The Friendly Arctic: The Story of Five Years in Polar Regions.

Stef’s most famous of many books, admired by many, reviled by some including Amundsen, who said it represented a danger in its claim that adoption of Inuit customs would assure safety in the north. The book is prefaced by testimonials from both Peary and Greely.

p. 22: When I first went North to spend the winter of 1906-07, I was

a good deal of a hero. I had all the wrong notions about the North,

or nearly all, for I had read most of the books that had been written

on the subject. But, like the typical explorer, I was brave and prepared to fight the best fight I knew how and to die if necessary for the advancement of science. (You see I came from an instructorship in a university, and "science," rather than adventure or a desire for the laurels of the hero-martyr, loomed great before me.)

I discreetly feared all the terrors of the North but I feared the

darkness most. For in addition to the published books I had come in contact with miners from Alaska who had told me how people up there went crazy and shot themselves, either because of the depressing effect of the winter darkness or because of the nervous strain and insomnia caused by the "eternal daylight" of summer.

Fortunately for me, this winter was not spent with men like

myself. In that case we might have hypnotized each other into actually feeling what we expected to feel. I had gone to an appointed rendezvous at the mouth of the Mackenzie but the ship that was to meet me there never turned up and I, the only white man in the vicinity, had to throw in my lot with the Eskimos.

p. 35, on Dr. Mackay who had spent some time in Antarctica: This was nearly the most northerly point of continental North America, and it measured up to neither the books that he had read nor the Antarctic in which he had spent a year. The fact is, however, that although in appearance the Antarctic does come more nearly up to story-book standards, it is an easier country to deal with, especially for those who come to it burdened with the heroic ideals of the classic explorer. Peary has made this clear in various of his books and other writings. [What an odious comparison.]

p. 74: The lands commonly supposed to be covered with ice are even now covered with grass; the "eternal silence" of the North exists only in books; the "vast arctic deserts where no living thing can flourish" are the abode of fat herds of indigenous grazing animals winter and summer—as you will see if you read on in this book.

The "Far West" is gone. But in the North is a greater frontier than the West ever was, stretching across Canada and across Siberia. The commercial value of the remotest arctic islands will be seen ere we die who now are young.

p. 93: However, the trip served the useful purpose of easing their consciences, for now they knew that no game could be got and that there was no occasion for them to do anything but wait for the spring in the orthodox way of explorers, reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica or penny novels, according to temperament, making long diary entries, listening to victrolas and having flashlight photographs taken now and then, showing the comforts and convivialities of an arctic home.

p. 116: It had been O’Neill’s intention to proceed forthwith up the Herschel River, but as he had, in common with most of the men at Collinson Point, spent the entire winter in the house, he was so "soft" and became so badly laid up with the fifteen-mile walk from where he met me to Herschel Island that his departure for the mountains had to be deferred several days. Such "softness" is the inevitable result of the time-honored polar explorer custom of spening the winter in camp whether in study (where the officers teach the men), theatricals, and the publishing of busy-work newspapers known as Boreal Bugle or North Polar News, as was done by the British expeditions from Parry to Nares; or whether in reading, listening to phonographs and writing reams of home letters for next summer’s mail, as has been the custom on recent expeditions. Such idleness makes muscles flabby and (what is worse) breeds discontent, personal animosities and bickerings of all sorts. That is one reason why I seldom spend more than a few days in any winter camp. Another reason is that there is always plenty of work to be done.

p. 128, re Nansen and seal hunting on his North Pole probe: So it is clear that there were no seals for dog-feed that Nansen might have secured with his English rifle which he tells us was so good and had cost so much. In reading his book we all accept as necessary though deplorable the killing of dog to feed dog until the last survivor was killed for the explorers themselves (presumably) to eat. For it is a commonplace of our knowledge that, as Markham puts it, the polar ocean is "without life."

p. 243: Like many others, I had gathered from reading polar books that fuel is hard to get in arctic lands, at least where driftwood is absent. But during my previous expedition I had learned that on the mainland of northern Canada, at least, there is excellent fuel to be found nearly everywhere, and so it proved on Banks Island. It has always been a marvel to me how the northern Indians who hunt out on the so-called "barren grounds" and the Eskimos of northern Alaska are able to grow up from childhood to maturity and old age without learning, either by accident or by the instruction of some wiser people, how to use certain common plants for fuel.

Readers of Frank Russell, Warburton Pike, Caspar Whitney, and

others know how the northern Indians load up their sleds with dry spruce wood for furtive dashes into the dreaded "barren grounds."

p. 278, on Banks Island, 1914: Doubtless the average man turns to polar narratives, when he turns to them at all, with the desire and expectation of reading about suffering, heroic perseverance against formidable odds, and tragedy either actual or narrowly averted. Perhaps, then, it is partly the law of supply and demand that accounts for the general tenor of arctic books. However that may be, my main interest in the story is to “get across” to the reader the idea that if you are of ordinary health and strength, if you are young enough to be adaptable and independent enough to shake off the influence of books and belief, you can find good reason to be as content and comfortable in the North as anywhere on earth.

p. 315: In outfitting the Karluk I had provided her library with those of the British Parliamentary Blue Books which contain the route maps and diaries of the sledge parties of the Franklin Search—one containing the diaries and surveys of McClintock and Mecham. These documents had gone with the Karluk and through lack of them I did not know that we were now in the vicinity of one of McClintock’s cairns.

p. 318-19, on discovering a McClintock document cylinder: I got home about midnight, to learn by exactly what perversity of nature each hunter had again been prevented from getting the seal he went after. But another day was coming and these trials of a hunter were soon forgotten in our interest in the McClintock record. First we discussed how the cylinder should be opened, and settled on cutting off one end with a penknife. With the three others watching I did this very delicately, lest the document be mutilated. But it came out in marvelous condition, considering that the sealing of the tube with sealing-wax had not been quite tight.

There was a thrill about unrolling that damp and fragile sheet

and reading the message from our great predecessor which had been

lying there awaiting us more than half a century. We felt it as marvelous that his steady hand was so legible after so long a time. It brought the past down to us, quite as wonderfully as it did for me five years later to talk in London with McClintock’s wife, still hale and charming, and with his sons, and to be shown the manuscript diary of the day he wrote this message.

The record was on the ordinary printing paper of that time,

and the message had in part been printed at the Dealy Island

winter base before the party started on their western journey, in

part written in red ink at the base, and in part entered by McClintock in pencil just before the record was deposited. The print was legible and so was the pencil writing, but the red ink had faded badly. I noted in my journal that while I should continue keeping my diary with a fountain pen for the sake of clearness, I should write in pencil any records I wanted to deposit.

The record follows, the print denoted by ordinary type and the

writing in italics.

"Cylinder buried 10 feet true north from this cairn: None. * Traces: None found.**

Party. All well. Have examined this shore to the southeastward for

about 150 miles. The sledge is now returning to the SE preparatory

to crossing to Melville Island. I am about to proceed to the westward

with a light sledge and two men for three marches, and will then return

after the main party and make the best of my way to Pt. Nias and

Dealy Island .***


15th June, P. M.

"I have searched the islands and reefs lying offshore to the northward."

[Footnotes] *It was a rule in the expeditions of the Franklin Search that any party finding a monument were to dig in the ground ten feet true north took for a message unobtrusively buried. This was for fear of Eskimos in inhabited lands who might remove any message frankly left in the cairn.

** Traces of Sir John Franklin’s Party.

*** McClintock made this exploration from his and Kellett’s base at Dealy Island. The journey lasted 105 days (April 5 to July 18), and was

estimated by McClintock at 1,030 geographical miles. Except the similar journey of Mecham from the same base to Prince Patrick Island simultaneously with McClintock’s, it was far the best arctic journey with sledges up to that time. It has frequently been called "the greatest of all arctic journeys." Cf. Sir Clements Markham, "Life of Admiral McClintock," p. 166.

p. 320: On the reverse of the sheet was the following, chiefly in print:

"Record, deposited 15th June, 1863, by a Sledge party from H.M.S.

Intrepid . Parties searching the NW, NE, SW & East coasts of Melville

Island and Banksland for the Expeditions under Sir John Franklin & Capt. Collinson.

"At Beechey Island: H.M.S. North Star, also Depot, House, Decked boat.

"Port Leopold, Depot, House and Steam Launch.

"Navy Board Inlet—Depot.

"Dealy Island (Bridport Inlet) H.M.S. Resolute and Steamer Intrepid the winter of 1852-53. All well: Will deposit depot, Boat, Sledges, &c. H.M.S. Assistance, and Steamer Pioneer went up Wellington Channel 1852

H.M.S. Investigator wintered north side of Banksland in long. 118° W.

1851-52. All well (learnt from her record left at Winter Harbour April 1852; and found October, 1852.


"Officer Commanding Party."

(The following in red ink in another hand):

"Commander . . . winter at Point Barrow if practicable; but is to send a . . . at Grantly Harbour and at Michaelowski Redoubt."

It is a matter of curious interest that this record is dated "P. M., June 15, 1853," and that I picked it up at 9:58 P. M. local apparent time, June 15, 1915, just sixty-two years later to the nearest half day.

[p. 320-22 has more information on the manuscript]

p. 323: And if the idea of the barrenness of the Arctic could have been shed a decade earlier there would have been no Franklin Search, for Franklin’s men would not have starved to death, as we now know they did, in a region where game is abundant.

p. 350: In comparing the recent Admiralty charts with McClintock’s

original survey as published in the Admiralty Blue Books I have

noted several differences, and in practically every case I have found

that McClintock’s original work corresponded with our observations better than the alterations as published by the Admiralty. For instance, McClintock shows the trend of the coast from Cape De Bray towards Sandy Point to be more easterly than indicated on the Admiralty chart. Our observation is that it is even more easterly than shown by McClintock. In most cases of difference between McClintock’s original maps of Melville Island and the more recent ones it is strange that any change has been made, for most of that coast has been untraversed by any one since his time.

p. 463-65: I had decided to spend the next winter in Melville Island [1916] or farther north whether our ships could get there or not. It has always been one of only two or three serious privations that with our system of long sledge journeys we are separated from our supply bases much longer than ordinary explorers and are therefore compelled to do without books to read. On my first expedition I carried five books wherever I went; complete India paper editions of Byron, Shelley, Heine’s poems in German, a volume of Icelandic poems, and Quain’s “Anatomy.” On my second expedition I had most of the standard books written about the Eskimos, whether in English, Danish or German. On the present expedition there was a thoughtfully selected and extensive library on both the Karluk and the Alaska, together with a general jumble of books presented to us. On each ship we had the new Britannica presented by its publishers, a hundred books, mainly scientific, presented by the Macmillan Company, and a hundred of more general range presented by the Frederick A. Stokes Company. On the Karluk was also my private library gathered through many years [Stef was under forty at the time], for I had expected to remain aboard ship for four or five months each year and was hoping to do much scientific writing, some of it by aid of my notes of the previous expedition. All these books and manuscript materials were lost with the Karluk, and the contents of the manuscripts irreparably lost, for memory in most cases is so unreliable that when one’s notes go the value of the work of months or years goes with them. I read now as new revelations the notes in my Eskimo diaries of ten years back, and continually find it valuable to check up my assertions by those records.

Most of the books originally on the Alaska continued with her, although several were sent to me with the Star, notably a valuable collection of ethnographical works selected and forwarded by Jenness. I had now read all the books on the Star with the exception of a few which I arranged to have carried to Melville Island during the spring. Some of these I carried because I knew I wanted to read them, others because they were there and had not yet been read. They were Hedin, “Trans-Himalaya;” Harrison, “Philosophy of Common Sense” and “National and Social Problems;” Hegner, “Introduction to Zoölogy;” Ingersoll’s “Lectures;” Comte, “Positive Philosophy;” De Morgan, “When Ghost Meets Ghost;” Sue, “Wandering Jew;” Hobbs, “Earth Features;” Mikkelsen, “Conquering the Arctic Ice;” Ellis, “Man and Woman;” and Boulger, “Botany.”

The books in the list above I did not carry on the sledge trip of 1916 except the Hobbs, Hegner and Comte. On most of my trips I carried some book on mathematical astronomy. Puzzling out problems and figuring are in themselves good or passing as distinguished from killing time.

There was one book that never ceased to engage and amuse me. I was a small boy when Rider Haggard’s “King Solomon’s Mines” was published. I was brought up in the cowboy country, consequently handicapped in my power to enjoy Wild West stories, but I would swallow every yarn that came out of Arica. I don’t know that I actually believed Rider Haggard’s stories to be veracious histories, but I supposed them to be the sort of thing that easily happens in Africa, and every incident made as vivid an impression on me as if I had believed them to be literally true. It stuck in my mind for twenty years that wherever he went Sir Henry Curtis carried with him a copy of the Ingoldsby Legends. I often wondered what sort of book it could be that so admirable a man as Sir Henry had chosen to be his constant companion. Somehow I managed to go through school and college without running into it or into any one who had, and I was beginning to imagine that the book did not exist any more than King Solomon’s mines when one day I was looking around a bookstore and saw on the shelf the Ingoldsby Legends. I bought the volume and, like Sir Henry Curtis, I have carried it with me ever since.

p. 490: In general my polar experience has been nearly free from the hardships that most impressed me in the books I read before going North. For nine polar winters I have never frozen a finger or a toe nor has any member of my immediate parties.

p. 502: I don’t think there were more than one or two seals secured by all the British polar explorers that searched for Sir John Franklin in the region southeast of us, although the diaries of several commanders as published in the Parliamentary Blue Books show that attempts were made to get them.

As previously observed the ease of catching seals is taken for

granted by those who in recent years have read narratives of the Antarctic. The implements needed for the butchery are a hammer to stun the animal and a knife to cut its throat. It is also well known that schooners go out from Newfoundland and Norway and kill seals by the ten thousand. The explanation here is again largely the same as in the Antarctic; the seal has no "natural enemies" and is therefore largely devoid of fear in the regions where the commercial sealing is done.

p. 513-14: In "Farthest North," Nansen tells us that no pressure ridges are more than thirty or thirty-five feet high and that accounts of pressure ridges much higher are merely careless statements founded on inaccurate observation. This statement has been much quoted and generally believed by those writers forced to rely on books for their

information. But Nansen’s ice experiences were of a particular

and limited sort. All those who have made journeys out over the

ice from a base on land have noted that the pressure ridges are

highest near shore and get lower as you proceed to seaward. They

are also, by more elementary logic, most numerous near shore and

get fewer farther away from land. Captain Sverdrup was with

Nansen both on his crossing of Greenland and in the drift in the

Fram, so that Nansen’s only ice experiences which were not the

same as Sverdrup’s were on his journey with Johansen after they

left the Fram, first north and then back to Franz Josef Land.

p. 574: In the geographic books of seventy-five years ago and less, the Great American Dessert covered a large part of the United States. There are only little dessert spots left now, and these are getting smaller under the advance of knowledge and skill in irrigation, dry farming and the like. The “Frozen North” is now large upon our maps, but during the next fifty years most of it will go the way of the Great American Dessert, by the same removal of ignorance from men’s minds.

p. 576: I dined with Captain Bernier in 1908 just before my second expedition, and he told me of depots he had made and of his intention to go North again. I think that in Ottawa in 1913 I must have heard some mention of a depot at Winter Harbor but if so I nearly forgot it. Bernier’s books and reports were all on the Karluk and lost. But Storkerson now reminded me that in the summer of 1914 when we were waiting for the Star on northern Banks Island I had told him and Ole that I thought there was a depot at Winter Harbor and had discussed going there in case the Star did not come. We had decided that my vague notion was not to be relied on, and also that the depot at Dealy Island, being more than sixty years old, was too ancient to be relied on either. Anyway, the arrival of the Sachs had taken these considerations out of our minds until Storkerson recalled them when, some miles from Winter Harbor, they saw through their glasses a frame house very much of the type you find among new settlers on the western prairies of Canada.

p. 605: The late Archdeacon Hudson Stuck had a gift for terse expression well known to the readers of his delightful books about Alaskan travel and to those who have heard him lecture. He was stationed for many years at Fort Yukon, three or four miles north of the

arctic circle in Alaska. It is a wooded country and free from the strong winds that are our greatest handicap in the open, but, so far as mere cold is concerned, the Archdeacon experienced more of it than I or any polar explorer known to me. The United States Weather Bureau has records of sixty-eight degrees below zero from Fort Yukon, which is probably about eight or ten degrees lower than I have ever seen it, although I may have experienced such temperatures without knowing it north of Great Bear Lake in 1911 when I had no thermometer. The Archdeacon and I met in New York in 1919 and were comparing notes about our experience with the inquiring public who always know how dreadfully cold it is in the North and marvel that any one can live through it. He said that the inquiry which he found most tedious usually took the form, "How can you stand the dreadful cold up there?" Most of his inquirers were women and he had devised the stereotyped reply, "Madam, we do not endure the cold; we protect ourselves from it." There it is in a nutshell.

p. 637, gives an account of finding the McClure 1851 Investigator document claiming its discovery of the North West Passage, which Stef took with him. Where now?

p. 638: Without having any reason to think that the things we left would be found by any one who would want to use them, we still packed up everything in the safest manner possible. We then made a platform between the two sledges and put most of the things upon this platform, protected as well as possible from rain. A few articles we left on the ground. Some books were among the things we had to abandon—Dickens’ “Christmas Stories,” Churchill’s “Crisis,” Bigelow’s “Applied Biology,” Mikkelsen’s “Conquering the Arctic Ice.” These were left behind either because they were heavy or because we knew them almost by heart. And these others were carried on, either because they were lighter or more highly valued—Barham’s “Ingoldsby Legends,” Combe’s “Fundamental Principles of Positive Philosophy,” Boas’ “Mind of Primitive Man,” the Royal Geographical Society’s “Hints to Travellers,” and the American Nautical Almanac for 1916.

p. 661: The outfit that had been left for us was conspicuous for the

want of certain things. There were no sledges or means of travel,

so that we were as nearly prevented as possible from leaving Banks

Island. Indeed it would have been necessary for us, had we desired to leave by sled, first to go back overland with pack dogs to the northeast corner and pick up the sleds we had left there, bringing them home on the first snow. This would have required two months of tedious work. Neither had primus stoves been left nor suitable equipment for traveling, but in this respect we could have made out somehow. There were no writing materials except those we had brought with us overland, and scarcely any books to read. All the best had been carried away.

My companions with the dogs arrived three days after me. The Stevensonian romance of being deserted and marooned appealed far less to them than to me, and feeling ran high for a while, with many remarks of all they would do and say when they got out to civilization.

p. 678, on Herschel Island Stef came down with typhoid: Conditions of severe illness in the Far North are different from those of ordinary civilized surroundings, even in an outpost of civilization such as Herschel Island, and may therefore have interest justifying description. My treatment had been in many ways the opposite of the orthodox way with typhoid. They had not realized that I had typhoid and I had thus so far mercifully escaped the orthodox treatment of ten years ago, which was still in vogue when the medical books of Herschel Island were written. But Constable Lamont’s case was handled according to these antiquated proprieties. He became steadily worse and just when I was lowest with pneumonia he died in his room across the hall.

Some one now started the idea that this might be typhus. The medical books of the island had been hunted up and read by every one except me, for, although I had more medical knowledge than the rest, it was considered that an invalid must not be allowed to read about disease for fear of some dreadful deteriorating effect upon him. One medical book did get into my hands. It was one of a three-volume set and contained treatments, where the other volumes were devoted to symptoms. I wanted to read about the symptoms to be able to decide what my treatment ought to be, but those volumes were carefully kept away from me.

*The Dartmouth College Library catalogue describes one of its copies of this book as follows: "This volume was carried on board the U.S.S. Seadragon (SSN584) during the transpolar cruise of this ship from Portsmouth, N.H. to Nome and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in August-September, 1960. Seadragon was the first ship to go east-west across the Arctic Ocean, the first to transit the Northwest Passage submerged, and the first to complete the Parry Channel," signed, G.P. Steele, Commander, U.S. Navy, Commanding, on fly-leaf. 1921 printing.