SOLVING the PROBLEM of the ARCTIC
A Record of Five Years’ Exploration for the Canadian Government
EDITOR’S Note.—Some months ago Vilhjalmur Stefansson returned from a five years' journey of exploration through the Arctic regions North of Canada, undertaken for the Government of the Dominion of Canada, and he has since been engaged in compiling his reports and writing the story of his remarkable experiences. MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE has secured the exclusive right to publish Mr. Stefansson’s story in Canada. It will appear in six instalments and will tell the story of the discoveries he made and, more remarkable still, hotv he and his party solved the problem of living without supplies on the bare land, and even the sea-ice. Other stories by Mr. Stefansson are appearing in Canadian and American newspapers, but these are records of earlier trips and have no connection with the five years' exploration that he has just completed.
Registered in accordance with the Copyright Act. All rights reserved.
WHEN the Canadian Arctic Expedition was originally planned it was not a Canadian expedition at all. Its original sponsors were the National Geographic Society of Washington and the American Museum of Natural History of New York. The expedition was to have a comprehensive scientific programme and to carry a staff of six or eight scientific specialists, but in all other respects it was to be as simple as possible. It was planned that the scientists should carry the minimum of technical paraphernalia; that they should be young and self-reliant men who could work independently with few material resources and depend on their note-books, their cameras, and their memories for much of what they hoped to bring back.
My expedition of the years 1908-12 had been carried out on substantially this plan to the satisfaction of its backers, the American Museum of Natural History and the Geographical Survey of Canada. We had then i carried no food with us upon long journeys through I lands either uninhabited or inhabited only by Eskimos armed with bows and arrows, some of whom had seldom, and others never, seen a white man. And the lucientific results of that expedition had, in the opinion "especially of the American Museum, been such that !>oth were anxious to promote another of the same sort.
ÍBut later, when the unusual came to lass and a Government had been found •nlightened enough to want to undertake all the expense of a great scientific expedition, the plans were of neessity altered. When the Hon. Robert fiforden (now Sir Robert), on behalf of |ne Government of Canada, took over Tom the American institutions the 1 ready planned expedition, he I -omised them that I should be left in I Complete command of it, as I should ive been under their auspices, and at I should be the sole judge of the itability of all plans, men and mal rials to be used in the undertaking.
NEVERTHELESS the character of 1 our new backers brought about a prtial change of programme. When almost unlimited resources of fcfre Gemment were considered, it ftp. ^j.red advisable even to me, especially
as I was strongly urged, to combina my former simple plan of relying upon the resources of the country with the orthodox one of carrying an extensive equipment. I felt that if this extensive equipment were taken along it could be used wherever it was found usable, and that my own idea of living by forage could be resorted to whenever we had come in our journeys to the uttermost limits of time and distance to which the “condensecLfood system” could carry us.
Previously I had expected to bring home only a limited number of scientific specimens, but now it seemed best not only to try to bring home a much larger number, but also to carry on our vessels laboratory equipment for scientific studies in the field. Sea-water, for instance, is said to undergo chemical changes if brought home in vials, and it is therefore preferable to study water samples the day they .are secuied from the depths of
the ocean. Minute animals, too, which might be alive in the samples when they are brought to the surface, would die and decay into their chemical elements before the samples could be studied in our southern laboratories.
Getting My Party Together
npHE mere outfitting of a comprehensive scientific expedition would be an entertaining story if it were told as it cannot be told here. To begin with, even among our tens of thousands of university graduates it is not easy to find a dozen or more men who combine the qualities of being young and of sound body, with an unexcitable temperament and an imagination that sees fascination in work which to other temperaments would be only hardship and drudgery. Furthermore, these young men would have to be either of independent means or sufficiently careless of material rewards to be willing to give several years
to work for which they could expect no substantial pay in the ordinary sense. The expedition being Canadian, we preferred Canadians m our choice, yet we were able to get in Canada only five out of a staff of thirteen. We turned next to other parts of the Empire, and secured three men from Scotland, one from Australia, and one from New Zealand. Even so, we had to look farther and take one man from France, one from rDenmark, one from Norway,
■ and two from the United States. The universities represented in the training of these men wore the Sorbonne, Oxford, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Toronto, McGill, Harvard, Yale, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the State University of Iowa. Several of the men had earned the degree of Ph. D., some had received various honors from scientific societies, and practically all of them were devoting their entire lives to that specialty which engaged them on the expedition.
Wo were outfitted under the supervision of Mr. J. W. Philips of the navy yard in Esquimalt. Partly because I thought that the orthodox equipment might, after all,
prove useful, and partly because of pressure put upon me by those who rested their faith more exclusively than I did in the older methods, our expedition eventually turned out to be probably the most sumptuously equipped of all Arctic expeditions. We had at the start three ships, the Karluk, the Alaska, and the Mary Sachs. Of these the Karluk was much the biggest and the best, and she had for sailingmaster our most experienced man,
Capt. R. A. Bartlett. Because of her character, and because of her commander, we trusted to her the greater part of what was considered our most valuable equipment. She carried nearly all the pemmican, hard bread, malted milk, chocolate, butter, and other forms of condensed rations, the suitability of which has been demonstrated by Admiral Peary notably, but also by the many others who have used what may be called the condensed-food system of exploration. By this is meant the method wherein men and dogs depend during sledge journeys on food brought from home, game being not relied upon, properly speaking, but simply used in an emergency if the condensed food does give out before the journey has come to a successful close.
Besides the condensed food, the Karluk carried some fourteen sledges of the type I had used on my previous expeditions, and abundant sledge material and a carpenter whose intended work it was to make during the winter, under Captain Bartlett’s direction, a number of sledges, of the type so successfully used by Peary. My mind always has been and still is open on the question of which is the best form of sledge, and I was anxious to give the two types a thorough trial, comparing them on the same journeys. Our best men also were on the Karluk—best from the standpoint of geographic exporation.
The complicated history of the early misfortunes of our expedition Captain Bartlett has already narrated in a book entitled The Last Voyage of the “Karluk.” It is enough to say here that through a combination of circumstances this, our most valuable ship, was taken out of our hands during the first months of what was to be an expedition covering many years, and thereafter we had to conduct our work without the help of the good men and the elaborate equipment of instruments and food wilich she carried. The Karluk had Tound herself too far offshore from the Alaskan coast and had been caught in the ice and carried by it to the ■northwestward, as it proved, permanently out of our sphere of operations. Our Alaska and Mary Sachs, according to the custom of navigation which has been found by whalers to be safest in the Alaskan portion of the Arctic, had hugged the coast continually as they proceeded eastward, and eventually wintered safely at Collinson Point, in about west longitude 145°. The ice that was powerless to carry them off because tney did not go out into it, nevertheless blocked their further passage for that year. The season was an unusual one, ice conditions being undoubtedly the worst in twenty years.
Our Badly Crippled Resources T'HE winter of 1914-15 found us, then, on the coast of Alaska, 250 miles east of Point Barrow, with crippled resources and our entire task yet before us. The expedition had various subsidiary scientific aims,
Lut its main purpose was exploration of as much as possible of that great unknown area which lies between Alaska and the Pole, west of the already known Cana din n Islands. This area was estimated by some to be as low as 500,000 square miles, but others, among them myself, have estimated it at over a million. That this latter estimate is not far wrong is shown by the fact that both the Russians under Vilkitsky and our own expedition discovered extensive lands within that portion of the Arctic which the mapmakers had considered
already explored. Though we have since made long journeys in various directions over seas hitherto unknown, this unexplored area still remains larger than most geographers estimated it to be before either the Russians or we reported the x-esults of our werk.
The task before us, according to the orders of our Government, was plain. If we were going to succeed in it we had to make journeys north from Alaska com-
parable in mileage to, or even exceeding joui'neys previously made by sledge on any part of the polar sea. Any short excursions north from Alaska or west from Banks or Pxdnce Patrick Island would fail of the purpose we had set. It is Admiral Peary who has carried the condensed-food system of exploration to its highest attained, and probably its highest attainable, results. But for his journey of less than 500 miles north from Cape Columbia to the Pole, Peary found he needed 133 dogs, 19 sledges, and 24 men. A stock-taking of our resources showed that we had available for our proposed journeys over the frozen sea two good sledges and two poor ones. We could undoubtedly have bought dogs, and sledges of a sort, fx:om the Eskimos of Alaska, but what was the use when poor sledges are always breaking and good ones are the only kind with which any useful purpose can be accomplished? It was easy to get sledges suitable for work on shore and near land, and we had those.
But there was no material obtainable in northern Alaska for the making of the grade which our work on the rough ice required.
We could not Copy Peary
It was thus, virtually, not possible for us to do our work on the Peary
system. Peary started from shore with nineteen sledloads of food. In a few days he found several of those sledges empty, for the men and dogs had eaten the food, and so he sent them back home. This wTas the first support party. A few days later he again found several sledges empty and sent them home. By repeating this several times, always sending back the poorest dogs and the men least fitted for the hard work of winter travel, he eventually found himself with two or three sledges loaded with food, and with three or four picked men, within striking distance of the Pole.
Evidently this system could not carry us anywhere. Just as Peary had to send back his first pax'ty when only a short distance from land, so should we have had to send back our support party when near Land, and as we had only one support to send back instead of several, that system could not have taken us nearly as far from our base on land as was necessary to make any considerable exploration of the unknown. I proposed then to my men that we should try another system, and called for volunteers substantially on the following basis:
I said it was well known that the polar sea is not covex-ed with one expanse of ice, but instead there are upon its surface in continual flux an indefinite number of pieces of ice that break under the force of the wind and the curx*ent, with lanes of open water and triangular and pentagonal waterholes everywhere. I argued further that our experience showed that the food of the seals is mainly the shrimp or various shrimp-like sea animals, and that, as these ax-e animals which are not confined to the vicinity of land but are found living in the upper layers of the ocean evex*ywhere, seals would also be found everywhere because they would “follow the feed.” I said that in our travel we should every day, or at least evex*y few days, come to open water, and when we found this open water we could stop awhile until we had killed seals enough, so that their flesh might serve us for food and their blubber for fuel while we proceeded farther. The reasoning seemed to me sound, but it did not appear so to most of our men, nor did it find favor with a single Eskimo on the north coast of Alaska, nor with the whalers on the two ships Belvidere and Polar Bear which had been held by the same hostile ice conditions and compelled to winter near our wixiter quarters. My old friend Captain Cottle of the Belvidere, and my newer but no less useful friend Hullin S. Mott of the Polar Bear, offered me all the assistance in their power in outfitting, and even tried to disguise sufficiently their disapproval of my plans, in order not to interfere with my hiring Ekimos or white men out of their crews. But from me they did not conceal their belief that the plans were untenable.
TV/TY own men were no less frank in their disapproval, and quoted in rebuttal of my arguments many printed and other authorities, especially certain paragx-aphs of Peary’s book, The North Pole, where on page 202 are laid down the first principles of safe and successful polar exploration by sledges at sea. One of
these is that you must “have the confidence of a large number of Eskimos who will follow the leader to any Point he may specify”; and they pointed out that we had no Eskimos who would follow us far beyond sight of land, for they well knew that there was no food there. Another principle quoted was that you must have “for the sledge journey sufficient food, fuel, clothing, oil or alcohol stoves, and other mechanical equipment to get the main party to (its destination) and the various divisions to their farthest north and back.” Here they laid special emphasis on the words “and back,” showing that Admiral Peary had put no reliance on anything but the food he carried with him ; and they submitted that no one was justified in asking men to undertake a jommey on any other basis.
Although no one placed especial emphasis on them at the time, it is interesting to note that among other of Peary’s first principles are these: “To have dogs
enough to allow for the loss of 60 per cent, cf them by death or otherwise,” and we intended to make our journey with six or seven dogs and hoped to retain them safe, whereas his principle required him to take 133 dogs for a journey of similar length; “to have an ample supply of the best kind of sledges,” where we had only two that were good; “to have a sufficient number of divisions or relay parties (of Eskimos) under the leadership of a competent assistant to send back at appropriate and carefully calculated stages,” while we expected to take only one support party and to send that one back, not at any calculated time, but whenever the poorer sledges happened to break; “to return by the same route followed on the upward march, using the* beaten trail and the already constructed igloos,” while we knew from our own knowledge of local ice conditions and from the experience of Baron Wrangell and Leffingwell and Mikkelsen that should we try to return on ice in these southern latitudes we should find it impossible to follow our trail back. In these waters the ice cakes are continually spinning around on their axes, crushing themselves into ridges, or drifting apart, so that you can hardly even think of following southward to-day the trail that you made going north yesterday.
I saw the validity of all the Peary principles as applied to the Peary system, but contended that there was another system which, if not necessarily as good, was, at any rate, the only system available to us, and that we should have to go ahead on the basis of living by forage or give up the main purpose of the expedition, which I did not think we could reasonably do until this other system had been at least fairly tested.
The Men Do Not Volunteer •THERE were good scientific reasons why some of our staff should decline to volunteer, as they did. They were technical men brought north for certain special work on land, and as it was no more to my interest than to theirs that they should be taken from that special work, I preferred that they should be ashore in the spring, although I should have liked two or three of them to volunteer to accompany us fifty miles or so as a support party, or until their light sledges broke down. They could have returned to land from such an excursion in ample time for their spring geological and topographical work.
But there were other men in the party who—to the great advantage of the plans laid down by the Government— could have volunteered for our service, and none of them did so. It was, of course, impossible for me to undertake work believed to be both dangerous and full of hardships with men îther than volunteers. One member of the party, Mr.
!Jeorge H. Wilkins of Australia, who eventually proved |>ur most useful man in carry¡ng forward our geographic vork, was the only one. who ihowed any willingness to go jhe whole journey with me. I J referred, however, to direct ;im to take command of the 'orth Star, a trading-schooner
had recently purchased, and »I* have him along rather as a
member of a support party. Mr. Aarnout Castel, a Hollander, who proved one of our good men, I was able to hire from the Belvidere for the entire journey. But my main reliance for the difficult work ahead was my former companion in arms, Storker Storkersen, who had been first officer of the Anglo-American Polar Expedition in 1906-07, when I was a member of that party as anthropologist, and whom I now’ had found trapping in the Mackenzie Delta and eager for a more stirring life. A young Norwegian trapper, Ole Andreasen, whose brother had sold me the North Star, was engaged as a member of the support party.
Preparations are Delayed
T HAD left the winter camp of A the expedition at Collinson Point about Christmas to go to the Mackenzie Delta, about 300 miles to the east and south, to buy dogs for the ice journey.
At that time I left instructions that preparations should be made for our start northward over the ice from Martin Point late in February or the first week in March. Later on I sent Storkersen back from the Mackenzie Delta with similar instructions. But, for reasons too complicated for telling, these instructions were not carried out, and when I got to Martin Point the first w’eek of March, I did
not find, as I expected, everything ready for the start northward, but, on the contrary, very little done, and practically nothing which Storkersen had not done single-handed. Although all preparations were pushed forward with great energy from the time of my arrival, still it was the 22nd of March before the start could be made.
One of the curious errors about the North that are prevalent among those few who have any ideas about the North at all is that cold is the chief enemy we have to fight beyond the Arctic Circle. I am sure that all those who have traveled extensively on the moving polar ice would agree with me that the cold is our best friend. For that reason February is a better month than March for sledge travel, and January would be as good as February were it not for the fact that it is then too dark for safe working among broken ice, where water-holes are a danger everywhere. In April, when the temperature seldom goes lower than 30° below zero for a night, if a gale breaks up the ice, as often happens, forming open leads that crisscross each other in all directions, it takes several days for the frost to
cement the broken places and to form ice over the lanes, which are impassable moats .vhile they remain unfrozen, but which become smooth boulevards when covered by six inches of young ice. In February, when the temperature is seldom above — 30° and frequently goes down to — 50 ', the same lanes would freeze over in a night, saving many a tedious delay.
It was therefore heart-breaking to lose by the delays in outfitting, as it proved, the whole month of March, for, although we were ready to start on the 22nd, a gale which had just swept the country had broken up all the ice to eastward, and seven miles from land wre were stopped by impassable open water. We had then an extraordinary spell of warm weather, about two months ahead of its time, when for a week or ten days the temperature seldom dropped to zero and occasionally went as high as 28° above. With regular March temperature of — 30°, the gale would have delayed us only two or three days.
-V Our Party at the Start
QUR party at the start con-
sisted cf four teams with about thirty dogs. Besides myself, there were Storker Storkersen, who was about twenty-eight years old; Ole Andreasen, who was about twenty-five; James Crawford and Bert McConnell, Americans, of about thirty-five and twentythree; Aarnout Castel, Hollander, of about twenty-five; and George Wilkins, also about twenty-five.
On account of the open water and warm weather we had to remain in camp for several day’s about five miles from shore and within plain sight of our outfitting camp at Martin Point. In the water there were plenty of seals, and, as I knew the party on shore was short of dog-feed, we killed a number of these. One day I asked Wilkins and Castel to take one of the good sledges and a dog-team to carry some of the seals ashore. A kerosene-tin had spi-ung a leak, too, and I wanted them to replace it with a sound one. They stai’ted for shore about eleven o’clock in the forenoon, and in the ordinary course should have been back inside of four hours.
The ice on which we were camped was very thick and had been land-fast all winter. The weather was calm, with the sun visible through a haze, and a light snowfall started just after the party left for the land. Although none of us was weather-wise enough to recognize the signs, this was the beginning of one of the worst blizzards I have ever seen. Two hours later, about the time we knew Wilkins’s party was getting ashore, the wind was probably’ forty miles an hour from the southwest, and the snow was flying so thick that a man in dark clothing could not have been seen more than 200 yards away. It must have been blowing even harder than that ashore, for I learned, months afterward, that when the two men got near the house the wind repeatedly swept them off their feet, and that after they unhitched the dogs and put. them in the dogbarn theyr had to crawl on their hands and knees against the gale to the house, a few yards away. Byr four o’clock I imagine the wind was eighty or ninety’ miles an hour, and one could no longer speak of how far a dark-clad man would have been visible. If you opened your eyes they' promptly filled with snow, so that seeing was out of the question except by squinting between fingers almost touching each other as you held your hand over your eyes for a moment.
We were encamped on the outer edge of the landfast ice and the huge floes of moving ice to seaward ground past 100 or 200 yards away from us, heaping the edge of our floe up into huge ridges. Ordinarily the breaking of the ice would have sounded like a cannonade, but in this case the flapping of our tent and the howling of the wind drowned all other noises. We knew what was happening, and had our knowledge con-
firmed the next day by seeing the pressure ridges which had formed near by; but at the time we kept to our tents, for it was not necessary to do anything unless the ice we were camped on started breaking up underneath the tent.. This did not happen, although by the next day we had only thirty or forty yards left of the 100 or 200 yards of the outer edge of our floe which separated us from the open water beyond.
Adrift on an Island of Ice!
DECAUSE our ice had been land-fast all winter, I did not really fear the thing that, unknown to us, was actually taking place in the gale. This floe had withstood so many gales I thought it would stand another. But when the weather cleared the next day and I started landward along the sledtrail in the hope of meeting Wilkins and Castel, I came, after half a mile’s walk, to open water. In other words, the wind had pulled a square mile or so of ice, upon which we happened to be camped, away from the edge of the land-floe and had carried us at first we knew not where. A few hours later, when the air had completely cleared, the 6,000-foot-high Endicott Mountains to the south became visible and I recognized abreast of us one of their foot-hills, called by the natives Kamarkak. This hill was now south, although it should have been forty miles to the east. Our little island of ice had not been stationary, as it seemed to us during the gale, but had really been drifting east, altogether forty miles. Instead of being north of Alaska, we were now north of Canadian territory and only about twenty-five miles from Herschel Island. As the coast-line here runs southeast, we had drifted not only forty miles east, but fifteen or twenty miles south, for it is the nature of the ice in these waters that when the wind blows from the south-west the ice drifts at about right-angles to the wind, in a south-easterly direction. This peculiar action of the ice is one of the many reasons that have been adduced for the possible existence of land in the unknown ocean to the north.
It was unfortunate to have drifted eastward, for we wanted to travel straight north, but it was even worse to have drifted south as well. Yet neither of these things was of any consequence as compared with the irreparable loss of two of our best men, one of our two
good sledges, and one of our best teams of dogs, as well as of the kerosene which we had intended to use for fuel in our blue-flame portable stove, a kit of tools that we needed badly for possible repairs to broken sledges, some ammunition, a camera, some scientific instruments, and various other things that had been in bags or boxes permanently attached to the sledge. We had naturally not removed them for what we thought only a four-hour trip to take half a dozen seals ashore. We now had left only one good sledge and two poor ones, and so had to throw away a considerable amount both of food and spare clothing before proceeding north.
A Start Across the Ice
the 1st of April we at length had a moderate frost and were able to travel. Ten days latei our party of six had made fifty miles from shore through the worst going of the whole trip. It is always so at the start. Two principles of ice travel that explain this may be laid down here. The first is that the farther south the ice the thinner it is and
the more fragile and easily broken up by winds and currents, giving you more hindrance in the form of frequent patches, either of open water or of ice too young and thin for safe crossing. The farther north you go the thicker the ice, the less mobile, the less easily fractured, and consequently the more level, so that you find your road continually improving and your speed increasing, until, north of 80° north latitude, ice travel becomes comparatively simple and not so very different from land travel.
The second principle is that, no matter what your latitude, the ice is always rougher and more broken up near land than at a great distance from land, because when the wind pushes the ice against the immovable obstruction of the shoreline, the ice buckles
and piles into ridges against the land, and bi'eaks and heaps up at all points of special weakness from the land outward. The give evidently becomes greater and the strain on the ice less as you go farther and farther from shore, until seventy-five miles from land fracturing of the ice and huge pressure ridges become rare.
Our one good sledge took no harm from anything that happened to it while carrying its thousand-pound load the first fifty miles, but the other two were so badly used up that it took half our traveling time to repair
the breaks they suffered when they upset and turned somersaults in crossing pressure ridges. It was time to send back our support party. I had taken it along partly to give Mr. Johansen, our marine biologist, some chance to investigate the sea in places which he could never have reached aboard his vessel, the Alaska, and partly because I wanted an “anchor to windward” in the form of the food carried by these two sledges in case seals and polar bears at sea did not prove as abundant as I expected. Up to the time the support party turned back, however, we had seen no diminution of animal life and had killed one polar bear and as many seals as we wanted. My mind was now fairly clear that as far as food was concerned we could continue our journey northward indefinitely, but it was equally clear that on account of our late start any considerable mileage was going to be difficult, for the sun was already shining eighteen hours out of the twenty-four, and it could not be long until the leads ceased freezing, necessitating laborious methods of crossing bodies of water which now were easily traversed bodies of ice.
''r'HE men of the support party who turned back were Crawford, McConnell, and Johansen. I sent back by them to Doctor Anderson, who was in command of the party ashore in my absence, instructions which looked forward to one of two eventualities.
First, it was possible that during the next fifty or one hundred miles of northward progress we might came to the conclusion that animal life, after all, is not abundant far from land, in which case we should try to return to Alaska, therefore certain instructions would cover only the period until that return.
The alternative was that if we did find animal life as abundant as we expected, and if the currents did not carry us to the westward, but were either negligible or easterly, we should proceed as far north as the rapid advance of the season allowed, and when summer threatened to stop sledge travel we would turn east and land on the north-east corner of Banks Island, 3r else on the southwest corner of Prince Patrick Island. My instructions provided that in case of our nonreturn Doctor Anderson should send the North Star, under command of Wilkins, north along the west coast of Banks Island. We should then meet her at Norway Island, which is an islet near the northwest corner of Banks Island, and proceed with her to Prince Patrick Island if we could.. But if Wilkins did not find us at Norway Island, or any messages from us, he was to try to cross to Prince Patrick Island, where in that case he was to expect to find us. I mentioned in the instructions that should we land upon Banks Island we should spend the summer in hunting, in putting up dried meat for dogfeed the following winter, and preparing skins for clothing.
It is interesting now to remember that, although the men of the support party were familiar with the tenor of these instructions, and although during those last few days I occasionally spoke of my desire not to return to Alaska, these remarks were never taken seriously. One of the last things Mr. Johansen said to me was that he hoped to see us back ashore in a certain number of days. In their minds what we talked of doing was visionary. They never expected to see it translated into fact.
We Are Believed Lost
A LTHOUGH the reasoning upon which our journey was based is simple and sounds conclusive, it must be remembered that a part of the conclusiveness which it holds is due to the fact that it is known to have worked out in practice. Up to that time the weight of opinion was all against it. Those who have read works on Arctic exploration know that no adjectives are more common than “desolate,” “barren,” and “lifeless” when applied to the fields of polar ice, and that there is rarely any qualifying reference to possible life in the waters underneath. How strong this belief was is best seen by the fact that, when we did not come back to Alaska, no one assumed that it wat because we were carrying out our announced plant and were traveling safely north and east, but everj one imagined that our non-return signified that w could not return, and that we could not return because we were dead. It was known that we had had fort; days’ provisions when we sent back the support party and when that forty days became eighty days, am
Continued on page 87
Solvingthe Problem of the Arctic
Continued from page 16
then one hundred and twenty days, safety; his opinion to that effect would
•every one agreed that we had perished, except those few who thought we had been carried westward by an assumed westward drift and were in the ocean north of Bering Strait, where doubtless we would perish, as our chances of getting ashore were considered negligible by those who believed in the westward current.
Among the Eskimos of Alaska, who have no experience of ice except that immediately near shore, and no book knowledge of the success of such men as Peary in traveling over it farther east, the dangers of ice travel were so overrated that they all believed us dead, for other reasons than scarcity of food, and believed it doubly because they also believed in the food shortage. The white men—the whalers, the trappers, and the members of our own party—based their conclusion on the food shortage mainly. In the North there were a few men who had faith in the sanity of our plans, among them Cant. Matt Andreasen, the brother of my companion, Ole Andreasen, and my old friend John Firth, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s factor at Fort Macpherson. Now that we have been so long alive, a good many amusing arguments have arisen among whalers and others as to just who believed we were not dead, but most claims for that distinction are disputed.
Our Deaths Made Official
IN the south one or two friends at the American Museum had faith in our eventual return, and in Washington Admiral Peary expressed hope for our
doubtless have been much stronger had he and others known that it had not been our intention to i*etum to Alaska unless we had to, but this fact, strangely enough, never got into the papers, although it was well known to members of our expedition. In the Canadian Parliament at Ottawa in April, 1915, the Hon. Frank Oliver inquii’ed of the Minister of Naval Seiwice, the Hon. J. D. Hazen, what the chances were of our safety. After taking a day to consider the matter, as is customary in parliaments, the Minister replied in effect that he was sorry to say that there was no hope of our being alive. Upon further inquiry from Mr. Oliver, he said that the basis of this statement was the uniform opinion of all the Arctic authorities that the Government had been able to consult. On the basis of this official announcement a great many editors in various parts of the world published kindly and (as is often the case with the dead) flattering obituaries that are now the most interesting section* of my scrapbook.
While these opinions were growing up farther south and finding expression through various channels, we were traveling successfully and comfortably northward, finding abundant food and fuel in these theoretically inhospitable x-egions, and securing them by methods which l-equire only a moderate application of common sense, and that reasonable absence of ill luck which permits a careful man to cross Fifth Avenue with safety after the traffic policemen have gone home.