Solving the Riddle of Chubb Crater By V. Ben Meen
Intro August 17 1950
In all the vast and lonely reaches of the Far North I doubt that there was a more disappointed man that Friday evening. My calendar said August 17. Time had all but run out for the expedition dispatched by the National
Geographic Society and the Royal Ontario Museum of Toronto to the subarctic tip of Quebec Province to solve the mystery of Chubb Crater. Was this gigantic hole the throat of some long-extinct volcano? Was it formed as a sinkhole after the retreat of a prehistoric glacier? Or, as
I thought most likely, was it blasted in the rock by the impact of a giant meteor? For a month now, seeking the answer, the six of us had been working our hearts out against time, laboring in rain, cold, snow, and the everlasting wind that sweeps this desolate land of eerie stillness.
Three Days Left and Still No Proof
But Chubb Crater stubbornly held on to its secret. We still lacked positive evidence as to the origin of this enormous scar gouged out of the granite-covered barrens. The amphibian plane that would fly the expedition back to civilization
was due at camp in less than three days. Were we fated to return and report the riddle still unsolved, leaving the world still to wonder how the great crater came into being?
As leader of the expedition I felt an especially keen sense of frustration. True, we would not be going back empty-handed. The days of
driving effort had produced a goodly store of scientific data on the craterland area, as well as material for further laboratory study. But
the big prize would be lacking. Unpleasant as this prospect was, my responsibilities gave me no choice
but to face up to it, and for good reasons. The weather was our implacable foe. We had seen the last snows of the
Arctic's 1950-51 winter when we arrived at the crater. Now, only four weeks later, the first snows of the 1951-52 season were already upon us,
and General Winter strikes swiftly here. A few degrees' drop in temperature would put ice in the lake that offered the only landing
place for our amphibian. Safety of the expedition's members was paramount. Once ice began forming
on the lake, our amphibian would be prevented from landing. On foot it would be a rough 60-mile trek to Wakeham Bay in the teeth of
increasingly severe weather, and I doubted we could pack enough supplies to cover that distance. I felt we had to get out by air in a few days or
hole up to await rescue. Saturday's program thus seemed clean-cut: pack equipment and specimens;
get ready to strike camp. Up on the crater rim the men still working against time for a key to Chubb's riddle could continue the search until
midday, but then it must end. They would need most of the afternoon to negotiate the tortuous way back to camp, burdened with their heavy gear.
Then on Monday the amphibian would come to lift us out of the cold and wet and speed us back to civilization. After all, it was summer there,
and one could luxuriate in a bath, wear light clothes, and forget the lashing winds.
Of course, I would still cling to my theory on the origin of this Gargantuan punch bowl in the wastelands, but theories are not facts.
Science demands conclusive proof. I believed I knew what had not caused the crater, yet lacked acceptable evidence as to what had.
Birth of an Adventure
The story of Chubb Crater begins with World War II. On June 20, 1943, a U.S. Army Air Force plane, on a weather flight over the Ungava region of
Quebec Province, took a photograph showing a wide crater rim thrust up above the snow-mantled landscape.
Five years later the Royal Canadian Air Force covered the same little-known area in its program of photomapping all Canada. Not until
1950, however, were these photographs and resulting map corrections made available to the public.
Here that sturdy prospector and frontiersman Frederick W. Chubb becomes an important figure. His interest was fired by the photographs of the
strange configuration of terrain far north of the limit of wooded country. He sought me out at the museum for my opinion as a geologist.
Mr. Chubb was hopeful I would tell him what he wished to hear - that the crater appeared to be that of an extinct volcano. If so, the area might
hold diamond deposits similar to those found in South Africa. My interest was stirred, but for a different reason. My knowledge of
Canadian geology tentatively ruled out the possibility that the crater was of volcanic origin, or a huge sinkhole left behind by retreating
The only other likely explanation was that this immense pockmark on northern Quebec Province was the handiwork of a mighty meteor that
crashed into the land at terrific speed untold centuries ago. Eager to inspect the crater firsthand, I flew there with Fred Chubb in
1950. The visit was brief, hardly more than a reconnaissance, without time or equipment for a thorough study. I was awed then - as I have been
ever since - by the stark, brooding grandeur one beholds from the crater rim.
Crater Named for Arctic Prospector
On this trip, incidentally, I named the crater Chubb, as a tribute to my
good friend who deserves so much credit for its exploration.
I came back to Toronto fired with a determination to return to Chubb
Crater with an expedition that would unlock its secret. More than ever I
was persuaded my theory was right - that a mighty meteor had blasted out
the crater with an explosion that left the surrounding barren plain a
chaos of boulders.
The fine cooperation of the National Geographic Society and the Royal
Ontario Museum, so typical of the neighborly spirit linking the United
States and Canada, made possible my return to craterland with all I
needed. Now it was up to me and my team.
Our take-off point was Roberval, a quiet lumber town, one of the last
stops on the rail line that reaches north from Quebec City.
With me was a hand-picked team of which I was already proud, and later
even prouder. Doughty Fred Chubb, who started all this in the first
place, dropped everything to join us.
To help me in geological and survey work were John Keefe and Leonard
Cowan. John, a geophysicist, had originally intended to start work that
summer in western Canada's new oil fields, but scrapped his plans.
Leonard, who was not due back on my staff at the Museum until September
1, had done likewise with his leave program.
As our biologist we had Nigel Martin, on generous loan from the Ontario
Department of Lands and Forests. And last, but by no means least, there
was the versatile Richard H. Stewart, of the National Geographic
Society's photographic staff, a veteran of many far-flung scientific
Delayed equipment and bad weather held us up five days at Roberval. We
made good use of the wait, however, to remove supplies from crates and
cartons in order to pack the maximum load into our amphibian.
Incidentally, it was the only commercial plane in the area that had the
capacity to fly us to Chubb with all our equipment, supplies, food, and
fuel for a month's stay.
Known in World War II as a PBY patrol plane, or as the Catalina, this
work horse of the air is called in Canada a Canso. Modified for
peacetime use, it is capable of lifting big loads great distances; hence
its value in the north country.
Capacious as the Canso was, we needed every bit of space for the 5,000
pounds of cargo we stowed aboard her. Our biggest problem was the
gasoline we had to carry. Craterland is barren of fuel. We needed the
gas for cooking food, heating and lighting our tents, running the
generator for our radio, and powering the outboard motor for our canoes.
Weather gave us the green light on July 25. The burdened Canso moved
down the apron at Roberval's shore and slid into the waters of Lake St.
John. Motors revved up as we taxied for take-off. Capt. Wilf Allard, our
able pilot, lifted his big ship from the lake's surface at 9 a.m.
Less than 10 hours and one refueling stop later, the captain eased our
Canso down on Museum Lake, about two miles north of the crater. A few
smooth stretches on its otherwise rugged shore line offered the only
practical campsites in the area.
I had given this lake its name on our previous trip, with the thought of
reminding the public that museums, far from being dusty, sleepy places,
are actively engaged in research for advancing the frontiers of
Coming in for our landing, the Canso gave us an excellent opportunity to
view the crater from aloft. It resembled a gigantic teacup, slightly
tilted. The rim rears up hundreds of feet above the surrounding
wasteland, and the lake deep in its bowl has an unbelievable color of
I was pleased to see the water was ice-free. This would facilitate lake
research. On my three-day visit to the crater in 1950 I had found most
of the surface covered with drifting cakes of ice, some of them three
feet thick, although near-by lakes had none.
On Museum Lake shore that night there was no haste in pitching camp.
Even at midnight, when we decided things were adequately squared away,
we still had bright daylight. A beautiful sunset, which had appeared to
the northwest two hours earlier, was now straight to our north, its
Camp under Four Flags
Because of this virtually continuous daylight, all but one of our tents
were dark green to make sleeping possible. Only the cook tent was white,
for visibility inside. It also aided in spotting our site from the air.
Throughout the stay our little encampment operated under four flags -
the Union Jack for Canada, Old Glory of the United States, and the
banners of the expedition's two sponsors, the National Geographic
Society and the Royal Ontario Museum.
Our first morning witnessed the debut of Dick Stewart as the
expedition's chef de cuisine. He volunteered to assume all mess-tent
responsibilities, but served this ultimatum: "The first man who
complains about the food replaces me as cook immediately!"
Dick held his job until we struck camp to go home. The lack of any
complaints may be interpreted as a tribute to his culinary genius. I
often marveled that the meals were so appetizing, considering that much
of the food was in dehydrated form.
If Dick and Fred Chubb, his mess tent aide, lavished any special care on
that first breakfast, their pains went for naught. Everyone just bolted
it down; all in our party had a single thought - to see Chubb Crater
close up. It was the same with the four crewmen of the Canso, who had
Only two miles separated our camp and the crater, yet it took as much
time to cover the distance as five miles or more of normal cross-country
hiking. The boulder-littered plain made progress tormentingly slow. We
scraped, scrambled, and slithered through the jumbled rocks that always
seemed an invitation to a very bad sprain at least, if not a broken
At intervals we scaled granite ridges apparently concentric to the
crater. These rear up from 20 to 30 feet above the rest of the plain.
Finally we clambered up the 25° slope to the rim's summit, which rounds
off gently to a broad, almost flat surface. When Fred Chubb and I had
climbed to this same point the year before, our first view had left us
speechless. It was the same this time with the others, rooted solemn and
silent where they stood by the harsh majesty of the scene. The strange,
almost unearthly silence heightened the effect.
To my mind, the most stirring view of Chubb is from the rubble down at
the very edge of the cold lake. An aerial view is striking, but it
leaves one without a full appreciation of this natural wonder. Seen from
the crater rim, which averages 400 feet above the water, the lake seems
dwarfed - far smaller than its true diameter of more than a mile and a
half. It is only down along the wave-wet rocks, I think, that the senses
can begin to comprehend the splendor of the crystal-clear lake and the
bare magnificence of the crater panorama.
While most appreciative of such unmatched scenery, I found my thoughts
concentrating on other matters. I again marked the amazing points of
similarity which Chubb shared with Arizona's Meteor Crater, long
officially recognized as the largest proven scar of a meteor's collision
with the earth. (See "Mysterious Tomb of a Giant Meteorite," by W.D.
Boutwell, National Geographic Magazine, June, 1928).
Both are much alike in circular shape, in general appearance, and in
their settings amid fractured rocks. Meteor Crater cradles no beautiful
lake like Chubb. On the other hand, during my 1950 inspection the Chubb
area had yielded no meteorite fragments or droplets such as bestrewed
the vicinity of the Arizona scar, and I would have been happier if some
such meteoritic evidence were already in hand. Of course, I hoped we
would secure it.
Chubb Far Larger than Arizona Crater
The striking difference between the two craters is in size. Arizona's
crater has a diameter of about 4,000 feet. I estimated that our survey
would show Chubb's rim-to-rim breadth almost three times that. In depth
the Arizona scar is approximately 600 feet. Even without measuring, my
eye told me Chubb was deeper, even if its lake proved deceptively
shallow, which I doubted.
Thus Chubb bid fair to become the world's newest and largest natural
wonder of meteoritic origin. The catch was that we had to prove that
Chubb was a meteor's handiwork.
My thoughts were interrupted by Captain Allard, the Canso's pilot.
"Time to get back to the plane and start heading for home," he
explained. Then he added something about landing the amphibian in the
I took this parting remark in jest. The crater's precipitous walls and
the unknown air currents within them seemed to me a risky combination
that any pilot would shun.
Imagine my amazement an hour or so later when the big flying boat buzzed
the entire circumference of the crater, then dipped abruptly to the
purple-blue lake waters. It was a superb exhibition of a pilot's skill.
For a moment we almost lost the Canso's outline against the mouse-gray
crater walls. Even when it got down and skimmed along the water,
throwing up great plumes of spray, the ship seemed no bigger than a
Our "mosquito" rapidly resumed normal size. Captain Allard gunned the
amphibian off the lake, climbing fast. He cleared the west rim with
engines roaring, dipped his wings in salute, then was gone. Now we were
completely on our own!
Scientific Detective Work Begins
Jack Keefe (soon dubbed "Long John") was eager to get started on the
land survey to which he could tie in future readings taken from his
magnetometer, the delicate and valuable instrument used to determine
whether any buried meteorite mass lay beneath the crater rim. Len Cowan
teamed up with him - a good partner, for Len had had considerable
surveying experience in the Canadian Rockies.
"Nick" Martin's job was to make the soundings that would establish the
crater lake's depth. He also was to study any life in its waters or
those of adjacent lakes, and to gather all information possible on bird,
animal, and plant life in the area.
Fred Chubb worked with Nick on the lake, where his frontiersman's skill
with a canoe was invaluable, and also assisted me.
Strictly speaking, Dick Stewart's only job was to compile a photographic
record of our activities, yet somehow he found time for the cook-tent
chores and always was ready to assist anyone in need of help.
In my primary capacity as expedition geologist, I devoted my attention
at the outset to three studies: the region's rock formation; the effects
of the terrific explosion believed to have produced the crater; and what
had taken place since that blast. I also assumed the task of searching
for fragments or other traces of the meteorite.
This search was a major preoccupation with me. Over and over I kept
asking myself, "Where are the fragments of the meteorite?" Surely there
must be some evidence that would tie the crater to a meteoritic origin.
We got on with our work in what seemed an abandoned, inhospitable world.
The landscape might have been that of some deserted planet. There was no
escaping the universal loneliness of our surroundings, the oppressive
silence, the feeling of utter isolation.
The sparsity of vegetation heightened the monotony of all vistas.
Nothing higher than nine inches could be found. Plant life seemed
limited to a species of heather, various lichens and mosses, Arctic
cotton-grass, Iceland poppy, and dwarf willows. The insect population
also was negligible, although occasionally we encountered voracious
Rainy weather we had in unwelcome abundance. Usually the storms were not
driving downpours, but the rain always was sufficient to soak the
lichens on boulders and make them dangerously slippery. Work had to be
stopped until the lichens dried.
On colder days the rains gave way to sleet and snow. Toward the end of
our stay we had snow squalls daily. These aroused considerable worry.
If, at any time, there had been two or three hours of steady snow, the
expedition's work might have been ended for the season. A prolonged
snowstorm would have blanketed boulders and the gaps between them so
completely that any attempt to pass through the rock fields would have
Fortunately the snow we had did not remain long enough to cause serious
Though it was August, the average temperature ranged between 37° and 49°
Fahrenheit. The lowest temperature we recorded was 26°. Twice the
mercury climbed as high as 65°, but only for a few minutes. On most days
it never reached the 50° mark.
We all found it cold, despite heavy Arctic clothing. It was especially
hard on Dick Stewart, who came to Chubb almost direct from tropical
Panama jungles. There he had spent five months with a National
Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition.
Land of Seven-week Summer
And, mind you, the weather conditions we encountered represented
craterland's summer at its best. Winter's ice does not leave this region
until mid-July. Even before the end of August increasingly heavy fogs
were rolling in on us from Hudson Strait, sealing off the barrens from
air transport for days at a time. Such weather explains why we had to
confine our work to this so-called "open period." Even then, one can
expect to face the vanguard of winter snow before leaving.
In this cold emptiness birds were the only form of animal life we saw in
any variety. Among those identified were snow buntings, American pipits,
northern horned larks, Lapland longspurs, sandpipers, semipalmated
plovers, golden plovers, herring gulls, Arctic terns, common loons,
red-throated loons, duck hawks, and a lone eagle. But even bird life
seemed very scarce.
Four-footed animals were an extreme rarity. We saw only three. One was a
lemming, and Len Cowan pounced on it to provide the expedition with its
lone specimen of the rodent family. We also spotted two Arctic foxes and
shot both. Nothing else was taken. Scores of small traps were kept
baited, but we always found them empty.
An explanation of the marked scarcity of animal life may be that many
Arctic species are subject periodically to unexplained fluctuations in
population. It happened, as I learned later, that 1951 was a year of
sharp decline for these creatures of the Far North.
One day we found, near the crater, the remains of some Eskimo campsites.
They probably were about a century old, a reminder of the long-vanished
days when big caribou herds made good hunting in these parts.
Nightmare Descent to Lake
Canoeing on crater lake sounds as if it might have been the expedition's
easiest assignment. It wasn't. First of all, the canoe and all research
equipment had to be carried to the lake, not forgetting an outboard
motor, gasoline, and other items.
Nick and Fred did this punishing job. They set out early a few days
after our arrival, one burdened with a 105-pound canoe, the other
packing a large aluminum winch that weighed 75 pounds, including 1,500
feet of stainless-steel cable on its drum.
Their way led through the treacherous fields of shattered gray and white
granite. The going was so laborious that every 10 or 15 minutes the men
were forced to stop and rest. Then they'd swap loads and push on.
It took hours to reach the crater's rim. There they faced the most
dangerous part of their trip - the descent. For the first 100 feet down
from the top, the incline is relatively gentle, but the final 300 feet
has a pitch of 40° to 45°.
This descent was a nightmare obstacle course, for the slope was of rocks
ranging in size from a foot to 10 feet high, intermixed with small
patches of loose fragments made to order for starting a boulder
The man carrying the winch dropped his load and served as eyes for the
teammate walking almost blind with the canoe over his head. With utmost
care the pathfinder picked a reasonably safe path down the hazardous
slope for his partner. After an extremely slow and cautious passage the
canoe at last was set down upon the lake's waters.
This represented a whole day's work; by the time Fred and Nick got their
aching muscles back to camp it was evening, however bright the sleepless
sun might be above.
The next day the two iron men put on a repeat performance, packing the
outboard motor, tins of gasoline, and equipment to the lake over the
same wearisome trail.
Originally we had intended to use both expedition canoes in the crater.
However, the difficulties involved in getting one canoe there safely
were so great that I decided to assign the second craft to Museum Lake
at once for the research work we had planned to do there later.
Ironically, after all the labor and luck it took to get a canoe to the
crater, the sunken lake knew only two days during our entire stay when
its surface was calm enough to permit sounding work and other research
at any distance from the shore. Winds seemed to get on a merry-go-round
down in the basinlike crater. As a result, the lake surface was
invariably troubled or choppy.
Long John Keefe and Len Cowan, painstakingly occupied with their
instruments on the crater rim, also found progress discouraging,
Sometimes rain or snow made the rim's boulders too dangerously slippery
for work. Even in fair weather magnetic storms plagued their operation
by rendering magnetometer readings valueless. An added discouragement
was the failure of the mine detectors to be of any value in finding
meteoritic material. They "sang" almost continuously in the boulder
field because virtually all the rocks contained traces of terrestrial
The days were slipping by inexorably, and expedition results still
remained on the slim side, even counting the two Arctic foxes and the
I know amateur radio operators are proud to refer to themselves as
"hams." In my case the word has a special connotation.
By far the heaviest single item we had brought with us was a radio
transceiver borrowed from Canadian Army Signals. No one else in the
party professed knowledge of radio, so I volunteered as operator of this
transmitting-receiving device, aided by some preliminary instruction
from experts. I made copious notes on what each tutor told me and was
able to work the instrument without trouble in a test run at Roberval.
After we had camp properly organized, I decided one night it was time
for the expedition's radioman to demonstrate his talent. The antenna
system already had been rigged to the 25-foot collapsible aluminum
poles, which also did duty as flagstaffs.
With some misgivings I pressed the switches and began tuning. The
instructions I had taken down from my tutors were at my elbow. I quickly
picked up a station on Baffin Island talking to Goose Bay, Labrador.
My expectations soared. Craterland was going on the air! I set the
transmitter for our frequency, pressed the microphone switch, and sent
out my call. It was in a surprisingly quavery voice.
I waited. No answer. All evening at intervals I kept repeating the call.
Cut off from Outside World
With minor variations, the tragedy of Meen at the microphone was
reenacted night after night. No matter how often I checked over my notes
and four guide manuals, the result was always the same. My calls failed
to bring any reply.
At first the radio was set up under an awning outside the cook tent.
When the temperature began dropping lower in the second half of our
stay, I moved it into the kitchen. The change of location made no
The radio's failure (or was it mine?) filled me with an abiding
uneasiness. What if an emergency should occur, serious illness, a bad
accident? We had no way of reaching the outside world to summon speedy
As our third week in the field lengthened and my radio calls still
brought no results, my concern increased.
Quite apart from our radio problem, camp life had other ups and downs.
Our first site, at the west end of Museum Lake, had been selected
because of its convenience to the areas of our initial operations. It
enjoyed no protection from the never-ending wind, but at first I thought
it would be satisfactory.
Sometime later, however, two days of extremely powerful wind changed my
miud for me. The gale lashed the camp hard and steadily, diminishing
only slightly the first night.
On the second night its fury increased, and with it came snow. At 2
o'clock in the morning I heard Nick and Fred out checking the guy ropes
of their tent and its neighbor.
An hour later the wind velocity was so great that the Meen-Stewart tent
began to take off. I hurried out and got it moored more securelv. I also
lowered the antenna to ease the strain on the aluminum masts, which
flailed about like buggy whips. It was a shivering, worried expedition
leader who crawled back into his sleeping robe.
The next morning, in casual understatement, Dick Stewart remarked he
hadn't slept much. I inquired what he had been thinking about.
"I just lay here and prayed," he replied solemnly.
"What do you think I was doing?" I said. He didn't have to ask.
Canoe Blown Like Chip
When I went outside I found that the 105 pound canoe, which the night
before had been parked snugly against our tent wall, had been blown some
50 feet away, turning over several times in the trip.
In a couple of days the winds subsided to something like erratic normal,
and we shifted camp across to the east end of our lake. Everyone felt
better after tents were pitched behind the shelter of a seven-foot sand
judged by Far North standards, our camp was reasonably comfortable
throughout our time in the field, despite the exposed location of the
Having some experience in the wilderness, I am inclined to scorn chairs
as excess baggage. However, the Arctic is different. The ground is cold
and damp, and the rocks bestrewing our camp areas were far from
The four-pound aluminum folding chairs we took along probably would look
more at home on the sands at Miami or Atlantic City than they did in the
bleak wastelands. But they proved more worth while per ounce than
anything else we brought with us.
We slept on collapsible cots with springsteel frames. Some of us rested
well on them, but others complained that, with the cots a bare three
inches off the ground, dampness would seep up even through the warm
thickness of heavy sleeping robes. Our few spare evening hours were
spent in reading, playing cribbage for no stakes, or working over
specimens collected during the day.
Crater More than Two Miles Wide
One satisfying development was that we finally logged the dimensions of
our uncooperative subject. Chubb Crater, so surveys established, has a
rim-to-rim diameter of 11,500 feet and a circumference of 6.8 miles.
The lake in the crater bowl averages 9,100 feet in diameter. The shore
line measures 5.4 miles around, and soundings showed the greatest depth
of water to be 825 feet.
Before we obtained final sounding data we already knew that the highest
point on the lopsided rim was 500 feet above the lake surface. Now we
double-checked figures and were jubilant that our crater had a maximum
depth of 1,325 feet, unprecedented if we could establish that it was
meteoritic in origin.
To get accurate measurements of the lake's depth, Fred and Nick outdid
the most eager of beavers in the way they toiled on the only two calm
days to come their way. Their task was laborious and exacting. The
weighted sounding cable had to be lowered repeatedly until it hit
bottom, and the various locations had to he precisely plotted.
The lake's waters are remarkably clear. Tests proved it was possible to
see an object suspended 115 feet below the surface, even in less than
This crater lake also presented us with a fish puzzle, still unsolved.
We took from its waters a number of misshapen Arctic char, a fish of the
trout family. They had grotesque heads, far more developed than their
soft, spongy bodies.
Melting snow and ice can explain why Chubb boasts a deep lake. But how
did the char get into its waters?
Still more baffling is how the fish have survived, for study of lake
water proved it deficient in the minute plankton organisms on which fish
Magnetometer Probes in Vain
On the crater rim overlooking the lake, Long John Keefe and Len Cowan
pressed their magnetometer survey with the zeal of the perfectionists
they were. The search, however, was still no more productive than my
nightly radio calls. If a meteorite mass existed somewhere under the
crater lip, it, too, was giving no answer that could be detected by
On August 14 a Norseman plane dropped unheralded from the sky and
disrupted our routine. Aboard were Dr. Jacques Rousseau, director of
Montreal's Botanical Garden, and Dr. I.W. Jones, chief geologist of the
Department of Mines of Quebec, who had been doing field work in northern
Ungava, Malcolm Ritchie, Dr. Jones's assistant, Dr. Rousseau's son
François, René Richard, artist-prospector, and the plane's crew.
These unexpected visitors brought us news and a bundle of mail from
home. Their welcome could not have been warmer.
Tramping along the crater rim with Dr. Jones, I poured out the story of
the expedition's work to date. 1 told him of our disappointment over the
failure to find evidence of a buried meteorite, how my search for
meteoritic particles likewise had been fruitless, and how I regretted
that only small portions of the vast plain could be covered in this
Throughout our survey tour Dr. Jones made his geological observations,
which led him to favor a meteoritic origin as the explanation for the
crater. His opinion gave me a lift, for I hold his scientific ability in
In the course of our talks the subject of radio cropped up. Dr. Jones
said the Fort McKenzie station, 350 miles to the southeast, had called
us nightly and listened for our signals. I took this as confirming my
suspicions that something was wrong with the set, not with Meen, perhaps
because of some unnoticed damage to it in transit.
We bid our guests Godspeed the next day, and that night came the miracle
which made their visit an omen of good luck in my mind.
I was at the radio and heard Fort McKenzie trying in vain to raise
another station. I gave the operator plenty of time, then on some
strange impulse tried to butt in.
Your stunned expedition leader almost fell from his chair when McKenzie
promptly answered, saying he could get my transmitter's carrier wave,
but no voice!
This temperamental transceiver - what was it doing? I was at a loss as
to what I should try next. For no reason at all I pressed switches
cutting in our two microphones at once and blurted out our call letters.
Radio Contact at Last
"You wouldn't be the crater, would you?" McKenzie's operator inquired. Would I be the crater? Would I !
The shout of "Yes" I hurled back across the ether must have set the other chap's ears ringing. I felt as if only 350 inches separated us
instead of 350 miles, and wanted to run right over and shake hands. I still don't know why the set operated with two "mikes" cut in, but went
dumb when I used only one. However, it performed flawlessly for me during our remaining week. We were in daily contact with the outside.
Our luck with the radio failed to bring any corresponding change in our fortunes in the field. Days dwindled. Friday, August 17, arrived.
The camp awoke to foul weather, snow squalls, and rain. I had planned to send someone up to the crater early to give the magnetometer team the
bad news: their futile search was to cease by noon the next day so that they could return to base and pack up for our departure Monday. The
weather, however, made any trip to the rim foolhardy.
Conditions improved greatly by midday; so I had Stewart and Martin set out on the errand. I insisted two go because the boulders still looked
slippery, and I wanted immediate help at hand in case one man got hurt. Bad weather returned with a vengeance a short time after they left. As
the day dragged on, my anxiety mounted. Not until 7:30 did they make it back to camp. Heavy snow squalls had forced them to seek shelter
repeatedly under large boulders.
But they brought great news. "The boys said to tell you they think they are on the right trail at last," Dick reported.
Last Chance to Solve the Riddle
This terse report sent my hopes soaring. The section which the boys were then working would be a likely spot for discovering proof of a
buried meteoritic mass, or a concentration of exploded fragments. My elation soon began ebbing. What the boys thought might be wishful
thinking, sired by last-minute desperation. Even if they were right, there was insufficient time left for the work necessary to establish
adequate positive evidence. If only we had an extra 24 hours or so at our disposal. My disappointment returned, sharpened by the feeling of
being cheated by clock, calendar, and weather.
Chubb Crater had never witnessed anything like the feverish efforts put forth on its east rim that Saturday and Sunday.
"Doc! Doc! I've got it!" Exultant and almost beside himself with excitement, Keefe came striding up to me on Sunday.
"I've found the anomaly," he said. "But I need more time to study it. How much longer have I got?"
It was already evening. Our plane was due tomorrow. John did have the information we had hunted so long. At least he
had some of the information - that a magnetic anomaly existed. This scientific term means a difference in the earth's magnetic force at
a given point or area, caused by a foreign subsurface mass. The presence of such an anomaly in the glacier-scoured, granitic crater
region could mean the east rim held portions of a buried meteorite. A similar magnetic anomaly exists at Arizona's Meteor Crater, and
is the next best thing to actual recovery of meteoritic material.
Wind Blows Good
As yet we had no data on the size of the area the anomaly covered, as well as a number of other things it was important to know. It was hard
to contemplate going back tomorrow without all we wanted. Then bad weather intervened overnight to give us more time. For once we
were grateful for a storm. That next morning sleet squalls chased snow squalls down Museum Lake,
sometimes blotting out all visibility. No amphibian could come in through that kind of weather! The squalls continued all day.
Occasionally the sun intervened brightly and dried things up, but wind-lashed Museum Lake was much too rough for a landing.
The boys went scrambling back to the crater at an early hour, but I had to remain behind. The radio required constant monitoring in case the
expected inquiry on weather conditions came in from our amphibian. To borrow an expression from World War II slang, I "sweated out" those
hours at the transceiver, and for two good reasons. One was that I wanted news of the plane. The second was that the radio showed we were
in the midst of a magnetic storm which would play havoc with magnetometer readings on that all-important portion of the east rim.
Radio reception could not have been worse. About 5 o'clock the magnetic storm passed and reception became
crystal-clear. Soon Fort McKenzie came on the air to announce: "The Canso is here!"
That was the first information I had of the whereabouts of the big flying boat, which had been delayed 24 hours in attempting to reach
Museum Lake Monday, as previously scheduled. I chatted with Captain Allard across the 350 miles and promised to provide him with weather
reports in the morning for the last leg of his flight to our camp. Then came the climax of the day and the entire expedition.
At 9 o'clock Keefe and Cowan staggered into camp, almost spent with fatigue. Their happy faces told the story.
Between 5 o'clock and 7:30 they had run the magnetometer over the close grid of stations which they had prepared in the morning. The survey had
defined the anomaly we had hoped would be there. Positive evidence at last! The anomaly indicated an area elliptical in
shape and elongated east-west between the two highest peaks on the crater's rim. From the shape of the underground mass and the character
of the magnetometer readings, it is highly improbable that it can be any ordinary body of rock. The most likely explanation, I believe, is that
here lies a concentration of fragments from the exploded meteorite which were hurled forward with tremendous force and buried deep in the granite
of the rim. Besides our positive evidence from the magnetometer survey, we had accumulated an impressive store of negative evidence, invaluable in
eliminating other known natural causes as the agents responsible for the crater's origin. There is ironclad proof that volcanic action was not
involved; the rim and corrugated barrens are definitely not explained by any rain of debris from a volcano.
Everything points to the fact that a terrific blast raised the whole region bodily. The action of advancing and retreating glaciers would not
produce such an effect, nor leave such a symmetrical rim protruding in the wastelands. Subterranean erosion likewise fails to account for our
geological phenomenon. Even before we obtained our magnetometer evidence, the process of elimination systematically scrapped these alternate theories.
Someday eventually someone may find meteoritic fragments or droplets on the surface of Chubb's wide, encircling plain. Until then we must rely
on the weight of the magnetometer evidence, the striking similarity of the crater to other proven meteorite scars, and the overwhelming absence
of geological clues that Chubb could have had any other origin. Meanwhile, I am quite satisfied that the expedition achieved what it set
out to do.
Tuesday morning at 8, our incoming Canso reported by radio. Captain Allard's voice sounded crisply from the receiver, "Doc, the crater's in
sight. We'll be down in 15 minutes."
Craterland Hostile to the End
As good as home, we thought. Or almost as good. But we reckoned without this hostile land. It evidently was determined
to extort a last full measure of toil, sweat, and irritation before letting us go.
A high north wind was blowing as the amphibian came in. Off our campsite the lake was so rough that the pilot dared not venture too close inshore
for fear of holing his hull on the rocks. He anchored some distance out. Our canoes would have been swamped if we had attempted to ferry all our
gear out that far, battling extremely choppy water and the wind. Captain Allard sought a more sheltered spot. Irony of ironies, he found
one in a cove close to the original campsite we had quit 10 days before because it was so windy.
All day the six of us, reinforced by Captain Allard and one of his crew, portaged our equipment two miles over the boulders in trip after trip to
the protected beach from which it was ferried out to the flying boat. The weather record for the past week, fog, rain, snow, sleet, was so bad
that the pilot and I agreed we must take off by evening and head south. To speed departure, some equipment was abandoned in a cache on the
At 6 p.m. the last bag came aboard. Quickly the canoes were hauled in and disassembled. The engines roared, the Canso climbed up off Museum
Lake, banked gracefully, and pointed its nose south. Our thoughts were already on the comforts of civilization to which we
were returning, but our eyes were held by the stark beauty of Chubb until it was lost in the retreating wastelands. Monarch of all the known
meteorite craters in the world, it had given us a bad time until almost the end. All agreed, however, that its challenge was more than worthy of
the expedition's best efforts.