Stefansson Discovers New Arctic Land; Follows its Coast Line Three Days; Sends Words of Safety; Stays at Task

Vilhjálmur Stefánsson, Herschel Island, Aug. 22, 1915 (Front p.)

Text Box: The Friendly Arctic


- Took Observations at 77:43 North Near 115 West Longitude


- Has a Varied Shore Line and Mountains in All Directions


- Gets New Supplies and Intends to Continue His Explorations Next Spring 

[Vilhjálmur Stefansson, commanding the Canadian Arctic Expedition, in the subjoined narrative, sent to THE NEW YORK TIMES, announces the discovery of new land in the Arctic. It is the first word from the explorer since April 7, 1914, when his supporting party turned back and left him to continue with three companions his journey over the ice. Great anxiety has been felt for Stefansson, and in many quarters he had been given up for lost.


Mr. Stefansson places the new land at 77 degrees 43 minutes north latitude and 115 degrees 43 minutes west longitude.


In his narrative Mr. Stefansson begins with the ice work of the Spring of this year, and leads quickly to the announcement of his discovery.]



Copyright, 1915, by the New York Times Co.

(Also copyrighted in Canada.)

Special to The New York Times

HERSCHEL ISLAND, Aug. 22, (via North Alaska, Sept. 16)


The ice party this year consisted of Storkensen, Andreasen and Thompsen, all Norwegians except myself. We left the base at Cape Kellett in the first part of February with nine others. On Feb. 21, through the accidental spilling of fuel oil, I had to send a sled from Cape Alfred back to Kellett for more oil, and waited for them there until April 5.


We finally left Cape Alfred much too late in the season on account of our too southerly base, 200 miles within the area explored last year, and proceeded in a direction between the north and northwest. On account of sore-footed dogs, thick fogs, and soft snow among the pressure ice, and much open water, we had reached by April 26 only north latitude 75 degrees from a point eight miles from the shore. Here the sea depth ranged from 300 to 400 meters.


We traveled much on ice about five inches thick, and once would have lost on of our two sleds and the better dog team had the ice broken ten feet sooner than it did. The sled went down after our last dog reached the strong ice on the far side of the lead, and we finally got the sled and the load, although they were soaking wet.


Journeyed On Thin Ice


On one day we crossed a twenty-mile expanse of ice, non of it over eight inches thick, but safe so long as no wind or current moved the ice or broke in small pieces. At north latitude 76 degrees 20 minutes, between May 1 and 6, we drifted eleven miles south and thirteen miles west, and there was so much open water that we could make little progress, for it took us three hours to ferry across a 500-yard wide lead. We made the journey on rafts improvised by passing tarpaulins under the sleds and lashing them upon the sides.


Such a raft carries a thousand pounds when the water is not rough and less if there is a rough wind. The thirteen dogs were especially troublesome. The weather was getting warmer fast, and the ice was broken into small pieces with water or mashed up ice between. I, therefore, gave up further attempts of going west, and traveled parallel to the west coast of Prince Patrick Island in that latitude, but were carried fifty miles south before we fully made land about ten miles south of the land which we had seen on June 1.


Kerosene Supply Exhausted


Before this time our kerosene had given out and we were burning seal blubber, and the caribou meta, dried at Norway Island during the Summer of 1914 for dog food, was also finished. For the men we had still twenty days’ rations, for we had lived partly on seals and bears.


Proceeding northward, we finished the charting of the coast line between the farther points reached b McClintock and Mechas from their Winter base at Dealy Island on the south coast of Melville Island. Fogs and thick weather hampered us greatly in this work. On the afternoon of June 15 we reached the north tip of the island and found a record left there by McClintock dated June 15, 1853.


Discovers New Land


On the morning of June 18, from a forty-foot high ice cake near the camp that we had just pitched, Storkensen sighted new land to the northeast. This camp was pitched at 77 degrees 56 minutes and we landed next day on the land at a point distant about fourteen miles, near 78 north and 117 west. The trend of the coast here was northwesterly, but thick weather prevented us seeing far. On account of the lateness of the season we followed the coast east for three days only.


Thick weather prevented sextant observations, except one day, which gave 77 degrees 43 minutes north and 115 degrees 43 minutes west. We actually saw only about 100 miles of coast line, running somewhat south of east from the landing place, but mountains were seen for at least fifty miles farther east and from a height of 2,000 feet twenty miles inland still higher hills were seen in all directions from north to east at a distance estimated at over fifty miles.


Of Considerable Size


The land, therefore, is of considerable size. It is low where we first landed, but becomes higher and more rugged as one proceeds eastward.


Caribou and other Arctic animals are abundant, except bears. As Summer was now coming on rapidly, we turned toward home. On June 22 geese and other birds had arrived, and the rivers were breaking out. We discovered some small islands between Melville Island and the new land, took formal possession of these lands, and left a record of discovery.


We followed the west coast of Melville Islands south, crossed to the Bay of Mercy, and stayed there from July 14 to July 20, to rate pocket chronomoters, and provide new packs for the dogs. We caught the sled at McClure’s Wintering place, and traveled diagonally across Bank’s Island to Kellett, arriving home on Aug. 8 to find everything well.


Trip Void of Accident


On this trio we had no accident more serious than the wetting of one sled load. We had no sickness, and brought home in good flesh every dog we started with. We were all of us in our ordinary health and strength. We used the ordinary Eskimo beehive snowhouses. Besides the provisions brought from home we used about 10,000 pounds of meat and fat for food and fuel. Seals furnished most of this, but there were besides seventeen caribou, four bears, and two musk oxen, the last in Melville Island. Musk oxen in Bank’s Island are extinct. Se had no hardships at any time and were never in imminent danger, so far as we know.


Plans Further Exploration


On Aug. 11 the schooner Polar Bear, Captain Louis Lane, came into Kellett. He reported the North Star long overdue at Baillie Island, and that the expedition supplies had arrived at Herschel Island. Fearing the non-arrival of the North Star, I chartered the Polar Bear to get supplies from Herschel Island, and attempt by landing them to form a more northern base for next year’s work either on Bank’s or Prince Patrick Island. I plan to make a further journey next year into Beaufort Sea and explore further the new land already discovered. We sail for Bank’s Island tomorrow.


Captain Sweeney wintered at Baillie Island with the Alaska, which last year failed to get farther east. He reports that Dr. Anderson went east by sled to Point Cockburn where the North Star wintered, and sent natives back with mail for Baillie Island this Spring. ……..Kellett, to form there a base upon which we could retreat in case of the loss of the Star further north.


Balked in his Plans


But for some unfortunate misunderstanding and consequent delays at Collinson Point, while I was absent engaged on other work in the Mackenzie Delta, we should have left the Alaskan coast, going north over the ice, about March 5, 1914. On my arrival home from the delta, I find, however, that some of the most important work of preparation for the ice exploration had not yet been commenced at a date when it should been finished a week, and it was only March 22 that I finally left the outfitting camp at Martin Point, intending to proceed north approximately along the 143d meridian at first, suiting our course later to the drift in the ice. We had on starting our sleds twenty-five dogs and seven men-Andreasen, Beneard, Castel, Johansen, Storkensen, Wilkins, and myself. On the second day out Captain Beneard suffered a fall from an ice pressure ridge by which his head was so seriously cut that the accident came near being fatal though loss of blood. It took a day to carry the Captain ashore, and another for the party who did so to return. A blizzard on March 15 shattered the ice, which for two months previously to that had lain strong and comparatively level north of this portion of the coast. A spell of warm weather had followed, and the ice had therefore been cemented together by frost. Beyond the seven-mile line from shore everything was a mass of small cakes of ice separated by intricate water channels from a few yards to several hundred in width. We had with us waterproof tarpaulin designed to convert our sails into boats, and later in the yards we crossed with this craft lanes over a mile wide when the wind blew the sea into whitecaps, but there was no use attempting those tactics now, for the rigging of this craft were so numerous and the drift so rapid to the east that we could have made no headway.


There was nothing to do but to camp on the outer edge of the land, fast to ice, and wait fro colder weather. By March 27 we were beginning to feel dubious over getting started. It must be either soon or never, for the sun was daily getting noticeably higher and warmer and the Summer was nearly upon us when ice exploration becomes so difficult and so dangerous for sleds as to be practically impossible. On that day I sent Wilkins and Castel ashore with a sled carrying a kerosene tank that had sprung a leak to have it replaced fro our shore camp by a sound one. The team should have made the round trip over the beaten trail to camp and back in four, or at most sic, hours. Non of us though it would be longer, till we saw them again, but within two hours a gale was blowing and I have learned since that when they got ashore the force of the wind was such that they were unable to walk against it and had to crawl. Return was impossible for them that evening, and when the gale lessened the next day we were encamped on a cake of ice a mile or two in area which dad been driven fifty miles to the east and were separated from the land-fast ice by several miles of water, filled with ice fragments, so we lost two of our best men, seven of our est, dogs, our best sled, and some equipment we needed badkly. Half our fuel intended originally for sixty days was gone. Our party now consisted of Andreasen, Crawford, Johansen, McConnell, Storkersen and myself. Crawford and McConnel had joined the party when Captain Beneard was diablsed. The temperature still continued from twenty-eight above to four degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and this was not enough to solidify the ice which was continually carried back and forth by the wind.


From Ice Cake to Ice Cake


For three or four days we had little ice motion, however, and on those days we were able to cross from ice cake to ice cake, where their corners touched. Some of these cakes were only the size of a city block or less. Others were a mile or two across, but all were three to six feet thick, so traveling over them was not particularly dangerous. By April 9 we were fifty miles from land, but we had made little northing, for the currents had carried us parallel to the land, (which here runs well south of …) a distance of nearly seventy miles. ……….were on half rations. We saw occasional bear tracks, and fro this we knew that there must be seals in the sea about us. Two reasons kept us from stopping to hunt seals. We hoped we might meet a bear which we could secure without delaying our progress landward, and we were so worried by the rapidly increasing temperature, and the consequent deterioration of ice that we preferred empty stomach to much delay.


By May 15 we were getting a bit hungry and the dogs were not so fat as formerly. They had harder work that we to do on the same amount of food, although they ate our skin clothing, while we had malted milk and pemmican. It seemed that wisdom now dictated a halt rather than hurry, and so we stopped for sealing at a lead across which we would have ordinarily ferried in our improvised boat in two hours. Not much more than the corresponding two hours had been spent in watching for seals when one came to the surface some 300 yards away, and we got him with a lucky brain shot. This turned out to be forty-three days before we eventually reached the Banks Island coast, but for the whole of that time we burned sea blubber, using the bones of seals and of bears for a wick, as it were for blubber will not burn by itself in the manner of kerosene. During these forty-three days we killed bears and about forty seals and accumulated a stock of food against possible future needs.


This we, of course, had to abandon when opportunity came for the advance. When we got within about 100 miles of the west coast of Banks Island we began to meet frequent easterly winds and consequently drift……even less than that, but the difficulties of the journey are to be measure not by the distance, but by the warmth of the weather and the force and direction of the winds and currents. Going north a month earlier, and our fortune in other respects similar to what was actually the case, a journey of twice the mileage would have had no more difficulty and been much safer and more comfortable.


Banks Island has not been visited by white men, although whalers sight it often, since McClure abandoned his ship here in 1854. At that time musk oxen were abundant, but we have seen none, and they may be extinct. They are much more scarce than near Collinson Point, where our schooners wintered last year, or on any part of the mainland known to me between the Colville and the copper mine. The Eskimo inhabitants of the west coast seem to have seen a few transients only, and that between fifty and a hundred years ago, probably, Caribou are rare between Bank’s Land and King William Island. For a time we had to kill all the caribou we saw, but later we shot only old bucks, for they gave the most and the fattest meat. Our cartridges had to be husbanded.


Disappointed in North Star.


As I had directed the North Star to come to Norway Island to look for us we spent the Summer in the vic…….meat, fat, and skins again…….we killed in all……old bucks. Besides keeping us…..the six dogs this gage us many valuable skins……watching for a sail on the horizon, and when they found no sign of us they concluded we were dead-this in spite of the fact that the appointed rendezvous was a hundred miles further north. Men of the Sachs are most of them new to the arctic and had been thoroughly discouraged by this time. The amusing opinion apparently was uniformly held by most of the whalers and others at Herschel Island last Summer that we were all dead because we failed to come back from a journey from which I had said we would probably not try to come back.


The Sachs though that Summer was over with August, whereas September is commonly enough a good month for navigation up here, and was so in this Summer.


It was also thought that the west coast of Banks Island was precipitous, devoid of harbors and driftwood, all of which is erroneous, but the chief reasons for not going further north was clearly that feeling that we were certainly dead. The North Star, I learned, had made no effort to come to Banks Island, as I had directed. The Karluk had been crushed near Wrangell Island, but her men had reached that island in safety, and would be picked up by one of the American revenue cutters.


It was too late, I thought, for re-launching the Sachs, so I turned my attention at once to securing fresh meat for men and dogs forthwith. Six bears…..


Captain Sweeney wintered at Baillie Island with the Alaska, which last year failed to get farther east. He reports that Dr. Anderson went east by sled to Point Cockburn, where the North Star wintered, and sent natives back with mail for Baillie Island this Spring. Last winter Dr. Anderson attempted carrying the mail to Bear Island but had to turn back before reaching the …..account of his supplies giving …..the topographers worked….. Spring, one east en the other west of Cockburn Point, as far as Darnley Bay. No illness was reported from Point Cockburn, but Engineer Blue of Alaska died and Captain Sweeney was ill at Baillie Island from scurvy. There has been no illness at Kellett Winter quarters so far.