FIFTH ARTICLE ON WRANGELL ISLAND - * * -
For Crawford and Galle the winter of 1921-22 on Wrangell Island was a new experience but for Maurer it was the third arctic winter and for Knight it was the fourth. It is therefore in a way unfortunate that the only diary saved from the general destruction - Knight’s - is that of a veteran to whom every polar circumstance and adventure had become a commonplace scarce worth writing down. The less seasoned men doubtless kept diaries recording more vivid reactions to their more novel experiences.
It is only in rare spots that Knight gives us any indication of what the rest of the party were thinking and feeling. To his mind the weather does not seem to have been materially better or worse than ordinary arctic weather; he was a little puzzled that bears should be so scarce in winter and spring after being so common the preceding autumn and a little annoyed at seeing fresh bear tracks so much oftener than the bears. But he never doubted that luck would turn in good time. He was delighted with the ample supply of driftwood fuel, a favorable contrast to the fuelless islands in which he had spent his other three northern years. On the whole he was finding the winter about what he had been expecting when he was writing me discontented letters from balmy Oregon pleading that we should get together on some sort of scheme for polar work. It seems likely that Maurer felt about as Knight did. If the younger men had different views they at least did not annoy or otherwise influence Knight with them enough to make an impression on his diary. Since the outstanding quality of the daily entries is frankness, we may feel sure the whole party took everything about as Knight did. If there had been dis-
agreements, bickerings, discontent, he would have recorded them day by day. Instead we find in the diary comradeship, unity of purpose and a jolly, matter-of-fact attitude towards the vicissitudes of their adventurous isolation.
The party maintained two winter camps about twelve miles apart and visited back and forth between them. The houses were comfortable, fuel was abundant, and for the outdoors work every man was so well dressed that there is not a single entry that winter showing any discomfort from cold.
Between February 26th and March 1st Maurer and Galle made a trip twenty or twenty-five miles east along the coast to visit Rodger's Harbor, the site of the main camp of the Karluk crew while they were on Wrangell Island. The scene was familiar to Maurer and they found everything as it had been left by our men in 1914 except for the inevitable effects of wind and weather. They saw "a few fairly fresh bear tracks but no bears." Although this was about the coldest week of the year, with the temperatures ranging from -16° to -42°, the trip seems to have been made in comfort, for that subject is not even mentioned.
In February the entire party lived together at one of the camps, but in March Crawford and Maurer again began to spend part of the time at the "trapping camp." A few foxes were caught and tracks of bears were frequently seen, but bad luck in not seeing the bears themselves began to be monotonous. Ravens were occasional visitors, but there is no mention of other birds in February or March.
March 22nd "Crawford and I would like to make a trip around the island but the question is dog feed. I am still cooking for them and could also do that while traveling although it would be a nuisance. We are like Mr. Micawber, waiting for something to turn up; and we are keeping a good lookout for bears."
There was a slight turn in the hunting luck when on April 16th
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three bears were seen and two of them secured. April 26th they saw a bear but made the mistake of trying to get it with dogs instead of by careful stalking. Two or three fairly good hunting dogs will usually stop a bear on level ice, but not always. In rough ice the rule is that the bear cannot be stopped, and the danger is also correspondingly greater to the dogs. In this case three dogs were used. One of them soon came back wounded, though not seriously; the other two chased the bear several hours and, although they were able to delay it some, Crawford and Galle never caught up. They could doubtless have shot the bear, but one does not fire at a great distance when bear and dogs are almost in line and when each dog is worth ten times more than the bear.
April on Wrangell Island was stormy and snowy. Still, it was spring. On the 28th the temperature rose to 40° F. in the shade, or eight degrees above freezing. This would be about 60° in the sun. Parts of the land occasionally became bare through thawing but were covered again by the frequent snowfalls that are typical of an arctic April if you are on a seacoast or on a small island.
On April 29th Galle went for a trip inland from which he returned in two days. "He camped the first night in the hills in a snowhouse after climbing a peak 1950 feet high (by aneroid barometer). He was unable to see very far to the north because of a ridge farther on. He then went to the other camp where he found the tent slightly damaged by a bear which had made a hole in the roof of the storm shed. In two different places he found where a female bear had given birth to cubs. Saw a few bear and fox tracks, also several snow buntings."
About the middle of May the weather had become so persistently warm that the winter camp was untenable any longer. It was leaking and the surroundings had become boggy. On May 18th they pitched a tent about a
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hundred yards away and moved to it. Such a camp as they had lived in is suitable only for extremely cold weather. It was a relief to get into tents.
On May 25th, "shortly after breakfast a large bunch of geese flew up the river bottom near our camp from the south and landed on a bare spot." From this time on the spring and summer were enlivened by great numbers of birds of various sorts. Seals, too, were basking on the ice in every direction from camp nearly every day, and the party began to practice what the Eskimos call the "crawling method" of hunting. This is simple in theory but a little difficult in practice and requires unlimited patience. Patience, indeed, is the chief qualification. That is probably why Maurer soon developed into an excellent "crawling" hunter and remained the best at that method of sealing. There seems to have been little difference between the four hunters in their success with polar bears.
The spring was spent in sealing, bear hunting, and in exploratory journeys around the coast and into the interior. Crawford, Galle and Knight each made at least one journey of several days alone, and other journeys were made by parties of two. Maurer seldom went on these tramps, devoting himself to the hunting, with the result that of the forty or so seals secured during the summer he got twenty-six. This may have been due in part to his greater mastery of the complicated and delicate technique of the "crawling" method of sealing; the larger reason probably was that the interest and efforts of the others centered upon exploring rather than hunting.
The explorations did not yield any unexpected results. The mountains seem to be about 2000 feet in height. The country is in general rugged rather than rocky or properly mountainous. Certain seasons, as in 1921, all snow disappears from the land except here and there perhaps a snowbank in the depths of a ravine; other years, as in 1922, a good deal of snow persists on the highland. But there seem to be no real glaciers. There is "excellent reindeer
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pasturage," both of flowering and non-flowering plants, though the flowering ones doubtless prevail as they do in most parts of the arctic contrary to the old belief which has mosses and lichens as the chief northern vegetation. Fossil ivory, both walrus and mammoth, is found in considerable quantities, both near the coast and inland.
The surprising thing about the diary for the summer is the absence of speculations as to whether a supply ship would come. Even I who knew their plans well, and who knew Knight and Maurer intimately, am surprised at this. That summer I was trying to arouse interest among Canadians in the patriotic little advance guard of their countrymen who had been led by a vision of the approaching development of transpolar air commerce to undertake keeping Canadian right alive in Wrangell Island, and I used, quite sincerely, the argument that if no ship were sent to them in 1922 they would feel themselves deserted and disowned by the country they were trying to serve. I used to describe them standing on the highest hilltops every day of the summer and autumn scanning the ocean for a sail. I cannot even now believe that this picture was wholly incorrect, but it must be said there is little support for it in Knight's diary. It seems, on the contrary, that they had taken more to heart than I had myself what I had said to them before they sailed north about the possibility that I might fail in 1922 to get the money for a ship to communicate with them. Unable myself to believe that I could fail to arouse either the public or the government of Canada, I had taken the precaution nevertheless to remind them forcibly of that possibility. That I had done so I had forgotten, but they had not.
I did not really quite fail with the Canadian Government - it was only that my importunities did not prevail till the season was nearly over. But it turned out that the ocean ice as seen from Wrangell Island had been so impregnably massed the whole summer that the Wrangell party considered that no ship could come and that it was therefore immaterial whether a ship had