Monday, March 19, 2007

Excerpt: The Last Voyage of the Karluk by Captain Bob Bartlett, setting: March 10 (ish), 1914


In this excerpt we continue 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).

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The next morning, therefore, I sent McKinlay, Hadley and Mamen back to bring up the bear meat. The rest of us sledged supplies along the shoreward way, Kataktovick and I walking on ahead to blaze the trail. We had a continuation of the fine weather and low temperature. I suppose it was about forty or fifty below zero. We sledged a good part of the supplies along to the new camp on the big floe and built igloos there. The next day we continued the work, Kataktovick picking the trail. At first it was rough going but after a time it became a little better and we moved all our supplies ten miles nearer the land, returning to the igloos on the big floe for the night. We found that at one of the temporary caches along the way two bears had destroyed a case of coal oil and scattered two tins of biscuit over the ice.
It was hard luck, after getting the oil so near the island, to have bears to contend with in addition to the elements, especially as our dogs were not trained to follow a bear, so that there was no use trying to go after them. A polar bear has a very acute sense of smell and can scent a human being in plenty of time to get away from him, and as a bear can go faster than a man it can escape easily, unless the hunter has dogs trained from puppyhood to follow a bear and round him up, the way the dogs of Greenland can do. Of the bears that the McKinlay party shot the meat was simply cut off the bones, to have no useless weight to carry and some of if was cached on the ice, with the skins, and the rest brought with us. We expected to be able to get it later on but never did because we did not go back over the trail again, and we expected to get more bears on our way to the island.

On the tenth we kept up the task of sledging the supplies forward. We worked from daylight to dark, some with pickaxes, others with sledges with light loads, for the going was rough. The Eskimo built the igloos and by night we had all our supplies up, Munro, Mamen and myself getting in with the last load just at dark.

The going was was bad nearly all the way along here. Kataktovick and I were off at the first crack of dawn picking the trail for the others to follow with their pickaxes and their lightly loaded sledges. It was necessary for us to make fairly good loads, for a white man can not handle a sledge as deftly as an Eskimo can and we had not enough Eskimo to drive all the sledges even if they had been free from the work of trail-making and building igloos.

We made about seven miles during the day. Sometimes we had to get the sledges up on a ridge fifty feet high with an almost sheer drop on the other side. When we came to such rough places we would harness all the dogs to a sledge and all of us who could get a hand on it would help push the sledge. When we got the sledge up to the top we would run a rope from it to another sledge down below and as the first sledge went down the other side it would pull the second sledge up.