Sure Explorer would win goal

NYT, Sept. 18, 1915(Front p.)

Text Box: The Friendly Arctic

McConnell, Stefansson’s Secretary, Never Lost Hope in the Darkest Hour.




Former Assoiciate Says Expedition’s Leader Keeps His Bearings in Blinding Storms.


One man whose belief that Stefansson was alive never wavered was Burt M. McConnell, the explorer’s secretary, who accompanied him on the Karluk and was with him on April 7, 1914, when Stefansson started into the unexplored north with his two companions. When McConnell came to New York to organize measures for the relief of the explorer he was told by leading explorers and representatives of scientific societies that there was not a chance that Stefansson would com out of the arctic region. They were sure he was dead.


Mr. Mc Connell believed he would emerge alive, for he knew his man. The explorer, his secretary said, was a man who let nothing interfere with his plans or deviate him from the end he had in view. He illustrated this by telling how the disappearance of their vessel, the Karluk, instead of crushing his spirits was dismissed with scant consideration, and the explorer at once set his mind to work to plan how to go ahead with the whaler eliminated.


“I am so tickled at the news of Stefanssons’s safety that I can hardly talk,” said Mr. McConnell last night; “but I want to say this much: The trip Stefansson made over the ice to Banks Island is the most wonderful in arctic history. That he returned is a miracle, nothing more or less. I always have contended that Stefansson and his two companions were alive, but when both the Polar Bear and the Belvedere returned from Banks Island in the Summer of 1914, with no news of the three explorers, I thought they still must be on the sea ice; so I came down to civilization to organize a relief expedition.


“Every one I talked to about the relief expedition, except Stefansson’s stanchest friends, said I was crazy; that no men could live on the ice for any length of time with only rifles and cartridges and matches; that they probably had fallen into a lead and been drowned, and a lot of other tommyrot.


“You see, the Stefansson they had met at banquets and other functions became another man entirely when he left civilization behind him. I know, because I traveled with him all last Winter, and on the first stages of the ice trip. He is perfectly at home in the arctic, is  one of the best sled travelers who ever went into that region, and the secret of his several long and so-called impossible trips is the fact that he knows how to take care of his men and dogs.


Keeps His Bearings.

“His sense of direction, for example, seems almost intuitive; I have never seen him become confused as to direction, and on one occasion I followed his lead through a blinding snowstorm for several hours. The wind on that occasion, I remember, attained a velocity of forty-four miles per hour, and the last two hours of the journey were made in darkness, yet at the finish, where we were to cross a narrow neck of land, Stefansson was not more than a bare hundred yards off the trail, but the fact is there was no trail at all.


“At another time I followed him across a bay for forty miles. He made his own trail, and a t the end of the forty miles we came to Amouliktok, the small sandspit on which we camped soon after leaving the Karluk. These are only two instances of his  almost uncanny ability to take care of himself in the arctic but there are dozens of others.


“The two men Stefansson took with him on his journey into the unknown were the hardiest and most experienced men he could find. The dogs he selected were the largest and strongest that cold be found in the Mackenzie and Point Barrow countries, combined with the best in the expedition. When Stefansson turned north at Camp Separation, on the 7th of April, 1914, his six dogs ran off with a load of more than 1,200 pounds. Crawford, Johansen, and I were sent back to shore while our provisions and sleds should last, as had been planned at the beginning of the trip.


Calls Delay Inexcusable.

“What Stefansson says regarding the inexcusable delay at Collison Point, when the start of the ice was postponed seventeen precious days, is only on of a series of setbacks that would have driven a less indomitable man to desperation. Probably they will never be known, because Stefansson will shoulder all the blame, as he always has done. I was surprised to learn of him speaking of this unfortunate delay.


“You see, while March cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be called a ‘good traveling month,’ the days are sufficiently long to enable sled travelers to make from 4 to 20 miles a day over the sort of ice that is found from 10 to 70 miles off shore. On the outward trip we made as high as twenty miles in one day, when the going was good, but on the return trip to shore, Crawford, Johansen and I, by ten hours of the hardest kind of work, in one day were able to progress only 500 yards. In order to do this we had to cut roads with picks and spears over a chaotic jumble of pressure ridges more than forty feet high.


“These continued for more than half a mile, but after cutting a trail for about two hundred yards we came to a valley which twisted and turned almost to the other side of the jagged ice prairie. Our sleds broke down during the trip and had to be unloaded and repaired, although we were almost as careful of them as though they had been made of glass, and lowered them down the steep declivities with ropes. As a whole, however, we enjoyed both the outward and return trips.


“The second night after we parted from the ice party (Stefansson, Starkersen,, and Andreasen) we, the support party, were startled by a visit from three huge polar bears. We had killed one bear on the outward trip, who had come up to within twenty-five feet of the tent before he was seen, but now we had no rifle. We had voluntarily relinquished our only rifle to Stefansson, because we thought, as he did, that he might reach Banks Island, and would need the rifle in case something should go wrong with the other. As time proved, it was well that he did avail himself of our offer. But to return to the bears who visited us, the situation was becoming rather tense when a happy thought struck Crawford, and we waved our arms and shouted, while our dogs frightened them away. At another time the ice on which we were camped for the night broke up, but not directly under our tent, as sometimes happens; in fact, the nearest break was at least eight feet away. In the morning we found ourselves afloat on a piece of ice about twenty feet wide, with one side of our tent about six feet from the water, and one end about eight feet from the edge. Then at another time we came to a lead so wide that we could not see across it, but it closed.


“The same southwest gale that closed that lead was the one that blew the ice on which Stefansson was camped toward Banks Island, so it was of considerable assisance to both parties. We reached shore on Canadian territory, eighty miles east of our starting point, and, believe me, we were glad to camp beside a log fire.


Cooked with Blubber.

“Our kerosene became exhausted two days before we landed, and we had been compelled to cook with the blubber of the seal I had shot just before we parted from the ice party, and which we  dragged behind the sled all the way to shore. Neither of us had any idea where we were; we simply knew that we had followed Stefanssons’s instructions to travel as fast as possible to the south, and that for the present our troubles were over. Crawford and Johansen then rejoined their commander, Dr. Anderson, at Collinson, while I proceeded to the North Star, the fifty-foot gasoline schooner which Stefansson had bought to take the place of the Karluk, which he instructed Dr. Anderson to send to Banks Island in case he did not return before the ice broke up. I established a comfortable camp there, took an inventory of the tools, equipment, and provisions, and spent the rest of the time hunting caribou, seal, ugruk, ptarmigan, and in learning to paddle a kyak, which is the crankiest boat in existence.


“Then after Wilkins had taken the North Star to Banks Island, (or rather to Herschel Island,) Dr. Anderson substituted the Mary Sachs, a very unwieldy and generally clumsy craft compared to the trim, speedy little North Star, which drew only four feet of water laded, and was particularly adapted for the purpose of cruising between the shore of Banks Island and the grounded ice.


“As Stefansson’s report shows, if Wilkins had had the North Star instead of the Mary Sachs, Wilkins would have been able to reach the rendezvous which Stefansson had appointed, an which he had communicated to Wilkins in a letter. Beside, I told Wilkins personally that Stefansson would expect him to go as far north as possible, and at any cost to reach Norway Island.


“One last fact I want to give for my faith that Stefansson would come out alive was his knowledge of how to construct ice houses. He knew better how to do this than any living white man. He learned the art of making these beehive houses from the blond Eskimos. Always he is adding to his knowledge of arctic matters and acquiring skill. Stefansson set out to explore an unexplored territory and I believe he will do so.”