Robert E. (Robert Edwin) Peary.

Nearest the pole : a narrative of the polar expedition of the Peary Arctic Club in the S.S. Roosevelt, 1905-1906 online

. (page 17 of 20)
Online LibraryRobert E. (Robert Edwin) PearyNearest the pole : a narrative of the polar expedition of the Peary Arctic Club in the S.S. Roosevelt, 1905-1906 → online text (page 17 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

bight, some twelve or fifteen miles south of Cape Sabine,
from whence I could proceed to Payer Harbour in my
boats or sledges when opportunity offered. This was
done, and on the 29th of August the Erik steamed


On the 1 6th of September I succeeded in reaching
Payer Harbour, crossing Ross Bay, partly by sledge
and partly by boat, and going overland across Bedford
Pim Island.


Soon after this my Eskimos began to sicken, and by
November 19th six of them were dead. During this
time I personally sledged much of the material from
Erik Harbour to headquarters, and Henson went to the
head of Buchanan Bay with some of the Eskimos, and
secured ten musk-oxen.

The winter passed quietly and comfortably. Two
more musk-oxen were secured in Buchanan Bay, and
six deer at Etah,

January 2d, work was begun in earnest on prepara-
tions for the spring campaign, which opened on the
nth of February. On this day I sent off six sledges,
with light loads, to select a road across the mouth of
Buchanan Bay, and build an igloo abreast of Cape
Albert. On the 12th I sent two of my best hunters
on a flying reconnoissance and bear hunt, in the direc-
tion of Cape Louis Napoleon.

On the 13th eight sledges went out, taking dog food
nearly to Cape D'Urville. On the i6th my two scouts
returned with a favourable report, and on the i8th
ten sledges went out loaded with dog-food to be taken
to Cape Louis Napoleon. This party returned on the
2 2d. On the evening of the 28th, everything was in
readiness for Henson to start the next day, it being
my intention to send him on ahead with three picked
men and light loads to pioneer the way to Conger; I
to follow a few days later with the main party. A
northerly gale delayed his departure until the morning
of March 3d, when he got away with six sledges and
some fifty dogs. Two of these sledges were to act as a
supporting party as far as Cape Lawrence. At 9
A. M. of March 6th fourteen sledges trailed out of

EXPEDITION OF 1898 -1902 337

Payer Harbour and rounded Cape Sabine for the north-
em journey, and at noon I followed them, with my big
sledge, the "Long Serpent," drawn by ten fine grays.
Two more sledges accompanied me. The temperature
at the time was -20° F. The minimum of the previous
night had been -38° F. We joined the others at the
igloos abreast of Cape Albert and camped there for the
night. Temperature -43° F. The next day we made
Cape D'Urville in temperature from -45° to -49° F.

Here I stopped a day to dry our foot gear thor-
oughly, and left on the morning of the 9th with some
supplies from the box house. Two sledges returned
from here. Camped about five miles from Cape Louis
Napoleon, The next march carried me to Cape Eraser,
and the next to Cape Collinson. During this march,
for the first time in the four seasons that I have been
over this route, I was able to take a nearly direct
course across the mouth of Scoresby Bay, instead of
making a long detour into it.

One march from Cape Collinson carried me to Cape
Lawrence, on the north side of Rawlings Bay. The
crossing of this bay, though more direct than usual,
was over extremely rough ice. Learning from Henson's
letter at Cape Lawrence, that I had gained a day on
him, and not wanting to overtake him before reach-
ing Conger, I remained here a day, repairing several
sledges which had been damaged in the last march.
Five men with the worst sledges and poorest dogs
returned from here. Three more marches took us to
Cape L. von Buch on the north side of Carl Ritter Bay,
temperature ranging from -35° to -45° F. Heavy
going in many places.


Two more marches carried us to the first coast valley
north of Cape Defosse. I had now gained two days on
the advance party. The character of the channel ice
being such that we were able to avoid the terrible
ice -foot, which extends from here to Cape Lieber, and
my dogs being still in good condition, I made a spurt
from here and covered the distance to Conger in one
march, arriving about an hour and a half after Henson
and his party.

I had covered the distance from Payer Harbour to
Conger, some 300 miles, in twelve marches.

Four days were spent at Conger overhauling sledges
and harness, drying and repairing clothing, and scouting
the country, as far as The Bellows, in search of musk-
oxen. None were seen, but about 100 hare were
secured in the four days. Temperature during this
time from -40° to -57° F. Seven Eskimos returned
from here, taking with them the instruments of the
Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, and other items of
Government property abandoned here in 1883.

On the morning of the 24th I started north with nine
sledges. We camped the first night at "Depot B."
The next march I had counted on making Lincoln
Bay, but just before reaching Wrangel Bay a sudden
furious gale with blinding drift drove us into camp at
the south point of the bay. Here we were storm-
bound during the 26th, but got away on the morning
of the 27th and pushed on to Cape Union, encountering
along this portion of the coast the steep side slopes of
hard snow, which are so trying to men and sledges
and dogs.

Open water, the clouds over which we saw from

EXPEDITION OF 1898- 1902 339

Wrangel Bay Camp, was about 100 yards beyond our
igloo, and extended from there, as I judged, northward
beyond Cape Rawson, and reached entirely across the
channel to the Greenland coast at Cape Brevoort, as
in 1900.

Fortunately, with the exercise of utmost care, and
with a few narrow escapes, and incessant hard work,
we were able to work our sledges along the narrow and
dangerous ice-foot to and around Black Cape.

The ice-foot along this section of the coast was the
same as was found here by Egerton and Rawson in
1876, and Pavy in 1882, necessitating the hewing of an
almost continuous road; but a party of willing, light-
hearted Eskimos makes comparatively easy work of
what would be a slow and heart-breaking job for two
or three white men. Beyond Black Cape the ice-foot
improved in character, and I pushed along to camp at
the Alerfs winter quarters. Simultaneously with
seeing the Alerts' cairn three musk-oxen were seen a
short distance inland, and secured. The animals were
very thin and furnished but a scant mealfor my

One march from here carried us to Cape Richardson,
and the next under the lee of View^ Point, where we
were stopped and driven to build our igloo with all
possible speed by one of the common Arctic gales.
There were young ice, pools of water, and a nearly con-
tinuous water- sky all along the shore.

As the last march had been through deep snow, I
did not dare to attempt the English short cut across
Feilden Peninsula behind Cape Joseph Henry, pre-
ferring to take the ice-foot route round it.


For a short distance this was the worst bit of ice-
foot I have ever encountered. By the shpping of my
sledge two men nearly lost their lives, saving them-
selves by the merest chance, with their feet already
dangling over the crest of a vertical face of ice some
fifty feet in height. At the very extremity of the cape
we were forced to pass our sledges along a shelf of ice,
less than three feet in width, glued against the face of
the cliiT at an elevation which I estimated at the time
as seventy-five feet above the ragged surface of the
floe beneath. On the western side of the cape the ice-
foot broadened and became nearly level, but was smoth-
ered in such a depth of light snow that it stalled us and
we went into camp. The next day we made Crozier

During April 2d and 3d we were held here by a
westerly storm, and the 4th and 5 th were devoted to
hunting musk-oxen, of which three were secured, two
of them being very small. From here I sent back three
Eskimos, keeping Henson and four Eskimos with me.

Reconnoissances of the polar pack northward were
made with the glasses from the summit of the island
and from Cape Hecla.

The pack was very rough, but apparently not as bad
as that which I saw north of Cape Washington two
years before. Though unquestionably difficult, it
yet looked as though we might make some progress
through it unless the snow was too deep and soft.
This was a detail which the glasses could not

On the morning of April 6th I left Crozier Island, and
a few hours later, at the point of Cape Hecla, we swung

EXPEDITION OF 1898- 1902 341

our sledges sharply to the right and climbed over and
down the parapet of the ice-foot on to the polar pack.
As the sledges plunged down from the ice-foot their
noses were buried out of sight, the dogs wallowed belly
deep in the snow, and we began our struggle due north-

We had been in the field now just a month. We
had covered not less than 400 miles of the most arduous
travelling in temperatures of from— 35° to —57° F., and
we were just beginning our work, i. e. , the conquest of
the polar pack, the toughest undertaking in the whole
expanse of the Arctic region.

Some two miles from the cape was a belt of very
recent young ice, running parallel with the general
trend of the coast. Areas of rough ice caught in this
compelled us to exaggerated zigzags, and doubling on
our track. It was easier to go a mile round, on the
young ice, than to force the sledge across one of these

The northern edge of the new ice was a high wall of
heavily rubbled old ice, through which, after some
reconnoissance, we found a passage to an old floe, where
I gave the order to build an igloo. We were now about
five miles from the land.

The morning of the 7th brought us fine weather.
Crossing the old floe we came upon a zone of old-fioe
fragments deeply blanketed with snow. Through the
irregularities of this we struggled; the dogs flounder-
ing, almost useless, occasionally one disappearing for
a moment; now treading down the snow round a
sledge to dig it out of a hole into which it had sunk,
now lifting the sledges bodily over a barrier of blocks;


veering right and left; doubling in our track; road-
making with snowshoe and pickaxe.

Late in the day a narrow ditch gave us a lift for a
short distance, then one or two little patches of level
going, then two or three small old floes which, though
deep with snow, seemed like a Godsend compared with
the wrenching earlier work. We camped in the lee
of a large hummock on the northern edge of a small
but very heavy old floe, everyone thoroughly tired,
and the dogs dropping motionless in the snow as soon
as the whip stopped.

We were now due north to Hecla, and I estimated
we had made some six miles, perhaps seven, perhaps
only five. A day of work like this makes it difficult
to estimate distances. This is a fair sample of our
day's work.

On the 12 th we were storm-bound by a gale from the
west, which hid even those dogs fastened nearest to
the igloo. During our stay here the old floes on which
we were camped split in two with a loud report, and
the ice cracked and rumbled and roared at frequent

In the first march beyond this igloo we were deflected
westward by a lead of practically open water, the thin
film of young ice covering it being unsafe even for a
dog. A little further on a wide canal of open water
deflected us constantly to the northwest and then
west until an area of extremely rough ice prevented us
from following it farther. Viewed from the top of a
high pinnacle this area extended west and northwest
on both sides of the canal, as far as could be seen. I
I could only camp and wait for this canal, which evi-

EXPEDITION OF 1898- 1902 343

dently had been widened (though not newly formed)
by the storm of the day before, to close up or freeze
over. During our first sleep at this camp there was a
slight motion of the lead, but not enough to make it
practicable. From here I sent back two more Eskimos.

Late in the afternoon of the 14th the lead began to
close, and hastily packing the sledges we hurried them
across over moving fragments of ice. We now found
ourselves in a zone of high parallel ridges of rubble ice
covered with deep snow. These ridges were caused
by successive opening and closing of the lead. When,
after some time, we found a practicable pass through
this barrier, we emerged upon a series of very small
but extremely heavy and rugged old floes; the snow
on them still deeper and softer than on the southern
side of the lead. At the end of a sixteen-hour day I
called a halt, though we were only two or three miles
north of the big lead.

During the first portion of the next march we passed
over fragments of very heavy old floes slowly moving
eastward. Frequently we were obliged to wait for the
pieces to crush close enough together to let us pass
from one to the other. Farther on I was compelled
to bear away due east by an impracticable area extend-
ing west, northwest, north and northeast as far as could
be seen, and just as we had rounded this and were
bearing away to the north again, we were brought up
by a lead some fifty feet wide. From this on, one day
was much like another, sometimes doing a little better
sometimes a little worse, but the daily advance, in spite
of our best efforts, steadily decreasing. Fog and
stormy weather also helped to delay us.


I quote from my Journal:

April 215/. — The game is off. My dream of sixteen
years is ended. It cleared during the night and we got
under way this morning, Deep snow. Two small old
floes. Then came another region of old rubble and
deep snow. A survey from the top of a pinnacleshowed
this extending north, east and west, as far as could be
seen. The two old floes, over which w^e had just come,
are the only ones in sight. It is impracticable and I
gave the order to camp. I have made the best fight,
I knew. I believe it has been a good one. But I
cannot accomplish the impossible.

A few hours after we halted there came from the ice
to the north a sound like that made by a heavy surf,
and it continued during our sta}^ at this camp. Evi-
dently the floes in that direction were crushing together
under the influence of the wind, or what was, perhaps,
more probable, from the long continuation of the noise,
the entire pack was in slow motion to the east. A
clear day enabled me to get observations which showed
my latitude to be 84° 17' 27'' N., magnetic varia-
tion, 99° west. I took some photographs of the
camp, climbed and floundered through the broken
fragments and waist-deep snow for a few hundred
yards north of the camp, gave the dogs a double ration,
then turned in to sleep, if possible, for a few hours
preparatory to returning.

We started on our return soon after midnight of the
2ist. It was very thick, with wind from the west and
snowing heavily. I hurried our departure in order to

EXPEDITION OF 1898- 1902 345

utilise as much of our tracks as possible before they were
obliterated. It was very difficult to keep the trail
in the uncertain light and driving snow. We lost it
repeatedly, when we would be obliged to quarter the
surface like bird dogs. On reaching the last lead of
the upward march, instead of the open water which
had interrupted our progress then, our tracks now
disappeared under a huge pressure ridge, which I
estimated to be from seventy-five to one hundred feet
high. Our trail was faulted here by the movement of
the floes, and we lost time in picking it up on the other

This was to me a trying march. I had had no
sleep the night before, and to the physical strain of
handling my sledge was added the mental tax of trying
to keep the trail. When we finally camped, it was
only for a few hours, for I recognised that the entire
pack was moving slowly, and that our trail was every-
where being faulted and interrupted by new pressure
ridges and leads, in a way to make our return march
nearly, if not quite, as slow and laborious as the out-
ward one. The following marches were much the
same. In crossing one lead I narrowly escaped losing
two sledges and the dogs attached to them. Ar-
rived at the "Grand Canal," as I called the big lead
at which I had sent two Eskimos back, the changes
had been such as to make the place almost unrecog-

Two marches south of the Grand Canal the changes
in the ice had been such, between the time of our up-
ward trip and the return of my two men from the canal,
that they, experienced as they were in all that pertains


to ice-craft, had been hopelessly bewildered and wan-
dered apparently, for at least a day, without finding
the trail. After their passage other changes had taken
place, and, as a result, I set a compass course for the
land, and began making a new road. In the next
march we picked up our old trail again.

Early in the morning of the 2 2d, we reached the
second igloo out from Cape Hecla, and camped in a
driving snowstorm. At this igloo we were storm-
bound during the 27th and 28th, getting away on the
29th in the densest fog, and bent on butting our way
in a " bee " line compass course, for the land. Flounder-
ing through the deep snow and ice, saved fom un-
pleasant falls only by the forewarning of the dogs, we
reached Crozier Island after a long and weary march.
The band of young ice along the shore had disappeared,
crushed up into confused ridges and mounds of irreg-
ular blocks.

The floe at the island camp had split in two, the
crack passing through our igloo, the halves of which
stared at each other across the chasm. This march
finished two of my dogs, and three or four more were
apparently on their last legs. We did not know how
tired we were until we reached the island. The warm
foggy weather and the last march together dropped our
physical barometer several degrees.

As we now had light sledges, I risked the short cut
across the base of Feilden Peninsula and camped that
night under the lee of View Point. Four more marches
carried us to Conger, where we remained three days,
drying clothing and repairing sledges, and giving the
dogs a much-needed rest. Leaving Conger on the 6th





. r






EXPEDITION OF 1898-1902 349

of May, eleven marches brought us back to Payer
Harbour on the 17th of May. A few days after this
I went north to complete the survey of the inner por-
tions of Dobbin Bay, being absent from headquarters
some ten days. Open water vetoing a trip which I
had planned for June up Buchanan Bay and across to
the west coast of Ellesmere Land, the remainder of
the time was devoted to assiduous hunting, in order to
secure a supply of meat for the winter, in the con-
tingency of no ship arriving.

On the 5 th of August the new Windward, sent north
by the Club, and bringing to me Mrs. Peary and my
little girl, steamed into the harbour. As soon as
people and supplies could be hurried aboard her, she
steamed across the Sound to the Greenland side.
Here my faithful Eskimos were landed, and, after
devoting a week or so to the work of securing sufficient
walrus to carry them in comfort through the winter,
the Windward steamed southward, and, after an un-
eventful voyage, arrived at Sydney, C. B., on the 17th
of September, where I had the pleasure of meeting
Secretary Bridgman, of the Club, and forwarding
through him a brief report of my movements during
the past year.

A New Caribou from Ellesmere Land*


The valuable natural history material brought by the
Arctic explorer, Commander R. E. Peary, U. S. N.,
to the American Museum of Natural History on his

*Bulletin Am. Museum of Nat. History, Vol. xvi, Article xxxii.


return from his recent long sojourn in the high North
contains five specimens of Caribou taken in Ellesmere
Land, Lat. 79°, in June, 1902. They comprise four
flat skins of adults without skulls, and more or less
defective, and the complete skin of a young fawn. In
colouration they are strikingly different from any other
known Caribou, being pure white except for a large dark
patch on the middle and posterior part of the back.

Rangifer Pearyi, sp. nov.

Type, No. 19231 o^ ad., Ellesmere Land, N. Lat. 79°, June 15, 1902,
Commander Robert E. Peary, U. S. N.

Entire animal pure white except an oval grayish brown patch over
the posterior half of the dorsal surface, gradually fading into white toward
the shoulders, the hair being white to the base, or of a pale shade of lilac
below the surface, where the surface colour is white. The dorsal patch
occupies an area of about 670 mm. in length by 350 mm. in width, and is
drab-gray, divided by a very narrow median line of white. The legs and
feet are wholly white; the ears are slightly tinged with gray, the hair
beneath the surface being plumbeous and showing slightly at the surface.
The antlers are just budding, being represented by small protuberances,
about an inch and a half in length, covered with short hair. Total length
of flat skin, 1660 mm. Corresponding measurement of fiat skins of the
dark form of Caribou from Greenland, 1820 mm.

A female (No. 19232) is similar, except that the dark dorsal area ex-
tends a little further forward at the shoulders, and is a little darker. As
in the male, the patch fades out to whitish toward the shoulders. Length
of the flat skin, 1560 mm.

Two other females are similarly marked, but the dorsal patch in both
is much darker, approaching dark slate gray. The region around the
base of the antlers and ears is clouded with grayish, as are the edges of
the ears; the front surface of the forelegs is dark grayish brown, and of
the hind legs faint buffy grayish brown, increasing in amount and in-
tensity apically from the tarsal joint to the hoofs. These skins measure
respectively 1610 and 1570 mm. in total length. In one the antlers form
knobs an inch or two in height, covered with short hair.

A fawn (No. 19235), a few weeks old, is grayish white on the head,
cars, neck, limbs, ventral surface and sides of the body, the hairs being

EXPEDITION OF 1898-1902 351

dusky basally and broadly tipped with white, the dusky basal portion
showing through the white enough to give a general dingy effect. The
top of the nose and a narrow band bordering the nostrils are blackish,
passing posteriorly on the upper part of the rostrum into brownish dusky;
a broad central band from the nose nearly to the ears is darker or more
dingy than the sides of the face; a rusty brownish spot marks the point
where the antlers are to appear, and there is a faint rusty wash on the sides
of the face both before and behind the rusty antler spots. The back is
marked by a strongly defined, very narrow, ferrugineous line, running
from the nape to the base of the tail, which, over the middle of the back,
broadens a little and darkens to deep dusky ferruginous ; the whole dorsal
area, from a little behind the shoulders to the rump, is pale fawn colour,
darkest medially and fading out on the sides to pale buffy white. This
coloured area corresponds in position and outline with the dark dorsal
patch of the adults. A narrow, ill-defined, dusky chestnut -brown band
borders the hoofs of all the feet, but is rather broader and more distinct
on the hind feet than on the fore feet. The tail is wholly white to the base,
as in the adults.

The adult specimens, though killed in June, are in
winter coat, the hair being long, thick, and very soft,
much softer and finer than in the Greenland Caribou,
and the skins are also much thinner and softer. The
skin of the fawn was preserved in brine, which may
have slightly intensified or darkened the buffy shades
of the dorsal surface.

Rangifer Pearyi is evidently a very distinct insular
form, very different from R. Groenlandicus in coloura-
tion and doubtless in other features. Unfortunately
only flat skins are available for examination. Speci-
mens of R. Groenlandicus in corresponding pelage are
dark slaty brown above, this colour fading gradually
on the sides to the white of the ventral surface, the
Greenland Caribou being very much darker in its win-
ter pelage than the Newfoundland Caribou, which
heretofore has been the whitest known form of the


I am indebted to Commander Peary for the following
information regarding the occurrence of Caribou in
EUesmere Land. In a letter dated Philadelphia,
October 13, 1902, he says: "In answer to your in-
quiries I will say that remains and traces of reindeer
have been noted by previous explorers at the following

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19 20

Online LibraryRobert E. (Robert Edwin) PearyNearest the pole : a narrative of the polar expedition of the Peary Arctic Club in the S.S. Roosevelt, 1905-1906 → online text (page 17 of 20)