Nadir

Dec. 15th, 2011 11:59 pm
[personal profile] hwrnmnbsol
100th anniversary:

20 October: We are off again. Myself, four other men and fifty-two dogs head due south towards the first depot. We set off with four sledges full of supplies. Our group has advantages that other expeditions did not; we travel light, we do not waste our time with picture-takings or surveyings, and we intend to make good use of the depots that have been laid out along our path. Our secret weapon, of course, is our dog teams. My adventures in the Arctic have taught me well about the care and use of these marvelous beasts. In addition to being hardy, hard-working beasts of burden, our dog teams represent an additional source of food should the weather turn poorly, as it did for the first assault on the pole.

23 October: A very near miss! Traversing the crevasses surveyed by the depot party, I was driving my sledge across an ice bridge when the entire thing collapsed. It was only the hard labors of my dog team, heaving at the edge of the solid ice, that kept me from sliding backwards to my certain doom. As it was we only lost a few supplies. We have encamped at the first depot to retrench.

5 November: Third depot. Uneventful running. The ice mountains loom in the distance. Torvald and Gunnar are for stopping, but I urge us onwards, taking advantage of good weather.

17 November: We have reached the Transarctic Mountains; a long, arduous climb awaits us. The snow is soft and the footing treacherous. After only the first day of climbing, we have already lost a dog, who lost her footing and was run over by the sledge. We were obliged to butcher her and divide her meat up among the team and humans. I confess I enjoyed my portion, a welcome diversion from dry trail rations. The dogs ate their companion too, although I sensed afterwards they were somewhat subdued and unhappy.


21 November: Such a terrible climb lies behind us. We have ascended 5000 feet and lost six more dogs, each one eaten to keep up the strength of the teams and crew. Wisting has shown great promise as a butcher and chef of dog meat; the fresh food has greatly buoyed the spirits of myself and the men. The dogs, I regret, have fallen listless and dispirited. I believe this malaise to be a product of their extreme labors in hauling the sledges to the top of the plateau. After a short rest they shall recover, I am sure. Or, rather, those who go on shall recover. I regret that most shall stop here.

22 November: the general slaughter. Now that we have ascended the plateau, the need for so many dogs has vanished. Additionally, with much of our rations reduced, we have less need of so many sledges to carry what remains, and more need of their flesh for sustenance. Accordingly, of the 45 dogs who made the climb, it was necessary to kill 27, leaving 18 to continue on the expedition. I took no pleasure in this act of butchery, for I have become very fond of our brave dogs. Gunnar, who is no friend to any beast, and who frequently receives nips from his dogs as they reciprocate his animus, took comparable joy in skinning and flaying his share of the animals. We made small fires and smoked the meat we did not consume, and made camp.

23 November: I have had the strangest dream. In my dream, the dog teams visited me in the night. They told me that they refused to do good work for me any longer. I have broken the unspoken compact between dogs and men, or so they said, and as a result I could no longer expect their cooperation until the injustice was corrected. I asked them what that meant, but they merely retreated, and as they did so I awakened. Such a vivid dream of surpassing curiosity can only be explained by the low oxygen at our elevation, nearly two miles above sea level. Oddly, the dog teams do seem strangely reluctant to set out on the next leg of our journey, and only by brutal whipping can they be convinced to move at anything approaching a reasonable pace.

24 November: terrible weather, driving snow and then fog. Added to this, the dogs' ill temper persists. It is necessary to slow the pace tremendously, as the country is still treacherous. Are we cursed?

26 November: calamity. Wisting is lost. The left runner of his sledge dropped into a crevasse; while Gunnar kept his balance, Wisting did not and fell into a deep ravine. We retrieved his body but his neck was broken. Wisting's good humor and keen eyesight will be missed. A short debate broke out regarding the body's disposition; Torvald made a brief case that his meat should be treated no differently from that of the dogs, but Gunnar, Henning and myself made him see reason. The dogs, I noted with some trepidation, took an unhealthy interest in this conversation, and had to be physically restrained from approaching the body. There shall be no more travel today.

27 November: a dream again. Yet, not a dream. I know it sounds insane, yet I am certain I was awake when the dogs came to me again. The balance shall be restored, they said. You know what must be done. Then they let me alone. The day is bleak and there is no visibility through the winds and sleet; we must remain in shelter. I think of Wisting, his body wrapped up in furs in the ice-cairn behind our camp.

28 November: I dare not speak what I have done. The weather must have deranged me; that, and frustration at our lack of progress. In short, without the other men seeing me, I removed Wisting from his cairn, unwrapped him, and set the dogs loose. I decamped to my tent for a time, but then returned to clean up the mess, secure the dogs and reconstruct the cairn. May God have mercy on my soul.

29 November: smooth running again. The poor weather has lifted, and the dogs are now making marvelous time across the Plateau. Another climb across a glacier remains – more hazards, I am sure. The guilt of my curiously superstitious act haunts me – and yet, the dogs work with such good cheer, and our progress is so rapid!

2 December: this accursed glacier will be the death of us all. It is covered with an even blanket of snow, concealing yawning chasms beneath. Many times as we drive across this Devil's Ballroom, I hear thumps and echoes as we cross what must be enormous voids just below our feet. The rotten ice has claimed another dog. Of course on an expedition such as this, we must not waste good flesh; I butchered the animal right away. The other dogs gathered around me and watched. They did not show disapproval, and they ate their share of the flesh. However, many times the dogs looked me straight in the eye, and then shifted their glance to look at Gunnar; then back to me again. I find myself so unsettled that I do not know what to think.

3 December: I am surely damned. Two more dogs lost in the difficult climb. The stares of the dogs, and their meaningful glares at the hated Gunnar, became unmistakeable. During the arduous ascent, the sledges hung up multiple times on the edges of ice shelves. Gunnar had point, and it was his duty to free the snagged runners with pick and spade when the lead sledge hung up. As he did so, cursing as he hacked at the ice, the dogs gathered like crows. They looked at me, and then meaningfully at the other two men, who were in conference regarding taking our bearings. The dogs and I exchanged glances. Then, I confess, I deliberately turned my back. A few moments later we all heard a short scream, and all my crew came running. Gunnar had fallen into the crevasse that yawned before the ice shelf he had hung up on. With the help of the dogs we pulled up his body. Oh, the sadness – the sadness for what has happened, and what must happen yet.

4 December: in the small hours, the dogs fed well. And if truth must be told, I did as well.

10 December: great excitement in the remaining members of the expedition; we are traversing the final polar plateau and approaching our objective. The dogs, sensing our interest, grow active as well. Our readings must now be taken with extreme precision; divining the exact direction of due south is increasingly difficult. Angry weather, too, looms. The dogs give me sidelong glances, although none of their number has been butchered of late. Must I make yet another bargain with the Devil?

14 December: victory. Torvald and Hemming toast our success in a tent pitched at the exact point of the South Pole. I stand outside; the dogs encircle the tent in a ring. Their tongues loll; the weight of their stares crushes me down. They know, I am certain, that they have me at their mercy. We have reached our objective, and yet without the dogs we shall never return. I can deny them nothing.

The dogs close in on the tent.

I have not brought enough men.

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September 2012

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