Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

Stormy crossing

News this week: Monday: The PM of France, Aristide Briand, demissions, and is replaced the day after by Ernest Monis. On Tuesday western Norway is hit by a violent storm. On Wednesday, Bokken Lasson, daughter of Oda Kroghs, gives a singing soiree at the house of the craftsman club in Hamar. José Batlle y Ordóñes is elected president of Uruguay. Wednesday: Manuel Enrique Araujo is made president of El Salvador. Thursday: First performance of the Prometheus symphony by Aleksandr Skriabin. On Saturday, a 100 years ago today, the Russians celebrated the 50th anniversary of the liberation of 23 million serfs by Aleksandr II. Meanwhile, the Duma voted down prime minister Pjotr Stolypin’s proposal to give the Poles some degree of local democracy. Also on the same day, US congress discuss the inclusion of Arizona and New Mexico as new states in the union, without arriving to a conclusion.

On Monday, Charles Franklin Kettering reveals his new invention: a self-starter for cars, allowing a Cadillac to start in seconds while other cars had to be cranked by a muscular man to get going. The invention requires a 30 kilogram battery to operate, and ingenious persons standing by begin to wonder if the battery might also power front and back lanterns as well as igniting the fuel.

During the Reichstag meeting in Berlin on Wednesday, all parties attacked the antisemite Raabe for his statement on Saturday about the Jews in the army. Even the Social Democrats (apparently his own party) reluctantly joined the attack. Their führer, Schappel, declared that although the Social Democrats had no reason to help the Jewish bourgeoisie in obtaining reserve officer titles to their sons, they still would have to regard the treatment of the Jews in the army as a breach of law and common rights. The Minister of War repeated his assurances that he frowned upon any antisemitic movement in the army and said, contrary to his statement on Saturday, that no slights were being made in the army, not to any Jewish officer aspirants at any rate.

Down in the Antarctic, Scott woke up on Monday to a blizzard that stopped him from further progress that day. Winds reached force 9, a strong gale. Temperature was very low and the men stayed inside the tents, taking in cooking gear to prepare food inside. Scott worried about the ponies in the other party.

Next day they started at 6 a.m. and marched back to Safety Camp, where the other party still were encamped. Thankfully all animals still were alive, but weak and emaciated. They decided to go north the same day, but packing all their equipment took time as they had to dig it out from under a meter of snow from the blizzard. When they finally got under way at 4PM, it was apparent that Weary Willie was in trouble. He fell over, got up again after an hour of resting and nursing, then fell over again. At last they built a snow-wall around him and went to rest for the night.

Could be Weary Willie, at least it’s one of the ponies in the expeditionPoor Weary Willie did not live to see the Wednesday, and the conclusion was already quite clear from the condition of the other ponies: an early start next spring to compete with Amundsen was out of the question. And still the day had more disasters in hand. The barrier ice was breaking up in the late summer, and the next two days they struggled more or less panicked to salvage what they could. Bowers woke up with open water around him on all sides and barely made it to safe shore, jumping from floe to floe. The most disastrous was when three ponies were drifting away on another floe. They were located with binoculars when things had calmed down a little and all men were safe. An attempt was made to rescue them when they drifted near the shore again, but it went badly. Two ponies fell in and had to be put down. Only one was rescued. Around them, hungry killer whales were in eager and vigorous activity.

The Saturday a hundred years ago today they started for main camp again. Evans had found a safe passage. But they progressed slowly, and they camped for the night on the Pram Point ridge. They decided that Atkinson was to leave early next morning to inform the people at Hut Point, the old cabin left by the Discovery expedition, Scott’s first Antarctic expedition in 1901-04.

With Amundsen things were a little more orderly. On Monday he reached his 80° depot and discussed the best way to mark it with his comrades. They concluded that using an east-west row of numbered bamboo sticks was the best. Then the numbers could tell them the way to the depot. They planted 20 high sticks, 900 meters between each, 10 on each side of the depot, making an 18 kilometer line that ought to be hard to miss.

Next day they went further south in ever lower temperature. Amundsen complains that the dogs are sore-footed due to the crusty snow and they have to work hard in order to get them on their feet in the morning. On Friday they reached 81°S. The temperature now was −43°C, very unpleasant for man and beast alike. When the men rose from their tents next morning a hundred years ago today, it had dropped a couple of degrees more, to −45. They lay down a depot containing 560 kgs of dog pemmikan and used the box boards for marking, similar to the former depot. Then they rested for the remainder of the day.

The blizzard that crippled Scott seems to have been rather local, because Amundsen makes no mention of it. On the other hand, the northern weather also apparently had geared up a bit for the coming spring. A violent storm hit western Norway on Tuesday with serious damages, and it was felt further east, too, where the Norwegian team for the match with the Helsingfors club had a hard crossing of the Baltic Sea. Sigurd Mathisen and Reidar Gundersen were lucky and/or clever chosing the shortest route, from Stockholm to Åbo, while Lundgreen and Johannessen spent three days steaming from Stockholm to Hangö, all of them stormy, and once their ship was stuck in packed ice for 4 hours, requiring help from an ice breaker. When they were approaching Hangö, the chief mate had to ski to the harbour in order to ask if they could land. They arrived 17 hours delayed.

In Helsingfors the first day of the races there was a thaw, +2 degrees centigrade, poor ice and a strong wind. Today’s distance was the 5000m, and here the travel-weary KSK team were soundly defeated:

5000 m:

1.Waldemar Bergström.HSK 10.27,2
2.Trygve Lundgreen.KSK   10.35,3
3.Gunnar Strömstén.HSK   10.37,3
4.VŠinö Wickström.HSK    10.38,0
5.Stener Johannessen.KSK 10.43,8
6.Sigurd Mathisen.KSK    10.58,3
7.Reidar Gundersen.KSK   11.13,7
8.Johan Vikander.HSK     11.24,8

Points after day 1: HSK 8 – KSK 13