4 – The Journey up the Ferrar Glacier
We loaded the two banana sleds with tents and C‑ration boxes and skis, leaving behind a single part box as a reserve depot and set off up a gentle slope of ice, small snow‑patches and ablation holes. The bare brown mountain‑sides of the Kukri Hills rose about 4000ft on our right a mile to the north with small, steep mountain glaciers descending to join the Ferrar every few miles. On the south bank, the light‑brown rubbly slopes of the Foothills gave way after ten miles to the higher snow‑covered slopes and granite outcrops of the Royal Society Range on the left while ten or fifteen miles up on the left or south side were the jutting cliffs of Cathedral Rocks. It was not however a promising start.
"We will march an hour, and rest five minutes!" said Will, authoritatively, having obviously been reading the Classics.
"Don't be bloody silly," said I. "Straight off the ships, we're not fit, it's uphill and we have heavy sleds. You take more rests going uphill, and less coming down with light loads."
"If you can't keep up you will be left behind!" snapped Smith in true heroic era style.
"Oh God!" thought I, "Now we have the 'March or Die' routine!" and I sniggered a little to myself at the prospect of being left behind by diminutive Smith.
Abandoning thoughts of thumping him on the spot I was contented with remarking "You're not resting again ?" at intervals in the next few days, and singing excerpts from HMS Pinafore, all about "Now I am the Ruler of the Queens Navee." At times it is no small consolation to pour petrol on troubled waters, one always has the option then of tossing in a match to liven things up!.
The trouble of course was that it would never occur to a lifelong Navy Officer that a junior such as myself existed except to do as he was told, whereas I, after some years in this type of country was painfully aware that I was in the company of rank and ignorant amateurs and that I would be held responsible by the guides and climbing fraternity should anything happen to them.
The Ferrar is the most attractive valley in the whole continent. It is relatively narrow so that the steep rock bluffs rise on either hand, it flows only slowly, (a mere fifty feet per year) so there are few crevasses, it forms a curious 'Siamese Twin' with the neighbouring Taylor Glacier about twenty miles up from the coast and the mountains glow in bright colour. As we climbed steadily the great granite bluffs of Cathedral Rocks came ever closer on the south bank and east and down‑glacier of them was Descent Pass, a four thousand foot steepish snow slope down which Armitage had slid out of control after they had failed to find a way to the plateau via the Blue Glacier in 1902.
After two days we came to an immense plain of ice above Cathedral Rocks where the Ferrar and Taylor meet in a 'K' intersection. Ahead the mountains were all of yellow layered sandstone and in front at the junction of the two glaciers rose Knobhead crowned in a chocolate cap of dolerite with rather scree‑littered slopes of sandstone below. At this point the geology changed completely, we left behind the schists, granites and gneisses and passed into the horizontally layered Beacon Sandstones which rest on an old level peneplain surface cut in the Basement complex four hundred million years ago. Another large tributary glacier came in from the left and at its head was Mount Lister, monarch of the Royal Society Range. In 1961 J.Wilson and I were to use this glacier as a route in to make the first ascent.
We had yet another of our disagreements as we stood taking in the absorbing view. Armitage and later Scott in 1903 had both crossed over into the Taylor Valley at this point and ascended the Upper Taylor to the northwest. However, winding southwest around Knobhead was the Upper Ferrar, still virgin and a much more direct route to the Icecap. We were supposed to be exploring, let's get out and explore! I said as much but was loudly over‑ruled. Two years later we dog‑sledged most of the way down the Upper Ferrar, it is in fact the simplest and most direct route leading out onto the northern edge of the Skelton Neve and so onto the plateau, but I don't believe it has ever been traversed completely on the ground, even now.
Miles further on we camped beside rocks on what was undoubtedly a medial moraine coming from Knobhead corner and vanishing off over the brow into the Taylor Valley. So part of the Ferrar ice actually chose to commit suicide in the Taylor Dry Valley rather than go on down its own valley to the sea! Scott never remarked this fact, though Debenham, Wright and Taylor observed it in 1910. We camped in the lee of what appeared to be the identical boulders that Scott had used for shelter fifty‑three years before. They were granite and gneiss with enormous feldspar crystals a handsbreadth long but the rocks upstream seemed to be all sandstone. From what unseen depths did they come?
Beyond Knobhead an icefall from the west marked a pass or short‑cut into the Upper Ferrar and was named 'Windy Gully' by 'The Pilot' (Armitage) in 1902 because of the constant katabatic gale of wind that blows down it. Our anoraks were of poor cut, being too loose fitting with a hood trimmed in, you guessed it, rabbit fur!. Facing that freezing gale was not pleasant at all, I tell you!
A day further on, leaving successively on our left, Knobhead, Rainbow Mountain,( so‑named because of the vivid yellow, orange and brown colours due to baking of the sands by a dike swarm), the Beacon Heights and New Mountain, we came to Finger Mountain, oddly named, though there is a little gendarme on its summit. Two dolerite sills about 800 feet thick each joined in a horizontal 'V' and the Ferrar swings in a right angle bend around this massive obstacle. In the moraines under Finger Mountain I found coal and plant fossils, but it was not until 1961 that I found them in place round the corner. Scott or rather his geologist, Hartley Ferrar also found fossils in these same boulders in 1902, so we already knew that somewhere, parts of the Beacon Sandstone were Permian or about two‑hundred fifty million years in age.
As we toiled up the ice slope at Finger Mountain corner we reached the first great crevasses, at first only a few hundred yards long and feet wide with sagging lids of dirty snow. I whacked at it casually with my old Heavy‑Duty Guides ice‑axe and the snow fell away to show that ten feet down, the crevasse widened to fifteen feet or more, it was what we came to call 'bottle‑necked.' I knelt as in prayer and tossed down lumps of ice which tinkled and boomed off the ice walls for an age but seemed to reach no definable bottom.
Few people are madly delighted at the prospect of stepping however lightly over bottomless holes and I hopped over gingerly to impatient noises from the crew back aft. Without a word I unslung the climbing rope, tied it in the sledge harness and moved out in front, wouldn't do for all three of us to step on a hidden bridge at the same time, now would it? Further up the slope, the bottle‑necked crevasses were even bigger, with massive sagging lids of consolidated wind‑blown drift fifteen or twenty feet across and roughly an inverted triangle in section. The lids weighed hundreds of tons, and as the crevasses were continually widening were not visibly connected to the sides, in fact they seemed to be suspended by faith, hope and charity, the greatest of these being hope. I cleared out another inspection hole and gazed into the blue‑black depths which widened to about fifty feet. It was what Gar Graham, the Franz Josef guide , would have termed a "truly worthy 'ole", he being something of a connaisseur of 'oles. I thumped the lid experimentally. A thing that size shouldn't notice little old me tippytoeing across. On the other hand it might! What about a six ton Sno‑cat? What about another such 'ole covered in a foot of new snow and invisible? How many plugs of gelignite would it take to blow one in?
"Hum!" quoth I, wisely. Smithy made impatient noises.
"Why don't you just walk across it?" he cried. He did not add "You bloody coward!" but it was implied. I deviated a hundred yards to where the crevasse lid was only six feet wide and took two quick steps across, and looked back at my companions. They stood nonchalantly, obviously quite unprepared to check any sudden drop on my part and I damned myself for a fool. The ultimate stupidity is to allow oneself to be needled into doing something totally unjustified and I had just done it. After that I led around the crevasses which slowed progress considerably.
"Let me lead, damn you!" cried Smith, but I simply returned a
"You'll stay where you bloody are!" and dourly pressed on. An essential requirement of such trips is to be physically larger than your companions! Experience was later to prove that these massive crevasse lids would sometimes bear the weight of quite heavy machinery, while some would collapse without warning, as one later did in the 1959 Snocat accident. Once over the crest the crevasses were smaller and snow‑covered but occasionally the ice‑axe or foot found a hole and it was something of a relief to camp under the Inland Forts, a row of bluffs on the north bank. A route for tractors that last stretch wasn't! Camp that night was more silent than usual.
Next day we reached rare agreement to climb a hill to the north for a view of the plateau now only ten miles or so to the west, though the glacier rose in a series of steps and it was rather academic as to just when the Icecap proper could be reached. A few miles further west up the Taylor we came to a steep ice gully leading up between rocks on the north side and forming a way out of the valley and I snicked a row of steps as we cramponed up. After about 500 feet we emerged on a high terrace with slopes leading up to an eminence called "Northwest Mountain ". I detoured to one side to look at the first dolerite rocks we had set foot on and was roundly cursed by my unscientific companions. I suffered this in silence but it crossed my mind that someone sooner or later was going to get a lesson in manners.
An hour later from the summit we scanned the view. Southwest were the Lashly Mountains separated from the main range by a wide flat valley. Cloud partly hid the 9000 foot Mt.Feather which rose to the south, and east of the Lashlys. West was the vast white expanse of the Plateau and the ice terrace down which Scott, Lashly & Co fell on their return in 1903.
North across a major east‑west trending valley was a large shapeless mountain, which we later unofficially named "Mt.Shapeless". Between us and Shapeless a stream of thin ice cascaded over an ice‑fall from the Plateau into the valley. I sketched these in and named them "Wright's Cascades", (now renamed "Air‑Devron Six Icefalls"). Fifty miles to the east, ice could be seen where the valley merged into a depression in the coastal Piedmont which had long ago been named the Wright Glacier and a fifty‑mile long U‑shaped valley linked the two. I sketched in "Wright Glacier". The moral of the story took another 18 months to unfold, but to anticipate, we could not actually see the floor of the Wright for the valley shoulders and in the event it proved to be "dry", the ice cascade from the plateau petering out after a few miles so the "Wright Glacier" eventually became the “Wright Dry Valley". An hour's walk to the valley shoulder and we could have seen all. Assumptions are dangerous! Back at our ice gully, wind drift had filled in my row of steps and Smith descended first, kicking the snow clear, leaning dangerously into the slope as amateurs always do.
"Stand up, for Pete's sake!" I urged. I might have added "and for mine as well", being on the same rope. A high‑speed fall down five hundred feet of ice is humorous only for the spectators. The inevitable happened, an ankle turned, and Smith was away. I jammed the pick into a tiny ice crack and slammed on a belay, Will stopped with a jerk and shot back up three feet as the elastic nylon retracted. I lowered him to a small crevasses, and managed to get him to turn over and get the front points of the crampons hooked in. There followed a couple of hour's step cutting, as I cut down fifty feet, came back, belayed the other two down, cut past them and on another fifty feet. It was a cloudy and cold day by now, and though we paused for a few minutes in the lee of a great sandstone block, there was no rest till we reached our inadequate tents.
"At least you know something about mountaineering!" said Hatherton after we regained our tent, a trifle ungraciously I thought.
I did not even grunt, it had been a reprehensible affair, I might have guessed those little nicks would be inadequate for inexperienced climbers during the descent even without the powder snow. In the mind I saw the mighty staircase that would have been whaled out by Chief Guide Mick Bowie, the deft expertise of Ayres or Peter McCormack, the casual effectiveness of Gar Graham, even Hap Ashurst would have given me one of those quizzical looks if he had been there, no, not much of an effort for one who had aspired to be a guide. Oh well, it had been a good save even if the step‑cutting had been nothing to brag about.
We turned back down the glacier, keeping to the north bank under the Inland Forts, a series of great vertical yellow and chocolate bluffs. When the slope steepened, there was firm snow and we saw few crevasses, but four years later I walked the same path on the ice with J. Wilson, and it happened that that year there was no snow cover over the ice and we found the surface cut by a myriad of small cracks only inches wide, but of unlimited depth so that one walked on mere pinnacles or needles of ice. A fallen fragment boomed and echoed below and it seemed a small explosion could cause the whole glacier to collapse. In 1956‑7 we stepped gaily on all unaware.
Near Corner Mountain we turned south hoping to be now well away from the crevasses we met on the way up but as I prodded I found many holes below to the tune of remarks from Smith about bastards who couldn't lead. The time had come as the Walross said, and without a word I unhooked the alpine rope and passed it over, taking up a position a safe thirty feet back, passing the Alpine corde twice round a good left hand and then round the ice‑axe haft.
Little Willie lasted a clear fifty yards before plunging down the mine. I rammed home a belay and gave a mighty jerk which merely sat him on the lip rather than let him fall to unrecoverable depths. This kindly effort merely brought floods of abuse from Smith, who felt his dignity affronted, so giving him a few feet more slack I waved him on. This time he made twenty feet before plunging into oblivion once more, this time decently out of sight before the belay took hold. I took two turns round the axe and passed the end to Hatherton and moved forward for the recovery operation, but it appeared such aid was not entirely welcome.
"I can get out myself, damn you"! cried our veteran submariner and so far forgot himself as to take a swing in my direction, a difficult feat when one's feet are resting on approximately a thousand feet of air. Snow being brittle stuff all this activity broke away more of the edge and Will dropped a bit further and I stepped back in some haste as he had inadvertently discovered the truly worthiest 'ole imaginable. A good heave and nine‑stone Smith came out with a distinct 'Pop', somewhat paler and much quieter, there being no more remarks about which bastard would lead.
We pressed on dourly leaving Round Mountain behind on our left and I prodded savagely at every step, reflecting that it would be worth a couple of fingers to have had Ayres or Graham or my old climbing partner, Dr F. Hollows on the other end of the line. I though once again of Guide Bowie, with his massive sixteen stone frame, pipe in mouth, bear‑like paw on the rope and his curious cat‑like grace on the mountain, and laughed aloud. Here I was on my own! Heaven knows how many great roofed-over holes buried under the knee-deep snow we passed over, but if crevasses lids feel as solid as rock to a good savage jab with the iceaxe, they rarely give way. Had one done so I might not be sitting at my ease and writing this! Scott went down one and Lashly and Crean were at the end of their tether when they finally got him up again and they were powerful and competent men.
After two hours of this quite dicy going we came out on clear ice and camped opposite Finger Mountain in rising wind which battered on the inadequate Meade tent for the next eighteen hours. Sitting at the windward end for hours, arms hooked over the aluminum A frame to prevent the silly thing being blown away entirely, was not conducive to rest. To this day it comes hard to sleep with Boreas at work, a product of too many uneasy nights in frail tents and under cracking canvas at sea. The sleds were now much lighter and on steeper ice‑slope we even had to brake them from behind. Windy Gully poured out its never‑ending blast and our light and over‑sized anoraks slatted in the wind and I walked with face turned away and partly protected by the inadequate rabbit fur lining and we camped again on ice so smooth it might have been a frozen lake. As the sun vanished behind the mountains and the cold set it, a continuous series of shattering reports like rifle fire echoed, as they had one night in 1902 when Armitage camped on this same spot.
Crossing over into the Ferrar past the line of boulders again, we camped near the Kukri Hills and I collected bags of granite and dolerite. The ice of the Ferrar and Taylor often rises steeply or vertically along the edges above the rock, indeed one geological party was later to spend several weeks on this glacier, without being able to actually get onto the land. Deep cavernous weathering showed there had been no retreat of the ice for thousands of years. When the cloud cleared we pressed on, though our borrowed military crampons repeatedly broke, and in a long two days we reached a point about five miles from the sea where we were to be picked up; that is, as long as Professor Robert E. Forbes was wrong in his judgment of The Navy.
We had been on half rations for some time, and half of a meal consisting of silly little meat bars, crackers, and tiny pots of marmalade like the ones they hand out in aeroplanes is not the best when marching through the Southern Hills. Smith suddenly announced we would go on quarter rations in true "Scott of the Antarctic" style and upon my raised eyebrows, it appeared that there was no spare food or fuel should the helicopter not come. I chewed this one over in some disbelief, one plans these little forays in separate sections, deciding, "What do we do if the worst possible happens at this point ?" About a week's reserve to allow for weather etc., would have been minimal. Smith had a simple explanation, no more "5 in One" ration boxes had been available.
"But why in hell didn't you say so?" I protested. "I had twenty boxes of C‑rations on the Wyandot we could have brought!"
"Because, as in everything else, you're too unreliable!" snapped Will, who was doubtless not used to having his dictates questioned.
"And that," said I, getting to my feet, "bloody does you!" I stepped forward, mayhem in mind. Will retreated. I took another step picking a level patch of snow behind where he could sleep awhile. Smith threw up an arm in defense, his face pale. It crossed my mind that my fourteen stone to his nine was no fair encounter. Hell with it, patience has its limits and Willie had been begging for a knuckle sandwich for too long. I took another step, a pile driver it was to be through guard and all. Then came another thought. Decking the good Commander was news bound to filter back home and then it was likely no Trans‑Antarctic Expedition for me, expedition Leaders being notoriously adverse to people who kick the bejesus out of their associates. It was quite an interesting bit of country even if one sometimes got lumbered with less than desirable companions. Willie stood frozen within reach, arm still raised. I rocked gently.
"You know, Willie," said I. "You talk too bloody much!" and I turned, sat on the sled, picking up my diary. A short calculation showed quarter rations would last six days, but one couldn't walk far then. One day to the sea‑ice, a seal, blubber stoves and seal liver, two days more to the ships, or three to Hut Point. I glanced at the low cloud which meant helicopter flying was unlikely.
"One more day, and then down to the sea‑ice!" I muttered more to myself.
"We stay here!" barked Smith. "Coustanza might not find us if we move".
"Stay till hell freezes if you like," said I genially, "I'll even leave you the tent". One sled, or even my pack, ice‑axe, matches, a tin for a blubber stove, a knife to build a snow wall or snow house if the wind got up was all that was needed. A very fundamental rule is not to get locked into a situation for so long that other options are no longer viable. If we stayed till the food was completely gone, we might be too weak to get down to the ice edge to go sealing even, let alone walking the fifty miles back to the ships which, at that point I anticipated doing in two days at most on a few biscuits and maybe a bit of seal-liver.
No helicopter came and I scrambled up the Kukri Hills gathering marble and gneiss, amphibolite and pink micro‑granite. The cloud still hung low with a cold north‑east breeze but lying in a sleeping bag one could at least write reports and write up the geology. On the 28th of January, the cloud lifted a little and I made ready to leave with a sense of relief as the silence of the bleak hills was becoming oppressive. Besides, it is far more enjoyable to travel fast on one's own than to remain stuck with people one has lost all confidence in.
As I was packing gear however, a buzzing was heard at about 1:30 and a yellow and red chopper was to be seen circling the glacier a mile or two away. We lit two yellow flares , the second of which was seen by the pilots as they were about to give up the search and depart, and within minutes they landed in a whirl of snow. Pilots Jack Bacon and Lt. Alexander were from the "Glacier" and true to prediction, the "Edisto" had been sent to Cape Adare, but fortunately Chuck Coustanza had remembered "A party of guys on the ice" and had radioed Bacon to try and find us. Ex‑paratrooper Bob Forbes was a true prophet!
Shortly after we lifted off, and flying towards Butter Point we passed the bare slopes of the Northern Foothills that rise on the south side of New Harbour which I had seen from the Skymaster. I prodded the pilot and pointed, Bacon nodded and we came in to land and scrambled out onto the dry gravel surface. Well, it was possible! At the foot of the perhaps 2000ft high hills, was a flattened slope ending in a beach that extended from the Piedmont Glacier at Butter Point to the snout of the Ferrar about five miles to the west. Moreover, it was also linked by a quarter‑mile wide belt of old Bay‑ice, that is, sea‑ice which had not gone out for some years, but dirty and thawed with stream channels. On the terrace there was plenty of room to put huts with a little site flattening. One could even make a dirt air‑strip if the ice below failed in the late summer. We had seen that the lower few miles of the Ferrar over which we had flown were very rough but Scott had dragged sledges up, finding the going better under the Kukri Hills. Those thaw streams would need bridging though, in the summer. There is in fact a permanent hut there now in 1989.
We lifted off again and flew back to the "Wyandot", now moored opposite Inexpressible Island. Whales spouted everywhere across the Sound and at one point near the ice‑edge a pod of Killer whales were tearing a seal apart in a welter of blood‑tinted water. Back on board ship I revelled in a shower and two whole plates of ice‑cream after a lovely meal of meat loaf ( or so my diary says, it must have been the effect of quarter rations!)
Only the next day, Cadwallader came aboard, how did the trip go ? Would I join him in a climb of Erebus Volcano, leaving on the 5th of February? It was an enticing thought but enquiry showed that only the "Nespelen" would be still at McMurdo to come home on and she was not planned to leave until the 27th Feb. with a possibility of freezing in. Regretfully I had to decline. Cadwallader later made the attempt, but one of his party collapsed near the summit and he walked alone down the mountain to Cape Evans to call for help!
We were approached by a reporter from the 'New York Times'. He was bearded and chomped cigars and was, oh, so tough! ( but he later showed me his Cashmere underwear!)
"I want a Goddam story from you guys," he growled.
"Isn't much of a story to tell, actually," said I. "We walked for a week up to the head of the glacier, had a look round, and walked for a week back."
"How the hell can I sell that to New Yorkers ?" he snarled, shredding his cigar to confetti. "They want action, dangers, people falling off mountains. Didn't nothing happen? Don't you realise that nobody but nobody else has done a damned thing exciting? What was the weather like?"
"We spent a day in the tent when it blew about 60 knots, and we did strike a few crevasses and holes up near the top, but nothing you would call exciting!"
He waved me away. "Forget it, I'll make something of it!" He must have! Months later I received a letter from a young American woman from New York whom I had met while glacier‑guiding on the Fox Glacier.
"I've been reading about you in the 'New York Times'." she wrote. "Your days on the Fox Glacier must seem very tame compared to fighting up those walls of ice and battling blizzards in Antarctica!"
We had our revenge. A kind of landing barge called an M‑Boat had to go to Cape Evans to pick up a Weasel that had been left before the ice went out and Smith, Hatherton, our reporter and I elected to go. It was midnight, and the sea was freezing in a greasy slick of frazil‑ice and pancakes. We scrambled down the Jacob's Ladder which was sheeted in ice and leapt for the icy deck of the M‑Boat. That is, three of us did! The reporter froze on the ladder and refused to move. The seaman in charge jumped for the ladder and tore him loose and dropped him to me. I passed him onto Smith who threw him in the scuppers.
"Bastards like that should be pushed under the ice with a bloody boat‑hook!" and for the very first time, I had to agree with him.
"Right on, Smitty!" said I thumping his shoulder. "Right you bloody are!"
We landed at Cape Evan and crawled through a window, (the door entrance being iced up, and found the dark interior clear of snow, the wall blackened from coal and blubber smoke. Scotts bunk and table were in their place and Ponting's darkroom, and the pots still hung at Clissolds stove, though the last occupants had been Shackleton's Ross Sea Party in 1914 when the "Aurora" blew out to sea. Her anchors still lay buried in the sand a few yards from the hut, with stranded cable still attached. At the time I wondered where on earth they had come from but later when I was speaking to Mauger in Dunedin who had been "chippie" on board did it come out what they were. It was Mauger who fashioned a new rudder when to old one borke in the ice.
We winched the Weasel aboard the M-Boat and returned to the ship. The frazil-ice spicules were congealing rapidly into "pancake ice", round little floes a few feet across with turned up edges. The sea was freezing fast and the summer season nearly over.
Admiral Byrd was aboard and his son Dickie came to me. "The old man is as mad as hell you haven't visited !" he said. It had not really occurred that it was my duty to visit even Admiral Byrd unasked ! He was a slight, ageing figure being mercilessly made use of for publicity purposes. We had an interesting chat in which he revealed that the long distance photo flights and flag‑dropping was being carried out to forestall any Russian claim to the land. I would have loved to ask him, why in 1929 after flying in the tri‑motor Ford from Little America to the Pole, he had packed up and gone home immediately making no attempt to do a further flight along the Queen Mauds which we had just seen. How could he ignore such a mighty range even though the Pole had more publicity value? But for once I thought I had better be tactful.
My old friend, jovial Paul Siple hovered in the background and was as usual full of new scientific problems and bubbling over with enthusiasm. Had I seen the Brown Id. moraines, where could they come from, with such stagnant ice, weren't they likely to be relicts, thousands of years old? I agreed. We also discussed his "Spin‑axis wobble " program to be carried out at the Pole.
One of the officers on board, Larry Fiske, loaned me a typewriter and made useful suggestions as I laboriously typed out reports. From him I learnt more of problems of radio‑ground when operating on snow. Back at Hut Point, many huts were up and we dined in the new mess‑hall, admired the 100KW Caterpillar diesel generators, talked to Bowers and construction engineers, sketched and photographed huts, foundations and roofs in various stages of construction and returned to the "Glacier" by Weasel, as the "Edisto" was to go home left‑about round the continent, not via New Zealand.
The ship was under orders to sail immediately to Little America, two‑hundred miles east, carrying an Otter ski‑plane to search for another which had been lost, and we rumbled off at full speed, past the fifty‑mile long berg and then following the face of The Barrier. We arrived at Kainan Bay on the 10th Feb., where the ice was only about ten feet above the sea and the crew began rigging a sling to swing the Otter ashore onto the ice‑shelf by crane. I ducked below to get a camera and as I came back to the flight deck, heard a loud "Crash". One nice new Otter lay between the ship and shore, wings and fuselage buckled.
A hail came from the bridge, "Pull it out on the ice!" I jumped ashore and rove a two‑inch line round a ski and lined up some crew and we heaved it clear. She was a sad sight. It appeared the De Havilland lifting spreaders were not aboard and an engineer had been told to make one. It was made of a piece of 4 inch angle iron four feet long, shackled at either end to the two eye bolts between the wings of the plane and to the lifting hook in the middle. Not unnaturally it had buckled.
"You would think," said I scathingly to a crewman regarding it as I took a picture. "That any idiot could have calculated the breaking strain of a piece of 4‑inch angle!"
"I suppose I could have," he muttered glumly. The crashed Otter had been on an unauthorised flight to Kainan Bay and had run into low cloud. Turning back in "whiteout" conditions, the plane suddenly "slowed up and stopped" but unfortunately broke a ski. The crew had no supplies aboard and were uncertain what to do. A surveyor aboard took charge and laid out the direction home with his transit and they all started to walk home, leaving an arrow scratched in the snow! They were picked by a helicopter and the single remaining Otter which flew them back to Little America. Elated, they went into the Base to celebrate and the wind got up and blew the last Otter away!
The Otters had been meant to make the first landing at the Pole though there was a lot of resentment at the thought of using a British aircraft. In the end, the first landing was made by Trigger Hawkes in an old DC‑3 on skis, along with Gus Shinn, Admiral Dufek, Paul Siple, Captain Cordiner and others. It took fourteen JATO bottles to lift her off!
Fritz Goro of "Life" was aboard and we shared photgraphing sessions. An intelligent man, Goro was appalled at the casual way the Navy smashed millions of dollars of equipment they did not have to pay for, a wonderful example of an age‑old human flaw. Goro took literally thousands of colour snaps, but, to be truthful, when they appeared in "Life", their composition could not be compared with the work of Ponting forty years before, with his massive plate camera.
The "Glacier" was perhaps not such a happy ship as the Coastguard "Edisto". Captain Ketchum did not dine in the Wardroom, the Executive Officer was abrasive and not liked and the Chief Engineer did not attempt to tolerate him and had a voice like a base fog‑horn. Mealtimes became uncomfortable. One bad day we sat silently for lunch after an exchange between the two of them and the Filipino stewards placed a plate of soup in front of each officer on the table which extended athwartships with the Exec at the head. At that very moment the ship moved out of the shelter of the pack into open sea and the swell and gave a roll to starboard followed by a mighty heave to port. At least eight plates of soup slid out of control down the table onto the lap of the Exec and faces turned puce in an attempt to control explosions of laughter. As Third said to me later. "It just couldn't have happened to a nicer guy!" Five days later we could smell the dry grass of Canterbury and soon we were back home in Lyttleton, amid colours and smells we had not thought of in three months.
I went to Wellington with my reports which were put to one side. Later Sir Ed was to declare emphatically that neither he nor any other member of the RSC had read them! I also had interviews with the planners of the Expedition and of the new Base but bureaucrats, like politicians, have simple ways of dealing with outside interference, they simply totally reject any contrary opinion or data. I brought up the matter of possible Base sites at the Taylor Valley and Marble Point, but no, the Base was to be at Butter Point. I had come to the conclusion that while the Ferrar Glacier might yet prove useable by vehicles, we had shown the Upper Taylor used by Scott to be totally impassable unless one used a few tons of explosive to blow the holes and bridges in. There was no discussion, the Taylor was the preferred route, though our photos of the steep ice‑terrace down which Scott, Lashly and Crean fell should have convinced anyone. Thirty years later not so much as a ski‑doo has ever used that route. I enthused over the Skelton Glacier as a route to the Plateau, but got the same response. What was the point in talking about some unknown glacier when it was the Ferrar‑Taylor that was going to be used? I trotted out my pictures of American huts, but it had already been decided that an Australian model was to be used. I asked about power generation, it seemed we were going to use six little air‑cooled generators of only 2KW each, three at a time. A mental calculation suggested a maximum of only 6KW.
"But that's pretty low," I protested. "The American huts use about a KW each for lighting alone, and we are going to have six huts and the heater fans and blowers in each hut use at least half a kilowatt without counting the extra power needed in the Science hut, and for local heating like working on machinery when you have to have radiation heaters which you can direct on the job!"
"So what would you suggest!" was the scathing reply.
"Well, I have always noticed that if you want reliability you are better to use a big machine at low revs and well below maximum output and most will last for ever, generators like those 10KW six‑cylinder Listers. Two of them would eat the job!" There was an impatient snort.
"Well, we say you take a small machine and run it at maximum power for efficiency; you don't have to worry about heating machines to work on them, there isn't going to be a workshop, and if you want a kilowatt per hut for lighting then you'll have to stay in the dark!" It later proved that the Enfield generators running at maximum power being air‑cooled (they had overlooked the fact they would be in an insulated building) ran overhot and ran bearings and broke down repeatedly and were hellishly noisy. The sleeping huts mainly stayed dark throughout the winter, and as a garage was essential we built one ourselves out of dunnage.
In 1959 I was back in Scott Base and saw the Enfields rusting out on the dump. In their place quietly thumping away were two nice ... you guessed it... six‑cylinder Listers. The huts were good in most cases, but their flat roofs lifted in gales and they leaked in the summer, no one had allowed for thaw or even rain!
Later when Sir Ed was to claim my reports had never been read, I protested, they must have. Look at our improved down jackets, they followed my recommendations exactly. I read out from a copy of my report on "Clothing ".
"The Everest Down jacket is inadequate as wind blows through seams. It needs a second outer layer of ventile, with a flap over the zip with toggles. The pockets need to be closed. The hood should have a trimming of wolverine fur..."
"See," I said triumphantly, "exactly as I wrote!"
"Never saw it!" said Sir E shortly. "All the improvements to clothing were made from my own ideas!"
Oh well, it had been a nice paid summer vacation so why should one complain? All the same I have never again put in four months hard work to find the results quite so completely wasted.
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