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Scott's Last Expedition

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

Thursday, February 23rd 1911

Thursday, February 23rd, 1911

Spent the day preparing sledges, &c., for party to meet Bowers at Corner Camp. It was blowing and drifting and generally uncomfortable. Wilson and Meares killed three seals for the dogs.

Wednesday, February 22nd 1911 – 10pm

Wednesday, February 22nd, 1911

Safety Camp. Turned out at 11 this morning after 4 hours’ sleep.

Wilson, Meares, Evans, Cherry-Garrard, and I went to Hut Point. Found a great enigma. The hut was cleared and habitable – but no one was there. A pencil line on the wall said that a bag containing a mail was inside, but no bag could be found. We puzzled much, then finally decided on the true solution, viz. that Atkinson and Crean had gone towards Safety Camp as we went to Hut Point – later we saw their sledge track leading round on the sea ice. Then we returned towards Safety Camp and endured a very bad hour in which we could see the two bell tents but not the domed. It was an enormous relief to find the dome securely planted, as the ice round Cape Armitage is evidently very weak; I have never seen such enormous water holes off it.

But every incident of the day pales before the startling contents of the mail bag which Atkinson gave me – a letter from Campbell setting out his doings and the finding of Amundsen established in the Bay of Whales.

One thing only fixes itself definitely in my mind. The proper, as well as the wiser, course for us is to proceed exactly as though this had not happened. To go forward and do our best for the honour of the country without fear or panic.

There is no doubt that Amundsen’s plan is a very serious menace to ours. He has a shorter distance to the Pole by 60 miles – I never thought he could have got so many dogs safely to the ice. His plan for running them seems excellent. But above and beyond all he can start his journey early in the season – an impossible condition with ponies.

The ice is still in at the Glacier Tongue: a very late date – it looks as though it will not break right back this season, but off Cape Armitage it is so thin that I doubt if the ponies could safely be walked round.

Wednesday, February 22nd 1911

Wednesday, February 22nd, 1911

Safety Camp. Got away at 10 again: surface fairly heavy: dogs going badly.

The dogs are as thin as rakes; they are ravenous and very tired. I feel this should not be, and that it is evident that they are underfed. The ration must be increased next year and we _must_ have some properly thought out diet. The biscuit alone is not good enough. Meares is excellent to a point, but ignorant of the conditions here. One thing is certain, the dogs will never continue to drag heavy loads with men sitting on the sledges; we must all learn to run with the teams and the Russian custom must be dropped. Meares, I think, rather imagined himself racing to the Pole and back on a dog sledge. This journey has opened his eyes a good deal.

We reached Safety Camp (dist. 14 miles) at 4.30 A.M.; found Evans and his party in excellent health, but, alas! with only ONE pony. As far as I can gather Forde’s pony only got 4 miles back from the Bluff Camp; then a blizzard came on, and in spite of the most tender care from Forde the pony sank under it. Evans says that Forde spent hours with the animal trying to keep it going, feeding it, walking it about; at last he returned to the tent to say that the poor creature had fallen; they all tried to get it on its feet again but their efforts were useless. It couldn’t stand, and soon after it died.

Then the party marched some 10 miles, but the blizzard had had a bad effect on Blossom – it seemed to have shrivelled him up, and now he was terribly emaciated. After this march he could scarcely move. Evans describes his efforts as pathetic; he got on 100 yards, then stopped with legs outstretched and nose to the ground. They rested him, fed him well, covered him with rugs; but again all efforts were unavailing. The last stages came with painful detail. So Blossom is also left on the Southern Road.

The last pony, James Pigg, as he is called, has thriven amazingly – of course great care has been taken with him and he is now getting full feed and very light work, so he ought to do well. The loss is severe; but they were the two oldest ponies of our team and the two which Oates thought of least use.

Atkinson and Crean have departed, leaving no trace – not even a note.

Crean had carried up a good deal of fodder, and some seal meat was found buried.

After a few hours’ sleep we are off for Hut Point.

There are certain points in night marching, if only for the glorious light effects which the coming night exhibits.

Tuesday, February 21st 1911

Tuesday, February 21st, 1911

New Camp about 12 miles from Safety Camp. 15 1/2 miles. We made a start as usual about 10 P.M. The light was good at first, but rapidly grew worse till we could see little of the surface. The dogs showed signs of wearying. About an hour and a half after starting we came on mistily outlined pressure ridges. We were running by the sledges. Suddenly Wilson shouted ‘Hold on to the sledge,’ and I saw him slip a leg into a crevasse. I jumped to the sledge, but saw nothing. Five minutes after, as the teams were trotting side by side, the middle dogs of our team disappeared. In a moment the whole team were sinking – two by two we lost sight of them, each pair struggling for foothold. Osman the leader exerted all his great strength and kept a foothold – it was wonderful to see him. The sledge stopped and we leapt aside. The situation was clear in another moment. We had been actually travelling along the bridge of a crevasse, the sledge had stopped on it, whilst the dogs hung in their harness in the abyss, suspended between the sledge and the leading dog. Why the sledge and ourselves didn’t follow the dogs we shall never know. I think a fraction of a pound of added weight must have taken us down. As soon as we grasped the position, we hauled the sledge clear of the bridge and anchored it. Then we peered into the depths of the crack. The dogs were howling dismally, suspended in all sorts of fantastic positions and evidently terribly frightened. Two had dropped out of their harness, and we could see them indistinctly on a snow bridge far below. The rope at either end of the chain had bitten deep into the snow at the side of the crevasse, and with the weight below, it was impossible to move it. By this time Wilson and Cherry-Garrard, who had seen the accident, had come to our assistance. At first things looked very bad for our poor team, and I saw little prospect of rescuing them. I had luckily inquired about the Alpine rope before starting the march, and now Cherry-Garrard hurriedly brought this most essential aid. It takes one a little time to make plans under such sudden circumstances, and for some minutes our efforts were rather futile. We could get not an inch on the main trace of the sledge or on the leading rope, which was binding Osman to the snow with a throttling pressure. Then thought became clearer. We unloaded our sledge, putting in safety our sleeping-bags with the tent and cooker. Choking sounds from Osman made it clear that the pressure on him must soon be relieved. I seized the lashing off Meares’ sleeping-bag, passed the tent poles across the crevasse, and with Meares managed to get a few inches on the leading line; this freed Osman, whose harness was immediately cut.
Then securing the Alpine rope to the main trace we tried to haul up together. One dog came up and was unlashed, but by this time the rope had cut so far back at the edge that it was useless to attempt to get more of it. But we could now unbend the sledge and do that for which we should have aimed from the first, namely, run the sledge across the gap and work from it. We managed to do this, our fingers constantly numbed. Wilson held on to the anchored trace whilst the rest of us laboured at the leader end. The leading rope was very small and I was fearful of its breaking, so Meares was lowered down a foot or two to secure the Alpine rope to the leading end of the trace; this done, the work of rescue proceeded in better order. Two by two we hauled the animals up to the sledge and one by one cut them out of their harness. Strangely the last dogs were the most difficult, as they were close under the lip of the gap, bound in by the snow-covered rope. Finally, with a gasp we got the last poor creature on to firm snow. We had recovered eleven of the thirteen.
Then I wondered if the last two could not be got, and we paid down the Alpine rope to see if it was long enough to reach the snow bridge on which they were coiled. The rope is 90 feet, and the amount remaining showed that the depth of the bridge was about 65 feet. I made a bowline and the others lowered me down. The bridge was firm and I got hold of both dogs, which were hauled up in turn to the surface. Then I heard dim shouts and howls above. Some of the rescued animals had wandered to the second sledge, and a big fight was in progress. All my rope-tenders had to leave to separate the combatants; but they soon returned, and with some effort I was hauled to the surface.
All is well that ends well, and certainly this was a most surprisingly happy ending to a very serious episode. We felt we must have refreshment, so camped and had a meal, congratulating ourselves on a really miraculous escape. If the sledge had gone down Meares and I _must_ have been badly injured, if not killed outright. The dogs are wonderful, but have had a terrible shaking – three of them are passing blood and have more or less serious internal injuries. Many were held up by a thin thong round the stomach, writhing madly to get free. One dog better placed in its harness stretched its legs full before and behind and just managed to claw either side of the gap – it had continued attempts to climb throughout, giving vent to terrified howls. Two of the animals hanging together had been fighting at intervals when they swung into any position which allowed them to bite one another. The crevasse for the time being was an inferno, and the time must have been all too terribly long for the wretched creatures. It was twenty minutes past three when we had completed the rescue work, and the accident must have happened before one-thirty. Some of the animals must have been dangling for over an hour. I had a good opportunity of examining the crack.
The section seemed such as I have shown. It narrowed towards the east and widened slightly towards the west. In this direction there were curious curved splinters; below the snow bridge on which I stood the opening continued, but narrowing, so that I think one could not have fallen many more feet without being wedged. Twice I have owed safety to a snow bridge, and it seems to me that the chance of finding some obstruction or some saving fault in the crevasse is a good one, but I am far from thinking that such a chance can be relied upon, and it would be an awful situation to fall beyond the limits of the Alpine rope.
We went on after lunch, and very soon got into soft snow and regular surface where crevasses are most unlikely to occur. We have pushed on with difficulty, for the dogs are badly cooked and the surface tries them. We are all pretty done, but luckily the weather favours us. A sharp storm from the south has been succeeded by ideal sunshine which is flooding the tent as I write. It is the calmest, warmest day we have had since we started sledging. We are only about 12 miles from Safety Camp, and I trust we shall push on without accident to-morrow, but I am anxious about some of the dogs. We shall be lucky indeed if all recover.
My companions to-day were excellent; Wilson and Cherry-Garrard if anything the most intelligently and readily helpful.
I begin to think that there is no avoiding the line of cracks running from the Bluff to Cape Crozier, but my hope is that the danger does not extend beyond a mile or two, and that the cracks are narrower on the pony road to Corner Camp. If eight ponies can cross without accident I do not think there can be great danger. Certainly we must rigidly adhere to this course on all future journeys. We must try and plot out the danger line. [14] I begin to be a little anxious about the returning ponies.
I rather think the dogs are being underfed – they have weakened badly in the last few days – more than such work ought to entail. Now they are absolutely ravenous.
Meares has very dry feet. Whilst we others perspire freely and our skin remains pink and soft his gets horny and scaly. He amused us greatly to-night by scraping them. The sound suggested the whittling of a hard wood block and the action was curiously like an attempt to shape the feet to fit the finnesko!

Summary of Marches Made on the Depôt Journey
Distances in Geographical Miles. Variation 152 E.

Summary of Marches Made on the Depôt Journey
Distances in Geographical Miles. Variation 152 E.

m. yds.
Safety No. 3 to 4 E. 4 2000
S. 64 E. 4 500
4 to 5 S. 77 E. 1 312 9.359
S. 60 E. 3 1575
5 to 6 S. 48 E. 10 270 Var. 149 1/2 E.
Corner 6 to 7 S. 10 145
7 to 8 S. ? 11 198
8 to 9 S. 12 325
9 to 10 S. 11 118
Bluff Camp 10 to 11 S. 10 226 Var. 152 1/2 E.
11 to 12 S. 9 150
12 to 13 S. 7 650
13 to 14 S. 7 Bowers 775
14 to 15 S. 8 1450
– – – –
111 610
Return 17th-18th 15 to 12 N. 22 1994
18th-19th 12 to midway between 9 & 10 N. 48 1825
19th-20th Lunch 8 Camp N. 65 1720
19th-20th 7 Camp N. 77 1820
20th-21st N. 30 to 35 W. 93 950
21st-22nd Safety Camp N. & W. 107 1125
Day, Nelson and Lashly and sledge on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911.
“Day, Nelson and Lashly and sledge on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911.”

Day, Nelson and Lashly and sledge on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911.
“Day, Nelson and Lashly and sledge on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911.”

W. from Barne Glacier to cape Barne. Feb. 21st 1911.
“W. from Barne Glacier to cape Barne. Feb. 21st 1911.”

Day, Nelson and Lashly probing a crevasse on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911.
“Day, Nelson and Lashly probing a crevasse on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911.”

Day, Nelson and Lashly probing a crevasse on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911.
“Day, Nelson and Lashly probing a crevasse on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911.”

Day, Nelson and Lashly among Crevasses on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911.
“Day, Nelson and Lashly among Crevasses on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911.”

Day, Nelson and Lashly among Crevasses on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911.
“Day, Nelson and Lashly among Crevasses on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911.”

Sastrugi on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911.
“Sastrugi on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911.”

Sastrugi on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911
“Sastrugi on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911”

Sastrugi on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911
“Sastrugi on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911”

Sastrugi on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911
“Sastrugi on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911”

Sastrugi on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911
“Sastrugi on Barne Glacier. Feb. 21st 1911”

Monday, February 20th 1911

Monday, February 20th, 1911

29 miles. Lunch. Excellent run on hard wind-swept surface – covered nearly seventeen miles. Very cold at starting and during march. Suddenly wind changed and temperature rose so that at the moment of stopping for final halt it appeared quite warm, almost sultry. On stopping found we had covered 29 miles, some 35 statute miles. The dogs are weary but by no means played out – during the last part of the journey they trotted steadily with a wonderfully tireless rhythm. I have been off the sledge a good deal and trotting for a good many miles, so should sleep well. E. Evans has left a bale of forage at Camp 8 and has not taken on the one which he might have taken from the depôt – facts which show that his ponies must have been going strong. I hope to find them safe and sound the day after to-morrow.

We had the most wonderfully beautiful sky effects on the march with the sun circling low on the southern horizon. Bright pink clouds hovered overhead on a deep grey-blue background. Gleams of bright sunlit mountains appeared through the stratus.

Here it is most difficult to predict what is going to happen. Sometimes the southern sky looks dark and ominous, but within half an hour all has changed – the land comes and goes as the veil of stratus lifts and falls. It seems as though weather is made here rather than dependent on conditions elsewhere. It is all very interesting.

Sunday, February 19th 1911

Sunday, February 19th, 1911

Started 10 P.M. Camped 6.30. Nearly 26 miles to our credit. The dogs went very well and the surface became excellent after the first 5 or 6 miles. At the Bluff Camp, No. 11, we picked up Evans’ track and found that he must have made excellent progress. No. 10 Camp was much snowed up: I should imagine our light blizzard was severely felt along this part of the route. We must look out to-morrow for signs of Evans being ‘held up.’

The old tracks show better here than on the softer surface. During this journey both ponies and dogs have had what under ordinary circumstances would have been a good allowance of food, yet both are desperately hungry. Both eat their own excrement. With the ponies it does not seem so horrid, as there must be a good deal of grain, &c., which is not fully digested. It is the worst side of dog driving. All the rest is diverting. The way in which they keep up a steady jog trot for hour after hour is wonderful. Their legs seem steel springs, fatigue unknown – for at the end of a tiring march any unusual incident will arouse them to full vigour. Osman has been restored to leadership. It is curious how these leaders come off and go off, all except old Stareek, who remains as steady as ever.

We are all acting like seasoned sledge travellers now, such is the force of example. Our tent is up and cooker going in the shortest time after halt, and we are able to break camp in exceptionally good time. Cherry-Garrard is cook. He is excellent, and is quickly learning all the tips for looking after himself and his gear.

What a difference such care makes is apparent now, but was more so when he joined the tent with all his footgear iced up, whilst Wilson and I nearly always have dry socks and finnesko to put on. This is only a point amongst many in which experience gives comfort. Every minute spent in keeping one’s gear dry and free of snow is very well repaid.

Saturday, February 18th 1911

Saturday, February 18th, 1911

Camp 12. North 22 miles 1996 yards. I scattered some oats 50 yards east of depôt. The minimum thermometer showed -16º when we left camp: inform Simpson!

The ponies started off well, Gran leading my pony with Weary Willy behind, the Soldier leading his with Cherry’s behind, and Bowers steering course as before with a light sledge.

We started half an hour later, soon overtook the ponies, and luckily picked up a small bag of oats which they had dropped. We went on for 10 3/4 miles and stopped for lunch. After lunch to our astonishment the ponies appeared, going strong. They were making for a camp some miles farther on, and meant to remain there. I’m very glad to have seen them making the pace so well. They don’t propose to stop for lunch at all but to march right through 10 or 12 miles a day. I think they will have little difficulty in increasing this distance.

For the dogs the surface has been bad, and one or another of us on either sledge has been running a good part of the time. But we have covered 23 miles: three marches out. We have four days’ food for them and ought to get in very easily.

As we camp late the temperature is evidently very low and there is a low drift. Conditions are beginning to be severe on the Barrier and I shall be glad to get the ponies into more comfortable quarters.

Moulting penguin
“Moulting penguin”

Moulting penguin
“Moulting penguin”