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Scott's Last Expedition

Archive for the ‘Chapter VI: Adventure and Peril’ Category

Sunday, March 5th 1911

Sunday, March 5th, 1911

Marched up the hill to Evans’ Camp under Castle Rock. Evans’ party came to meet us and helped us up with the loads – it was a steep, stiff pull; the pony was led up by Oates. As we camped for lunch Atkinson and Gran appeared, the former having been to Hut Point to carry news of the relief. I sent Gran on to Safety Camp to fetch some sugar and chocolate, left Evans, Oates, and Keohane in camp, and marched on with remaining six to Hut Point. It was calm at Evans’ Camp, but blowing hard on the hill and harder at Hut Point. Found the hut in comparative order and slept there.

Saturday, March 4th, 1911 A.M.

Saturday, March 4th, 1911

We had a terrible pull at the start yesterday, taking four hours to cover some three miles to march on the line between Safety Camp and Fodder Depot. From there Bowers went to Safety Camp and found my notes to Evans had been taken. We dragged on after lunch to the place where my tent had been pitched when Wilson first met me and where we had left our ski and other loads. All these had gone. We found sledge tracks leading in towards the land and at length marks of a pony’s hoofs. We followed these and some ski tracks right into the land, coming at length to the highest of the Pram Point ridges. I decided to camp here, and as we unpacked I saw four figures approaching. They proved to be Evans and his party. They had ascended towards Castle Rock on Friday and found a good camp site on top of the Ridge. They were in good condition. It was a relief to hear they had found a good road up. They went back to their camp later, dragging one of our sledges and a light load. Atkinson is to go to Hut Point this morning to tell Wilson about us. The rest ought to meet us and help us up the hill – just off to march up the hill, hoping to avoid trouble with the pony.

Friday, March 3rd, 1911, AM

Friday, March 3rd, 1911

I was interrupted when writing yesterday and continue my story this morning…. In the middle of the night at 4.30 Bowers got out of the tent and discovered the ice had broken all round him: a crack ran under the picketing line, and one pony had disappeared. They had packed with great haste and commenced jumping the ponies from floe to floe, then dragging the loads over after – the three men must have worked splendidly and fearlessly. At length they had worked their way to heavier floes lying near the Barrier edge, and at one time thought they could get up, but soon discovered that there were gaps everywhere off the high Barrier face. In this dilemma Crean volunteering was sent off to try to reach me. The sea was like a cauldron at the time of the break up, and killer whales were putting their heads up on all sides. Luckily they did not frighten the ponies.

He travelled a great distance over the sea ice, leaping from floe to floe, and at last found a thick floe from which with help of ski stick he could climb the Barrier face. It was a desperate venture, but luckily successful.

As soon as I had digested Crean’s news I sent Gran back to Hut Point with Wilson and Meares and started with my sledge, Crean, and Oates for the scene of the mishap. We stopped at Safety Camp to load some provisions and oil and then, marching carefully round, approached the ice edge. To my joy I caught sight of the lost party. We got our Alpine rope and with its help dragged the two men to the surface. I pitched camp at a safe distance from the edge and then we all started salvage work. The ice had ceased to drift and lay close and quiet against the Barrier edge. We got the men at 5.30 P.M. and all the sledges and effects on to the Barrier by 4 A.M. As we were getting up the last loads the ice showed signs of drifting off, and we saw it was hopeless to try and move the ponies. The three poor beasts had to be left on their floe for the moment, well fed. None of our party had had sleep the previous night and all were dog tired. I decided we must rest, but turned everyone out at 8.30 yesterday morning. Before breakfast we discovered the ponies had drifted away. We had tried to anchor their floe with the Alpine rope, but the anchors had drawn. It was a sad moment. At breakfast we decided to pack and follow the Barrier edge: this was the position when I last wrote, but the interruption came when Bowers, who had taken the binoculars, announced that he could see the ponies about a mile to the N.W. We packed and went on at once. We found it easy enough to get down to the poor animals and decided to rush them for a last chance of life. Then there was an unfortunate mistake: I went along the Barrier edge and discovered what I thought and what proved to be a practicable way to land a pony, but the others meanwhile, a little overwrought, tried to leap Punch across a gap. The poor beast fell in; eventually we had to kill him – it was awful. I recalled all hands and pointed out my road. Bowers and Oates went out on it with a sledge and worked their way to the remaining ponies, and started back with them on the same track. Meanwhile Cherry and I dug a road at the Barrier edge. We saved one pony; for a time I thought we should get both, but Bowers’ poor animal slipped at a jump and plunged into the water: we dragged him out on some brash ice – killer whales all about us in an intense state of excitement. The poor animal couldn’t rise, and the only merciful thing was to kill it. These incidents were too terrible.

At 5 P.M. we sadly broke our temporary camp and marched back to the one I had first pitched. Even here it seemed unsafe, so I walked nearly two miles to discover cracks: I could find none, and we turned in about midnight.

So here we are ready to start our sad journey to Hut Point. Everything out of joint with the loss of the ponies, but mercifully with all the party alive and well.

Looking to Cape Barne from Cape Evans. Mirage effect. March 3rd 1911
“Looking to Cape Barne from Cape Evans. Mirage effect. March 3rd 1911”

Thursday, March 2nd, 1911 A.M.

Thursday, March 2nd, 1911

Bowers Incident

I note the events of the night of March 1 whilst they are yet fresh in my memory.

The events of the past 48 hours bid fair to wreck the expedition, and the only one comfort is the miraculous avoidance of loss of life. We turned out early yesterday, Oates, Gran, and I, after the dismal night of our pony’s death, and pulled towards the forage depot on ski. As we approached, the sky looked black and lowering, and mirage effects of huge broken floes loomed out ahead. At first I thought it one of the strange optical illusions common in this region – but as we neared the depot all doubt was dispelled. The sea was full of broken pieces of Barrier edge. My thoughts flew to the ponies and dogs, and fearful anxieties assailed my mind. We turned to follow the sea edge and suddenly discovered a working crack. We dashed over this and slackened pace again after a quarter of a mile. Then again cracks appeared ahead and we increased pace as much as possible, not slackening again till we were in line between the Safety Camp and Castle Rock. Meanwhile my first thought was to warn Evans. We set up tent, and Gran went to the depot with a note as Oates and I disconsolately thought out the situation. I thought to myself that if either party had reached safety either on the Barrier or at Hut Point they would immediately have sent a warning messenger to Safety Camp. By this time the messenger should have been with us. Some half-hour passed, and suddenly with a ‘Thank God!’ I made certain that two specks in the direction of Pram Point were human beings. I hastened towards them and found they were Wilson and Meares, who had led the homeward way with the dog teams. They were astonished to see me – they said they feared the ponies were adrift on the sea ice – they had seen them with glasses from Observation Hill. They thought I was with them. They had hastened out without breakfast: we made them cocoa and discussed the gloomiest situation. Just after cocoa Wilson discovered a figure making rapidly for the depot from the west. Gran was sent off again to intercept. It proved to be Crean – he was exhausted and a little incoherent. The ponies had camped at 2.30 A.M. on the sea ice well beyond the seal crack on the previous night. In the middle of the night…

Wednesday, March 1st 1911 – 1am

Wednesday, March 1st, 1911

Our pony died in the night. It is hard to have got him back so far only for this. It is clear that these blizzards are terrible for the poor animals. Their coats are not good, but even with the best of coats it is certain they would lose condition badly if caught in one, and we cannot afford to lose condition at the beginning of a journey. It makes a late start necessary for next year.

Well, we have done our best and bought our experience at a heavy cost. Now every effort must be bent on saving the remaining animals, and it will be good luck if we get four back to Cape Evans, or even three. Jimmy Pigg may have fared badly; Bowers’ big pony is in a bad way after that frightful blizzard. I cannot remember such a bad storm in February or March: the temperature was -7º.

Tuesday, February 28th 1911

Tuesday, February 28th, 1911

Safety Camp. Packed up at 6 A.M. and marched into Safety Camp. Found everyone very cold and depressed. Wilson and Meares had had continuous bad weather since we left, Bowers and Oates since their arrival. The blizzard had raged for two days. The animals looked in a sorry condition but all were alive. The wind blew keen and cold from the east. There could be no advantage in waiting here, and soon all arrangements were made for a general shift to Hut Point. Packing took a long time. The snowfall had been prodigious, and parts of the sledges were 3 or 4 feet under drift. About 4 o’clock the two dog teams got safely away. Then the pony party prepared to go. As the clothes were stripped from the ponies the ravages of the blizzard became evident. The animals without exception were terribly emaciated, and Weary Willy was in a pitiable condition.

The plan was for the ponies to follow the dog tracks, our small party to start last and get in front of the ponies on the sea ice. I was very anxious about the sea ice passage owing to the spread of the water holes.

The ponies started, but Weary Willy, tethered last without a load, immediately fell down. We tried to get him up and he made efforts, but was too exhausted.

Then we rapidly reorganised. Cherry-Garrard and Crean went on whilst Oates and Gran stayed with me. We made desperate efforts to save the poor creature, got him once more on his legs and gave him a hot oat mash. Then after a wait of an hour Oates led him off, and we packed the sledge and followed on ski; 500 yards away from the camp the poor creature fell again and I felt it was the last effort. We camped, built a snow wall round him, and did all we possibly could to get him on his feet. Every effort was fruitless, though the poor thing made pitiful struggles. Towards midnight we propped him up as comfortably as we could and went to bed.

Wave at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911
“Wave at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911”

Wave at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911
“Wave at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911”

Wave breaking at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911
“Wave breaking at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911”

Wave breaking at West Beach
“Wave breaking at West Beach”

Wave breaking at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911
“Wave breaking at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911”

Wave breaking at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911
“Wave breaking at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911”

Wave breaking at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911
“Wave breaking at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911”

Wave breaking at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911
“Wave breaking at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911”

Wave breaking at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911
“Wave breaking at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911”

Wave breaking at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911
“Wave breaking at West Beach. Feb. 28th 1911”

Monday, February 27th 1911

Monday, February 27th, 1911

Awoke to find it blowing a howling blizzard – absolutely confined to tent at present – to step outside is to be covered with drift in a minute. We have managed to get our cooking things inside and have had a meal. Very anxious about the ponies – am wondering where they can be. The return party has had two days and may have got them into some shelter – but more probably they were not expecting this blow – I wasn’t. The wind is blowing force 8 or 9; heavy gusts straining the tent; the temperature is evidently quite low. This is poor luck.

Sunday, February 26th 1911

Sunday, February 26th, 1911

Marched on Corner Camp, but second main party found going very hard and eventually got off their ski and pulled on foot. James Pigg also found the surface bad, so we camped and had lunch after doing 3 miles.

Except for our tent the camp routine is slack. Shall have to tell people that we are out on business, not picnicking. It was another 3 miles to depot after lunch. Found signs of Bowers’ party having camped there and glad to see five pony walls. Left six full weeks’ provision: 1 bag of oats, 3/4 of a bale of fodder. Then Cherry-Garrard, Crean, and I started for home, leaving the others to bring the pony by slow stages. We covered 6 1/4 miles in direct line, then had some tea and marched another 8. We must be less than 10 miles from Safety Camp. Pitched tent at 10 P.M., very dark for cooking.

Saturday, February 25th 1911

Saturday, February 25th, 1911

Fine bright day – easy marching – covered 9 miles and a bit yesterday and the same to-day. Should reach Corner Camp before lunch to-morrow.

Turned out at 3 A.M. and saw a short black line on the horizon towards White Island. Thought it an odd place for a rock exposure and then observed movement in it. Walked 1 1/2 miles towards it and made certain that it was Oates, Bowers, and the ponies. They seemed to be going very fast and evidently did not see our camp. To-day we have come on their tracks, and I fear there are only four ponies left.

James Pigg, our own pony, limits the length of our marches. The men haulers could go on much longer, and we all like pulling on ski. Everyone must be practised in this.

Friday, February 24th 1911

Friday, February 24th, 1911

Roused out at 6. Started marching at 9. Self, Crean, and Cherry-Garrard one sledge and tent; Evans, Atkinson, Forde, second sledge and tent; Keohane leading his pony. We pulled on ski in the forenoon; the second sledge couldn’t keep up, so we changed about for half the march. In the afternoon we pulled on foot. On the whole I thought the labour greater on foot, so did Crean, showing the advantage of experience.

There is no doubt that very long days’ work could be done by men in hard condition on ski.

The hanging back of the second sledge was mainly a question of condition, but to some extent due to the sledge. We have a 10 ft., whilst the other party has a 12 ft.; the former is a distinct advantage in this case.

It has been a horrid day. We woke to find a thick covering of sticky ice crystals on everything—a frost rime. I cleared my ski before breakfast arid found more on afterwards. There was the suggestion of an early frosty morning at home—such a morning as develops into a beautiful sunshiny day; but in our case, alas! such hopes were shattered: it was almost damp, with temperature near zero and a terribly bad light for travelling. In the afternoon Erebus and Terror showed up for a while. Now it is drifting hard with every sign of a blizzard—a beastly night. This marching is going to be very good for our condition and I shall certainly keep people at it.