Building the base

Illustration of Ice Barrier by Charles Harrisson
Ice Barrier sighted February 8, 1912. Face sketched about 5 pm snowing. Sketch by Charles Harrisson.
The 'Aurora' sets her face towards Hobart after landing the West Base Party on the Shackleton Shelf

In their own words

At 0845 the following day a high shelf-ice formation, lower than but resembling the Great Ice Barrier, was seen to the east of us and by noon we were at a point where the ice-cliffs met the floe-ice, here only a matter of a few hundred yards in extent. The barrier rose to a height of between sixty and eighty feet and for the most part was a sheer cliff face… Wild led a party over the floe-ice and up one of these snow ramps to the top of the shelf-ice and beyond it… At first sight this seemed the policy of desperation, as indeed to a certain extent it was, but Wild felt sure that the shelf-ice, or glacier, was a stable feature. He urged me to establish the western base there and then.

– J K Davis, High Latitude

To the south of the Base, seventeen miles distant at the nearest point, the mainland was visible, entirely ice-clad, running almost due east and west. It appeared to rise rapidly to about three thousand feet, and then to ascend more gradually as the great plateau of the Antarctic continent. It was my intention to travel inland beyond the lower ice-falls, which extended in an irregular line of riven bluffs all along the coast, and then to lay a depot or depots which might be useful on the next season's journeys.

– Frank Wild’s account in The Home of the Blizzard

S.Y. “Aurora”,
Shackleton Glacier
20.2.1912

Dear Captain Davis

I am a very poor hand at making pretty speeches, as you know, and I feel that I have not thanked you half enough for the way in which you have worked for us. I know that there are very few men indeed, in fact I am not acquainted with any, who would have gone through the worry and risk which you have undergone to find us a landing on this inhospitable but interesting continent, and from my heart I thank you and shall always feel indebted to you.

There will probably be some discussion about the position of this base, and no doubt some authorities will consider we are taking unjustified risks, and were this a barrier I should be of the same opinion, However, I am convinced that it is a glacier and with practically no movement. It is quite possible that during the twelve months of our stay here small portions will break away from the edge, but at the distance back at which I intend to build the hut I consider we are certainly as safe as Amundsen on the Ross Barrier.

You have made a good survey of the site yourself and will be able to satisfy any of the Party’s relatives that they will be as comfortable here as it is possible in the Antarctic.

I sincerely hope you will have fine weather trip back to Hobart; with such a light ship and so little coal I don’t suppose it would be any good offering you a comfortable one. You can be sure we shall be looking out for you next year about this time, In the meantime may you have the best of luck.

Yours ever,

Frank Wild

– Letter from Frank Wild to John King Davis, at the point of their parting at Shackleton Ice Shelf, February 1912

This page was last modified on July 3, 2014.