Friday, March 16, 2007

Excerpt: The Last Voyage of the Karluk by Captain Robert Bartlett (setting: March 5-9 1914)


The following excerpt is from The Last Voyage of the Karluk An Epic of Death and Survival in the Arctic, 1913-1916 as related by her captain, Robert A. Bartlett and here set down by Ralph T. Hale (published in 1916 by Small, Maynard and Company, Inc.; unabridged audio edition narrated by Frank Holden published by Rattling Books).


March 4, at about four P.M., we finished working through the rafter and came out on the smoother ice on its landward side. Mamen, Kataktovick and I spent the day sledging supplies across from the camp on the farther side and when the road was finished we all went back for the last load. It was not until eight P.M. that we had all our supplies at the new camp and we had to do the last of the work in the dark; the Eskimo had built three igloos while we were sledging. It had taken us four days to get across a distance of three miles. From the shore side it was easy to see the basis of the formation of such rafters. A storm causes the moving ice to smash against and slide over the still ice and the pressure of the “irresistible force meeting the immovable body” throws the ice into fantastic, mountainous formations that are as weird as that astounding picture of Chaos before the Creation that used to ornament the first volume of Ridpath’s “History of the World.”

At daylight on March 5 I sent Munro and a party back across the three miles of raftered ice to meet the McKinlay party who were about due back from Shipwreck Camp. Munro and the others could guide and help them across the difficult road we had made. While they were gone I took Kataktovick and laid out a trail towards the land for the next day’s march. Now for the first time since we left Shipwreck Camp, we got a view of Wrangell Island; it was high and we seemed almost under it. The air was exceptionally clear and the land looked close to us.

Munro and his party did not get back until long after dark. They had reached our last camp across the raftered ice and not finding McKinlay and the others there had continued on the back trail, hoping to meet them. They went on as far as they could go without being compelled to stay out all night, and then came back, because they had no sleeping-robes and would have had a poor night of it, besides being obliged to build an igloo. They were wise in knowing when they had gone far enough; Munro showed his usual good judgment.

Our progress in to the island was retarded by the necessity of keeping along with us as large a quantity of supplies as possible. This meant relaying supplies, because the going was bad and made sledging difficult, with the small number of dogs we had. On the sixth, as soon as the first streak of light appeared, I sent Munro and his party back again to meet the McKinlay party, while I took Kataktovick and Kerdrillo and went ahead towards the island, road-making with our pickaxes. Munro had told me that when he first saw the three mile belt of raftered ice, he never thought for a moment that we should ever get through it. Any novice certainly had a right to feel discouraged; it was as tough a job as I ever tackled. We now picked our way – I might almost say pick-axed our way – across the ice from our last camp for a distance of seven miles until we came to a large, heavy floe, which would make a good place for a new camp; here we threw off the light loads which we had brought on two of the Peary sledges and returned to camp. At half past four the McKinlay party came in, convoyed by Munro and his party. McKinlay and his companions had gone clear back to Shipwreck Camp and brought in six cases of dog pemmican, sixteen cases of Hudson’s Bay pemmican, thirty gallons of gasoline, and some hatchets and snow-knives. They had left at the first camp from Shipwreck Camp four cases of Underwood dog pemmican and ten tins of Hudson’s Bay pemmican, for they already had too heavy loads to bring them.