CHAPTER III. IN SEARCH OF WINTER QUARTERS
Beholde I see the haven near at hand
To which I mean my wearie course to bend;
Vere the main sheet and bear up to the land
To which afore is fairly to be ken'd.
- SPENSER, Faerie Queene.
In their journey from Cape Washington to the south something had already been done to justify the dispatch of the expedition. A coast-line which hitherto had been seen only at a great distance, and reported so indefinitely that doubts were left with regard to its continuity, had been resolved into a concrete chain of mountains; and the positions and forms of individual heights, with the curious ice formations and the general line of the coast, had been observed. In short the map of the Antarctic had already received valuable additions, and whatever was to happen in the future that, at any rate, was all to the good.
At 8 P.M. on the 22nd the ship arrived off the bare land to the westward of Cape Crozier, where it was proposed to erect a post and leave a cylinder containing an account of their doings, so that the chain of records might be completed. After a landing had been made with some difficulty, a spot was chosen in the center of the penguin rookery on a small cliff overlooking the sea, and here the post was set up and anchored with numerous boulders. In spite of every effort to mark the place, at a few hundred yards it was almost impossible to distinguish it; but although this small post on the side of a vast mountain looked a hopeless clue, it eventually brought the Morning into McMurdo Sound.
While Bernacchi and Barne set up their magnetic instruments and began the chilly task of taking observations, the others set off in twos and threes to climb the hillside. Scott, Royds and Wilson scrambled on until at last they reached the summit of the highest of the adjacent volcanic cones, and were rewarded by a first view of the Great Ice Barrier. [Footnote: The immense sheet of ice, over 400 miles wide and of still greater length.]
'Perhaps,' Scott says, 'of all the problems which lay before us in the south we were most keenly interested in solving the mysteries of this great ice-mass.... For sixty years it had been discussed and rediscussed, and many a theory had been built on the slender foundation of fact which alone the meager information concerning it could afford. Now for the first time this extraordinary ice-formation was seen from above.... It was an impressive sight and the very vastness of what lay at our feet seemed to add to our sense of its mystery.'
Early on the 23rd they started to steam along the ice-face of the barrier; and in order that nothing should be missed it was arranged that the ship should continue to skirt close to the ice-cliff, that the officers of the watch should repeatedly observe and record its height, and that three times in the twenty-four hours the ship should be stopped and a sounding taken. In this manner a comparatively accurate survey of the northern limit of the barrier was made.
On steaming along the barrier it was found that although they were far more eager to gain new information than to prove that old information was incorrect, a very strong case soon began to arise against the Parry Mountains, which Ross had described as 'probably higher than we have yet seen'; and later on it was known with absolute certainty that these mountains did not exist. This error on the part of such a trustworthy and cautious observer, Scott ascribes to the fact that Ross, having exaggerated the height of the barrier, was led to suppose that anything seen over it at a distance must be of great altitude. 'But,' he adds, 'whatever the cause, the facts show again how deceptive appearances may be and how easily errors may arise. In fact, as I have said before, one cannot always afford to trust the evidence of one's own eyes.' Though the ship was steaming along this ice-wall for several days, the passage was not in the least monotonous, because new variations were continually showing themselves, and all of them had to be carefully observed and recorded. This work continued for several days until, on January 29, they arrived at a particularly interesting place, to the southward and eastward of the extreme position reached by Ross in 1842. From that position he had reported a strong appearance of land to the southeast, and consequently all eyes were directed over the icy cliffs in that direction. But although the afternoon was bright and clear, nothing from below or from aloft could be seen, and the only conclusion to be made was that the report was based on yet another optical illusion.
But in spite of the disappointment at being unable to report that Ross's 'appearance of land' rested on solid foundations, there was on the afternoon of the 29th an indescribable sense of impending change. 'We all felt that the plot was thickening, and we could not fail to be inspirited by the fact that we had not so far encountered the heavy pack-ice which Ross reported in this region, and that consequently we were now sailing in an open sea into an unknown world.'