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Scott's Last Expedition

Archive for January, 1912

Friday, January 12th 1912

Friday, January 12th, 1912

Camp 64. T. -17.5°. Lat. 88° 57′. Another heavy march with snow getting softer all the time. Sun very bright, calm at start; first two hours terribly slow. Lunch, 4 3/4 hours, 5.6 miles geo.; Sight Lat. 88° 52′. Afternoon, 4 hours, 5.1 miles—total 10.7.

In the afternoon we seemed to be going better; clouds spread over from the west with light chill wind and for a few brief minutes we tasted the delight of having the sledge following free. Alas! in a few minutes it was worse than ever, in spite of the sun’s eclipse. However, the short experience was salutary. I had got to fear that we were weakening badly in our pulling; those few minutes showed me that we only want a good surface to get along as merrily as of old. With the surface as it is, one gets horribly sick of the monotony and can easily imagine oneself getting played out, were it not that at the lunch and night camps one so quickly forgets all one’s troubles and bucks up for a fresh effort. It is an effort to keep up the double figures, but if we can do so for another four marches we ought to get through. It is going to be a close thing.

At camping to-night everyone was chilled and we guessed a cold snap, but to our surprise the actual temperature was higher than last night, when we could dawdle in the sun. It is most unaccountable why we should suddenly feel the cold in this manner; partly the exhaustion of the march, but partly some damp quality in the air, I think. Little Bowers is wonderful; in spite of my protest he would take sights after we had camped to-night, after marching in the soft snow all day where we have been comparatively restful on ski.

Night position.—Lat. 88° 57′ 25” S.; Long. 160° 21′ E.; Var. 179° 49′ W. Minimum T. -23.5°.

Only 63 miles (geo.) from the Pole to-night. We ought to do the trick, but oh! for a better surface. It is quite evident this is a comparatively windless area. The sastrugi are few and far between, and all soft. I should imagine occasional blizzards sweep up from the S.E., but none with violence. We have deep tracks in the snow, which is soft as deep as you like to dig down.

Wednesday, January 10th 1912

Friday, January 12th, 1912

Camp 62. T. -11º. Last depot 88º 29′ S.; 159º 33′ E.; Var. 180º. Terrible hard march in the morning; only covered 5.1 miles (geo.). Decided to leave depot at lunch camp. Built cairn and left one week’s food together with sundry articles of clothing. We are down as close as we can go in the latter. We go forward with eighteen days’ food. Yesterday I should have said certain to see us through, but now the surface is beyond words, and if it continues we shall have the greatest difficulty to keep our march long enough. The surface is quite covered with sandy snow, and when the sun shines it is terrible. During the early part of the afternoon it was overcast, and we started our lightened sledge with a good swing, but during the last two hours the sun cast shadows again, and the work was distressingly hard. We have covered only 10.8 miles (geo.).

Only 85 miles (geo.) from the Pole, but it’s going to be a stiff pull both ways apparently; still we do make progress, which is something. To-night the sky is overcast, the temperature (-11º) much higher than I anticipated; it is very difficult to imagine what is happening to the weather. The sastrugi grow more and more confused, running from S. to E. Very difficult steering in uncertain light and with rapidly moving clouds. The clouds don’t seem to come from anywhere, form and disperse without visible reason. The surface seems to be growing softer. The meteorological conditions seem to point to an area of variable light winds, and that plot will thicken as we advance.

Thursday, January 11th 1912

Thursday, January 11th, 1912

Lunch. Height 10,540. T. -15° 8′. It was heavy pulling from the beginning to-day, but for the first two and a half hours we could keep the sledge moving; then the sun came out (it had been overcast and snowing with light south-easterly breeze) and the rest of the forenoon was agonising. I never had such pulling; all the time the sledge rasps and creaks. We have covered 6 miles, but at fearful cost to ourselves.

Night camp 63. Height 10,530. Temp. -16.3°. Minimum -25.8°. Another hard grind in the afternoon and five miles added. About 74 miles from the Pole—can we keep this up for seven days? It takes it out of us like anything. None of us ever had such hard work before. Cloud has been coming and going overhead all day, drifting from the S.E., but continually altering shape. Snow crystals falling all the time; a very light S. breeze at start soon dying away. The sun so bright and warm to-night that it is almost impossible to imagine a minus temperature. The snow seems to get softer as we advance; the sastrugi, though sometimes high and undercut, are not hard—no crusts, except yesterday the surface subsided once, as on the Barrier. It seems pretty certain there is no steady wind here. Our chance still holds good if we can put the work in, but it’s a terribly trying time.

Tuesday, January 9th 1912

Tuesday, January 9th, 1912

Camp 61. – RECORD. Lat. 88º 25′. Height 10,270 ft. Bar. risen I think. T. -4º. Still blowing, and drifting when we got to breakfast, but signs of taking off. The wind had gradually shifted from south to E.S.E. After lunch we were able to break camp in a bad light, but on a good surface. We made a very steady afternoon march, covering 6 1/2, miles (geo.). This should place us in Lat. 88º 25′, beyond the record of Shackleton’s walk. All is new ahead. The barometer has risen since the blizzard, and it looks as though we were on a level plateau, not to rise much further.
Obs.: Long. 159º 17′ 45” E.; Var. 179º 55′ W.; Min. Temp. -7.2º.

More curiously the temperature continued to rise after the blow and now, at -4º, it seems quite warm. The sun has only shown very indistinctly all the afternoon, although brighter now. Clouds are still drifting over from the east. The marching is growing terribly monotonous, but one cannot grumble as long as the distance can be kept up. It can, I think, if we leave a depot, but a very annoying thing has happened. Bowers’ watch has suddenly dropped 26 minutes; it may have stopped from being frozen outside his pocket, or he may have inadvertently touched the hands. Any way it makes one more chary of leaving stores on this great plain, especially as the blizzard tended to drift up our tracks. We could only just see the back track when we started, but the light was extremely poor.

Monday, January 8th 1912

Monday, January 8th, 1912

Camp 60. Noon. T. -19.8º. Min. for night -25º. Our first summit blizzard. We might just have started after breakfast, but the wind seemed obviously on the increase, and so has proved. The sun has not been obscured, but snow is evidently falling as well as drifting. The sun seems to be getting a little brighter as the wind increases. The whole phenomenon is very like a Barrier blizzard, only there is much less snow, as one would expect, and at present less wind, which is somewhat of a surprise.

Evans’ hand was dressed this morning, and the rest ought to be good for it. I am not sure it will not do us all good as we lie so very comfortably, warmly clothed in our comfortable bags, within our double-walled tent. However, we do not want more than a day’s delay at most, both on account of lost time and food and the snow accumulation of ice. (Night T. -13.5º.) It has grown much thicker during the day, from time to time obscuring the sun for the first time. The temperature is low for a blizzard, but we are very comfortable in our double tent and the cold snow is not sticky and not easily carried into the tent, so that the sleeping-bags remain in good condition. (T. -3º.) The glass is rising slightly. I hope we shall be able to start in the morning, but fear that a disturbance of this sort may last longer than our local storm.

It is quite impossible to speak too highly of my companions. Each fulfils his office to the party; Wilson, first as doctor, ever on the lookout to alleviate the small pains and troubles incidental to the work, now as cook, quick, careful and dexterous, ever thinking of some fresh expedient to help the camp life; tough as steel on the traces, never wavering from start to finish.

Evans, a giant worker with a really remarkable headpiece. It is only now I realise how much has been due to him. Our ski shoes and crampons have been absolutely indispensable, and if the original ideas were not his, the details of manufacture and design and the good workmanship are his alone. He is responsible for every sledge, every sledge fitting, tents, sleeping-bags, harness, and when one cannot recall a single expression of dissatisfaction with any one of these items, it shows what an invaluable assistant he has been. Now, besides superintending the putting up of the tent, he thinks out and arranges the packing of the sledge; it is extraordinary how neatly and handily everything is stowed, and how much study has been given to preserving the suppleness and good running qualities of the machine. On the Barrier, before the ponies were killed, he was ever roaming round, correcting faults of stowage.

Little Bowers remains a marvel – he is thoroughly enjoying himself. I leave all the provision arrangement in his hands, and at all times he knows exactly how we stand, or how each returning party should fare. It has been a complicated business to redistribute stores at various stages of re-organisation, but not one single mistake has been made. In addition to the stores, he keeps the most thorough and conscientious meteorological record, and to this he now adds the duty of observer and photographer. Nothing comes amiss to him, and no work is too hard. It is a difficulty to get him into the tent; he seems quite oblivious of the cold, and he lies coiled in his bag writing and working out sights long after the others are asleep.

Of these three it is a matter for thought and congratulation that each is sufficiently suited for his own work, but would not be capable of doing that of the others as well as it is done. Each is invaluable. Oates had his invaluable period with the ponies; now he is a foot slogger and goes hard the whole time, does his share of camp work, and stands the hardship as well as any of us. I would not like to be without him either. So our five people are perhaps as happily selected as it is possible to imagine.

Sunday, January 7th 1912

Sunday, January 7th, 1912

Height 10,560. Lunch. Temp. -21.3º. The vicissitudes of this work are bewildering. Last night we decided to leave our ski on account of the sastrugi. This morning we marched out a mile in 40 min. and the sastrugi gradually disappeared. I kept debating the ski question and at this point stopped, and after discussion we went back and fetched the ski; it cost us 1 1/2 hours nearly. Marching again, I found to my horror we could scarcely move the sledge on ski; the first hour was awful owing to the wretched coating of loose sandy snow. However, we persisted, and towards the latter end of our tiring march we began to make better progress, but the work is still awfully heavy. I must stick to the ski after this.

Afternoon. Camp 60º. T. -23º. Height 10,570. Obs.: Lat. 88º 18′ 40” S.; Long. 157º 21′ E.; Var. 179º 15′ W. Very heavy pulling still, but did 5 miles (geo.) in over four hours.

This is the shortest march we have made on the summit, but there is excuse. Still, there is no doubt if things remained as they are we could not keep up the strain of such marching for long. Things, however, luckily will not remain as they are. To-morrow we depot a week’s provision, lightening altogether about 100 lbs. This afternoon the welcome southerly wind returned and is now blowing force 2 to 3. I cannot but think it will improve the surface.

The sastrugi are very much diminished, and those from the south seem to be overpowering those from the S.E. Cloud travelled rapidly over from the south this afternoon, and the surface was covered with sandy crystals; these were not so bad as the ‘bearded’ sastrugi, and oddly enough the wind and drift only gradually obliterate these striking formations. We have scarcely risen at all to-day, and the plain looks very flat. It doesn’t look as though there were more rises ahead, and one could not wish for a better surface if only the crystal deposit would disappear or harden up. I am awfully glad we have hung on to the ski; hard as the marching is, it is far less tiring on ski. Bowers has a heavy time on foot, but nothing seems to tire him. Evans has a nasty cut on his hand (sledge-making). I hope it won’t give trouble. Our food continues to amply satisfy. What luck to have hit on such an excellent ration. We really are an excellently found party.

Saturday, January 6th 1912

Saturday, January 6th, 1912

Height 10,470. T. -22.3º. Obstacles arising – last night we got amongst sastrugi – they increased in height this morning and now we are in the midst of a sea of fish-hook waves well remembered from our Northern experience. We took off our ski after the first 1 1/2 hours and pulled on foot. It is terribly heavy in places, and, to add to our trouble, every sastrugus is covered with a beard of sharp branching crystals. We have covered 6 1/2 miles, but we cannot keep up our average if this sort of surface continues. There is no wind.

Camp 59. Lat. 88º 7′. Height 10,430-10,510. Rise of barometer? T.-22.5º. Minimum -25.8º. Morning. Fearfully hard pull again, and when we had marched about an hour we discovered that a sleeping-bag had fallen off the sledge. We had to go back and carry it on. It cost us over an hour and disorganised our party. We have only covered 10 1/2 miles (geo.) and it’s been about the hardest pull we’ve had. We think of leaving our ski here, mainly because of risk of breakage. Over the sastrugi it is all up and down hill, and the covering of ice crystals prevents the sledge from gliding even on the down-grade. The sastrugi, I fear, have come to stay, and we must be prepared for heavy marching, but in two days I hope to lighten loads with a depot. We are south of Shackleton’s last camp, so, I suppose, have made the most southerly camp.

Friday, January 5th 1912

Friday, January 5th, 1912

Camp 58. Height: morning, 10,430; night, 10,320. T. -14.8º. Obs. 87º 57′, 159º 13′. Minimum T. -23.5; T. -21º. A dreadfully trying day. Light wind from the N.N.W. bringing detached cloud and constant fall of ice crystals. The surface, in consequence, as bad as could be after the first hour. We started at 8.15, marched solidly till 1.15, covering 7.4 miles (geo.), and again in the afternoon we plugged on; by 7 P.M. we had done 12 l/2 miles (geo.), the hardest we have yet done on the plateau. The sastrugi seemed to increase as we advanced and they have changed direction from S.W. to S. by W. In the afternoon a good deal of confusing cross sastrugi, and to-night a very rough surface with evidences of hard southerly wind. Luckily the sledge shows no signs of capisizing yet. We sigh for a breeze to sweep the hard snow, but to-night the outlook is not promising better things. However, we are very close to the 88th parallel, little more than 120 miles from the Pole, only a march from Shackleton’s final camp, and in a general way ‘getting on.’

We go little over a mile and a quarter an hour now – it is a big strain as the shadows creep slowly round from our right through ahead to our left. What lots of things we think of on these monotonous marches! What castles one builds now hopefully that the Pole is ours. Bowers took sights to-day and will take them every third day. We feel the cold very little, the great comfort of our situation is the excellent drying effect of the sun. Our socks and finnesko are almost dry each morning. Cooking for five takes a seriously longer time than cooking for four; perhaps half an hour on the whole day. It is an item I had not considered when re-organising.

Thursday, January 4th 1912

Thursday, January 4th, 1912

T. -17º, Lunch T. -16.5º. We were naturally late getting away this morning, the sledge having to be packed and arrangements completed for separation of parties. It is wonderful to see how neatly everything stows on a little sledge, thanks to P.O. Evans. I was anxious to see how we could pull it, and glad to find we went easy enough. Bowers on foot pulls between, but behind, Wilson and myself; he has to keep his own pace and luckily does not throw us out at all.

The second party had followed us in case of accident, but as soon as I was certain we could get along we stopped and said farewell. Teddy Evans is terribly disappointed but has taken it very well and behaved like a man. Poor old Crean wept and even Lashly was affected. I was glad to find their sledge is a mere nothing to them, and thus, no doubt, they will make a quick journey back. Since leaving them we have marched on till 1.15 and covered 6.2 miles (geo.). With full marching days we ought to have no difficulty in keeping up our average.

Night camp 57. T. -16º. Height 10,280. – We started well on the afternoon march, going a good speed for 1 1/2 hours; then we came on a stratum covered with loose sandy snow, and the pulling became very heavy. We managed to get off 12 1/2 miles (geo.) by 7 P.M., but it was very heavy work.

In the afternoon the wind died away, and to-night it is flat calm; the sun so warm that in spite of the temperature we can stand about outside in the greatest comfort. It is amusing to stand thus and remember the constant horrors of our situation as they were painted for us: the sun is melting the snow on the ski, &c. The plateau is now very flat, but we are still ascending slowly. The sastrugi are getting more confused, predominant from the S.E. I wonder what is in store for us. At present everything seems to be going with extraordinary smoothness, and one can scarcely believe that obstacles will not present themselves to make our task more difficult. Perhaps the surface will be the element to trouble us.

Wednesday, January 3rd 1912

Wednesday, January 3rd, 1912

Height: Lunch, 10,110; Night, 10,180. Camp 56. T.-17º. Minimum -18.5º. Within 150 miles of our goal. Last night I decided to reorganise, and this morning told off Teddy Evans, Lashly, and Crean to return. They are disappointed, but take it well. Bowers is to come into our tent, and we proceed as a five man unit to-morrow. We have 5 1/2 units of food – practically over a month’s allowance for five people – it ought to see us through. We came along well on ski to-day, but the foot-haulers were slow, and so we only got a trifle over 12 miles (geo.). Very anxious to see how we shall manage to-morrow; if we can march well with the full load we shall be practically safe, I take it. The surface was very bad in patches to-day and the wind strong.

‘Lat. 87º 32′. A last note from a hopeful position. I think it’s going to be all right. We have a fine party going forward and arrangements are all going well.’