the same trouble in lesser degrees, and it seemed that some infection was running through the whole party. This was especially puzzling because infections are rare in the Antarctic, and practically unknown among Tractors in tandem haul a foundered mate from the jaws of a bottomless crevasse near Depot 700. Blazing the 1,250-mile trail from Scott Base to the South Pole, Hillary's five-man support team used British-made Ferguson farm trac tors modified with canvas windbreakers around the cabs and endless tracks over the wheels. Locking the steering wheels, drivers maneu vered by braking one track. 40 men long isolated from the outside world. Later all the rest except Ralph Lenton and myself fell ill with the same complaint. All recovered. We never did learn the cause. On January 15 we abandoned Hal Lister's Weasel, transferring his glaciological gear to Rock 'n Roll. We now had four Sno-Cats and one Weasel. We had taken to traveling by sun compass, for the magnetic compass was already showing some sluggishness. On the morning of January 17 two Ameri can planes flew over. By radio we learned that they carried Ed Hillary, Rear Adm. George J. Dufek, commander of the United States Navy's Operation Deep Freeze, and John Lewis, his trans-Antarctic flight success fully completed. With them, to our consider able surprise, was a posse of reporters. Suitably impressed by this advance recep tion committee, we made 30 miles that day, and then, on Sunday, January 19, we began our last run of slightly more than 32 miles to the South Pole. We had come approxi mately 900 miles from Shackleton Base since our departure almost two months before. Traveling well over soft, smooth snow, we topped a snow ridge, and suddenly there it was-a small cluster of huts and radio masts: the United States Amundsen-Scott IGY Sta tion at the South Pole.* * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Man's First Winter at the South Pole," April, 1958, and "We Are Living at the South Pole," July, 1957, both by Paul A. Siple.