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Scott's Last Expedition

Archive for the ‘Chapter XV: The Last Weeks at Cape Evans’ Category

Tuesday, October 17th 1911

Wednesday, October 18th, 1911

Things not going very well; with ponies all pretty well. Animals are improving in form rapidly, even Jehu, though I have ceased to count on that animal. To-night the motors were to be taken on to the floe. The drifts make the road very uneven, and the first and best motor overrode its chain; the chain was replaced and the machine proceeded, but just short of the floe was thrust to a steep inclination by a ridge, and the chain again overrode the sprockets; this time by ill fortune Day slipped at the critical moment and without intention jammed the throttle full on. The engine brought up, but there was an ominous trickle of oil under the back axle, and investigation showed that the axle casing (aluminium) had split. The casing has been stripped and brought into the hut; we may be able to do something to it, but time presses. It all goes to show that we want more experience and workshops.

I am secretly convinced that we shall not get much help from the motors, yet nothing has ever happened to them that was unavoidable. A little more care and foresight would make them splendid allies. The trouble is that if they fail, no one will ever believe this.

Meares got back from Corner Camp at 8 A.M. Sunday morning – he got through on the telephone to report in the afternoon. He must have made the pace, which is promising for the dogs. Sixty geographical miles in two days and a night is good going – about as good as can be.

I have had to tell Clissold that he cannot go out with the Motor Party, to his great disappointment. He improves very steadily, however, and I trust will be fit before we leave with the ponies. Hooper replaces him with the motors. I am kept very busy writing and preparing details.

We have had two days of northerly wind, a very unusual occurrence; yesterday it was blowing S.E., force 8, temp. -16º, whilst here the wind was north, force 4, temp. -6º. This continued for some hours – a curious meteorological combination. We are pretty certain of a southerly blizzard to follow, I should think.

Sunday, October 15th 1911

Sunday, October 15th, 1911

Both of our invalids progress favourably. Clissold has had two good nights without the aid of drugs and has recovered his good spirits; pains have departed from his back.

The weather is very decidedly warmer and for the past three days has been fine. The thermometer stands but a degree or two below zero and the air feels delightfully mild. Everything of importance is now ready for our start and the ponies improve daily.

Clissold’s work of cooking has fallen on Hooper and Lashly, and it is satisfactory to find that the various dishes and bread bakings maintain their excellence. It is splendid to have people who refuse to recognise difficulties.

Friday, October 13th 1911

Friday, October 13th, 1911

The past three days have seen a marked improvement in both our invalids. Clissold’s inside has been got into working order after a good deal of difficulty; he improves rapidly in spirits as well as towards immunity from pain. The fiction of his preparation to join the motor sledge party is still kept up, but Atkinson says there is not the smallest chance of his being ready. I shall have to be satisfied if he practically recovers by the time we leave with the ponies.

Forde’s hand took a turn for the better two days ago and he maintains this progress. Atkinson thinks he will be ready to start in ten days’ time, but the hand must be carefully nursed till the weather becomes really summery.

The weather has continued bad till to-day, which has been perfectly beautiful. A fine warm sun all day – so warm that one could sit about outside in the afternoon, and photographic work was a real pleasure.

The ponies have been behaving well, with exceptions. Victor is now quite easy to manage, thanks to Bowers’ patience. Chinaman goes along very steadily and is not going to be the crock we expected. He has a slow pace which may be troublesome, but when the weather is fine that won’t matter if he can get along steadily.

The most troublesome animal is Christopher. He is only a source of amusement as long as there is no accident, but I am always a little anxious that he will kick or bite someone. The curious thing is that he is quiet enough to handle for walking or riding exercise or in the stable, but as soon as a sledge comes into the programme he is seized with a very demon of viciousness, and bites and kicks with every intent to do injury. It seems to be getting harder rather than easier to get him into the traces; the last two turns, he has had to be thrown, as he is unmanageable even on three legs. Oates, Bowers, and Anton gather round the beast and lash up one foreleg, then with his head held on both sides Oates gathers back the traces; quick as lightning the little beast flashes round with heels flying aloft. This goes on till some degree of exhaustion gives the men a better chance. But, as I have mentioned, during the last two days the period has been so prolonged that Oates has had to hasten matters by tying a short line to the other foreleg and throwing the beast when he lashes out. Even when on his knees he continues to struggle, and one of those nimble hind legs may fly out at any time. Once in the sledge and started on three legs all is well and the fourth leg can be released. At least, all has been well until to-day, when quite a comedy was enacted. He was going along quietly with Oates when a dog frightened him: he flung up his head, twitched the rope out of Oates’ hands and dashed away. It was not a question of blind fright, as immediately after gaining freedom he set about most systematically to get rid of his load. At first he gave sudden twists, and in this manner succeeded in dislodging two bales of hay; then he caught sight of other sledges and dashed for them. They could scarcely get out of his way in time; the fell intention was evident all through, to dash his load against some other pony and sledge and so free himself of it. He ran for Bowers two or three times with this design, then made for Keohane, never going off far and dashing inward with teeth bared and heels flying all over the place. By this time people were gathering round, and first one and then another succeeded in clambering on to the sledge as it flew by, till Oates, Bowers, Nelson, and Atkinson were all sitting on it. He tried to rid himself of this human burden as he had of the hay bales, and succeeded in dislodging Atkinson with violence, but the remainder dug their heels into the snow and finally the little brute was tired out. Even then he tried to savage anyone approaching his leading line, and it was some time before Oates could get hold of it. Such is the tale of Christopher. I am exceedingly glad there are not other ponies like him. These capers promise trouble, but I think a little soft snow on the Barrier may effectually cure them.

E.R. Evans and Gran return to-night. We received notice of their departure from Hut Point through the telephone, which also informed us that Meares had departed for his first trip to Corner Camp. Evans says he carried eight bags of forage and that the dogs went away at a great pace.

In spite of the weather Evans has managed to complete his survey to Hut Point. He has evidently been very careful with it and has therefore done a very useful bit of work.

Tuesday, October 10th 1911

Wednesday, October 11th, 1911

Still anxious about Clissold. He has passed two fairly good nights but is barely able to move. He is unnaturally irritable, but I am told this is a symptom of concussion. This morning he asked for food, which is a good sign, and he was anxious to know if his sledging gear was being got ready. In order not to disappoint him he was assured that all would be ready, but there is scarce a slender chance that he can fill his place in the programme.

Meares came from Hut Point yesterday at the front end of a blizzard. Half an hour after his arrival it was as thick as a hedge. He reports another loss – Deek, one of the best pulling dogs, developed the same symptoms which have so unaccountably robbed us before, spent a night in pain, and died in the morning. Wilson thinks the cause is a worm which gets into the blood and thence to the brain. It is trying, but I am past despondency. Things must take their course.

Forde’s fingers improve, but not very rapidly; it is hard to have two sick men after all the care which has been taken.

The weather is very poor – I had hoped for better things this month. So far we have had more days with wind and drift than without. It interferes badly with the ponies’ exercise.

Sunday, October 8th 1911

Tuesday, October 10th, 1911

A very beautiful day. Everyone out and about after Service, all ponies going well. Went to Pressure Ridge with Ponting and took a number of photographs.

So far good, but the afternoon has brought much worry. About five a telephone message from Nelson’s igloo reported that Clissold had fallen from a berg and hurt his back. Bowers organised a sledge party in three minutes, and fortunately Atkinson was on the spot and able to join it. I posted out over the land and found Ponting much distressed and Clissold practically insensible. At this moment the Hut Point ponies were approaching and I ran over to intercept one in case of necessity. But the man# party was on the spot first, and after putting the patient in a sleeping-bag, quickly brought him home to the hut. It appears that Clissold was acting as Ponting’s ‘model’ and that the two had been climbing about the berg to get pictures. As far as I can make out Ponting did his best to keep Clissold in safety by lending him his crampons and ice axe, but the latter seems to have missed his footing after one of his ‘poses’; he slid over a rounded surface of ice for some 12 feet, then dropped 6 feet on to a sharp angle in the wall of the berg.

He must have struck his back and head; the latter is contused and he is certainly suffering from slight concussion. He complained of his back before he grew unconscious and groaned a good deal when moved in the hut. He came to about an hour after getting to the hut, and was evidently in a good deal of pain; neither Atkinson nor Wilson thinks there is anything very serious, but he has not yet been properly examined and has had a fearful shock at the least. I still feel very anxious. To-night Atkinson has injected morphia and will watch by his patient.

Troubles rarely come singly, and it occurred to me after Clissold had been brought in that Taylor, who had been bicycling to the Turk’s Head, was overdue. We were relieved to hear that with glasses two figures could be seen approaching in South Bay, but at supper Wright appeared very hot and said that Taylor was exhausted in South Bay – he wanted brandy and hot drink. I thought it best to despatch another relief party, but before they were well round the point Taylor was seen coming over the land. He was fearfully done. He must have pressed on towards his objective long after his reason should have warned him that it was time to turn; with this and a good deal of anxiety about Clissold, the day terminates very unpleasantly.

Saturday, October 7th 1911

Monday, October 9th, 1911

As though to contradict the suggestion of incompetence, friend ‘Jehu’ pulled with a will this morning – he covered 3 1/2 miles without a stop, the surface being much worse than it was two days ago. He was not at all distressed when he stopped. If he goes on like this he comes into practical politics again, and I am arranging to give 10-feet sledges to him and Chinaman instead of 12-feet. Probably they will not do much, but if they go on as at present we shall get something out of them. Long and cheerful conversations with Hut Point and of course an opportunity for the exchange of witticisms. We are told it was blowing and drifting at Hut Point last night, whereas here it was calm and snowing; the wind only reached us this afternoon.

Friday, October 6th 1911

Sunday, October 8th, 1911

With the rise of temperature there has been a slight thaw in the hut; the drips come down the walls and one has found my diary, as its pages show. The drips are already decreasing, and if they represent the whole accumulation of winter moisture it is extraordinarily little, and speaks highly for the design of the hut. There cannot be very much more or the stains would be more significant.

Yesterday I had a good look at Jehu and became convinced that he is useless; he is much too weak to pull a load, and three weeks can make no difference. It is necessary to face the facts and I’ve decided to leave him behind – we must do with nine ponies. Chinaman is rather a doubtful quantity and James Pigg is not a tower of strength, but the other seven are in fine form and must bear the brunt of the work somehow.

If we suffer more loss we shall depend on the motor, and then! … well, one must face the bad as well as the good.

It is some comfort to know that six of the animals at least are in splendid condition – Victor, Snippets, Christopher, Nobby, Bones are as fit as ponies could well be and are naturally strong, well-shaped beasts, whilst little Michael, though not so shapely, is as strong as he will ever be.

To-day Wilson, Oates, Cherry-Garrard, and Crean have gone to Hut Point with their ponies, Oates getting off with Christopher after some difficulty. At 5 o’clock the Hut Point telephone bell suddenly rang (the line was laid by Meares some time ago, but hitherto there has been no communication). In a minute or two we heard a voice, and behold! communication was established. I had quite a talk with Meares and afterwards with Oates. Not a very wonderful fact, perhaps, but it seems wonderful in this primitive land to be talking to one’s fellow beings 15 miles away. Oates told me that the ponies had arrived in fine order, Christopher a little done, but carrying the heaviest load.

If we can keep the telephone going it will be a great boon, especially to Meares later in the season.

The weather is extraordinarily unsettled; the last two days have been fairly fine, but every now and again we get a burst of wind with drift, and to-night it is overcast and very gloomy in appearance.

The photography craze is in full swing. Ponting’s mastery is ever more impressive, and his pupils improve day by day; nearly all of us have produced good negatives. Debenham and Wright are the most promising, but Taylor, Bowers and I are also getting the hang of the tricky exposures.