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Norman Vaughan  

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Byrd; South Pole Expedition  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
14 Oct 1998

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NPR/ National Geographic
Norman Vaughan
(Interviewed in Eagle Creek, Alaska on 10/14/98 by Peter Breslow)

PB
00:02:10 When you think of Antarctica, what comes to mind? 00:02:14

NV
00:02:15 Of course the first thing that comes to mind is some little occasion relative to the Byrd Antarctic expedition because that was such a big part of my life and you speak about dogs if I didn't think of something here in Alaska then I'd be thinking of driving dogs down there as they pertain to our living there because they were so important to the expedition and to me personally.

PB
00:02:42 How about in your mind's eye? Visually, what comes up? 00:02:45

NV
00:02:47 Visually¿our camp at Little America. I think visually that's the big thing because we lived there so long. We were part of it, we built it and we left it and I keep thinking of that, I think.

PB
00:03:08 Describe the camp. 00:03:10

NV
00:03:10 Describe the camp? Firstly, it was nothing. Firstly, the five minutes after we gotten to the ice, Admiral Byrd called me and said, Norman, harness your dog team and take me into the interior, we are going to pick out a site for Little America¿er..for our camp, he didn't call it Little America at that moment. And he said, we are going to take Svarry Strom and Bernt Balkan with us on skis but you and I are going on your dog team so I was thrilled to be asked to drive in there and take him in. I had absolutely nothing to do with picking out the site because I didn't know anything about ice but those three did and they picked out a site and in turned out to be excellent and imagine the thrill that I got that night when we put up our tents and I got to sleep in the same tent as Admiral Byrd. I was only a kid at college and it was my first big experience and it was marvelous and we spoke of our families back in Boston on Beacon Hill singing Christmas carols. It was Christmas day when we landed on the ice, so it was really Christmas night that we were doing this. So we got up in the morning and they did the picking out of a site and they picked a good one because it lasted many, many years before it broke off and went north into the waters.

PB
00:04:41 What was it like to travel across the ice down there? 00:04:44

NV
00:04:45 To travel across the ice for us was.. we were on skis the whole time, we never rode anything on the sleds except when they were empty going from Little America to the ship. Those were the only times that we rode. We slept at Little America and got up in the morning and had coffee and got onto our sled and the dogs never went off the trial there was only one place to go so we started them and then we went to sleep for the nine miles that it took the dogs to go out there over this route and it was the best route from the ship out to Little America. I had a originally hoped that it was going to be about three miles and it turned out to be nine miles which meant all of that 650,000 lbs. had to go out into nine miles of trip and one place was a bad crevice which changed all the time and we had to keep opening in as it would shut on us and we had to do that with pick and ice axes and we'd make a path through there but it would last a couple of days then it would bulge up again and we would have to break it again because we had to make a pretty smooth trail going out there for we had all these things on board. The most interesting of all was the moving of his airplane from the ship to Little America. He called me one night, Admiral, Commander Byrd did, and said "Can you tow my airplane out to Little America?" I said "I don't know I've never towed an airplane Admiral, Commander but we certainly will try and I laid a big horser (?) out in front of the airplane directing toward Little America and each driver brought his team up and hooked it up to that one long line. My team was right next to the airplane so I ran there right beside my dogs. Everybody ran beside their dogs and drove their team. We had a hard time starting it because it was hard to get 97 dogs to pull all at the one time, that's the number of dogs we had with us and every dog we had at camp was on that team. It turned out to be the largest dog team ever hooked up.

PB
00:07:03 Did you say that you could actually sleep while the dogs were pulling you? 00:07:06

NV
00:07:07 Oh, very definitely. You were so tired that you just got on your sled and slept and you woke up when the sled stopped and you were there at the ship. Oh you were tired!

PB
00:07:17 Asleep at the wheel. 00:07:19

NV
00:07:20
We were asleep at the wheel but we didn't have to worry because the dogs would go right on that same trail and they had no hurry they were just trotting along and they didn't need any driving it was a relatively easy trail to go on, just a couple of curves to get around some bad crevassed areas but nothing spectacular about the curves. And when we got to the ship, the crews of the ship had the responsibility of loading our dog sleds, we went below decks and had a delicious and delightful breakfast, all we could eat and it was good, good food! We had penguin to eat, seal to eat and whale meat to eat as well as normal things. We had a lot of egg powder. I got so I liked that too! When we came out we latched our own loads because we had to know how to readjust them on the trip but to tell you how much load we had, everything that came off the ship was weighed on scales before it was put on our sleds and so we knew exactly how much load we had when we started. And it was that record that we had on a blackboard, each man's name and the total amount of tonnage that he had already moved to Little America and the total for that day and the total for this particular load. If it was too heavy we would ask that something be taken off if it was too light we would say, oh I can take another 100 lbs or so. But it was so heavy that as we jogged from Little America to umm¿ from the ship to Little America and if we got on the sled the dogs would stop. They would turn around and look at us like "What are you doing on there? Get off and help us." It was just a critical situation and they pulled hard and pulled hard but it was just a critical situation and there was only one hill that was going up the barrier and sometimes but not very often we would have to disconnect the second sled, because we were driving on a two sled program with 60% of weight on the front sled and 40% on the rear sled so we could disconnect that rear sled easily go up with 60%, come back with an empty team hook on and go again. This coming back with an empty team was always tricky because they knew that there was no sled there and if they got it in their eyes that they wanted to go after a penguin, they could do it and we couldn't stop them so we had to be very careful about that.

PB
00:09:54 Describe some of the dangers involved in this kind of dogsled travel. 00:09:59

NV
00:10:01 The only danger that I can particularly think of is getting onto a crevice that has been covered with snow. Now we didn't have that between the ship and Little America. There were no dangers, we had to jump across some big cracks but that's not bad we were on skis and it wasn't dangerous at all, nobody ever fell in the crack.00:10:25

PB
00:10:26 But were there ever other routes that were dangerous? 00:10:29

NV
00:10:29 Oh yes! The routes out on the geological party were certainly.. lots of dangers there. We had to keep roped up in some places and as I think back on the roping situation, now that I've been taught by Vern Taos and other guides how to rope properly and harness, I just shudder to think about how little help the ropes would have been to us in the Antarctic because we roped ourselves up but the knots weren't good and they would bind on us I'm sure if we ever fell into a crevice. We were just mentally secure, that's all. So those crevice situations were bad because when you cross a crevice you weaken the bridge and if you are second the second man may go though. Now this happened with Sir Douglas Morrison, down in the Antarctic, he was traveling at night and they stopped in blow and he said we'll stop again in a half hour and when the half hour was up he turned around and then he looked and his companion wasn't there and he went back and found a gaping hole and right there where his tracks were and down there was his companion and his sled and dogs, some of the dogs were still alive. There was nothing he could do to help get him out.

PB
00:12:02 Did you folks have any mishaps? 00:12:05

NV
00:12:06 We had mishaps but nothing dangerous. We didn't lose a man. We had mishaps.. silly little mishaps, silly in one way but it could have been a death. When we harbored our ships alongside of the ice we were burning coal. The coal dust would get onto the ice right there near the ship and coal dust is absorbing the suns rays and it melted down thinning out the ice and we didn't know it and one time as I brought my team up and turned it around to be loaded by the crew members and disappeared right down. As far as I was concerned I was, my head didn't go under water but I went right to my elbows. Goodell was right there and he grabbed me and pulled me out but it was because the ice
rotted to such an extent that it got weak and I went through. So that was the closest I had at that time.

PB
00:13:11 Must have been cold 00:13:13

NV
00:13:14 Oh, yes it was cold. But let me tell you how easy we got around that, I was soaking of course, but I went immediately below decks in the boiler room of the ship and I had no suffering at all. Our suffering was, any suffering we had was mainly just being cold at other times, when the wind blew.

PB
00:13:34 Describe the weather for me. How bad did it get? 00:13:37

NV
00:13:38 One time Adm. Byrd said "I want you to test out the two kinds of clothing the kind that polar bear entirely used by Perry and the kind that Arminson used which was caribou skin and he would take it off and use a caribou bag at night where as Perry would build an igloo and lay down in his polar bear clothing and when he did that he had sufficient protection because when he laid down he laid down on top of his dog harnesses and that was insulation from the snow. Well, Goodell was the man who had the polar bear clothing and I was the man who had the caribou I think, in fact I'm sure I was and if you are cold you are conscious and you wake up and every time that I was cold and rolled over and would wake up I'd look and Gooddell was quiet. I found out that he was cold too and every time that he was rolled over and looked at me I was quiet. Neither one of us spoke but we were very early in the morning we were awake and went into the mess hall and right after the meteorologist came in and came up to us and said "What are you doing up so early in the morning?" And we said well we just spent the night outside and he said "You did?" And we said "Yes". He said "Do you know how cold it was?" And we said "No" And he said "65 below zero". So that was cold! But the total we had for lowness of temperature and it was 73. That was the lowest we had. Now in those temperatures, if the wind is blowing the wind chill factor is so great that you can't possibly live unless you are protected from that wind so it's not so much the cold as it is the wind that we have to be careful of.

PB
00:15:43 Did you ever get caught out in bad weather? 00:15:45

NV
00:15:46 Caught out? Yes, when we had to fight the weather to get back to Little America, yes. Once we got caught between the ship and Little America which is a short distance but when we say caught.. we knew where we were and the dogs knew where they were they didn't want to face the wind but we kept driving hard and we got back into Little America and they were pretty glad to get back into the tunnel where they had wind protection. We were, of course, glad too but we kept exercising. I knew that if we stopped we'd have to put clothing right on and we had our parkas on already but we just didn't dare stop, we had to keep going.

PB
00:16:29 What about Byrd? What kind of a leader was he? 00:16:33

NV
00:16:34 I personally thought that he was great. He never lost a man, that's number one. Number two, I don't know that he ever asked us to do anything that he wouldn't do. And as a matter of fact I was standing on the poop deck of the City of New York and a man fell over. He was knocked over by the other ship. There he was in the water and we turned and there he was and his name was Benny Roth and Byrd started to go over into the water after him and there were three or four of us right beside him and we grabbed him and said "Don't go, we'll throw in a life preserver or something. You can't live in that water to rescue him." And we pulled him back and before we knew it we all had relaxed our hold on him and he went in anyway. He jumped right in. He got to Roth but he wasn't able to help very much and by that time, the lifeboat had been lowered into the water and they got there and Byrd was pulled out and Roth was pulled out and they both were all right. But to Byrd we had thrown a ring from the ship, a regular life preserver and he was able to do well by holding onto that and with Roth too. So he didn't save Roth's life but he was there to save it. Now that took a lot of guts to do that and he did it. As leader of the expedition he did it and dove right into that water.

PB
00:18:09 Seems like he cared very deeply¿00:18:11

NV
00:18:12 Oh he cared very deeply about his men. I feel that he was very loyal to all of them, much more so than they were to him.

PB
00:18:20 Is that right? 00:18:21

NV
00:18:22 Well it turned out towards the end that one or two of his men reacted against him which I was very upset about but I couldn't do anything about that.

PB
00:18:32 How did Byrd react to that? 00:18:34

NV
00:18:34 Oh, he just reacted to it by denying the allegations and then the poor guy went on another expedition and when he came back from that it was too late because too late for his life because he really got so sick when he was down there alone, and that was the name of the book that he wrote, that he never was the same again he had great troubles with his lungs because of that. His stove that he had was giving off carbon monoxide and he wasn't sure what it was. Had he known that I think he would have aired out his camp more often and he would have eaten more food that was not cooked and therefore would have lived more in his fur clothing I think.

PB
00:19:31 What do you think makes a great explorer like that?" 00:19:34

NV
00:19:35 Number one, he's got to be popular with his men not because he has money to buy them toys and Christmas presents but popular because he leads them well. He makes decisions that are sound, makes decisions that are not risky, without the men knowing about the risks. And as one of the great traits that I mentioned before was that he never asked anyone to do anything that he wouldn't do himself and that to me was great. And of course, a leader that doesn't participate with his men becomes a loof because the men don't talk to him much except on the business. Byrd was willing to talk about anything and did. But when it came down to business of survival, the business of building the camp, business of where we were going, he was serious and took no second choice, he was number one.

PB
00:20:46 It sounds like he didn't take chances.00:20:49

NV
00:20:50 He didn't take unnecessary chances. He took a lot of chances but not unnecessary ones. Oh, if the case of crossing a bridge, he's got to go across. He's just got to figure out how he's going to get across safely and if the bridge breaks what's going to happen to me what's going to happen to my dogs, what's going to happen. And he warned himself against all those things and then goes ahead and does it.

PB
00:21:13 Sometimes with explorers the goal is the all important thing. 00:21:26

NV
00:21:27 Well that's true with mountain climbing too. Your hear that often that the goal is so important to the man that the man puts the goal ahead, he puts it first ahead of his own safety. But that wasn't true of Byrd and nor would he let his men do that. One of the great things was a man who would try to make the South Pole and he got within 80 miles of the Pole and turned around and came back and he said to his men, "We can make the Pole and we will be the first in the world to do it but we might not get back. I'm going back now and we'll try again." He went again and came back when he knew that he was still safe. When he knew that he could take his men all the way back and he did.

PB
00:22:21 Was that Byrd? 00:22:23

NV
00:22:24 No, it was one of the other explorers that was ahead of Byrd.

PB
00:22:30 The expedition that you were on, what were the goals? 00:22:33

NV
00:22:34 We had two missions really, one was to go with Adm. Byrd, and follow him to the edge of the ice, make a camp and make it possible for him to fly over the South Pole. That made him the first man to have flown over both Poles but more importantly it showed what could be done with multi-engine aircraft and he did it and from that moment on multi-engine aircraft played a very important part in the Antarctic and that was goal number, mission number one, which was accomplished. Mission number two was to make a geological survey of the Queen Maude mountains which Dr. Gould did and it was on that geological trip that both the South Pole trip and the geological survey took place because we were out there at the mountains and gave the word meteorologically back to Byrd that this looked like the day so that he could make the flight. Without that he'd have many efforts when it was good weather at Little America and bad weather at the mountains he'd have made many efforts to get thought and not be able to get through. Maybe risk a chance and maybe crash so being there was very important to Byrd and we were, we were there..

PB
00:24:06 What were those risks that he faced in those polar flights? 00:24:08

NV
00:24:09 Number one, of course, engine failure. Number two running out of fuel. Number three was bad navigation, in the sense that he might try to go up a glacier that was not known and find a face of a glacier facing him and no room to turn around so that's probably a great danger and especially when you are in a heavily loaded plan which you would be with gas because presumably you would have just refueled before you made that final attempt to go to the Pole which was with a full plane. So, he faced this great danger. Now Balkan was an excellent pilot and on the way up the glacier they felt that they were too heavily loaded and would not make it. And, Balkan said "Let's go over next to the edge of this glacier where we have an uplift of wind", and he went over from the center over to the edge and he got that uplift and with all the power that they had he was able to get up to the top and then proceed toward the Pole itself.

PB
00:25:22 Is it still dangerous flying down that route? 00:25:24

NV
00:25:25 Yes, yes of course it is. Of course it is. You have such little weather reporting back and when you have such little weather reporting back you are faced with.. you have to guess what it's going to be like from your own observations locally and that's never far enough.

PB
00:25:44 Byrd was also instrumental in mapping the region too, right? 00:25:49

NV
00:25:51 Yes, he was but he didn't physically do it himself. He had a cartographer there and we had a cartographer on the geological party and the observations that we took on the mountains were very close to the real findings when they took those photographs from the air.

PB
00:26:08 Did he do aerial mapping? 00:26:12

NV
00:26:14 In the sense of taking pictures of the area for aerial mapping, yes he did.

PB
00:26:19 I mean was that¿00:26:20

NV
00:26:21 That wasn't a big thing. It was new but that wasn't a big thing. That wasn't the mission. The mission was to get him over the South Pole and back safely and for us to make the geological survey. For instance, we could have gone farther in our geological survey if he had allowed us to have aerial support. But he didn't. He said "If you fellows can go do this, on your own, carry your own food live off what you can do yourself, you are doing the right thing. I can't afford fuel nor the risk of any planes to do this." Now Adm. Byrd, in his own heart, wanted to land at the So. Pole. Prior to this time however, he had allowed his second plane, the Faker, to go on a geological trip which unfortunately ended in a crashed airplane. It was blown away after the men got down, anchored the plane and the wind came up and blew it from it's mounting, from it's moorings and crashed it. It never could fly again so it was abandoned and that was his only way away, no that was his second way away from the South Pole. If he'd landed there with a big ship but he had four men on the ship and that would be four men to rescue from the South Pole and that would have been a big object. However, when we went out on the geological survey, we were nearer to the South Pole that we were to Little America the day that he made his flight and we did have dog power, man power and food enough to go all the way to the South Pole and rescue him but it would have been a tough thing.

PB
00:28:12 Did that expedition change you? 00:28:14

NV
00:28:15 Oh¿it changed me tremendously. I always describe Paul Siple the boyscout as having gone to the Antarctic a boy and coming back a man. I hope that happened to me. I hope I became a man by successfully coming back from that expedition.

PB
00:28:33 Recount anecdotes from book¿.Ashley McKinley¿00:28:58

NV
00:28:59 Ashley McKinley was the aerial photographer. He was very depressed because he got these messages from his wife on Saturday night which didn't excite him in the right way. Instead of being encouraging, they were discouraging messages. Saying how very, very much she missed him and how very, very much he was needed back home and those kinds of things that were normal but he took them as being very personal and he became a hermit and would get up in the morning and maybe have a cup of coffee and then go back to bed go to sleep all morning and the do the same thing about noon and sleep all afternoon and then sleep all night. He was just isolated himself and we couldn't get him to have any spirit at all. To get going and Byrd had a solution. I've got something very important that I've got to bury here in the land and I've got to have it very secure and I don't want you to talk about it but I want to know if you will help me dispose of it. McKinley said, yes he would. So he started him and he said I only want you to do two hours of shoveling today and then it became, I want you to do three hours of shoveling today and finally he got him shoveling all day long, with normal rest periods, digging
a tunnel that went nowhere but it took him out of his lethargy and he became normal again and Byrd just handled it very well, took him out on a long walk and explained it all too him and McKinley sort of laughed at himself and was normal the rest of the trip. Do you know about Byrd long walks that he had with all of his people? Well, that was one of the things that we couldn't quite understand at the time but he would say to each of the people "I'm going to take my daily walk, will you come with me?" and so he'd take us all out individually just the two, Byrd and that person and he would talk to them very intimately about whether they liked what was going on in camp and that's how he kept in touch with what was going on in camp."

PB
00:31:42 Did you take a long walk with him? 00:31:44

NV
00:31:45 Oh, yes I did.

PB
00:31:46 That seems exceptional that a leader would care that much to get into the personal lives. 00:31:50

NV
00:31:51 Well he did, he got in to ours and he was very good about that. And he didn't find things out and then beat up on the man that he found things out about at all. It was just more of a personal thing of "How's your family and do you miss them and so forth¿" It was a very nice trait that he had and he did it quite openly.

PB
00:32:21 How many men on the expedition? 00:32:22

NV
00:32:23 In total there were 128 men. That includes the crews of both ships. And there were 42 of those men that spent the winter night in Antarctica. Those were called the winter over people and of course I was lucky enough to be one of the winter over people.

PB
00:32:44 I guess a camaraderie must have been a very important thing. 00:32:47

NV
00:32:48 Very important. Some of the cases were men didn't get along very well on the boat he analyzed it by talking about it with them on the boat and uh, having them sleep at different parts of the camp so that they weren't always elbow to elbow and he tried to always keep their work apart. He didn't have them shoveling snow at the same time.

PB
00:33:15 So you had to be a little bit of a psychologist to ¿00:33:17

NV(overlapping) 00:33:17 Oh he had to be a big psychologist to do this properly, he had 42 men,41 men to take care of.

PB
00:33:24 There's another story, he issued new shirts¿00:33:34

NV
00:33:35 One day somebody complained about, "My shirt's wearing out or getting too dirty." And so it was Byrd ordered the issuance of the last new shirt out of the store room that we'd all have. It was halfway through the winter and we all got these shirts al at the same time. We looked great, we looked like we were going out to a party and then we all seemed to come down with a cold, head sniffles. We didn't realize what it was. Our eyes watered and our noses ran and the doctors didn't know why until we finally figured out,0 or he did, that a germ that had been involved with the packer when he was packing the shirts must have got onto the shirts and remained there throughout the long cold winter night as other germs do and you know animals do, live out the cold, in quietness and they hibernated in the cloth and they came out when they got into the heat¿

PB
(aside)
00:34:56 So you got infected by some shipping clerk from New England or something. 00:35:00

NV
00:35:01 That's exactly right. Who had failed to take care of himself and was dripping from his nose onto the clothing, probably, as he was packing.

PB
00:35:09 A small cold could be treacherous down there. 00:35:12

NV
00:35:13 Of, course, it was a small cold to start with and the doctor was very concerned about it. We had one other situation when the doctor was very concerned.. would you like that?"

PB Yeah

NV
00:35:26 When we got to Panama, going through the canals, a doctor in the hospital there asked about what alcohol Adm. Byrd had on board and he said "I don't have any alcohol, just a few bottles for toasting." He said "You don't have any alcohol on board, I'm going to send you some." So he got a 55 gallon barrel of alcohol and sent it down and of course Byrd knew that this was a cause of trouble if he didn't take good care of it. So I remember lugging this barrel out to Little America and he had had a tunnel already built, not the Ashley McKinley I just told you about but a tunnel right near where he was going to live and the barrel was buried in this area but it had to be used for cleanliness and other things and so one of the men found out how to get into that tunnel and this was a system. They started to drink like crazy down there. One episode where they took all the juice from the canned fruit and juices that they made up from dried fruit on the stove put it together and put it with the alcohol and were able to drink it. So there were about six or eight people that began drinking every night and they would assemble after so called taps, not taps but the night signal to go to bed¿

PB (aside) lights out?

NV
¿ Yeah lights out¿They'd get up and they'd get into this one room which was one room in a building under the snow, of course, but could be easily reached by tunnel and they would have their parties and they kept doing this. One day, the pitcher that carried the alcohol from the barrel back to the party, was only half used. There was half a pitcher left. Well the man who was expert at getting the alcohol out decided that instead of going and filling up the pitcher he'd drink the half first. So he got himself pretty well loaded and then went out to the barrel to get another pitcher of alcohol. Now this alcohol was put into the pitcher through, not gravity ¿ siphons ..no.. (asides with PB).. Siphon, so the way to get the siphons to work was to draw in the air, draw the air out of the tube and when it went through your fingers when you could feel the alcohol come to your fingers you knew it was time to put the end of the alcohol down into the pitcher. Now that's a kid's trick easy to know that. The unfortunate thing was that he didn't feel it. He was so intoxicated that he didn't feel it in his fingers and he took this great big inhale which filled his mouth full of this cold, cold, alcohol. I dare to say it was 30 below zero in the tunnel because this was in the middle of the winter when it was 60 outside and it burned his throat and it swelled so badly that the doctor felt that in trying to get food down through this swelling and into his stomach felt he was going to lose the man. So that was a tragedy that happened in the middle of winter.

PB
00:39:38 He survived? 00:39:39

NV
00:39:39 He survived finally but not with any, Byrd didn't like that at all. But he didn't take it out on the man, he just didn't like it."

PB
00:39:50 There's a story about a 1927 flight across the Atlantic, he knocked out a couple of guys..00:39:59

NV
00:40:00 Well that's what I was told and I put it in my book I think. These two fellows had gotten into the situation where they thought they were going to go down into the water and they didn't have any solution to it and Bernt Balken was not one of these because he was at the wheel, Byrd was at the other side and before that happened Byrd knocked these two fellows out because they were beginning to say what they were going to do. Namely, turn around and go back to the United States. Byrd didn't want that he wanted to go on and they did go on so it was Bernt Balken and Byrd that actually navigated the plane safely over into Europe, found the coastline, found the lighthouse that gave them the indication the coastline having gone by the coastline, got over Paris, couldn't land came back to the coastline, couldn't land found the lighthouse and landed in the water in such a beautiful way because instead of just landing in the water Balkan aimed the airplane, not knowing how much forward the airplane would go after hitting the water, not realizing how much, he aimed it so that if it did stop now they could get out and if it did stop later it would be decelerated enough that it could get up onto the beach he had a good, proper angle for that landing. Instead of landing toward the beach he landed sideways and it was just right.

PB
00:41:41 I wanted to ask you about two other Antarctic explorers Scott and Arminson. Can you say why Scott failed and Arminson succeeded? 00:41:52

NV
00:41:53 Yes, Scott failed because he wouldn't listen to what others had to say. He was determined that his way of going to the Pole was the best, that the British could stand anything, do anything and that was the best way to get there. He didn't pay attention to dogs or ponies, he didn't have a good wrangler nor a good dog driver with him that could educated him on how it should better be done. That's what happened to Scott, he went practically the whole way on his own feet whereas Arminson if you want to say practically, he practically rode to the Pole and back. He didn't, he skied but his dog power was strong and he ate from what he pulled, as the loads got lighter, he ate the dogs and got to the Pole, he lived on the cashes that he laid out going back and made a beautiful trip as beautifully as could be made in those days. Now, animal lovers will look at this and will say, "What a terrible thing to do!" But they don't look upon the fact that without this he never could have made it and returned and without this system of his exploration would have been pretty bad from then on.

PB
00:43:23 So was it arrogance that¿on Scott's part¿00:43:28

NV
00:43:28 No, no it was just that he thought that in his own mind that he could do it without the use of dogs or ponies. But he soon found that he couldn't and he got to the Pole secondly, 31 days after Arminson did and that must have been a heartbreaking discovery because here he was sore and worn out. He got to the goal he had to turn around and go back and of course in going back he was worn out going back and he pushed to the end and to the limits and was found at the last and 11 miles short of One Ton Depot where if he had made it there was enough food to feed the remaining dogs and himself.

PB
00:44:25 Can you characterize the personalities of these two men at all?

NV
00:44:29 Arminson was like other Norwegians that you meet that know and understand their problem and they talk about it, whereas Scott did not. He just knew it all to start with and wasn't listening to what anyone else had to say. I would think that it's fair to say Arminson was the greatest overland explorer that had ever gone into the Antarctic and Scott, although he's a hero to every Britisher, because he died with such heroism in his death, and he is a hero, but he didn't pay attention to what others had to teach him

PB
00:45:22 So he's the more dramatic figure in history but he's the one who didn't succeed.
00:45:27

NV
00:45:27 That's right , he was much more dramatic in history because he had a death that was remembered by every British student.

PB
00:45:39 Where do you put Byrd in this pantheon of explorers down there? 00:45:43

NV
00:45:53 I put Byrd¿ WOW¿ uh¿as not as great as Arminson and far greater than Scott and he was¿ had learned through the history or Scott and Arminson to pay attention to what others had to say and he did. He listened, and took.. and he made his own decisions after he listened so that showed a great mind, the great mind of a great leader, that he wasn't pigheaded about anything. He just really analyzed what he been said on both sides of the question and he made his decision and he must go down as the greatest explorer that America ever had because who else had done what he has in the Antarctic as an example? His leadership there has lead to all science that has been done by all the other countries and himself, the Americans. They have been there longest, they have had the greatest force there and they continue to be leaders, because some of the camps have closed and gone home but Byrd's camp , the Little America efforts continue to go on and on, and hopefully will continue.

PB
00:47:25 Did Byrd know those guys? 00:47:28

NV
00:47:29 Oh, yes. He had met Arminson and he had met Scott, both.

PB
00:47:35 Is it possible in this day and age of exploration, is it possible for these larger than life personalities to emerge? 00:47:53

NV
00: 47:54 I think that era is over. I don't think there are any people that can do those great things anymore. Just think of the ocean which is undiscovered but we've got people that have shown the way and it's now easier. They aren't going in to blank areas and wondering what's happening ahead of them. Just think of Arminson who went out to the mountain and he had to find a way through and he did. If you go in a submarine I suppose you come up against a wall but you know what to do, come home. And then you have instruments that will help you get through the next time. Arminson couldn't turn around and come home try it again. He was there, he had to make it or not and he did make it.

PB
00:48:37 Do you think that in these tests of fortitude with the new gear we are missing something? 00:48:59

NV
00:49:00 It's easier now and we are missing something in that we miss the heroes and the adventurers that went into the unknown, because very little is unknown today by comparison to what it was in the olden days when we have such great people as Sir Douglas Moreson , and Nancen and Stephenson and of course, Scott and Arminson and Byrd. Probably the greatest story is one of endurance and how Stephenson took his boat kept it from sinking and got as far into the winter as he good, then losing it but he had a plan and that plan was a very desperate plan but he got through and got his men all rescued and that story in itself is probably the greatest story from the Antartic.

PB
00:50:00 What about you? What is the greatest moment for you? 00:50:21

NV
00:50:24 Boy, I don't know what the toughest moment was, I've had a lot of ups and downs. I always think ahead of plans I'd like to accomplish but never get done and that's the dreaming big part of my motto which is "Dream big and dare to fail." I have failed a lot of times but when I fail, I try to come back and get a better way of doing the same thing and the first time that I can emphasize that might be when I read in the paper that Byrd was going and the very next morning I was at his house trying to see him and the maid wouldn't let me get to see him and I turned around and went down the sidewalk to get back to college, I guess when suddenly I though¿ How can I get in the back door? Well, the back door to me was going down and finding the man who wrote the story, I did that and got in through that man with a plan for Byrd. So I think that the greatest moment was right then that I wasn't discouraged with something that I wanted very desperately to do even though I'd had wanted to do it for 24 hrs. but it was but it just hit me that I've got to do this. I was almost like a man jumping out of a plane, if you've got to jump you've got to jump and I felt I had to go on this expedition no matter what I did and that's how important it became to me at that moment. [It seems like the underlined words might be useful at the end of the interview in the piece and the rest of the italics might be a nice draw in anecdote for the listeners.]

PB
00:51:59 How about physically? What was the toughest thing you ever did? 00:52:02

NV
00:52:02 Oh, was young and fit and I felt that I had no limits about physical, f course I wasn't as strong as Svarry Strom or anything like that but I felt I could do any of those things and I wasn't afraid to tackle them and I was at college, I wasn't successful at athletics but I was in them all the time. So, in answer to your question, my limits, I have limits physically, I just had a triple bypass and I'm just getting over that and I'm not walking very well right now but I'm getting better and I'll have the canes thrown away very soon and we'll start training for my next expedition. Right now I'm training from a food point of view standpoint. I've lost thirty lbs. and want to go down another five and then I'll stay at that level.

PB
00:53:03 And you're hoping to do another climb? 00:53:07

NV
00:53:07 Well I wanted to..next month I'll be 93 years old and I've only gotta wait 7 yrs. To be 100. Well that doesn't look anything at all difficult. I think I'm well enough to do that. I've had good reports, my heart is going to make it and I'm going to make it but I want to have a, I have a goal of being at the top of Mt. Vaughn on my 100th birthday. Well, I don't think that I could go down there and climb it, per say, without taking a month to go up, by just climbing a very short distance each day. Well, that isn't the way mountains climb, with a very short distance, they climb to a limit everyday. Well that limit might knock me down. So I have talked with my lead guide, mountain climbing guide, Vern Tayhass (sp), who lives right here in Anchorage, and he approves of the idea that with my training and getting ready, I can get to the top little by little ¿ but my plan is to go as far as I can and then get on a sled and be pulled the rest of the way. Now, the invitation to go out with me is going to be 4 guides and 3 friends who I know are tough. And if I didn't know they were tough they weren't going to be invited. And they have got to pull me up - and I am heavy! This morning I weighed 176¿.

PB - you have already climbed this mtn once

55:02 NV - Oh, I have climbed this mtn once and I know it can be done by sled - I know that a sled can move over that territory if I balance it right.

PB - describe your '94 climb

55:15 NV '94 climb was the first part of the climb was very difficult bc it was a knife edge - going up we had one foot on one side of the knife edge and the other foot on the other or we would cut a pathway in this ridge to get up. And that is what these guides did - they cut a pathway so that my feet could be level going up. I can't balance very well on my toes. But I wore climbing boots and crampons and I was properly roped and we practiced this over and over again and I didn't want to fail but I was weak and I have to be stronger - the next - when I am 100 - then when I was when I climbed before. And I know the feeling of becoming weak and I am just going to overcome that by making longer trips here before going than I did in the first part. 56:14

PB - as you look back is there one accomplishment that stands out above the rest that was the most satisfying?

56:25 NV - well I suppose having a mtn named after you as Byrd did in 1930 - he called Goodale (?) and Crockett and me together at his home and he said I want to thank you for the work you did in the Antarctic and I want to name a mtn for each of you and he chose 3 mtns right together, all about 10,000 feet high and named them. And I thanked him by saying something like this: thank you Admiral. I am honored that you want to do this - I think it is great to have a mtn named after me. I have to go down and climb it one day. He smiled and said I bet you will. And that just keyed it right there and for 65 years I dreamed of going back and on the 65th year I made. On the 64rd year we lost a 4 engine airplane in the Antarctic and that was a terrible blow. But Carolyn my wife and I came back and faced the music and raised some more money and went back by airplane and made it to the top. 57:38

PB - so what do you think about John Glen going into space -

NV - I think it is great - great! It sets a good example and if I can set as good example when I am 100 as he is doing at 77 I will be happy. I want to leave something behind that is worthwhile. What I try to do is be inspirational to the young people. And I am all for what Will Steger is doing of working through children. That is why I am interested in this Geography Awareness Week bc all the effort will not be towards adults to teach them to study geography but it certainly should ease the problem for young people studying geography. 58:35

59:14 PB - do you have dogs any more?

59:16 NV - that is the saddest question you could have asked me! The answer is I have one - but I got rid of the dogs bc of my inability to handle them all alone. And I am getting that ability back again and I will have a team very soon - and hope for next year - but not this year. I hope to have one next year¿..it is a great sport and taken as a traveling sport - it is just wonderful to travel by dogs - not to race by them, but to travel by them. But each year now I anticipate going on serum 25. 2 yrs ago I led this trip to Neyanna (?) to Nome and it was a distance of 770 miles and we made it in 19 days. Now it is very very simple we only traveled 50 miles a day and we camped luxuriously and easily and we had 13 dog teams, 8 snow mobilers and 4 skiiers. So we were very well put together that way. This year I am going to have more dog sledders and more snow mobilers than I had before and we are getting ready right now. And we are going over this route in commemoration of the 1925 Serum run from Neyanna to Nome carrying to serum that saved the city bc they were under diphtheria epidemic and it saved the city from the epidemic. And as a matter of fact when we finished the year before last¿END OF DAT

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