5 – Training on the Tasman Glacier, 1956
In the Fall of '56 we lived in Dunedin and I worked on completing a Masters degree at the University. There had been a great deal of publicity given to Operation Deepfreeze 1 and I had constant calls to give talks along with slide shows on the Antarctic. As the Expedition was trying hard to raise money, when asked I automatically accepted, in any case sometimes one was given a free dinner! Some were to professional groups like The Alpine Club, or branches of the Antarctic Society, or Rotary, some were to annual Dinners of various other groups, I remember The Optomists Club especially, because of their quiet conviviality. As our ship pulled away from the dock nine months later I was to hear a voice in the crowd call "Be an Optomist!"
Others were annual "Dinners for Husbands" from various women's groups, such as the Presbyterian Women's Guild. I soon learnt not to show suburban audiences stark pictures of mighty mountains, as they obviously meant absolutely nothing, whereas impressed "Aahs!" were heard at the sight of a husky pup, or a group of penguins or perhaps of a baby seal.
It was wonderful training in public speaking. I slowly learnt to keep it short, to be amusing, to speak plain English in a manner that up to a thousand people in a hall could hear, even not to accidentally drop the occasional expletive. When one is still embarrassed by an audience one is not too conscious of what one is saying and the tendency is to revert to the language that might have been used on the actual occasion.
Universities, at least in New Zealand, give absolutely no training in speaking or lecturing, not even in how to use the English language, and on graduating one is likely to be precipitated into situations for which one has simply not been prepared. Within a few years of graduating I was to find myself having to explain to a Prime Minister what uranium ore was, to Prince Philip what scientists could do in the Antarctic, to President Nixon (before he was President) why the United States needed a second Panama Canal. Looking back, New Zealand never did anything with it's uranium deposits at the U.S. never built second canal so I cannot have been very persuasive at that time.
To be able to speak easily while standing in front of a large crowd becomes quite effortless only after much practice which is just what these sessions gave. In later years when doing the same thing in front of Annual General Meetings of the American Geophysical Union or similar groups in Washington,DC, I had an enormous advantage over the thousand‑odd other delegates, in a word, practice.
Sometimes one journeyed to another city and stayed in a cold little hotel, to find six people at a meeting which had not been advertised. Or, one might be picked up by delightful people and privately entertained, then talk to five hundred or more at a well‑organised meeting, with informed people. They varied enormously but slowly money for T.A.E. rolled in. An inevitable question always asked was, "What use is crossing the Antarctic going to be?" and the first time it was asked I was taken aback all standing. After that, I was prepared.
"We simply can't afford to know so little about one of our five main continents, one as big as Australia!" I would say. "It contains 80% of our fresh water, and largely controls our climate. The world's population is now four billion and will reach six billion by the end of the Century, and is growing out of control, we must know what resources the Antarctic contains! It is ironic that we actually know more about this side of the moon than we do about one of our own major continents..." And so on ... There is a story which is almost believable of one of our speakers being asked "How many sheep to the acre can you run down there"!
At one lecture another question took me aback. A short, stocky dark-haired and fit-looking girl stood up. I later found she was a keen skier and had done some mountain climbing.
"When are you going to start taking women down with you?" she asked.
This was in pre-feminist days and the question was so surprising that I must have stared for at least a minute. My instinctive reply would have been "What on earth use would women be?" which even to me did not seem overly polite. I finally muttered something to the effect that all exploration involved a lot of very heavy physical work but it was something that would probably come, (as it does in all mining camps and other frontier situations). It eventually happened that I was responsible for first allowing women to be sent to the Antarctic, the wisdom of which I still have my doubts about.
I was in Washington,D.C. at the end of a conference in about 1965 and our baggage was stacked in the foyer. I came to claim my bags and found a fairish and undoubtedly overweight female sitting on them.
"Are you Doctor Gunn, I really must have a word with you!" she said urgently. It turned out her name was Lois Jones, she was a research assistant at Ohio State University which had been sending parties to the Antarctic every year while Lois stayed behind and did all the analytical work and isotope work on a mass spectrometer. In other words, the boys had all the fun and Lois had all the grind.
She had applied to go down herself, (this was in about 1965) and Ohio State agreed but the U.S. Navy did not. They finally decided that the decision would have to be made by an independent outsider, ie, me! Lois was trying to get in some preliminary lobbying.
I wrote the U.S.A.R.P, (Antarctic Research Program) a report in which I said that in view of the large contribution she had made to Ohio State publications on Polar matters, she deserved to go. I also pointed out that as there was now a good hut at Lake Vanda and transport would all be by helicopter, no great exertion would be required but that I had reservations about her physical fitness.
Her application involved four or five females. I suggested that this was weak, that two women and two men would be better, "if the U.S. Navy are prepared to accept a mixed sex party!" They were not. Lois went with her female associates and spent a few weeks at Vanda station and five of them became the first women to be flown into the South Pole as you may see in the Guiness Book of Records. Now I have been to the South Pole two so how is it I am not there too? Sexism obviously!
At the next conference in Atlanta a young PhD student came up to me.
"Damn you, Dr Gunn!" he said without marked rancour! "You sent my wife to the Antarctic and I haven't seen her in three months. Boy, I hope for your sake she comes home!"
The flood gates opened and every feminist world-wide screamed sexism, racism etc if they were refused an expensive three month Antarctic trip. It is a age-old desire of unmarried females to be where the boys are and in many I have met, there is no question this was the dominant urge. I later asked Linc Washburn's (the Glaciologist) wife what was her opinion as she had wintered with Linc in Ellesmere Land in an igloo, and she put he reply in quite basic terms.
"The question is, what kind of woman do you send?" she said. "It is impossible to have a woman for each man, if she is the kind that shares around you will get the men killing eachother. If she doesn't then you have to judge her on whether she is as good as a man, ie, can she take a tractor down to the dump in the middle of winter, dig out a fuel drum and bring it back? Most couldn't so the men are going to resent carrying them."
Many an older miner has complained to me about what a great place Kirkland Lake (or wherever) was until the first woman appeared.
"Goddam it!" said one. "First off they complain about all the mud and we gotta have boardwalks. Then they complain if a man ties one on and shoots out a few windows and stove pipes. Pretty soon you can't even see a bear on the main street, they complain the children might get hurt. Next thing you know they want to close down the whore-houses and build a church. Only one thing left to do, go find another mine!"
Women did in fact bring the Antarctic as an adventure training ground for young men to end. If they were not included in a field party they claimed it was sexism. This meant that most field parties were restricted to what the physical limits of a 18-year-old female were and these are a long way below those of an 18-20-year old male. So all field parties began to move only by helicopter and short distances by ski-doo and no new mapping was ever attempted after about 1975.
"Treat me just like one of the men!" said one in 1986. So I did. When she swore at me, I made my usual reply:
"If you ever swear at me again I am going to treat you like one of the boys and stuff you down that tide crack over there". She reacted like most feminists, she burst into tears, rushed to the base leader, threw her arms round his neck and wept, "Protect me!"
He raved and threatened to send me home. "OK, I said, "If you want headlines in the newspapers round the world 'Old Byrd-era explorer says feminists now dominate Antarctic bases', go right ahead!"
He gave in but I found total obstruction against going a few miles up the coast to look at seals, even to walk across the tide crack to our old dog lines. It seems it was not regarded as safe for the females about the place so I could not be allowed either or the cry of "sexism" would go up. Some of the girls were totally promiscuous and spread STD about, and altogether the old atmosphere of cameradie had totally gone. Once our other men were judged on their wit, courage, sense of duty. Now most sat around sullenly and drank heavily.
One night I took over firewatch from one of the feminist brigade and in short order found garage doors open to any sudden blizzard, a pump station where the tie-down turnbuckles had come undone so that it could be blown away, a leak in a high pressure pump gland so that a generating hut was 4in deep in water and a glacier building up below and other problems. I routed out engineers and we worked all night. Far from earning thanks, this earned some undying hatred from some quarters.
The next day I suggested to the base leader that it was pointless putting girls one firewatch if they had absolutely no mechanical sense, and again he raved about "You don't understand the adverse publicity that could generate!" Apparently it was
more desirable to have buildings blown away or flooded than to have Bad Publicity.
Murphy's second corollary to the third Law (I think) states "Every problem solved creates a new unsolvable problem!" and so it was in this case. I meant well but I think I destroyed the old Antarctica, much as Sir E's Himalayan schools have destroyed the old, viable Sherpa culture. Our urge to Missionise is a fatal one, leave well alone that which works! Fortunately all these problems were twenty years in the future and in 1956 we were blithely unaware!
However at one point, I think in 1956 an American civil plane flew down to McMurdo and brought four American air hostesses. The Americans wanted to put them on display and make a big publicity thing out of but found to their surprise that most of the men would not turn to look at them and in fact resented their being there. George March was asked to put on a dog sled race for their benefit, but George went very English and curtly refused.
"Why not George? I asked. He slowly and deliberately took his pipe from his mouth.
"Bernie! I have been training those dogs for two years for some serious Antarctic work. If you think I am going to risk a dog fight to entertain some stupid females so that some appalling newspaper man can get a publicity shot ------!" and I apologised quickly.
Scraps of news filtered down from Wellington in the fall of '56, Harry Ayres had brought dogs back from the Australian base at Mawson, our two experienced drivers had arrived from England and were training the dogs at the Hermitage, our de Havilland Beaver aeroplane had arrived from Canada and so on.
In August of 1956 there came instructions for me to go to the Hermitage to join other Expedition members for some training over the Spring Vacation. The Hermitage is a delightful place in spring with the mountains deep blanketed in snow to the valley floors. Tania and I drove our small car to Unwin Hut and I reached Ball Hut next day by Hermitage bus where we were to be met by some of the dog teams who would come down from Maltebrun Hut tens miles further up the Tasman. With Guy Warren, another geology graduate from Canterbury and others, we walked down the moraine bank and kicked on ski to langlauf out to the medial moraine. It was a brilliant mountain day, the gleam of snows, barred blue with ice and streaked black with rock reaching to the sky on all sides. Crests of great mountain ridges stood jagged against the blue, it was a magnificent setting to begin any adventure. A solitary figure sat on a great rock on the moraine and gave a hail. I kicked off skis and saw a lean, hard man of medium height and brown of face dressed in a worn khaki anorak.
"Richard Brooke, at your service!" he smiled stretching out a hand. He spoke in a quite hearty but impersonal manner as I found he always did.
"You must be Gunn, this is George Marsh!" waving to a new figure which appeared from nowhere, dressed in mukluks which reached the knee, ski trousers and a Norwegian ski‑jersey.
"Delighted!" murmured an impeccable upper class British accent. "Shall we go? Come with me, throw your pack on the sledge. Richard, will you take Warren? Come on dogs, Dogs! Huit! Huit! Rrrrrrr! Huit I say!" and with similar cries, shouts and exhortations, nine dogs swept round and scampered off up the glacier. The Nansen sled was lighter than the ones used by the Americans and the pace by contrast was absolutely tumultuous and I clung to the handlebars in an effort to remain upright on ski
while being towed at an alarming rate up hill and down dale, or rather, over hummock and hollow.
"Ski‑walk, ski‑walk!" cried Marsh as the grade steepened and I found that while one might be simply towed down hill or even on the flat, one ski‑walked up hill or on difficult going to reduce the load on the dogs. Normally one held onto a short handline from the front of the sledge with the outer hand, and onto the handlebar with the other, and half walked and half slid the skis along. It was about a quarter as tiring as running alongside and in fact one could keep it up for forty miles without too much strain. Soon I was enjoying it, we flew along with only a light load, though the dogs seemed to have ideas of their own of exactly where we were going. The Tasman Glacier rises gently, we rounded de la Beche Corner and within a couple of hours we were below Malte Brun Hut high above on the right. Here the dogs were taken off the main trace and spanned to wire lines in the snow and Marsh ran about tethering dogs and removing harnesses which were hung over a handlebar. His conversation was almost entirely on dogs.
"No, no! We can't tether Spot alongside old Porridge, they fight, you know." Brooke and Warren soon arrived and we kicked up nearly a thousand feet of snow to Malte Brun Hut where I had stayed many times in the past when climbing in the Central Alps.
George Marsh was at once one of the most likeable and entertaining men on the expedition. Behind the polished and urbane exterior however, lurked an unsuspected ambition, to better the famous sledging feat of Roald Amundsen who journeyed from the Bay of Whales to the Pole and back via the Axel Heiburg Glacier in 1910‑11 with Hansen, Wisting and Harre at the remarkable average of 20.8 miles per day, arriving at the Pole a month before Scott. A graduate of Guys Hospital in London and one time Leader of the Hope Bay Base in Graham Land, medicine held few attractions for George; burnt into his soul was the magic number 20.8. He had carried out some notable dog sledge journeys on the Filchner ice shelf but had yet to better Amundsen's record. Later he was to mount a mahogany plate above his bunk into which were burnt the aphorism of Amundsen:
"Success is certain for him who has taken every precaution,
Good Luck, people call it.
Failure is certain for him who has not.
This is called bad luck!"
but in the end of course, even Amundsen's luck ran out and he vanished without trace. Good you may be, but one still must have Luck, I was later to conclude, but if you are not good, you may need a great deal more! Both our dogs and the methods of driving them had a long history. Gino Watkins of Oxford University made a journey by dog sledge in Labrador in 1922 and later led three expeditions to East Greenland, so while their dogs used in Greenland came from West Greenland, Watkins continued to use the Labrador Eskimo words of command. He trained many well known Polar men, John Rymill, Hampton, Quentin Riley, Spenser Chapman, Bishop Fleming and others and after his death while kayaking, the Australian, Rymill lead the planned expedition to South Georgia.
Rymill trained an equally famous group, Bingham, Ray Adie, Duncan Carse, the Ryder brothers and later many another well‑known name passed through when Bingham took charge of a permanent exploration group known as FIDS, the Falkland Islands Dependency Survey. As well as Butler, Kevin Walton, Brian Roberts (of the Scott Polar Institute), Ray Adie, Bunny Fuchs and others, one of the men to play a prominent part was Dr George Marsh. The result of this is that when I drive dogs I use Labrador Eskimo words, because the Eskimos taught Watkins, who taught Rymill who taught Bingham who taught Kevin Walton and Butler who taught Marsh who taught me! George swore he could recognise in our dogs the descendants of those he drove at Hope Bay!
Marsh, from my point of view, had one appalling weakness, he lived for dog‑sledging alone and burnt on his soul were the magic words "20.8 miles per day!" Two years later with Sir J Holmes Miller he covered some 2300 miles at an average of about 23 miles per day and retired to England to a marriage, a post with the Health Service and a husky which towed his bicycle to commands spoken in Labrador Eskimo! I think George actually rather preferred sledging out on the boring Ice Shelf rather than amid mountains, because one could make a better daily average!
Richard Brooke (or, Brookes, as we often labelled him) was a very different personality. He was a Lt. Commander in the Royal Navy and though he had nominally been at sea since the age of fourteen, he had managed to get on a surprising number of expeditions, including two winters on the British North‑East Greenland Expedition with Major Mike Banks. He had also been south to Graham Land on the supply ship "John Biscoe" which we had acquired and renamed the "Endeavour". He was a keen mountaineer and had climbed in the Alps and Pyrenees and at that point was rather better than me on rock but not so good on snow so we formed a good team. Diffident to the point of shyness, it always seemed something of an impertinence to address him by his first name and to shorten it to "Dick" would have been unthinkable. We soon dropped into a working partnership where it was rarely necessary to speak and whatever the emergency, Brooke could be relied on to do the right thing without hesitation, and what more can one ask? His judgment in the field was impeccable, he could be daring and would push to the limit of prudence but was never foolhardy, I tended to set my margins of safety a little finer at times.
Of the thirty‑odd mountains we were to climb together, there were few where his photo‑theodolite was not carried, a virtue I had my doubts upon at times as I sometimes had to carry the wooden legs, but more often another member of our group, Murray Douglas, the powerful Hermitage guide, took on this task. To survey an area of new country, Brooke was prepared to travel hard, perhaps harder than any polar explorer before or since. The era of the aeroplane‑supported dog‑sledding exploration party was to last only from 1920 to 1965 and Brooke was perhaps its most outstanding proponent but it goes without saying, in view of his modesty, that he remains entirely unknown except among the select few and the value of his work is unrecognised.
The very next day, Brooke and I set off on a training run on the glacier in knee‑deep snow. The dogs were immense in comparison with the light New England breed used by the Americans, they could plonk their large feet on your shoulders and lick your face which, given a chance they would do with enthusiasm. It must have taken an hour to get away from the dog‑lines, an hour of hauling them back into line, untangling traces and breaking up fights which broke out whenever the dogs felt bored or irritated which two emotions are dominant 80% of the time. There were nine dogs, eight in pairs and the ninth as leader in front.
"I think we should try Fido as leader," said Richard after an hour or two, and a large black and white, bearlike dog was moved to the front. Lead Fido did, magnificently for years to come. Backed up by his equally magnificent half‑brothers, the red‑brown and white Dismal and the wolf‑grey and white Joe, Fido became that dream of the sledger, a dog who quickly works out that you are aiming for that point twenty miles up the coast and thereafter needs no guiding, trotting towards it all day, weaving amongst pressure ice and wending round ice‑bergs but always towards the objective. Fido's ability to find the best trail on sea‑ice or on the Ice‑cap was second to none, he would lead down tongues of snow on glare ice and seemed to be able to sense crevasses below. As he grew old his magnificent fur thinned and he felt the cold and in difficult going he was replaced by the younger Dismal, but when discernment was needed, Fido took the lead again. He died on the Polar Plateau near the Axel Heiburg Glacier in 1962 when driven by Wally Herbert. I have never met Herbert and do not particularly care to. While on the Tasman the results of training was not greatly encouraging, the dogs did not like the warm days and lay about panting in the snow even with a light load. Richard insisted that in the Antarctic cold they would move a thousand pounds with no trouble but one could not but be a little sceptical. Slowly I began to learn a little about their psyche of the sledge dog who seem to have very simple moral principles, rather like the Laws of Robotics. Approximately, sledge dogs observe the following:
(1) A good sledge dog works till he drops, give a modicum of food.
(2) No sledge dog will ever attack a bitch, even if she, carried away in the excitement of a mass battle, sinks her teeth into an exposed rear‑end.
(3) No sledge dog would ever chastise in any way a puppy, even one currently sinking needle‑like teeth into an ear, or stealing a favoured lump of blubber. (4) When a three‑quarter‑grown dog needs putting in his place, it will be done by a shoulder charge, not teeth.
(5) If an adult dog pinches your pet piece of seal, kill him, if you can get in quick enough.
(6) Never, never bite the Boss, even if he is standing to the waist in a furious snarling melee. If you do by accident, apologise.
(7) Never hold grudges against the Boss, even if he has just beaten the tar out of you, you probably deserved it.
(8) If the Boss ever loses his footing and falls over, we‑ell, who knows? After all , how can one respect a Boss that falls over?
(9) If a King Dog gets tangled in a trace or three or four of you can catch him at a disadvantage, get the B ‑ .
(10) If the Boss pets another servile, ingratiating, boot‑licking member of the team more than you, kill the miserable apology for a spaniel!
We did manage a little fun on the side, taking the dogs up the glacier to the foot of Elie de Beaumont, spanning them out and going on ski on up to the bergschrund, with a few minutes on the top admiring the vast sweep of mountain and glacier, pass, peak and col, then skiing down in long traverses between schrunds back to the dogs, then a tumultuous scamper back to the dog‑lines at Malte Brun in, I think, only two hours from the summit. On ski we traversed the Dom and on another occasion, Aylmer. The ski‑run back down from Aylmer which overlooks the Murchison is of about five miles, one drifted down the slope until the speed of the wind whipping by grew positively unpleasant, then drifted towards Darwin corner, a few hups and arounds some crevasses, then a swing back towards the Dom, in forty years of skiing it was perhaps the most memorable run of all.
Harry Wigley, Director of Mount Cook Tourist Company had asked me to look out for his two young children whom he was going to drop off at Darwin Corner to ski the glacier that day. We saw the Auster land on skis and depart and two dots gliding off down valley. As we flashed along, hard on their trail, I was alarmed to suddenly find only one set of tracks in the snow. Then the tracks diverged till they were six feet apart! Near Malt Brun we caught up.
"Did you like our tracks ?" gurgled Miss Sally Wigley, aged twelve. "We were skiing on one foot !"
We often gazed from Malte Brun at the twin Minarets opposite, which, though no higher than Elie de Beaumont, being several miles down valley, rise about 5000ft above the Tasman. We picked a route around bulges and gaping blue holes in the ice of the Ranfurly Glacier, waiting for the new snow to settle before making an ascent on ski. One day we sat outside the hut, mug of tea in hand in the spring sun, the whole mountainside opposite began to quiver, small cascades of snow joined into larger cascades until an avalanche a mile wide boomed and thundered down the slopes to the valley floor. It burst up and outwards like a mushroom cloud and within minutes we were enveloped in a whirlwind of snow though we were at least two miles distant. We looked at each‑other ruefully and it was fortunate that I had already climbed the Minarets twice as we did not climb them that winter. This obviously troubled Brookes as when we held a Reunion at the Hermitage 25 years later, Brooke's first question was, "Can we go up and climb the Minarets?"
Our two Expedition aircraft were also flown in, the Canadian‑built de Havilland Beaver, a smaller version of the Otters we had crashed so liberally in the Antarctic, and the smaller two‑seat Auster. Harry Wigley of Mount Cook had developed a hand‑crank attachment with which he could lower wheels or ski according to whether he wished to land on ground or snow on a similar machine, but the Auster company had provided a ski with a slot in it through which the wheel protruded a couple of inches. They had never been tested, but they confidently said, "We think they should work!"
John Claydon, our Chief pilot had his doubts and removed all batteries and radio‑gear before making the attempt. I had been recounting the many crashes that had taken place in the Antarctic the year before and suggested that there was at least a 50% chance we would lose both aircraft within two years. Hillary was at Malte Brun at the time and did not take kindly to this estimate, but in the event we almost lost both aircraft the next day! We stood out of the glacier as the Auster came buzzing up the valley and dipped down to land. Claydon touched the skis on the snow and lifted off again, three or four times. On each occasion the plane swerved violently as the wheels dug into the snow, which did not look good. Finally Claydon came in with tail low and put her down. The tail described a lazy arc upwards and over and with a rending of wood and fabric, the propeller ploughed into the snow and she pitched right over until the tail‑plane dug in deeply. I led the dash over, fearing fire and wrenched open a cabin door as Claydon undid his straps and slid out on his head and shoulder.
"Alright?" he said in tone of unhurried surprise, "Of course I'm alright. Got some mail for you chaps here somewhere!"
The Beaver was also fitted with ski‑wheels, the skis being held down by air‑pressure in cylinders which also acted as pneumatic springs, and the ski was lifted by handpumping oil into the opposite end of the cylinder thus compressing the air. There was a label which said "Inflate to 130psi" but it did not add "When resting on skis " and it had been inflated when the skis were retracted. In came the bright red Beaver piloted by Flt. Lieut. Bill Cranfield. As it touched snow and slowed, the wheels dropped through the ski and ploughed through the snow forming far too good a brake and the tail started to rise and the propeller started to slice through the snow. Cranfield hauled back on everything and gave a burst of the throttle, the engine roared and the plane hesitated and then fell back on its tail ski, and so did we! It had been a near thing. Wally Tarr the Flight Engineer produced a tyre‑pump and for an hour we kicked and jumped on the thing until a gauge showed a full 130 psi. with the skis down this time. Perhaps because of this early lesson in caution, our planes did excellent work until the Beaver was crashed near the Beardmore in 1959.
Harry Wigley, survivor of many a crash, came in to look at our Auster.
"What do you think, Harry ?" I asked. "Take her wings off and tow her down to Ball Hut?" Wigley looked at me in some surprise.
"Heavens, no, she'll fly out no trouble at all." and Wally Tarr agreed. We dug a trench for the motor and took off the very bent propeller which Tarr straightened with a sledgehammer. We then tied a rope on her tail and yo, ho, ho! Over she came right way up. At this moment a cameraman who had missed this spectacular shot requested we do it again! We were not Admiral Byrd however, and the cameraman was told in several colourful and varied ways what he could do if he fell asleep and missed things!
The tail plane was crumpled and under Wally Tarr's direction, Guy Warren and I began cutting away the fabric. To my astonishment, the leading edge of the tail plane was joined to the mainframe longeron, not by bolts or a clamp but by adhesive tape.
Wally Tarr was a whole maintenance team on his own being a pilot, rigger, engineer, fitter and whatever else was needed all at once and I often wondered who had found him. Within a couple of days the Auster was back in shape if oddly coloured with patches of red dope, and , fitted with a new pair of ski, Claydon took her off and landed at the Hermitage on grass wetted by a hose! Harry Wigley was confident it would work though I wouldn't have bet on it myself!
We continued to run the dogs for two weeks, the planes flew in and out many times bringing some of the wives including Tania for a visit. Back at the Hermitage we spent some time familiarising ourselves with Ferguson tractors and wound up having a banquet at the Hermitage! Our expedition seemed to consist of an odd assortment of people, in fact had the entire psychological talent of the country combined, I doubt 20 more dissimilar men could have been banded together for any purpose whatever. Of course, all had been chosen out of some 600 applicants for various skills and experience and it is not surprising that we had little in common. To this day a mild remark "Its not a bad day" is likely to raise a barrage of jeers, qualification and counterclaim from expedition members so that at least we were never likely to be bored and we avoided conflict by simply not bothering to argue. As a group we had some strengths and many weaknesses.
The flying team seemed strong in men but weak in aircraft, the Beaver being small for load‑carrying and having an effective range of only 500 miles while the Auster was so limited as to be almost useless, in fact it had the same engine as the Fox Moth used by John Rymill in Graham Land before the War. Nevertheless, when the Beaver did finally crash in 1959 it was to be the Auster flown by Cranfield who made an incredible rescue of the two pilots, Jeffs and Rule.
The Survey side seemed strong with J. Holmes Miller, a registered surveyor, as well as Roy Carlyon, a young surveying graduate and Richard Brooke with his experience in Greenland. Geology was weak with only Warren and I, both new graduates with no mapping experience. At least my Master's degree work had been done in the Southern Alps and included glaciology, but I suspect the only reason we were chosen was because no more experienced person had come forward. We were supplied with hammers and notebooks but were given absolutely no advice as to what we might do. Benson was Professor Emeritus at Otago and had written an excellent account of Ferrar Dolerite rocks collected by Mawson and David in 1907. He was wildly excited at the news of my participation and hand‑wrote a twenty‑page summary of what was known of the Geology near McMurdo Sound. Unfortunately he wrote in a language known as "Bensonese" which was unintelligible and I was unable to find anyone to translate, which was a great pity, because though about 70 years of age, Benson was one of our foremost geologists.
In engineers we were strong in having Murray Ellis, BE, and a member of the firm Arthur Ellis and Co who made our down jackets and sleeping bags. Murray was a capable mountaineer and one of those constant and conciencious people never guilty of taking more than 15 minutes off for morning tea even in the dead of winter. Jim Bates, the other engineer was Director of a firm called B.L.M. Engineering (standing for Bates, Limmer & Moore) and the nearest approach to a mad inventor I have ever met. Craggy of face, with wild black hair and unshaven chin invariably smeared with grease, Bates on the trail of a new, super‑lightweight air‑blower was something to step aside from in a hurry as electric arcs crackled and gas‑jets flared. Bates claimed that at least fifty‑two percent of his inventions worked which was probably conservative. Although I doubt he had a single formal qualification, he was probably the most intelligent man on the expedition with an insight into mechanical, physical, political and social problems that unfortunately few others shared. Wilson looked forward on his return from sledging to "a quiet yarn with Charlie Royds", I was to often look forward to sounding out the views of that unlikely seer, James Bates.
Our Biologist was Dr Ron Balham and on the Base scientific staff there were Dr Trevor Hatherton, Neil Sandford, Peter MacDonald, Vern Gerard and Herb Orr, but they stuck close to their instruments and we seldom came in contact.
The chief Radio operator, Ted Gawn was an old ship's operator capable of carrying a conversation at the same time as typing morse coming in at 35 words per minute, and Peter Mulgrew, a naval Lieutenant, was a competent radio and electronics man. There were two "unspecialised " men , both alpine guides, Murray Douglas of the Hermitage, easily the most powerful man on the expedition and my old Chief from Waiho, Harry Ayres, moody perhaps, but ever reliable, ever conscientious and with a surety and deftness on the mountain no other could match.
One day up the Tasman, the weather closed in and a group of us left the dog lines and battled up to the hut. Soon after we arrived it was obvious that we had lost John Claydon, the pilot, and Harry caught my eye.
"We had best take a look," he muttered to me, "I say, we had best take a look!" He had this odd trick of repeating himself. We ploughed off down the hill with visibility a short fathom but Ayres kicked down the steep snow as though it were his front garden. We found Claydon sheltering in an igloo we had built for fun and returned. Back at the hut, Ayres pulled off his anorak and busied himself making three cups of cocoa, typically he would never even mention the fact that a man had been lost and found, but not a single other man present had noticed!
It was perhaps odd that of the whole expedition, Harry was the only man I instinctively obeyed. I might respect the judgment of George Marsh or Richard and there was little I would not do when they requested, while the rest of the expedition did not in my view warrant much attention, but Ayres only had to mutter, "I think we had better..." and I would say "Yes, Harry!" One can only suppose this was a hangover from Waiho days. The rest could go hang. It was not long before he took me aside.
"How did those two clients shape up on that Ferrar trip you did?" and for the first time one could relate the whole difficult trip to a man who listened intently, who understood perfectly, and nodding thoughtfully at each event. At the end he gave a reminiscent chuckle,
"So you saved Smith three times, well, that was good, but I can remember times myself when I have felt like letting someone like that go! Of course he never said 'thank you' did he? No, that type don't!". Then he said, "Those bottle neck crevasses are bad, we are going to have to watch them!"
"Yes, Harry" said I for this was in fact an order which another man might put as "I expect you as a Waiho guide to be responsible for all others when these death traps are encountered!",
"What was this story about you saving the television man from going into the sea?" I asked.
"Oh, that!" said Ayres diffidently. "just like Smith did with you, fell of the steps without warning when we were climbing an iceface above the sea and I banged a belay in. They made a big fuss about it, but they overlooked one thing! I was on the other end of that rope! Yes, I was on the other end. Like to put on a brew, Bernie?"
"Yes, Harry," I said.
Then there was the Leader, Edmund Hillary, a man of strong virtues and perhaps some small failings, but a man able to make decisions, even unpopular ones and stick by them. Usually they were the right ones, some, with the advantage of hindsight were wrong, but it was largely due to him and his drive that we had a successful expedition. As a Sherpa, Phu Dorje, was to say to me later of another venture, "Was good expedition, Sherpa very strong, Sahibs many mountains climb, no man dying!" and what more can one ask? Hillary had little interest in exploration, mapping or in scientific investigations but at no point did he actively stop these going forward provided one was pretty emphatic about what needed to be done, but support was always lukewarm. We were seldom if ever able to get the use of a plane for preliminary survey for example.
For all that we were a dour lot. When later four of us departed on a 1300 mile journey, not a man bid us Goodbye or Godspeed or Fairwinds, when we returned four months later, only one man said "Hello". He actually put out a hand, a gesture which took me some seconds to realise the significance of! Even then we did not reach the level of dourness encountered on a later expedition, when I once had to ask a man whether a good mutual friend was dead or not. He gave the frozen body an idle kick. "Guess so!" he grunted. Wise old Mick Bowie, the Chief Guide at the Hermitage had his doubts. "Too many young chaps wanting to dash off and do their own thing, Bernie!" he rumbled through puffs at his pipe. "They need some older men in there to steady them up, wouldn't you say?" but I thought more than that was wanted. We were not some group of friends going out together looking for adventure under the guidance of a Gino Walkins or a John Rymill, we were twenty totally dissimilar people who had been selected by committee! Time alone would tell whether we could work together.
Of course we all had enormous advantages over the early expeditions of Scott and Shackleton. Like Amundsen, we were all born in a mountainous country and, at least those of us from the South, took snow and cold for granted. At least half of us were fair skiers and mountaineers, and many of us had spent months or years living in tents and snow‑caves, cooking on primuses or camp‑fires and living to some degree off the land. How Scott could take forty seamen and civilians almost none of whom had walked a yard in snow or put up a tent, seen a crevasse, put on a ski, or experienced cold below freezing and within months have them making phenomenal journeys by the brutal process of manhauling I have never understood. Scott must have been a marvellous leader and his exploration successes were enormous when one considers the inexperience and almost total lack of knowledge of conditions and how to best adapt to them. We were to often use Scott's innovations, eg, carrying a small brush and shovel in the tent to sweep up any snow on the tent floor, his careful calculations of rations and distances. Then Scott had to contend with the psychological effect, men who have never been alone, never been away from cities and people, men who have become used to the confinements of shipboard life, may find it impossible to adapt to space, total silence and total peace. In these respects, we had some of the advantages of Amundsen, Bjaaland, Wisting and Harre, less in that in New Zealand one does not endure six months of polar weather every winter, but perhaps with the advantage that to us snow and mountains mean adventure and recreation, not merely something to be endured. Canadians endure a severe winter, but few of them since Captain Bob Bartlett have become polar explorers. However, the few that have like one John Ricker, have been very good indeed.
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