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Arctic and Antarctic, Antarctic Rescue

Antarctic Rescue. In the Antarctic winter night of July 1947, “Pete” Peterson and I found ourselves 20 miles from base without adequate shelter or sufficient food. The circumstances leading up to this predicament would make a long story in themselves.

Leaving the mile-high plateau at 11.00 A.M., we made use of the few hours of twilight around noon to find our way down through the mountains to the piedmont glacier at sea level. Once there, we were threatened only with bad weather and the possibility of hidden crevasses. Speed was so essential that we had used rope and skis only where the crevasse danger was obvious. The rope caught on the three-foot, knife-edged sastrugi, and skiing on these ridges was intolerably slow and difficult. The rest of the time, we bet on our speed against the weather and the darkness.

At 6.00 P.M. we went astray in the deceptive twilight and found ourselves on the edge of a crevassed area. As we began to skirt it, we had the rope coiled and the skis dragging behind us. At 6.30 P.M. I knelt down on a patch of glacier ice to tie my bootstring. Pete, five feet away from me, stepped off the ice onto a patch of snow and suddenly disappeared, without a sound. I crawled up to the hole that he had made in the snow bridge across a four-foot-wide crevasse. I shone the light down and could see nothing but blackness. He shouted to me that he was unhurt, but jammed tight and face down. My 100 feet of rope would not reach him. I went through the precautions of marking the spot and taking bearings, and then put on my skis and headed for the base, nine miles away.

It was ten hours later when our rescue team, armed with searchlights, tents and medical gear, finally found him. We let down a doctor on the end of a rope, 106 feet down. He chipped and shoved until Pete came loose. We then pulled him up to the surface and whisked him onto a dog sled and back to the base.

Pete had been unconscious most of the time. Before he became unconscious, he had given up all hope of rescue. Surprisingly enough, his only injuries were scratches, minor bruises and shock. Heavy clothing and warm temperatures in the bottom of the crevasse had kept him from freezing. The crevasse itself, being narrow, and intermediate snow fills on the way down had afforded enough friction and cushioning effect to prevent injury when he hit bottom.

Robert H. T. Dodson

[This rescue, mentioned in William Latady’s article in this issue* and so modestly recorded here, provides one of the most remarkable crevasse stories on record. Dodson’s success in marking the crevasse, working his way to base, and returning with a rescue party that pulled Peterson out alive, is extraordinary; it reveals in him a fighting heart and mountaineering qualities of a high order.—Ed.]

*See pp. 244-5 above.