William R. Latady
ON 19 February 1948 the U. S. Navy icebreakers Burton Island and Adisto plowed through the three feet of ice that gripped the wooden tug Port of Beaumont. The tug had been locked in the ice for a year; and its crew, the 23 “natives” of Antarctica, were living on shore—not in igloos, but in prefabricated houses, for these were Americans of the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition, and their sojourn in the desolate country had been a matter of choice and of planning. Now Navy men peered from their ships to see what manner of man would volunteer to spend a year in this white waste; and all of us on shore showed equal curiosity to see new faces and to learn what had been happening back in the States. We were a rough-looking lot. Many had not shaved for a year, and our clothes bore the marks of seal hunts and many days on the trail. We were a happy lot, however, for soon we should be going home.
First came two days of packing and talking. We had thousands of questions to ask the newcomers—about prices, housing, the New Look, new cars, all the things that go with civilization. The sailors had plenty of questions in return. What was it like to live through a winter when the sun did not rise? How cold did it get? Weren’t we tired of looking at just snow and ice, and at each other? How did we like our British neighbors, in the camp next to ours? What had we done for a whole year?
Had we really been there a year? I had been so busy that the time had slipped by, and now we were about to leave …
On the “Climbing Range”
Three weeks before, I had been camped in Neny Fjord with Robert Nichols and Robert Dodson and nine dogs. I had joined them to help wind up a season of intensive study of the local geological formations. The rocks bordering the fjord are all igneous, including batholiths, lava flows and many cutting dikes. The formations are complicated, and the age undetermined at this stage.
Camped beside us in the fjord were three English climbers: Frank Eliot, who had climbed in Switzerland and the Himalaya, as well as in the British Isles; Richard Butson, who had climbed in England, Scotland and Switzerland; and Kevin Walton, a true North Wales climber, who had started on Snowdon at the age of eight. With such companions, in a region where the mountains tower 6000 feet directly above the bay ice, Bob Dodson and I were very anxious to have a few days of climbing before we left.
A small range about ten miles long, on the west side of the fjord, had caught my eye when we first sailed by it, ten months before. This group of mountains, which we affectionately called our “Climbing Range,” offered four major climbs on rock and ice. Of these “The Spire” (Peak A) was the most spectacular—a fine rock climb—while the “Neny Matterhorn” (Peak D) was the most majestic single peak. Between them rose “The Thumb” (Peak B) and an unnamed mountain (Peak C).
We succeeded in climbing the Spire, but only on the second try. Weather is the great hazard in the Antarctic, as in all mountain ranges. Here storms materialize and strike faster, possibly, than in any other part of the world, for this continent is the breeder of storms. Anyhow, our reconnaissance of the Spire ended when we were only about 300 feet above the base on the solid rock—or rather on the not very solid rock. It started snowing, and we went back to camp.
On the next good day, about a week later, we made our second attempt, convinced that we could get up. To climb to the place where we had stopped before was easy; but above that the rock, which had been loose, was even looser. Since no one had ever been here to kick the loosest fragments away, we had to do our own “farming” as we went along. The rock became steeper, sloping toward the vertical as we reached the white band (a layer of lighter volcanics) that bisects the peak. This white band turned out to be still looser than the rock below—which amazed us, because the rock is so steep. Here we relied on Kevin Walton’s “Wales Touch,” his art of travelling last over delicate spots, to lead us to the sounder rock above. Frank Eliot again took over the lead and, drawing on his vast experience, ensured success. The Spire, we found, was aptly named: there was room on the top for only one man at a time.
The descent was very slow, especially over the white band. For safety, we rappelled here, using one piton and a karabiner. Retracing our steps, we found familiar roughnesses at our fingertips and “tested” rocks under our feet, and reached the tents just as the sky blackened for bad weather. I believe that this was the first major rock climb in the Antarctic.
Several days later we made an attempt on the Thumb, a great truncated peak that stands beside the Spire and dwarfs it. The first part of the ascent was a long snow walk which became more interesting as we neared the rock. The snow gave way to ice and the slope steepened considerably, so that the rock was merely a continuation of what would have been a dangerous avalanche area in a warmer climate. We had to cut steps for the last hundred feet and found the move from ice to rock somewhat troublesome. Once we were on the rock, the going was easy for a while, although again the rock was so very loose that I was happy to have two experienced climbers behind me as I led upward.
We encountered a variety of pitches—ridges, slabs and traverses—and came eventually to an almost vertical face from which several flakes protruded. As I climbed over this, the rock sounded hollow, and everything that I touched stirred the feeling of instability that makes a climber ask himself why he left the valley. Above this 25-foot, 85-degree slope, the rock seemed more substantial, but not enough to give us full confidence that it would hold our weight. Besides, the climbing was delicate enough to warrant sneakers. We had brought these along, for just such an occasion; but, after putting them on and climbing a few more feet, we decided to hold a council and discuss our situation. The outcome was that we went down, having concluded that, as a general rule in the Antarctic, if one has to put on sneakers to go up, it is time to go down. Facilities for patching up a man were limited at the base, and we could not leave the continent until the spring thaw.
We were only 300 feet from the top when we decided to descend. About half-way down we noticed another route that might “go”: the rock looked sounder, and patches of snow indicated that the incline might be less steep. We were tempted to have another try, but fortunately we resisted. By the time we reached the snow, a cold wind was blowing at about 30 miles an hour, and snow came soon after. It was one of those days of battle between sun and wind, and the wind finally won.
The next clear day, almost a week later, was one of those rare days without a cloud in the sky. Bob Nichols, Bob Dodson and I were studying rocks in the fjord, but our hearts were really in the mountains. That evening, under a sky clear as only a polar sky can be, we quickly worked out plans for an attempt on the Neny Matterhorn. We left camp at 11.00 P.M. and skied about five miles to the crest of an arête that separates a small glacier from a larger one which cascades off the mountain and forms a tremendous highway to the summit.
Having left our skis, we roped together to traverse this larger glacier and gain the ridge beyond—a safer, though longer, route to the top. Our crossing of the “highway” took us over many gaping crevasses, most of which had bridges strong enough to hold the weight of a man, and through many miles of loose snow. After we had attained the ridge, we ascended through more light powder until we were near the top. The slope was not very steep; we had to cut steps in only a few places. But here in the shadow of the mountain the air was very cold, even though the sun did not set that night.
Finally, at 5.00 A.M., we reached the summit. I had seen the fjord from this direction many times in the last few months, as I flew by on photographic missions; but never had it looked as it did when I stood on the rim and surveyed the country all around. Now I had a sense that I was a part of the country and belonged there; flying, I had felt divorced from the ground, and of course glad not to be too close to it. Attainment of this summit brought a feeling of accomplishment greater than I had known on any other climb. Perhaps it was due to the location of the mountain, to the complete isolation. Certainly the feeling was there.
Although we descended quickly, to warm our cold limbs, it was not until we reached the sunlight in the valley that we really thawed out. Then we were suddenly much too hot. In the Antarctic, as in other snowy regions, the sun will give a terrific burn if one fails to exercise great care. We followed our tracks back across the glacier and then skied to camp on a lovely surface—three inches of powder on a hard, solid base. The skiing down there, I would add, was often very good. It would delight the trail-skiers of New England to see the miles and miles of terrain with unlimited possibilities. Every hill is an open slope, for no trees grow in Antarctica.
During our stay of three weeks in Neny Fjord, we made several other ascents that were just as much fun as the ones recounted here. We moved from camp to camp around the periphery of the fjord by dog team—a mode of travel which is still a little unusual for mountaineers. Our dogs were hard and very faithful workers, and so eager for the trail that they would howl continuously on the days when we left them to go climbing. They really felt left out. Sled dogs, like hunting dogs, seem never so happy as when they are working. Ours would pull the load all day long and remain cheerful even when they were tired. In all kinds of weather, they lived out in the snow, withstanding the bitter cold of winter by staying still and letting the snow cover them like a blanket. The dogs are man’s best friends on the Antarctic trail.
Before joining Bob Dodson and Bob Nichols, I had spent a week visiting the Adélie penguins at one of their rookeries, on an island on the west side of the “Climbing Range.” There were about 2000 penguins. Bernard Stonehouse, the British biologist, and I camped beside them to study their habits and photograph them. We banded 400 of the little fellows, to see whether they return to the same rookery every year. I am not going back to see, but Stonehouse was to remain in the vicinity for another year.
I had been fascinated by these penguins the first time that I saw them swimming. At first I thought, from the way they travelled through the water, that they were porpoises; but penguins travel— if anything—faster. You see them swimming along, surfacing every 50 yards or so, at intervals of only a few seconds, and then suddenly flying straight into the air to land upright on an ice shelf, five or six feet above the water. This great speed in water is attained by means of a double sculling motion of the flippers as they go up and down in the water. The feet and tail are kept behind, to finish the streamlining of the otherwise almost perfect shape.
Penguins are subject to a curiosity which would mean their extinction in a land where other animals could prey on them. They have no fear of man, save when a person moves toward them rapidly. If you walk up to them slowly, they will either attack you or move out of the way when you are about to step into them. Their attack is something that surprises you when you first meet it. They hold you with their beaks and swat you with their hard flippers—so rapidly that you are struck ten times before you realize what is going on. They can raise a large welt through two pairs of gloves.
One day I stood watching a small group of penguins who were, just as attentively, watching me. Thinking that I would try to fool them, I jumped down behind an ice barrier. Just below me was the water where they frequently dove. When I looked up, I saw a row of little heads looking down. I suppose they wondered whether I, too, took a daily swim.
“Last Major Coast Line …”
For me, the expedition’s successful aerial photographic program meant flying 15,000 miles in seven trips and taking 14,000 photographs (9×9 in.) that covered an estimated 250,000 square miles of Antarctic terrain. Since the story of the seven flights is long, I shall tell here only of the one most important geographically— that which led to the discovery of the last major coast line in the world. This coast line, the connection between the Weddell Coast and Coats Land to the east, was the only remaining unexplored section along the great circumference of the Antarctic continent. Long months of preparation, by all members of the expedition, preceded the successful flight, which had A-1 priority.
Captain James Lassiter woke me at 6.00 A.M. on 8 December 1947 with the news that the sky was clear, with no wind, and that he was taking off in 15 minutes. “In 15 minutes!” I had had no breakfast, the cameras were not in the plane, and many little things needed to be checked. Well, I would check them. Jim would not leave without me. And I was determined to have some breakfast before flying 2500 miles.
At 7.00 A.M. we took off, with Lassiter as pilot and Commander Ronne as navigator. I was aboard with all my cameras, extra film— and breakfast inside me. James Robertson and I had installed a trimetrogon system of cameras in the plane on the way down to the Antarctic. This system, used in exploratory mapping, involves three cameras so placed that they cover a field from horizon to horizon perpendicular to the flight line. Tripped simultaneously, they make photographs which overlap 60% in the line of flight and, used with a stereoscope, permit the making of a map showing elevations.
Lassiter headed the twin-engined C-45 Beechcraft toward Cape Keeler, where we had a gasoline cache and a small meteorological station manned by Larry Fiske and E. A. Wood. At the same time, Commander Ike Schlossbach and Lieutenant Charles Adams flew the UC-64 Noorduyn over to Cape Keeler with a load of gasoline. At the cape, we met, topped off our tanks, said our farewells to the fellows at the station, and took off again for the south.1 The Noorduyn had taken off 40 minutes earlier, because it was much slower. We caught up with it, as we had planned, near Mount Tricorn, the most important feature along the coast. Here, some 300 miles south of Cape Keeler, we saw a red smoke flare against all the whiteness. We flew down to look: there, sure enough, was the British-American Weddell Coast Trail Party, camped for the day. We landed and found the men well and happy after more than two months on the trail. Art Owen, the Boy Scout from Texas, had gained 20 pounds and considered the trip restful. They were travelling down the coast, getting ground control for my aerial photographs and ready to act as safety links between us and the main base, in case we should have trouble. We carried complete emergency equipment, but a dog team half-way to the base would have been a great help if we had somehow been compelled to walk home.2
With extra tanks, the Beechcraft held 406 gallons. Beside the trail tents we topped off again, as we had done at Cape Keeler, this time using gasoline brought down by the Noorduyn, which had left the cape with all tanks full and three full drums in the fuselage. Since the Noorduyn was to remain with the Trail Party, we then took off alone into the barren wastes, heading southward along the coast and into we knew not what.
Many men, I suppose, have had the feeling that there is something beyond, which they can not see—that is what drives them on to find out. I did not think of such things; I merely wondered whether the cameras would work in that cold. The temperature was about zero on the ground. Jim flew quickly to 8000 feet, and I started the cameras; but soon we were in clouds so thick that we could hardly see the ground. There was nothing to do but turn around and go back. After a long flight of an hour and a half, we were with the others again, at the base of Mount Tricorn. That night we had seal steaks, fresh from a seal that had rashly put his nose up through a “lead” and fallen captive to the travellers from a foreign world. The meat was good, very much like bear meat, though we should find it strong if we ate it here at home.
For four days we were tied to the ground by the clouds overhead, but the Trail Party pushed farther south the day after we arrived. They could travel in spite of poor visibility, navigating by compass and sledge wheel—a bicycle wheel with a cyclometer attached, to measure the mileage. Southward they went, at a steady rate of about ten miles a day. We had to wait for good weather; but, having it, we could cover in four hours what they had taken most of two months to travel.
December 12th was the day that we had been waiting for—a clear, cold morning, with no wind. The engines of the Beechcraft started immediately, but then the plane refused to move. When Jim raced the engines, all that resulted was a great plume of snow, swirling from the rear of the plane and looking like a small tornado. The skis had frozen to the snow and ice, and there was no chance of moving the plane without digging them out. We shovelled and scraped for an hour before the plane would budge, and then Jim taxied it around to break the remaining ice from the skis. Precious gas was going to waste, but what else could we do?
Finally, at 9.00 A.M., we took off and climbed, very slowly, in order to save gasoline. Still at only 500 feet, we passed the Trail Party about 50 miles south of Tricorn. They waved, Jim dipped the wing, and we were off again—nothing in front of us but thousands of miles of snow and ice, with a few mountains protruding above the vast fields. Following the edge of the shelf ice, we turned to the east. On another flight we had followed the line of mountains to the west and come to the end of the chain, where the great white plateau met the sky.
Soon we lost sight of the Weddell Coast and the mountains. We were following the shelf ice that terminated in the open water. Beyond it, less than a mile, was more ice, in the form of great tabular bergs and loose brash ice. As far as the eye could see, and indeed (I later found) as far as the camera could see, there was nothing but ice, snow and sky. The uninitiated might imagine that this scenery would be tiresome; it possesses fascination that must be experienced to be appreciated. It is rather like the fascination of the open sea, which some people find appealing and others can not stand.
We flew until we had used a little less than half of the gasoline; then reluctantly turned, making a large triangle at the end of the course, and flew back along the same route. At our turning point we still could not see land ahead, but clouds obscured the coast some 50 miles ahead. By Commander Ronne’s sights and dead reckoning, we were very near the coast that was plotted on the chart: Coats Land, our objective.
Our return trip was uneventful. We did not stop at Mount Tricorn, but merely radioed the Noorduyn to take off and follow us up the coast. Northward we continued, all the way to Cape Collier, where we descended to refuel from a cache that had been put there a month before. We had a hard time finding it in the drifted snow, but at last made out three drums, one on top of two, with a pole above. Then we discovered that we had no pump. Since the plan had been to keep both planes together, it had seemed quite all right to have the gas pump in the Noorduyn. Fortunately, we had in the Beechcraft two five-gallon tins and a small hose, normally used to pipe air to the cameras to flatten the film. With these we were able to siphon 130 gallons from the drums into the tanks. Then we were ready to take off again.
We flew to Keeler and thence right on to the main base, where we landed on the bay ice in front of camp. It is very convenient to be able to land in one’s front yard and taxi to the door. The whole camp was out to greet us and learn what we had seen. It felt strange to come back from an historic flight and say that we had seen nothing—or, one should say rather, that we had just seen more of the same barren terrain that was around us on all sides. We told of the end of the mountain chain and of the level, slowly rising ice shelf that extends south from the Weddell Coast. It seemed possible that a bay cuts into the shelf at the farthest extremity. But there was no oasis, no new mountain range, not even a cape.
I had kept the cameras running during the whole trip, to make a complete record of everything that we flew over. Now we were all anxious to see the results: perhaps the fine camera lenses had picked up something that our eyes had missed. For the next few days, I busied myself with developer, hypo and 200-foot rolls of film. Unfortunately, the photographs showed only great expanses of snow and ice; but these they showed so clearly that we were sure nothing else was there.
Exploration of the last major coast line in the world, though it was the primary objective of the expedition, was not the only one. The carefully planned scientific program gave attention to geology, oceanology, seismology, meteorology and allied subjects. I have already mentioned Nichols’ geological work along the coast south of the base. He also ran a bathythermograph and on the trip south had collected plankton. Andrew Thompson, during most of our year on the continent, operated a tidal gauge. Although there was ice to a thickness of three and a half feet around the “tidal shack,” the water still rose and fell with its accustomed regularity, the average difference between tides being about three feet.
Andy’s “shacks” were a prevailing joke of the expedition. He made them of old crates and loose boards. Indeed, if anyone lost a choice bit of lumber that he was saving for a special job, he could probably find it nailed to one of Andy’s shacks. There was the tidal shack, and there was the magnetic shack, which housed the magnetic dip needle for measuring slight variations in the earth’s magnetic forces. The first model blew away on the day it was finished, before it could be tied down. Then there was the seismological shack, which represented the greatest achievement in crate- shack construction. It was large and lightproof, and the two automatic photo-recording seismographs could be operated 24 hours a day. As if this was not enough, Andy started another shack about a month before we left, an improved model to house the seismograph which he left to be operated by the British. The study of microseisms in correlation with high- and low-pressure areas had proved so interesting that he decided to carry it on indirectly for another year, through the cooperation of one of the British scientists. He had himself recorded earthquakes at the rate of about four a week, some as distant as St. Louis.
Harries-Clichy Peterson started meteorological observations on the day we left Texas—25 January 1947—and continued them until we returned to New York, 16 months later. With Larry Fiske’s help, Pete came to be pretty good at predicting the weather on the continent—a hard job because of the lack of information. The high on his chart was 50°, and the low -40°. Pete’s program included also measurements of solar radiation and atmospheric refraction, and he set up a cosmic-ray machine for counting bombardments. This machine was normally set up in the science building, but on two occasions Pete and Chuck Adams took it to 10,000 feet in the Noorduyn. Result: more bombardments.
Donald Og McLean, our doctor, had little professional work to do. Once we had shaken off whatever colds and infections we mav have had on entering the Antarctic Circle, we had no more illness. Either all the germs died off, or we became immunized to each other’s types. Such things as stomachaches were unheard of. Sigmund Gutenko planned and cooked all our meals, making sure that we had a balanced diet. Almost everyone gained weight.
We did have a few accidents. McClary’s hand was broken by a falling block; and, while it was still in a sling, he fell 60 feet from the snout of a glacier into the thin ice and water below. We threw him a rope, and there were a few anxious moments while he struggled to put it around himself, with half the camp directing operations from the cliff above. Finally, Mac was hoisted to safety and carried into the warm bunkhouse. The only damage was slight exposure.
On another occasion, in July, what might have been tragedy turned out otherwise. Peterson fell some 100 feet into a crevasse and remained there for eleven hours before a rescue party could get him out. It happened when Pete and Bob Dodson were returning from the weather station on the 6000-foot plateau, 15 miles from camp. Just at dusk, Pete disappeared, falling so far into a crevasse that Bob could not make out what he said. All Bob could tell was that Pete was alive. Bob took bearings on the near-by peaks, marked the spot with trail flags, and then went for help. Since our base was nine miles away, Bob took almost three hours to reach it. As soon as Bob had eaten a bite, Harry Darlington, Ike Schlossbach and I started back to locate the spot. The two camps, ours and the British (they had been with us watching movies when Bob came in), then organized a large rescue party, with tents, food, blankets and a large searchlight operated by two storage batteries—all drawn by two dog teams.
It was cold that night: 30° below zero, and a 30-mile-an-hour wind. Four of us were near the scene of the accident by 1.30 A.M., and the rest of the rescue party an hour later; but it was not until 5.00 A.M. that we found the trail flags. Bob had been very thoughtful to put them there, for the hole, where a snow bridge had collapsed, was only large enough to admit a man’s body. With the searchlight we could see a prone form, far down. We felt sure that Pete was done for—half frozen, at least. We lost no time, however, in rigging a block and tackle over the hole and lowering Richard Butson, the British doctor, who was small and had had mountaineering experience. To Butson’s amazement, Pete was very much alive; but he was in terrific pain, wedged so tightly, 110 fest down, that he felt as if he would be crushed to death.
Pete really was wedged. When a rope was tied to him and six men pulled, he did not budge. At last an extra pull brought him out, flying six feet into the air. He was taken into a warm tent, where his frozen socks were cut off. The ice had trapped him and at the same time saved him, for it had been comparatively warm down there in the crevasse: only 32°, with no wind. His feet were not so cold as many of ours; in fact, it was Ike who suffered severe frostbite in this affair. After an inspection had revealed no major damage, Pete was wrapped in blankets and lashed on a dog sled for the bumpy ride home. Back at the base, Pete thawed out in bed for a week—during which he had some pretty bad nightmares— and then was back to normal. For his part in the rescue, Dr. Butson was awarded the Albert Medal.*
To chronicle misadventures and omit an account of the planning and preparations which of course consumed far more time—and without which operations in the Antarctic would be impossible— would be grievously misleading. Every man contributed, in his special field, performing tasks that were not all glamorous.
For example, there was the gasoline, which I saw first in the warehouse at Beaumont: a hundred 55-gallon drums, each weighing about 350 pounds. We rolled them down to the dock and up a gangplank to the dock; then stacked them along the rail and aft by the planes, and lashed them with steel cables, to keep them from shifting in a heavy sea. To walk from bow to stern, one had either to climb over 20 feet of drums or to crawl under the planes—an interesting trip, either way, when the ship was rolling 35 degrees. Once we were anchored at the base, all the drums had to be brought on shore, before the bay ice froze. They were dropped overboard, floated ashore, and pulled onto the solid ice, by much muscle- power. Then they were moved to the highest part of the island, where they would not be completely buried by drifting snow in the winter. We brought two or three drums to camp at a time, as the planes needed fuel, and strained every drop of the gasoline through chamois before we pumped it into the tanks.
A few of us went ashore at the base before the rest, to make things ready. The others, on the ship, brought up on deck the food and equipment that we needed first. Heavy equipment had to wait until the winter freeze, when the ice would bear up under many tons; but we could bring light objects ashore on an improvised raft, made by lashing two boats together.3 Food was stored away from camp, so that we should not lose it in case of fire—worst enemy of polar explorers. It was not only the gasoline that required thoughtful handling! Clothing, too, was moved many times. Almost all our gear, I should like to point out, was loaned by the Office of the Quartermaster General, for testing purposes;4 and special flying clothes, which we found excellent, were loaned by the Army Air Forces.
The base itself had been established first in 1939, as the East Base of the U. S. Antarctic Service, and the little island was indeed a place well chosen. We had a good harbor, solid rock for our buildings, and easy access to the high polar plateau. We found no other place like it during the whole time that we spent in the Antarctic. On the first flight of the season, Harry Darlington and I flew 100 miles down the coast to the south, looking for a spot where the ship could put a party ashore to establish a cache; but we looked in vain.
Running the base, however, took much time. When we arrived, the old buildings were in good repair, except for the roofs, which leaked. The canvas which had formerly covered the buildings had blown off, and there were cracks where the prefabricated sections joined. In some places, there was a foot of ice on the floor. We tried many methods of removing it, and finally resigned ourselves to the backbreaking task of chopping it out.
Of modern conveniences we boasted few. We did have electricity, when the Diesels were working. Charles Hassage spent many hours nursing the machines, so that they would give us power during the whole year. Several new bearings had to be made out of scrap material that happened to be on the ship. For cooking and heating, we used coal entirely. It came in 100-pound bags, which we deposited in several caches and had to move many times. All our water was from glacier ice, chuted into a 1000-gallon tank behind the galley stove and melted both by radiation and by a coil that passed through the stove and the tank.
Trail equipment occupied a great deal of time. McClary and E. A. Wood steamed and reformed the sled thwarts, and lashed the sleds so that they would stand three months’ use over rough country. Larry Fiske made harnesses for all the dogs that were to go on the long trip south. Bob Nichols and Walter Smith made more than 500 trail flags, of airplane fabric and bamboo poles. Bob Dodson and Don McLean made dog pemmican from Casco meal and seal oil, which they rendered from blubber. They wore the same clothes throughout this operation and for some weeks thereafter were given a wide berth by the rest of us. Seal oil smells strong! Sig Gutenko, when he was not cooking, spent hours making pemmican for the trail parties and the airmen.
For relaxation, we had a good library, a few games and—best of all—50 Hollywood movies, 16-mm. with sound. The popular features I can almost recite from beginning to end. Our only contact with the United States was by radio. Lawrence Kelsey, operator on the ship and at the base, sent out personal messages as well as news of the expedition. During all our flights, he “stood by,” sometimes for as long as 36 hours, in case there should be a distress call.
On the voyage home from the Antarctic, as on the voyage southward, every member of the expedition turned sailor. Only eight of the 23 had ever been to sea before we left Texas, but we soon found out that a doctor or a geologist will make a satisfactory sailor. Not always a good helmsman, to be sure: once, when one of our “sailors” found that he was 180° off course, he just completed the circle and went on his way, a little more carefully. Rebuked for his lapse, which must have cost us a day, he replied, “What difference does it make? We’re in the middle of the ocean.”
On the way back, I must add, a deviation of five degrees was considered great. We made the voyage without mishap, and steamed past the Statue of Liberty on the morning of 15 April 1948, with a fireboat on either side of us. At Pier 20 I could make out my mother and two brothers, standing in the crowd. Had all this been a dream? They looked the same as when I had left them, 16 months before.
* See also Robert Dodson’s account of the incident, on pp. 361-2 below.—Ed.
1 The fellows at the station, from their side of the 6ooo-ft. plateau, had given us the go-ahead on the weather. Often it was fair on one side and foul on the other. We had had to wait a month for this day.
2 The emergency kit consisted of sleeping bags, skis, a tent, a stove, kerosene and a man-haul sled, as well as 30 days’ food for each man at the rate of 6000 calories a day.
3 We did manage to balance the Stinson L-5 ashore on the raft during the first few weeks, and in this plane we could make local flights.
4 Dodson’s fine report on this gear lias been published by the O.Q.M.G. in Washington.