Across West Antarctica

An account of the post-IGY year traversing by Sno-Cat from Ellsworth Station to Byrd Station in 1959-60 by a Scottish glaciologist.

p. 31, during their first winter: There were collections of records to suit everyone’s musical taste, and the base had a scientific and a “popular” library as well as all types of do-it-yourself kits for making leather belts, model ships and other miscellaneous items. Unquestionably the most popular form of entertainment, however, was the “movies”, and a show was put on every night with a double feature on Saturdays.

p. 89, after a 1500- mile Sno-Cat traverse from Ellsworth to Byrd Station through many crevasses and whiteouts, the party arrived to mountains of mail: I spent the whole of the first night going through an enormous pile of mail. Most of it was “official”. There were new books for the library, copies of reports covering most of the various programmes, my formal letter of appointment as that year’s “Station Scientific Leader” at Byrd, news of the outside world, copies of the latest maps, memos to be answered, forms to be filled in, and lots of mail from philatelists, asking that their enclosed envelopes be hand-franked with the Byrd Station Post Office cachet.

p.93, while considering a sledging journey from Byrd Station to the Mt. Vinson area: I also re-read avidly a description of the mountains in Sullivan’s “Quest for a Continent”. The vivid account made me feel quite certain that it was no distant mirage which had been seen, but that there could be no doubt that a tremendous peak existed, not far from Byrd Station. Sullivan was describing one of the flights made by two American aircraft during “Operation Highjump” (1946-47).

p. 105ff., in a chapter on his second winter, Pirrit finds that at Byrd the same problems of the military/civilian dual leadership at Ellesworth were being perpetuated at Byrd.

p. 108-09: As at Ellsworth, there was great variety in the reactions of the individuals to the monotony of the winter. There were the usual irritations caused by banging doors, noisy record-players, and unavoidable close contacts. By mid-winter, insomnia was a nuisance and some resorted to the use of sleeping pills. On the other hand, a few succumbed to the winter and could hardly be dragged from their bunks. There were no special personality problems. Some individuals were more moody than others; one or two were inclined to be belligerent or very talkative when drunk, but fortunately the supply of liquor was limited…. The important thing, however, about privacy was that anyone with the “Big-Eye” (insomnia) could keep his light on for reading or studying as long as he liked without disturbing the others in the building.

[Apparently this privacy was only available to the scientists.]