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Scott's Last Expedition

Wednesday, January 4th 1911 2pm

This work is full of surprises.

At 6 A.M. we came through the last of the Strait pack some three miles north of Cape Royds. We steered for the Cape, fully expecting to find the edge of the pack ice ranging westward from it. To our astonishment we ran on past the Cape with clear water or thin sludge ice on all sides of us. Past Cape Royds, past Cape Barne, past the glacier on its south side, and finally round and past Inaccessible Island, a good 2 miles south of Cape Royds. ‘The Cape itself was cut off from the south.’ We could have gone farther, but the last sludge ice seemed to be increasing in thickness, and there was no wintering spot to aim for but Cape Armitage. ‘I have never seen the ice of the Sound in such a condition or the land so free from snow. Taking these facts in conjunction with the exceptional warmth of the air, I came to the conclusion that it had been an exceptionally warm summer. At this point it was evident that we had a considerable choice of wintering spots. We could have gone to either of the small islands, to the mainland, the Glacier Tongue, or pretty well anywhere except Hut Point. My main wish was to choose a place that would not be easily cut off from the Barrier, and my eye fell on a cape which we used to call the Skuary a little behind us. It was separated from old Discovery quarters by two deep bays on either side of the Glacier Tongue, and I thought that these bays would remain frozen until late in the season, and that when they froze over again the ice would soon become firm.’ I called a council and put these propositions. To push on to the Glacier Tongue and winter there; to push west to the ‘tombstone’ ice and to make our way to an inviting spot to the northward of the cape we used to call ‘the Skuary.’ I favoured the latter course, and on discussion we found it obviously the best, so we turned back close around Inaccessible Island and steered for the fast ice off the Cape at full speed. After piercing a small fringe of thin ice at the edge of the fast floe the ship’s stem struck heavily on hard bay ice about a mile and a half from the shore. Here was a road to the Cape and a solid wharf on which to land our stores. We made fast with ice anchors. Wilson, Evans, and I went to the Cape, which I had now rechristened Cape Evans in honour of our excellent second in command. A glance at the land showed, as we expected, ideal spots for our wintering station. The rock of the Cape consists mainly of volcanic agglomerate with olivine kenyte; it is much weathered and the destruction had formed quantities of coarse sand. We chose a spot for the hut on a beach facing N.W. and well protected by numerous small hills behind. This spot seems to have all the local advantages (which I must detail later) for a winter station, and we realised that at length our luck had turned. The most favourable circumstance of all is the stronge chance of communication with Cape Armitage being established at an early date.

It was in connection with this fact that I had had such a strong desire to go to Mount Terror, and such misgivings if we had been forced to go to Cape Royds. It is quite evident that the ice south of Cape Royds does not become secure till late in the season, probably in May. Before that, all evidence seems to show that the part between Cape Royds and Cape Barne is continually going out. How, I ask myself, was our depot party to get back to home quarters? I feel confident we can get to the new spot we have chosen at a comparatively early date; it will probably only be necessary to cross the sea ice in the deep bays north and south of the Glacier Tongue, and the ice rarely goes out of there after it has first formed. Even if it should, both stages can be seen before the party ventures upon them.

After many frowns fortune has treated us to the kindest smile–for twenty-four hours we have had a calm with brilliant sunshine. Such weather in such a place comes nearer to satisfying my ideal of perfection than any condition that I have ever experienced. The warm glow of the sun with the keen invigorating cold of the air forms a combination which is inexpressibly health-giving and satisfying to me, whilst the golden light on this wonderful scene of mountain and ice satisfies every claim of scenic magnificence. No words of mine can convey the impressiveness of the wonderful panorama displayed to our eyes. Ponting is enraptured and uses expressions which in anyone else and alluding to any other subject might be deemed extravagant.

The Landing: A Week’s Work
Whilst we were on shore Campbell was taking the first steps towards landing our stores. Two of the motor sledges were soon hoisted out, and Day with others was quickly unpacking them. Our luck stood again. In spite of all the bad weather and the tons of sea water which had washed over them the sledges and all the accessories appeared as fresh and clean as if they had been packed on the previous day–much credit is due to the officers who protected them with tarpaulins and lashings. After the sledges came the turn of the ponies–there was a good deal of difficulty in getting some of them into the horse box, but Oates rose to the occasion and got most in by persuasion, whilst others were simply lifted in by the sailors. Though all are thin and some few looked pulled down I was agreeably surprised at the evident vitality which they still possessed–some were even skittish. I cannot express the relief when the whole seventeen were safely picketed on the floe. From the moment of getting on the snow they seemed to take a new lease of life, and I haven’t a doubt they will pick up very rapidly. It really is a triumph to have got them through safely and as well as they are. Poor brutes, how they must have enjoyed their first roll, and how glad they must be to have freedom to scratch themselves! It is evident all have suffered from skin irritation–one can imagine the horror of suffering from such an ill for weeks without being able to get at the part that itched. I note that now they are picketed together they administer kindly offices to each other; one sees them gnawing away at each other’s flanks in most amicable and obliging manner.

Meares and the dogs were out early, and have been running to and fro most of the day with light loads. The great trouble with them has been due to the fatuous conduct of the penguins. Groups of these have been constantly leaping on to our floe. From the moment of landing on their feet their whole attitude expressed devouring curiosity and a pig-headed disregard for their own safety. They waddle forward, poking their heads to and fro in their usually absurd way, in spite of a string of howling dogs straining to get at them. ‘Hulloa,’ they seem to say, ‘here’s a game–what do all you ridiculous things want?’ And they come a few steps nearer. The dogs make a rush as far as their leashes or harness allow. The penguins are not daunted in the least, but their ruffs go up and they squawk with semblance of anger, for all the world as though they were rebuking a rude stranger–their attitude might be imagined to convey ‘Oh, that’s the sort of animal you are; well, you’ve come to the wrong place–we aren’t going to be bluffed and bounced by you,’ and then the final fatal steps forward are taken and they come within reach. There is a spring, a squawk, a horrid red patch on the snow, and the incident is closed. Nothing can stop these silly birds. Members of our party rush to head them off, only to be met with evasions – the penguins squawk and duck as much as to say, ‘What’s it got to do with you, you silly ass? Let us alone.’

With the first spilling of blood the skua gulls assemble, and soon, for them at least, there is a gruesome satisfaction to be reaped. Oddly enough, they don’t seem to excite the dogs; they simply alight within a few feet and wait for their turn in the drama, clamouring and quarrelling amongst themselves when the spoils accrue. Such incidents were happening constantly to-day, and seriously demoralising the dog teams. Meares was exasperated again and again.

The motor sledges were running by the afternoon, Day managing one and Nelson the other. In spite of a few minor breakdowns they hauled good loads to the shore. It is early to call them a success, but they are certainly extremely promising.

The next thing to be got out of the ship was the hut, and the large quantity of timber comprising it was got out this afternoon.

And so to-night, with the sun still shining, we look on a very different prospect from that of 48 or even 24 hours ago.

I have just come back from the shore.

The site for the hut is levelled and the erecting party is living on shore in our large green tent with a supply of food for eight days. Nearly all the timber, &c., of the hut is on shore, the remainder half-way there. The ponies are picketed in a line on a convenient snow slope so that they cannot eat sand. Oates and Anton are sleeping ashore to watch over them. The dogs are tied to a long length of chain stretched on the sand; they are coiled up after a long day, looking fitter already. Meares and Demetri are sleeping in the green tent to look after them. A supply of food for ponies and dogs as well as for the men has been landed. Two motor sledges in good working order are safely on the beach.

A fine record for our first day’s work. All hands start again at 6 A.M. to-morrow.

It’s splendid to see at last the effect of all the months of preparation and organisation. There is much snoring about me as I write (2 P.M.) from men tired after a hard day’s work and preparing for such another to-morrow. I also must sleep, for I have had none for 48 hours – but it should be to dream happily.

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