National Geographic : 1956 Aug
All-out Assault on Antarctica as to preclude a plane landing either on skis or on wheels. Our findings differed. We flew very low and concluded that the snow surface looked firm enough to land on. This was in dicated by the crisscrossing and fan-tailed form of the sastrugi, or snowdrift pattern. Our homeward flight track shadowed the route by which Captain Scott trekked back from the South Pole in 1912 and perished with his four companions. What changes two generations had wrought! Where Scott and his ill-fated trail mates man-hauled heavy sleds, we rode past at three and a half miles a minute with the security of four engines and magical new electronic navigating equipment. Tea was served at in tervals. Inland Glaciers Have Shrunk At the head of the majestic Beardmore Gla cier, route of both Scott and Shackleton to the polar plateau, we found the mountains bare over broad areas. And from the upper Beardmore, blue ponds, completely ice-free, winked up at us. Many of the bowl-like mountain cirques were empty of ice. Paul Siple agreed with me that these fea tures gave evidence of slight glacial with drawal-or at least snow starvation-in this area. Certainly glaciers here once had greater extent. At 10:30 on the evening of January 8 we landed smoothly at the Hut Point airstrip. In 11 hours and 10 minutes we had flown 2,310 miles. I had never before made a polar flight under such comfortable conditions. Apart from two ranges of mountains found west of the Victoria Land peaks, and other ranges discovered inland from the Weddell Page 168 + Seabees Play Polar Dominoes on a Table of Snow and Ice Deepfreeze huts, designed for 100°-below-zero tem peratures and 100-mph winds, are refrigerators in reverse, keeping heat in and cold out. Skylights are the only windows at Little America. Winter bliz zards will bury the base to the eaves, but furious winds will sweep flat roofs clear until, years from now, snow engulfs all. Silvery structure is an alumi num test building. Helicopter parks on the snow. Before March storms struck, outside stores had to be carefully stacked and marked with flags. Even tually all supplies except fuel were placed indoors or in snow caverns branching from burlap-and-wire walled tunnels connecting the buildings. © National Geographic Society John E. Fletcher, National Geographic Staff Sea, our wide-reaching surveys brought to light no important new land features. What our eyes and aerial cameras mostly viewed was a relatively featureless waste of snow, level or gently tilted over the high heart of the continent, crevassed and splitting into gla cial tongues at the margins. By mid-January the four big aircraft had completed much of the work they came south to do. Furthermore, the frozen runways that had served so well were softening up and cracking. Besides, they lay in the path of unloading operations. On January 18 the planes flew uneventfully back to New Zealand for further staging homeward to the United States. Stubbornly the ice clung to McMurdo Sound, impeding week after week the trans fer of materials for building the Air Operat ing Facility at Hut Point. This "Airopfac" will be the staging base for installation next season of the South Pole scientific station. It also will support the Pole outpost through out the IGY program. But the return of Glacier changed the pic ture. Within two days the rugged ship ground out a 20-mile channel through hard 6-foot ice to within about 10 miles of Hut Point. Captain Maher handled the ship superbly. Icebreakers as Cargo Ferries This pathway, unfortunately, was jammed with ice rubble that would quickly put holes in the cargo ships' thin sides. By necessity the icebreakers became cargo ferries. At the edge of open water the freighters off-loaded onto the icebreakers' helicopter flight decks (the helicopters temporarily perching on the ice). Glacier, Edisto, and Eastwind took turns moving up "the slot," soon hacked out to within five miles of Hut Point. They boomed off their loads directly onto giant cargo sleds lined up on the ice. "The toughest ice operation in polar his tory," Admiral Dufek called it. Fortunately, as the summer waned, the bay ice kept breaking out. Once, within three days, McMurdo Sound sent to sea giant ice pans covering 350 square miles, an area as big as New York City. All of us on board Glacier watched with awe as the ship smashed solid, unbroken ice. Against the sides great blue slabs heaved up on edge (page 170). The undersides of the floes were spread with plankton, brown as peanut butter.