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RETURN OF THE NIMROD
The Ship blocked by Ioe off Beaufort Island: Mails landed Twenty-eight Miles from Cape Royds on January 3: Mackintosh and McGillan travel over Ice to Winter Quarters: Narrow Escapes: They reach Hut January 12
AFTER leaving us on February 22, the Nimrod had an uneventful voyage back to New Zealand. Fair winds were encountered all the way, and the ice gave no difficulty, the coast of New Zealand being sighted twelve days after the departure from Cape Royds. During the winter the Nimrod had been laid up in Port Lyttelton waiting till the time arrived to bring us back to civilisation. The little ship had been docked and thoroughly overhauled, so that all effects of the severe treatment she received during the first voyage down to the ice had been removed, and she was once more ready to battle with the floes. Towards the end of the year stores were taken on board, for there was a possibility that a party might have to spend a second winter at Cape Royds, if the men comprising one of the sledging expeditions had not returned, and, of course, there was always the possibility of the Nimrod herself being caught in the ice and frozen in for the winter. Sufficient stores were taken on board to provide for any such eventualities, and as much coal as could be stowed away was also carried. Captain P. F. Evans, who had commanded the Iroonya at the time she towed the Nimrod down to the Antarctic Circle, was appointed master of the Nimrod under my power of attorney, Captain England having resigned on account of ill health after reaching New Zealand earlier in the year.
The Nimrod left Lyttelton on December 1,
1908, and encountered fine
weather for the voyage southwards. On the evening of the 3rd, the wind
favourable, the propeller was disconnected, and the vessel proceeded
alone until the 20th, when she was in latitude 66° 30' South, longitude
28' West. The "blink" of ice was seen ahead and the ship was hove to
until steam had been raised and the propeller connected. Then Captain
sail again, and proceeded towards the pack. The vessel was soon in
and after pushing through this for a couple of hours reached the pack,
her way slowly through the lanes. Numerous seals were basking on the
regarding the ship with their usual air of mild astonishment. On the
day the pack was more congested, and the progress southward was slow,
so that the crew found time to kill and skin several crabeater seals.
water was reached again that evening, and at noon on the 22nd the Nimrod was in latitude 68° 20' South,
longitude 175° 23' East, and prooeeding under sail through the open
Ross Sea. The belt of pack-ice had been about sixty miles wide.
THE "NIMROD" PUSHING THROUGH HEAVY PACK ICE ON HER WAY SOUTH
On December 26 the Nimrod reached latitude 70° 42' South, longitude 173° 4' West, the position in which, in 1843, Sir James Ross sighted "compact, hummocky ice," but found only drift ice, with plenty of open water. A sounding gave no bottom with 1575 fathoms of wire, so that the theory that the ice seen by Ross was resting on land was completely disproved. At noon on the 27th the Nimrod which was proceeding in a south-east direction, was brought up by thick floes in latitude 72° 8' South, longitude 173° 1' West. Progress became possible again later in the day, and at four o'clock on the following morning the Nimrod was in open water, with the blink of pack to the eastward. Captain Evans had kept east with the hope of sighting King Edward VII Land, but the pack seemed to be continuous in that direction, and on the 30th he therefore shaped a course for Cape Bird, and on January 1, 1909, Mount Erebus was sighted. The experience of Captain Evans on this voyage confirms my own impression that, under normal conditions, the pack that stretches out from the Barrier to the eastward of the Ross Sea is not penetrable, and that the Discovery was able to push to within sight of King Edward VII Land in 1902 for the reason that the ice was unusually open that season.
The progress of the Nimrod towards the winter quarters was blocked by ice off Beaufort Island, and after manceuvring about for three hours Captain Evans made the vessel fast to a floe with ice anchors. The next morning he cast off from the floe, and with the help of the current, which seems to set constantly to the west between Cape Bird and Beaufort Island, and by taking advantage of lanes of open water, gradually proceeded in two days to a point only twenty-eight miles from Cape Royds. Some heavy bumps against the floes tested the strength of the vessel, and finally what appeared to be fast ice was encountered, so that no further progress towards the south was possible for the time.
There seemed to be no immediate possibility of the Nimrod reaching Cape Royds, and Captain Evans therefore decided to send Mackintosh with three men to convey a mail-bag and the news of the ship's arrival to the winter quarters. The party was to travel over the sea ice with a sledge, and it did not seem that there would be any great difficulties to be encountered. A start was made at 10.15 A.M. on January 3, the party consisting of Mackintosh, McGillan, Riches, and Paton, with one sledge, a tent, sleeping-bags, cooking equipment and a supply of provisions. The distance to be covered was about twenty-five miles. In the afternoon Mackintosh sent Riches and Paton back to the ship, and he reduced the load on the sledge by leaving fifty pounds of provisions in a depot. The travelling became very rough, the two men encountering both bad ice and soft snow. They camped at 7.5 P.M., and started for Cape Royds again at 1.55 A.M. on the following day. They soon got on to a better surface, and made good progress until 5.30 A.M., when they met with open water, with pressure ice floating past. This blocked the way. They walked for two hours in a westerly direction to see how far the open water extended, but did not reach the end of it. The whole of the ice to the southward seemed to be moving, and the stream at the spot at which they were then standing was travelling at the rate of about three miles an hour. They breakfasted at 7.30 A.M., and then started back for the ship, as there seemed to be no chance of reaching Cape Royds in consequence of the open water.
Presently Mackintosh found that there was open water ahead, blocking the way to the ship, and a survey of the position from a hummock revealed the unpleasant fact that the floe-ice was breaking up altogether, and that they were in most serious danger of drifting out into the sound. Safety lay in a hurried dash for the shore to the east, and they proceeded to drag their sledge across rough ice and deep snow with all possible speed. At places they had to lift the sledge bodily over the ice-faces, and when, after an hour's very heavy work, they arrived off the first point of land, they found an open lane of water barring their way. "We dragged on to the next point, which appeared to be safe," wrote Mackintosh in his diary. "The floes were small and square in shape. Every two hundred yards we had to drag our sledge to the edge of a floe, jump over a lane of water, and then with a big effort pull the sledge after us. After an hour of this kind of work our hands were cut and bleeding, and out clothes, which, of course, froze as stiff as boards, were wet through to the waist, for we had frequently slipped and fallen when crossing from floe to floe. At 2.30 P.M. we were near to the land, and came to a piece of glacier ice that formed a bridge. The floe that we were on was moving rapidly, so we had to make a great effort and drag our sledge over a six-foot breach. Our luck was in, and we pulled our sledge a little way up the face of the fast ice, and unpacked it. We were in a safe position again, and none too soon, for fifteen minutes later there was open water where we had gained the land."
Mackintosh decided to go into camp near the spot where they had landed, as a journey across the rocks and the glaciers of the coast was not a thing to be undertaken lightly, and would probably be impossible unless the mail-bag was left behind. McGillen, moreover, had developed snow-blindness, and both men were very tired. I will quote from Mackintosh's report on the subsequent experience of this little party.
"Early the next morning I found McGillan in great pain," wrote Mackintosh. "His eyes were closed up completely, and his face was terribly swollen. The only remedy I could apply was to bathe them, and this seemed to give him some relief. From an elevated position I had a good look round for the ship, and could not see a trace of her. As the day wore on my own eyes became painful. I fervently hoped I was not going to be as bad as my companion, for we would then be in a very difficult position. The morning of January 6 found us both blind. McGillan's face was frightfully swollen, and his eyes completely and tightly shut, so that he did not know that I was attacked too. At first I refrained from telling him, but the pain was very severe, and I had to tell him. By the painful process of forcing my eyelids apart with my fingers I could see a little, but I was not able to do this for long. I continued to bathe McGillan's eyes, and then suffered six hours' agony, ending in a good long sleep, from which I awoke refreshed and much better. I was able to see without effort. McGillan was also much better, and our relief, after the anxiety we had felt, was very great. By midnight we had improved so much that we walked to the penguin rookery, where we had great fun with the birds and found several eggs."
The men stayed in camp for several days, seeing no sign of the ship, and after their eyes were better spent a good deal of time studying the neighbourhood and especially the bird-life. They out down their food to two meals a day, as their supply of food was not large. Finally, Mackintosh decided that he would leave the mail-bag in the tent, it being too heavy to carry for any distance, and march in to Cape Royds. They made a start on the morning of January 11, carrying forty pounds each, including food for three meals, and expected to be able to reach the winter quarters within twenty-four hours. The first portion of the journey lay over hills of basaltic rock, at the base of Mount Bird, and they thought it best to get as high as possible in order to avoid the valleys and glaciers. They went up about five thousand feet, and had fairly easy travelling over slopes until they got well on to the glaciers. Then their troubles commenced. They were wearing ski-boots without spikes, and had many heavy falls on the slippery ice. "We were walking along, each picking his own tracks, and were about fifty yards apart, foolishly not roped, when I happened to look round to speak to my companion, and found that he had disappeared," wrote Mackintosh. "Suddenly I heard my name called faintly from the bowels of the glacier, and immediately rushed towards the place from which the sound proceeded. I found McGillan in a yawning chasm, many feet beneath me, and held up on a projection of ice. I took off my straps from my pack and to them tied my waist lashing, and lowered this extemporised rope down to him. It just reached his hand, and with much pulling on my part and knee-climbing on his, he got safely to the surface of the glacier again. The primus stove and our supply of food had gone further down the crevasse. We tried to hook them up, and in doing so I lost my straps and line which I had attached to a ski-stick, so we were left almost without equipment. As soon as McGillan had recovered from the shock he had received we started off again, with the spare strap tying the two of us together. We crossed over many snow-bridges that covered the dangers underneath, but soon we were in a perfect hotbed of crevasses. They were impassable and lay right across our path, so that we could look down into awful depths. We turned and climbed higher in order to get a clear passage round the top. We were roped together and I was in the lead, with McGillan behind, so that when I fell, as I often did, up to my waist in a crevasse, he could pull me out again. We found a better surface higher up, but when we began to descend we again got into crevassed regions. At first the crevasses were ice-covered gaps, but later we came to huge open ones, whose yawning depths made us shudder. It was not possible to cross them. We started to ascend again, and soon came to a bridge of ice across a huge crevasse about twenty feet wide. We lashed up tighter, and I went off in the lead, straddle-legged across the narrow bridge. We both reached the other side in safety, but one slip, or the breaking of the bridge, would have precipitated us into those black depths below."
The two men found their way blocked by crevasses in whichever direction they turned, and at last reached a point from which ascent was out of the question, while below lay a steep slope running down for about three thousand feet. They could not tell what lay at the bottom of the slope, but their case was desperate, and they decided to glissade down. Their knives, which they attempted to use as brakes, were torn from their grasp, but they managed to keep their heels in the snow, and although they passed crevasses, none lay directly in their path. They reached the bottom in safety at 4 P.M. on the 11th. They were very hungry and had practically no food, but they could get forward now, and at 6 P.M. they could see Cape Royds and were travelling over a smooth surface. They ate a few biscuit crumbs and half a tin of condensed milk, the only other food they had being a little chocolate. Soon snow commenced to fall, and the weather became thick, obscuring their view of the Cape. They could not see two yards ahead, and for two hours they stumbled along in blinding snow. They rested for a few minutes, but their clothes were covered with ice, icicles hung from their faces, and the temperature was very low. In a temporary clearing of the blizzard Mackintosh thought that he could make out the Cape and they dashed off, but at lunch-time on the 12th they were still wandering over the rocks and snow, heavy snow cutting off all view of the surrounding country. Soon after this the snow ceased to fall, though the drift-snow, borne along by the blizzard wind, still made the weather thick. Several times they thought that they saw Cape Royds, but found that they had been mistaken. As a matter of fact they were quite close to the winter quarters when, at about 7 P.M., they were found by Day. They were in a state of complete exhaustion, and were just managing to stagger along because they knew that to stop meant death. Within a few minutes they were in the hut, where warm food, dry clothes, and a good rest soon restored them. They had a narrow escape from death, and would probably have never reached the hut had not Day happened to be outside watching for the return of the ship.
Mackintosh and McGillan reached the hut on January 12, but in the meantime the Nimrod had arrived at Cape Royds, and had gone north again in search of the missing men. Murray had sailed in the Nimrod, and as events turned out, he was not able to get back to the hut for about ten days. "We were having tea on the afternoon of January 5, and Marston happening to open the door, there was the Nimrod already moored to the edge of the fast ice, not more than a mile away," wrote Murray in a report on the summer work. "We ran towards the ship, over the rotten sea ice, in boots or slippers as chanced, with the one idea that is uppermost in these circumstances — to get 'letters from home.' We were doomed to disappointment. Before we had finished greeting our old friends, the officers asked us, Has Mackintosh arrived I' ' and we learned to our horror that he and a companion had left the ship two days before and thirty miles north of Cape Royds, to try to bring the letters sooner to us over the sea ice, over the bay where only a few days ago we saw a broad sheet of open water to the horizon, and which was even now only filled with loose pack So we got no home letters, and had good reason to believe that our friends had lost their lives in the endeavour to bring them. We knew that they must have embarked on a large floe, and little expected to see them again. On January 7 the Nimrod left Cape Royds to seek for the lost men on the chance that they might have got ashore near Cape Bird. Within a few hours she was caught by the pack which was drifting rapidly southward along the shore of Ross Island. Driven almost on shore near Horseshoe Bay, the ship, by dint of hard steaming, got a little way off the land, and was there beset by the ice and so remained from the 7th to the 15th, with only a few hours ineffectual steaming during the first day or two. At length she was rigidly jammed and was carried helplessly by a great eddy of the pack away towards the western side of the sound, and gradually northward.
THE "NIMROD" HELD UP IN THE ICE
"The deceptive appearance of loose pack was impressed upon us. For many hours there was blue water apparently only a mile or two ahead, but it never appeared to get any nearer for hours, and we could not be sure it was really near till we were within a few hundred yards of the edge. All this time in the pack we were in doubt as to the fate of Mackintosh, or rather, we had not much doubt about it, for we had given him up for lost, but we were helpless to do anything. On the afternoon of the 16th, on which day we cleared the ice, we had passed Beaufort Island and were approaching through very loose pack the only piece of shore on which there was any chance of finding the lost men. Near the end of this stretch of beach, where it is succeeded by hopeless cliffs, a small patch of greenish colour was seen, and the telescope showed the details of a deserted camp, a tent torn to ribbons and all the camp gear lying around. A boat was sent ashore in charge of Davis, who found the bag of letters, and a note from Mackintosh pinned to the tent, telling of his risky attempt to cross the mountains nearly a week before. Knowing the frightfully crevassed character of the valley between Mount Bird and Mount Erebus, there seemed to us little hope that they would get through. The crevassed slope extends right to the top of Mount Bird, and is very steep towards the Erebus side. When we reached Cape Royds about midnight, only two men came out to meet the ship. One of the men was Mackintosh's comrade in all his adventures, and we soon learned that all had ended well."
In the meantime the Bluff Depot party had started off to place a supply of provisions off Minna Bluff in readiness for the return of the Southern Party. The crew of the Nimrod proceeded to take on board the geological and zoological specimens collected by the expedition and stored at the hut, so that all might be in readiness for the final departure when the parties had been picked up. Then followed weeks of uncertainty as to the fate of the men who were away.