On 19th September 1970 John Nockels and I set off with the Beatles heading northwards "to inspect a crack that was opening and advancing eastwards from the Gin Bottle" (the start of the calving of a large part of the shelf ice just north of base that departed seawards only months later); "to find a route across the low shelf and to get the dogs fit for the summer". I quote from the report.
This was the first spring trip after the long winter lie up. We were so unfit and the composition of the team had changed. Seletar, the leader and king dog, had absolutely no confidence in me, the rookie driver. Not only did he want to boss every dog in the team - endless fights - but he also wanted to test me.
Poor John. The first spring journey is always very cold, and the weather was foul. On the first day we only managed 12 miles travelling in -15C into a 20 knot head wind. No sooner camped than the wind increased to over 30 knots all night and the next day, so we were tent bound. On day 3 the wind started dropping at midday so we packed up and travelled 10 miles before dark - the days are short in September. The next day it blew preventing travel. On day 5, the wind was 20 knots and poor visibility. We couldn't get away till 11.00am. We were making reasonable progress into the cold, cold wind with some drift. But then the wind increased, the drift increased , the cold and the deteriorating visibility forced us to camp at 3.30pm In four hours we had only covered nine and a half miles. I wrote in my journal "All in all today was a very rugged day's sledging right into the east wind, with drift to boot".
For the next two days it blew 30 - 40 knots so we were forced to lie up. I wrote "We've been out a week now, spent three short days travelling covering 32 miles and four days lying up for blows".
On day 8, "the wind dropped and the sun broke through about midday. We were slow in getting away because everything was buried by drift. After only half a mile, John tripped on some sastrugi and fell awkwardly. He said his arm hurt and he thought it was something serious. While he lay like a praying mantis on the ground, I pitched the tent, got him inside, blew up his lilo, got the primus going and then inspected the damage - a dislocated upper arm at the left shoulder, a forward dislocation. He was badly shocked and in pain. At 2.15pm I gave him a shot of morphine. After half an hour he was no better, so I gave him another shot of morphine in the other arm. I waited 5 minutes and then put Doc. Leith's lessons into practice. The bone slipped into the joint with ease and a little pain. With two shots of morphine inside him John was high, and I wished I was on what he was on. I wrapped him and propped him up warm and cosy while I went to finish outside man. I returned to find him drowsy. I gave him a brew. One sip and he vomited. About 6.00pm I tried him with soup - again he vomited".
"John had a good night's sleep, but next morning it was blowing again. John slept all day, waking only for brews though he's not had any solid food yet." About 6.30pm, a rescue muskeg and caboose arrived with the Doc, Brian Cornock and Ron Gill, collected John and headed back to base, leaving Brian as his replacement. So ended John's trip with me rather prematurely. Nine tough days at the tail end of winter. John wasn't a mountaineer. This environment was new to him, but John took it all in his stride. He never once complained though he was often exhausted. He wanted to know the why about everything. He was very good company and I enjoyed this time with him, most of it confined to that small pyramid tent being battered by blizzards.
A post script: the rescue muskeg brought out boxes of man food, dog food, and fuel with which we started a new depot: we called it Depot Nocker. I saw reference to it some years later. I hope it still exists.
[29 September 2014]