July 21. Rainy this forenoon,
clear at night. Wind blowing hard from the southeast and raising a heavy
swell. Reached Icy Cape about noon and found to our disappointment that,
notwithstanding the openness of the season, further advance northeastward
was barred by the ice. After the sky began to clear somewhat, and the rain
to cease falling, we observed an ice-blink stretching all around the
northern horizon for several hours before we sighted the ice, a peculiar
brown and yellow band within a few degrees of the horizon. There was a dark
belt beneath it, which indicated water beyond the ice.
We then turned westward,
tracing the loose drift edge of the pack until eight in the evening, when we
turned to the east again, intending to await the further movements of the
ice for a few days, and especially a change of wind to blow it offshore.
There is a coal-vein between here and Cape Lisburne which we will visit and
mine as much coal as possible, in case the weather permits. But as there is
no shelter thereabouts, we may not be able to obtain any and in that case
will be compelled to go to Plover Bay for our next supply.
About fifteen miles southwest
of Icy Cape there is quite a large settlement of Eskimos on the low, sandy,
storm-swept shore. Cool and breezy must be their lives, and they can have
but little inducement to look up, or time to spend in contemplation. Theirs
is one constant struggle for food, interrupted by sleep and by a few common
quarrels. In winter they hibernate in noisome underground dens. In summer
they come out to take breath in small conical tents, made of white drill,
when they can get it. They waved a piece of cloth on the end of a pole as we
passed, inviting us to stop and trade with them. From Cape Lisburne up the
coast to Point Barrow there is usually a two-knot current, but the wind and
the ice have completely stopped the flow at present. The sun is above the
horizon at midnight..
July 22. A dull, leaden day;
dark fog and rain until about four in the afternoon; rained but a small
fraction of an inch. About noon we once more sighted the ice-pack. The heavy
swell of the sea is rapidly subsiding and the wind is veering to the
northeast. We hope it will move the ice offshore and allow us to round Point
Barrow. The pack is close and impenetrable, though made up of far smaller
blocks than usual, owing, no doubt, to the mildness of last winter, and to
the chafing and pounding of a succession of gales that have been driving
over it at intervals all the spring. We pushed into it through the loose
outer fringe, but soon turned back when we found that it stretched all
around from the shore. By retreating we avoided the danger of getting fixed
in it and carried away. Nearly all the vessels that have been lost in the
Arctic have been caught hereabouts.
The approach to the ice was
signalized by the appearance of walruses, seals, and ducks. The walrus is
very abundant here, and when whales are scarce the whalers hunt and kill
great numbers of them for their ivory and oil. They are found on cakes of
ice in hundreds, and if a party of riflemen can get near, by creeping up
behind some hummock, and kill the one on guard, the rest seem to be heedless
of noise after the first shot, and wait until nearly all are killed. But if
the first be only wounded, and plunges into the water, the whole "pod" is
likely to follow. Came to anchor at half-past ten this evening, a little to
the south of Icy Cape.
July 23. Clear and calm.
Weighed anchor at eight in the morning and ran close inshore, anchored, and
landed with instruments to make exact measurements for latitude and
longitude, and to observe the dip. I also went ashore to see the vegetation,
and Nelson to seek birds and look for Eskimo specimens. Found only four
plants in bloom - saxifrage, willow, artemisia, and draba. This is the
bleakest and barest spot of all. Well named Icy Cape. A low bar of sand and
shingle shoved up by the ice that is crowded against the shore every year.
Inside this bar, which is only a hundred yards wide, there is a stretch of
water several miles wide; then, low gravelly coast. Sedges and grasses,
dwarfed and frost-bitten, constitute the bulk of the flora.
We noticed traces of Eskimo
encampments. There was blubber in abundance from a dead whale that had been
cast up on the shore. They had plenty of food when they left. But before
this they must have been hungry, for we found remains of dogs that they had
been eating; also, white foxes' bones, picked clean. Found a dead walrus on
the beach beyond the wreck of the whale.
At one in the afternoon we
weighed anchor and turned north, crossing inside of Blossom Shoals, which
are successive ridges pushed up by the ice, and extending ten or twelve
miles offshore. In a few hours we reached the limit of open water. The ice
extended out from the shore, leaving no way. Turned again to the south.
Sighted the bark Northern Light [A whaler.] and made up to her. She showed
grandly with her white canvas on the dark water, now nearly calm. Ice just
ahead as we accompanied her northward while the Captain visited her. The sun
is low in the northwest at nine o'clock. A lovely evening, bracing, cool,
with a light breeze blowing over the polar pack. The ice is marvelously
distorted and miraged; thousands of blocks seem suspended in the air; some
even poised on slender black poles and pinnacles; a bridge of ice with
innumerable piers, the ice and water wavering with quick, glancing motion.
At midnight the sun is still above the horizon about two diameters; purple
to west and east, gradually fading to dark slate color in the south with a
few banks of cloud. A bar of gold in the path of the sun lay on the water
and across the pack, the large blocks in the line [of vision] burning like
huge coals of fire.
A little schooner [The R. B.
Handy, Captain Winants.] has a boat out in the edge of the pack killing
walruses, while she is lying a little to east of the sun. A puff of smoke
now and then, a dull report, and a huge animal rears and falls - another,
and another, as they lie on the ice without showing any alarm, waiting to be
killed, like cattle lying in a barnyard! Nearer, we hear the roar,
lion-like, mixed with hoarse grunts, from hundreds like black bundles on the
white ice. A small red flag is planted near the pile of slain. Then the
three men puff off to their schooner, as it is now midnight and time for the
other watch to go to work.
These magnificent animals are
killed oftentimes for their tusks alone, like buffaloes for their tongues,
ostriches for their feathers, or for mere sport and exercise. In nothing
does man, with his grand notions of heaven and charity, show forth his
innate, low-bred, wild animalism more clearly than in his treatment of his
brother beasts. From the shepherd with his lambs to the red-handed hunter,
it is the same; no recognition of rights - only murder in one form or
July 24. A lovely morning,
sunful, calm, clear; a broad swath of silver spangles in the path of the
sun; ice-blink to the north; a pale sky to the east and around to the south
and west; blue above, not deep blue; several ships in sight. Sabbath bells
are all that is required to make a Sabbath of the day.
Ran inshore opposite the
Eskimo village; about a hundred came off. Good-natured as usual. A few
biscuits and a little coaxing from the sailors made them sing and dance. The
Eskimo women laughed as heartily at the curious and extravagant gestures of
the men as any of the sailors did. They were anxious to know what was the
real object of the Corwin's cruise, and when the steam whaler Belvedere hove
in sight they inquired whether she had big guns and was the same kind of
ship. Our interpreter explained as well as he could.
In the afternoon we had the
Sea Breeze, the Sappho, the Northern Light, and the schooner about us. The
steam whaler had only six whales. He had struck ten, taken four, and found
two dead. Last year he took twenty- seven. The whales were in windrows then;
at one time twenty-five were so near that no gaps between them were so wide
but that a man could strike on either side. They were more abundant last
year on the American coast; this year, on the Asiatic. They are always more
abundant in spring and fall than during the summer.
Had a graphic account, from
Captain Owen, of the loss of the thirty-three ships of the whaling fleet
near Point Barrow in 1874. Caution inculcated by such experiences. Anchored
this evening near the Belvedere and four other vessels. The schooner people
complain that this is a bad year for "wairusing"; ice too thin; after
killing a few the hot blood so weakens the ice that in their struggles they
break it and then fall in and sink.
July 25. Steamed northward
again, intending, after reaching the ice, to make an effort to go to Point
Barrow with the steam launch, and the lifeboat in tow, to seek the Daniel
Webster, and offer aid if necessary. [This whaler is] now shut in about
Point Belcher. We found, however, that the ice was shoved close inshore
south of Icy Cape, and extended in a dense pack from there to the southwest,
leaving no boat channel even. This plan was therefore abandoned with great
reluctance, and we again moved southward, intending to coal, if the weather
allowed, near Cape Lisburne. Calm, lovely night; slight breeze; going slowly
under sail alone.
July 26. Lovely day; gentle
breeze. Eight vessels in sight this morning. The Belvedere got under sail
and is proceeding southward with us. Mirages in wonderful variety; ships
pulled up and to either side, out of all recognition; the coast, with
snow-patches as gaps, pulled up and stratified; the snow looking like arched
openings in a dark bridge above the waters. About nine-thirty we noticed a
rare effect just beneath the sun -a faint, black, indefinite, cloudlike bar
extended along the horizon, and immediately beyond this dark bar there was a
strip of bright, keenly defined colors like a showy spectrum, containing
nearly all the colors of the rainbow.
July 27. A lovely day, bright
and calm and warm. Coaling ship from a vein in a sandstone cliff twenty
miles northeast of Cape Lisburne. In company with the Belvedere. Seeking
fossils. Discovered only two species of plants. Coal abundant. Mined, took
out, and brought on board fifteen tons to-day. The Belvedere also is coaling
and taking on water. Three Eskimo canoes came from the south this evening
and camped at the stream which flows into the sea on the north side of the
coal bluff. The dogs followed the canoes alongshore. After camping they came
alongside, but not before their repeated signs of peace, consisting of
throwing up hands and shouting "Tima," were answered by the officer of the
deck. This custom seems to be dying out, also that of embracing and
July 28. Lovely, tranquil
day, all sunshine. Taking coal until half-past four in the afternoon. Then
sailed toward Herald Island. I spent the forenoon along the face of the
shore cliffs, seeking fossils. Discovered only four, all plants. Went three
miles westward. Heavy snowbank, leaning back in the shadow most of the
distance, almost changing to ice; very deep and of several years' formation
-not less than forty feet in many places. The cliffs or bluffs are from two
hundred to nearly four hundred feet high, composed of sandstone, coal, and
conglomerate, the latter predominating. Great thickness of sediments; a mile
or more visible on upturned edges, which give a furrowed surface by unequal
weathering. Some good bituminous coal; burns well. Veins forty feet thick,
more or less interrupted by clayey or sandy strata. Fossils not abundant.
While I was scratching the
rocks for some light on the history of their formation, eight canoe loads of
Eskimos with all their goods, tents, children, etc., passed close along the
shore, going toward Icy Cape; all except one were drawn by dogs - from three
to five to each canoe - attached by a long string of walrus hide, and driven
by a woman, or half-grown girl, or boy. "Ooch, ooch, ooch," they said, while
urging them along. They dragged the canoe with perhaps two tons altogether
at two and one half miles per hour. When they came to a sheer bluff the dogs
swam and the drivers got into the canoe until the beach again admitted of
tracking. The canoe that had no dogs was paddled and rowed by both men and
women. One woman, pulling an oar on the starboard bow, was naked to the
waist. They came from Point Hope, and arrived last evening at a
camping-ground on the edge of a stream opposite the Corwin's anchorage. This
morning they had eight tents and all the food, canoes, arms, dogs, babies,
and rubbish that belong to a village. The encampment looked like a settled
village that had grown up by enchantment. Only one was left after ten in the
morning, the occupants busying themselves caching blubber of walrus. In the
sunshine some of the children enjoyed the luxury of run- fling about naked.
Eleven-thirty; a calm
evening. The sun has just set, its disk curiously distorted by refraction
and light diminished by vaporous haze, so that it could be looked at, a
glorious orb of crimson and gold with a crisp surface.... Horizontal layers
of color, piled on each other evenly, made the whole look like cheese of
different sizes laid neatly one on top of the other. Sketched the various
phases. It set as a flat crimson cake of dull red. No cloud; only haze, dark
at the horizon, purple higher, and then yellow.
July 29. Calm, lovely, sunny
day. Thermometer standing at 500 F. in the shade; warm in the sun; the water
smooth with streaks; ruffled, like an alpine lake; mostly glassy, stirred
with irregular breaths of air. Ice visible about noon, near "Post-Office
Point." [Said to be a point north of Bering Strait in the Arctic Ocean
where, for some reason, the drift of oceanic currents is not strong. Whalers
and other vessels customarily went there to exchange mail and news.]
Fine-grained, hazy, luminous mist about the horizon. A few gulls and ducks.
Sun barely dipped beneath the horizon. Curiously modeled by refraction; bars
dividing in sections always horizontal. Ducks flying at midnight.
July 30. Another glassy, calm
day, all sunshine from midnight to midnight. Kotzebue's gull, the kittiwake,
about the ship; no seals or walrus. Herald Island came in sight about one
o'clock. At a distance of eight to ten miles we reached the ice, but made
our way through it, as it was mostly light and had openings here and there.
But we suffered some hard bumps; pushed slowly and got close alongside, much
to the satisfaction of the crew.