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Scott's Last Expedition

Archive for August, 1911

Thursday, August 31st 1911

Thursday, August 31st, 1911

Went round about the Domain and Ramp with Wilson. We are now pretty well decided as to certain matters that puzzled us at first. The Ramp is undoubtedly a moraine supported on the decaying end of the glacier. A great deal of the underlying ice is exposed, but we had doubts as to whether this ice was not the result of winter drifting and summer thawing. We have a little difference of opinion as to whether this morainic material has been brought down in surface layers or pushed up from the bottom ice layers, as in Alpine glaciers. There is no doubt that the glacier is retreating with comparative rapidity, and this leads us to account for the various ice slabs about the hut as remains of the glacier, but a puzzling fact confronts this proposition in the discovery of penguin feathers in the lower strata of ice in both ice caves. The shifting of levels in the morainic material would account for the drying up of some lakes and the terrace formations in others, whilst curious trenches in the ground are obviously due to cracks in the ice beneath. We are now quite convinced that the queer cones on the Ramp are merely the result of the weathering of big blocks of agglomerate. As weathering results they appear unique. We have not yet a satisfactory explanation of the broad roadway faults that traverse every small eminence in our immediate region. They must originate from the unequal weathering of lava flows, but it is difficult to imagine the process. The dip of the lavas on our Cape corresponds with that of the lavas of Inaccessible Island, and points to an eruptive centre to the south and not towards Erebus. Here is food for reflection for the geologists.

The wind blew quite hard from the N.N.W. on Wednesday night, fell calm in the day, and came from the S.E. with snow as we started to return from our walk; there was a full blizzard by the time we reached the hut.

Wednesday, August 30th 1911

Wednesday, August 30th, 1911

Fine bright day. The thread of the balloon sent up to-day broke very short off through some fault in the cage holding the bobbin. By good luck the instrument was found in the North Bay, and held a record.

This is the fifth record showing a constant inversion of temperature for a few hundred feet and then a gradual fall, so that the temperature of the surface is not reached again for 2000 or 3000 feet. The establishment of this fact repays much of the trouble caused by the ascents.

Mr Cherry-Garrard working on the “South Polar Times”. August 30th 1911
“Mr Cherry-Garrard working on the “South Polar Times”. August 30th 1911”

Petty Officer Evans, Forde, and Crean putting a sledge together. August 30th 1911
“Petty Officer Evans, Forde, and Crean putting a sledge together. August 30th 1911”

Clissold the Cook at the stove. August 30th 1911
“Clissold the Cook at the stove. August 30th 1911”

Clissold the Cook at the stove. August 30th 1911
“Clissold the Cook at the stove. August 30th 1911”

Capt Oates at the stable door Winterquarters Hut. August 30th 1911
“Capt Oates at the stable door Winterquarters Hut. August 30th 1911”

Capt Oates at the stable door Winterquarters Hut. August 30th 1911
“Capt Oates at the stable door Winterquarters Hut. August 30th 1911”

Tuesday, August 29th 1911

Tuesday, August 29th, 1911

I find that the card of the sunshine recorder showed an hour and a half’s burn yesterday and was very faintly marked on Saturday; already, therefore, the sun has given us warmth, even if it can only be measured instrumentally.

Last night Meares told us of his adventures in and about Lolo land, a wild Central Asian country nominally tributary to Lhassa. He had no pictures and very makeshift maps, yet he held us really entranced for nearly two hours by the sheer interest of his adventures. The spirit of the wanderer is in Meares’ blood: he has no happiness but in the wild places of the earth. I have never met so extreme a type. Even now he is looking forward to getting away by himself to Hut Point, tired already of our scant measure of civilisation.

He has keen natural powers of observation for all practical facts and a quite prodigious memory for such things, but a lack of scientific training causes the acceptance of exaggerated appearances, which so often present themselves to travellers when unfamiliar objects are first seen. For instance, when the spoor of some unknown beast is described as 6 inches across, one shrewdly guesses that a cold scientific measurement would have reduced this figure by nearly a half; so it is with mountains, cliffs, waterfalls, &c. With all deduction on this account the lecture was extraordinarily interesting. Meares lost his companion and leader, poor Brook, on the expedition which he described to us. The party started up the Yangtse, travelling from Shanghai to Hankow and thence to Ichang by steamer – then by house-boat towed by coolies through wonderful gorges and one dangerous rapid to Chunking and Chengtu. In those parts the travellers always took the three principal rooms of the inn they patronised, the cost 150 cash, something less than fourpence – oranges 20 a penny – the coolies with 100 lb. loads would cover 30 to 40 miles a day – salt is got in bores sunk with bamboos to nearly a mile in depth; it takes two or three generations to sink a bore. The lecturer described the Chinese frontier town Quanchin, its people, its products, chiefly medicinal musk pods from musk deer. Here also the wonderful ancient damming of the river, and a temple to the constructor, who wrote, twenty centuries ago, ‘dig out your ditches, but keep your banks low.’ On we were taken along mountain trails over high snow-filled passes and across rivers on bamboo bridges to Wassoo, a timber centre from which great rafts of lumber are shot down the river, over fearsome rapids, freighted with Chinamen. ‘They generally come through all right,’ said the lecturer.

Higher up the river (Min) live the peaceful Ching Ming people, an ancient aboriginal stock, and beyond these the wild tribes, the Lolo themselves. They made doubtful friends with a chief preparing for war. Meares described a feast given to them in a barbaric hall hung with skins and weapons, the men clad in buckskin dyed red, and bristling with arms; barbaric dishes, barbaric music. Then the hunt for new animals; the Chinese Tarkin, the parti-coloured bear, blue mountain sheep, the golden-haired monkey, and talk of new fruits and flowers and a host of little-known birds.

More adventures among the wild tribes of the mountains; the white lamas, the black lamas and phallic worship. Curious prehistoric caves with ancient terra-cotta figures resembling only others found in Japan and supplying a curious link. A feudal system running with well oiled wheels, the happiest of communities. A separation (temporary) from Brook, who wrote in his diary that tribes were very friendly and seemed anxious to help him, and was killed on the day following – the truth hard to gather – the recovery of his body, &c.

As he left the country the Nepaulese ambassador arrives, returning from Pekin with large escort and bound for Lhassa: the ambassador half demented: and Meares, who speaks many languages, is begged by ambassador and escort to accompany the party. He is obliged to miss this chance of a lifetime.

This is the meagrest outline of the tale which Meares adorned with a hundred incidental facts – for instance, he told us of the Lolo trade in green waxfly – the insect is propagated seasonally by thousands of Chinese who subsist on the sale of the wax produced, but all insects die between seasons. At the commencement of each season there is a market to which the wild hill Lolos bring countless tiny bamboo boxes, each containing a male and female insect, the breeding of which is their share in the industry.

We are all adventurers here, I suppose, and wild doings in wild countries appeal to us as nothing else could do. It is good to know that there remain wild corners of this dreadfully civilised world.

We have had a bright fine day. This morning a balloon was sent up without thread and with the flag device to which I have alluded. It went slowly but steadily to the north and so over the Barne Glacier. It was difficult to follow with glasses frequently clouding with the breath, but we saw the instrument detached when the slow match burned out. I’m afraid there is no doubt it fell on the glacier and there is little hope of recovering it. We have now decided to use a thread again, but to send the bobbin up with the balloon, so that it unwinds from that end and there will be no friction where it touches the snow or rock.

This investigation of upper air conditions is proving a very difficult matter, but we are not beaten yet.

Monday, August 28th 1911

Monday, August 28th, 1911

Ponting and Gran went round the bergs late last night. On returning they saw a dog coming over the floe from the north. The animal rushed towards and leapt about them with every sign of intense joy. Then they realised that it was our long lost Julick.

His mane was crusted with blood and he smelt strongly of seal blubber – his stomach was full, but the sharpness of back-bone showed that this condition had only been temporary, daylight he looks very fit and strong, and he is evidently very pleased to be home again.

We are absolutely at a loss to account for his adventures. It is exactly a month since he was missed – what on earth can have happened to him all this time? One would give a great deal to hear his tale. Everything is against the theory that he was a wilful absentee – his previous habits and his joy at getting back. If he wished to get back, he cannot have been lost anywhere in the neighbourhood, for, as Meares says, the barking of the station dogs can be heard at least 7 or 8 miles away in calm weather, besides which there are tracks everywhere and unmistakable landmarks to guide man or beast. I cannot but think the animal has been cut off, but this can only have happened by his being carried away on broken sea ice, and as far as we know the open water has never been nearer than 10 or 12 miles at the least. It is another enigma.

On Saturday last a balloon was sent up. The thread was found broken a mile away. Bowers and Simpson walked many miles in search of the instrument, but could find no trace of it. The theory now propounded is that if there is strong differential movement in air currents, the thread is not strong enough to stand the strain as the balloon passes from one current to another. It is amazing, and forces the employment of a new system. It is now proposed to discard the thread and attach the instrument to a flag and staff, which it is hoped will plant itself in the snow on falling.

The sun is shining into the hut windows – already sunbeams rest on the opposite walls.

I have mentioned the curious cones which are the conspicuous feature of our Ramp scenery – they stand from 8 to 20 feet in height, some irregular, but a number quite perfectly conical in outline. To-day Taylor and Gran took pick and crowbar and started to dig into one of the smaller ones. After removing a certain amount of loose rubble they came on solid rock, kenyte, having two or three irregular cracks traversing the exposed surface. It was only with great trouble they removed one or two of the smallest fragments severed by these cracks. There was no sign of ice. This gives a great ‘leg up’ to the ‘debris’ cone theory.

Demetri and Clissold took two small teams of dogs to Cape Royds to-day. They found some dog footprints near the hut, but think these were not made by Julick. Demetri points far to the west as the scene of that animal’s adventures. Parties from C. Royds always bring a number of illustrated papers which must have been brought down by the Nimrod on her last visit. The ostensible object is to provide amusement for our Russian companions, but as a matter of fact everyone finds them interesting.

Cecil Meares and dog Osman. August 28th 1911
“Cecil Meares and dog Osman. August 28th 1911”

Cecil Meares and dog Osman. August 28th 1911
“Cecil Meares and dog Osman. August 28th 1911”

Sunday, August 27th 1911

Sunday, August 27th, 1911

Overcast sky and chill south-easterly wind. Sunday routine, no one very active. Had a run to South Bay over ‘Domain.’

Saturday, August 26th 1911

Saturday, August 26th, 1911

A dying wind and clear sky yesterday, and almost calm to-day. The noon sun is cut off by the long low foot slope of Erebus which runs to Cape Royds. Went up the Ramp at noon yesterday and found no advantage – one should go over the floe to get the earliest sight, and yesterday afternoon Evans caught a last glimpse of the upper limb from that situation, whilst Simpson saw the same from Wind Vane Hill.

The ponies are very buckish and can scarcely be held in at exercise; it seems certain that they feel the return of daylight. They were out in morning and afternoon yesterday. Oates and Anton took out Christopher and Snippets rather later. Both ponies broke away within 50 yards of the stable and galloped away over the floe. It was nearly an hour before they could be rounded up. Such escapades are the result of high spirits; there is no vice in the animals.

We have had comparatively little aurora of late, but last night was an exception; there was a good display at 3 A.M.

P.M. – Just before lunch the sunshine could be seen gilding the floe, and Ponting and I walked out to the bergs. The nearest one has been overturned and is easily climbed. From the top we could see the sun clear over the rugged outline of C. Barne. It was glorious to stand bathed in brilliant sunshine once more. We felt very young, sang and cheered – we were reminded of a bright frosty morning in England – everything sparkled and the air had the same crisp feel. There is little new to be said of the return of the sun in polar regions, yet it is such a very real and important event that one cannot pass it in silence. It changes the outlook on life of every individual, foul weather is robbed of its terrors; if it is stormy to-day it will be fine to-morrow or the next day, and each day’s delay will mean a brighter outlook when the sky is clear.

Climbed the Ramp in the afternoon, the shouts and songs of men and the neighing of horses borne to my ears as I clambered over its kopjes.

We are now pretty well convinced that the Ramp is a moraine resting on a platform of ice.
The sun rested on the sunshine recorder for a few minutes, but made no visible impression. We did not get our first record in the Discovery until September. It is surprising that so little heat should be associated with such a flood of light.

Friday, August 25th 1911

Friday, August 25th, 1911

The gale continued all night and it blows hard this morning, but the sky is clear, the drift has ceased, and the few whale-back clouds about Erebus carry a promise of improving conditions.

Last night there was an intensely black cloud low on the northern horizon – but for earlier experience of the winter one would have sworn to it as a water sky; but I think the phenomenon is due to the shadow of retreating drift clouds. This morning the sky is clear to the north, so that the sea ice cannot have broken out in the Sound.

During snowy gales it is almost necessary to dress oneself in wind clothes if one ventures outside for the briefest periods – exposed woollen or cloth materials become heavy with powdery crystals in a minute or two, and when brought into the warmth of the hut are soon wringing wet. Where there is no drift it is quicker and easier to slip on an overcoat.

It is not often I have a sentimental attachment for articles of clothing, but I must confess an affection for my veteran uniform overcoat, inspired by its persistent utility. I find that it is twenty-three years of age and can testify to its strenuous existence. It has been spared neither rain, wind, nor salt sea spray, tropic heat nor Arctic cold; it has outlived many sets of buttons, from their glittering gilded youth to green old age, and it supports its four-stripe shoulder straps as gaily as the single lace ring of the early days which proclaimed it the possession of a humble sub-lieutenant. Withal it is still a very long way from the fate of the ‘one-horse shay.’

Taylor gave us his final physiographical lecture last night. It was completely illustrated with slides made from our own negatives, Ponting’s Alpine work, and the choicest illustrations of certain scientific books. The preparation of the slides had involved a good deal of work for Ponting as well as for the lecturer. The lecture dealt with ice erosion, and the pictures made it easy to follow the comparison of our own mountain forms and glacial contours with those that have received so much attention elsewhere. Noticeable differences are the absence of moraine material on the lower surfaces of our glaciers, their relatively insignificant movement, their steep sides, &c…. It is difficult to convey the bearing of the difference or similarity of various features common to the pictures under comparison without their aid. It is sufficient to note that the points to which the lecturer called attention were pretty obvious and that the lecture was exceedingly instructive. The origin of ‘cirques’ or ‘cwms,’ of which we have remarkably fine examples, is still a little mysterious – one notes also the requirement of observation which might throw light on the erosion of previous ages.

After Taylor’s effort Ponting showed a number of very beautiful slides of Alpine scenery – not a few are triumphs of the photographer’s art. As a wind-up Ponting took a flashlight photograph of our hut converted into a lecture hall: a certain amount of faking will be required, but I think this is very allowable under the circumstances.

Oates tells me that one of the ponies, ‘Snippets,’ will eat blubber! the possible uses of such an animal are remarkable!

The gravel on the north side of the hut against which the stable is built has been slowly but surely worn down, leaving gaps under the boarding. Through these gaps and our floor we get an unpleasantly strong stable effluvium, especially when the wind is strong. We are trying to stuff the holes up, but have not had much success so far.

Thursday, August 24rd 1911

Thursday, August 24th, 1911

Another night and day of furious wind and drift, and still no sign of the end. The temperature has been as high as 16º. Now and again the snow ceases and then the drift rapidly diminishes, but such an interval is soon followed by fresh clouds of snow. It is quite warm outside, one can go about with head uncovered – which leads me to suppose that one does get hardened to cold to some extent – for I suppose one would not wish to remain uncovered in a storm in England if the temperature showed 16 degrees of frost. This is the third day of confinement to the hut: it grows tedious, but there is no help, as it is too thick to see more than a few yards out of doors.

Wednesday, August 23rd 1911

Wednesday, August 23rd, 1911

We toasted the sun in champagne last night, coupling Victor Campbell’s name as his birthday coincides. The return of the sun could not be appreciated as we have not had a glimpse of it, and the taste of the champagne went wholly unappreciated; it was a very mild revel. Meanwhile the gale continues. Its full force broke last night with an average of nearly 70 m.p.h. for some hours: the temperature has been up to 10º and the snowfall heavy. At seven this morning the air was thicker with whirling drift than it has ever been.

It seems as though the violence of the storms which succeed our rare spells of fine weather is in proportion to the duration of the spells.

Tuesday, August 22nd 1911

Tuesday, August 22nd, 1911

I am renewing study of glacier problems; the face of the ice cliff 300 yards east of the homestead is full of enigmas. Yesterday evening Ponting gave us a lecture on his Indian travels. He is very frank in acknowledging his debt to guide-books for information, nevertheless he tells his story well and his slides are wonderful. In personal reminiscence he is distinctly dramatic – he thrilled us a good deal last night with a vivid description of a sunrise in the sacred city of Benares. In the first dim light the waiting, praying multitude of bathers, the wonderful ritual and its incessant performance; then, as the sun approaches, the hush – the effect of thousands of worshippers waiting in silence – a silence to be felt. Finally, as the first rays appear, the swelling roar of a single word from tens of thousands of throats: ‘Ambah!’ It was artistic to follow this picture of life with the gruesome horrors of the ghat. This impressionist style of lecturing is very attractive and must essentially cover a great deal of ground. So we saw Jeypore, Udaipore, Darjeeling, and a confusing number of places – temples, monuments and tombs in profusion, with remarkable pictures of the wonderful Taj Mahal – horses, elephants, alligators, wild boars, and flamingoes – warriors, fakirs, and nautch girls – an impression here and an impression there.
It is worth remembering how attractive this style can be – in lecturing one is inclined to give too much attention to connecting links which join one episode to another. A lecture need not be a connected story; perhaps it is better it should not be.

It was my night on duty last night and I watched the oncoming of a blizzard with exceptional beginnings. The sky became very gradually overcast between 1 and 4 A.M. About 2.30 the temperature rose on a steep grade from -20º to -3º; the barometer was falling, rapidly for these regions. Soon after 4 the wind came with a rush, but without snow or drift. For a time it was more gusty than has ever yet been recorded even in this region. In one gust the wind rose from 4 to 68 m.p.h. and fell again to 20 m.p.h. within a minute; another reached 80 m.p.h., but not from such a low point of origin. The effect in the hut was curious; for a space all would be quiet, then a shattering blast would descend with a clatter and rattle past ventilator and chimneys, so sudden, so threatening, that it was comforting to remember the solid structure of our building. The suction of such a gust is so heavy that even the heavy snow-covered roof of the stable, completely sheltered on the lee side of the main building, is violently shaken – one could well imagine the plight of our adventurers at C. Crozier when their roof was destroyed. The snow which came at 6 lessened the gustiness and brought the ordinary phenomena of a blizzard. It is blowing hard to-day, with broken windy clouds and roving bodies of drift. A wild day for the return of the sun. Had it been fine to-day we should have seen the sun for the first time; yesterday it shone on the lower foothills to the west, but to-day we see nothing but gilded drift clouds. Yet it is grand to have daylight rushing at one.