skip to primary navigation skip to content


Scott's Last Expedition

Archive for the ‘Chapter XVI: Southern Journey: The Barrier Stage’ Category

Saturday, December 9th 1911

Saturday, December 9th, 1911

Camp 31. I turned out two or three times in the night to find the weather slowly improving; at 5.30 we all got up, and at 8 got away with the ponies – a most painful day. The tremendous snowfall of the late storm had made the surface intolerably soft, and after the first hour there was no glide. We pressed on the poor half-rationed animals, but could get none to lead for more than a few minutes; following, the animals would do fairly well. It looked as we could never make headway; the man-haulers were pressed into the service to aid matters. Bowers and Cherry-Garrard went ahead with one 10-foot sledge, – thus most painfully we made about a mile. The situation was saved by P.O. Evans, who put the last pair of snowshoes on Snatcher. From this he went on without much pressing, the other ponies followed, and one by one were worn out in the second place. We went on all day without lunch. Three or four miles (T. 23º) found us engulfed in pressures, but free from difficulty except the awful softness of the snow. By 8 P.M. we had reached within a mile or so of the slope ascending to the gap which Shackleton called the Gateway._22_ I had hoped to be through the Gateway with the ponies still in hand at a very much earlier date and, but for the devastating storm, we should have been. It has been a most serious blow to us, but things are not yet desperate, if only the storm has not hopelessly spoilt the surface. The man-haulers are not up yet, in spite of their light load. I think they have stopped for tea, or something, but under ordinary conditions they would have passed us with ease.

At 8 P.M. the ponies were quite done, one and all. They came on painfully slowly a few hundred yards at a time. By this time I was hauling ahead, a ridiculously light load, and yet finding the pulling heavy enough. We camped, and the ponies have been shot. [32] Poor beasts! they have done wonderfully well considering the terrible circumstances under which they worked, but yet it is hard to have to kill them so early. The dogs are going well in spite of the surface, but here again one cannot get the help one would wish. (T. 19º.) I cannot load the animals heavily on such snow. The scenery is most impressive; three huge pillars of granite form the right buttress of the Gateway, and a sharp spur of Mount Hope the left. The land is much more snow covered than when we saw it before the storm. In spite of some doubt in our outlook, everyone is very cheerful to-night and jokes are flying freely around.

Friday, December 8th 1911

Friday, December 8th, 1911

Camp 30. Hoped against hope for better conditions, to wake to the mournfullest snow and wind as usual. We had breakfast at 10, and at noon the wind dropped. We set about digging out the sledges, no light task. We then shifted our tent sites. All tents had been reduced to the smallest volume by the gradual pressure of snow. The old sites are deep pits with hollowed-in wet centres. The re-setting of the tent has at least given us comfort, especially since the wind has dropped. About 4 the sky showed signs of breaking, the sun and a few patches of land could be dimly discerned. The wind shifted in light airs and a little hope revived. Alas! as I write the sun has disappeared and snow is again falling.

Our case is growing desperate. Evans and his man-haulers tried to pull a load this afternoon. They managed to move a sledge with four people on it, pulling in ski. Pulling on foot they sank to the knees. The snow all about us is terribly deep. We tried Nobby and he plunged to his belly in it. Wilson thinks the ponies finished,_21_ but Oates thinks they will get another march in spite of the surface, _if it comes to-morrow_. If it should not, we must kill the ponies to-morrow and get on as best we can with the men on ski and the dogs. But one wonders what the dogs can do on such a surface. I much fear they also will prove inadequate. Oh! for fine weather, if only to the Glacier. The temperature remains 33º, and everything is disgustingly wet.

11 P.M. – The wind has gone to the north, the sky is really breaking at last, the sun showing less sparingly, and the land appearing out of the haze. The temperature has fallen to 26º, and the water nuisance is already bating. With so fair a promise of improvement it would be too cruel to have to face bad weather to-morrow. There is good cheer in the camp to-night in the prospect of action. The poor ponies look wistfully for the food of which so very little remains, yet they are not hungry, as recent savings have resulted from food left in their nosebags. They look wonderfully fit, all things considered. Everything looks more hopeful to-night, but nothing can recall four lost days.

Thursday, December 7th 1911

Thursday, December 7th, 1911

Camp 30. The storm continues and the situation is now serious. One small feed remains for the ponies after to-day, so that we must either march to-morrow or sacrifice the animals. That is not the worst; with the help of the dogs we could get on, without doubt. The serious part is that we have this morning started our summer rations, that is to say, the food calculated from the Glacier depot has been begun. The first supporting party can only go on a fortnight from this date and so forth. The storm shows no sign of abatement and its character is as unpleasant as ever. The promise of last night died away about 3 A.M., when the temperature and wind rose again, and things reverted to the old conditions. I can find no sign of an end, and all of us agree that it is utterly impossible to move. Resignation to misfortune is the only attitude, but not an easy one to adopt. It seems undeserved where plans were well laid and so nearly crowned with a first success. I cannot see that any plan would be altered if it were to do again, the margin for bad weather was ample according to all experience, and this stormy December – our finest month – is a thing that the most cautious organiser might not have been prepared to encounter. It is very evil to lie here in a wet sleeping-bag and think of the pity of it, whilst with no break in the overcast sky things go steadily from bad to worse (T. 32º). Meares has a bad attack of snow blindness in one eye. I hope this rest will help him, but he says it has been painful for a long time. There cannot be good cheer in the camp in such weather, but it is ready to break out again. In the brief spell of hope last night one heard laughter.

Midnight. Little or no improvement. The barometer is rising – perhaps there is hope in that. Surely few situations could be more exasperating than this of forced inactivity when every day and indeed one hour counts. To be here watching the mottled wet green walls of our tent, the glistening wet bamboos, the bedraggled sopping socks and loose articles dangling in the middle, the saddened countenances of my companions – to hear the everlasting patter of the falling snow and the ceaseless rattle of the fluttering canvas – to feel the wet clinging dampness of clothes and everything touched, and to know that without there is but a blank wall of white on every side – these are the physical surroundings. Add the stress of sighted failure of our whole plan, and anyone must find the circumstances unenviable. But yet, after all, one can go on striving, endeavouring to find a stimulation in the difficulties that arise.

Wednesday, December 6th 1911

Wednesday, December 6th, 1911

Camp 30. Noon. Miserable, utterly miserable. We have camped in the ‘Slough of Despond.’ The tempest rages with unabated violence. The temperature has gone to 33º; everything in the tent is soaking. People returning from the outside look exactly as though they had been in a heavy shower of rain. They drip pools on the floorcloth. The snow is steadily climbing higher about walls, ponies, tents, and sledges. The ponies look utterly desolate. Oh! but this is too crushing, and we are only 12 miles from the Glacier. A hopeless feeling descends on one and is hard to fight off. What immense patience is needed for such occasions!

11 P.M. – At 5 there came signs of a break at last, and now one can see the land, but the sky is still overcast and there is a lot of snow about. The wind also remains fairly strong and the temperature high. It is not pleasant, but if no worse in the morning we can get on at last. We are very, very wet.

Tuesday, December 5th 1911 – Camp 30.

Tuesday, December 5th, 1911

Noon. We awoke this morning to a raging, howling blizzard. The blows we have had hitherto have lacked the very fine powdery snow – that especial feature of the blizzard. To-day we have it fully developed. After a minute or two in the open one is covered from head to foot. The temperature is high, so that what falls or drives against one sticks. The ponies – head, tails, legs, and all parts not protected by their rugs – are covered with ice; the animals are standing deep in snow, the sledges are almost covered, and huge drifts above the tents. We have had breakfast, rebuilt the walls, and are now again in our bags. One cannot see the next tent, let alone the land. What on earth does such weather mean at this time of year? It is more than our share of ill-fortune, I think, but the luck may turn yet. I doubt if any party could travel in such weather even with the wind, certainly no one could travel against it.

Is there some widespread atmospheric disturbance which will be felt everywhere in this region as a bad season, or are we merely the victims of exceptional local conditions? If the latter, there is food for thought in picturing our small party struggling against adversity in one place whilst others go smilingly forward in the sunshine. How great may be the element of luck! No foresight – no procedure – could have prepared us for this state of affairs. Had we been ten times as experienced or certain of our aim we should not have expected such rebuffs.
11 P.M. – It has blown hard all day with quite the greatest snowfall I remember. The drifts about the tents are simply huge. The temperature was + 27º this forenoon, and rose to +31º in the afternoon, at which time the snow melted as it fell on anything but the snow, and, as a consequence, there are pools of water on everything, the tents are wet through, also the wind clothes, night boots, &c.; water drips from the tent poles and door, lies on the floorcloth, soaks the sleeping-bags, and makes everything pretty wretched. If a cold snap follows before we have had time to dry our things, we shall be mighty uncomfortable. Yet after all it would be humorous enough if it were not for the seriousness of delay – we can’t afford that, and it’s real hard luck that it should come at such a time. The wind shows signs of easing down, but the temperature does not fall and the snow is as wet as ever – not promising signs of abatement.

Keohane’s rhyme!

The snow is all melting and everything’s afloat, If this goes on much longer we shall have to turn the tent upside down and use it as a boat.

Monday, December 4th 1911

Monday, December 4th, 1911

Camp 29, 9 A.M. I roused the party at 6. During the night the wind had changed from N.N.W. to S.S.E.; it was not strong, but the sun was obscured and the sky looked heavy; patches of land could be faintly seen and we thought that at any rate we could get on, but during breakfast the wind suddenly increased in force and afterwards a glance outside was sufficient to show a regular white floury blizzard. We have all been out building fresh walls for the ponies – an uninviting task, but one which greatly adds to the comfort of the animals, who look sleepy and bored, but not at all cold. The dogs came up with us as we camped last night arid the man-haulers arrived this morning as we finished the pony wall. So we are all together again. The latter had great difficulty in following our tracks, and say they could not have steered a course without them. It is utterly impossible to push ahead in this weather, and one is at a complete loss to account for it. The barometer rose from 29.4 to 29.9 last night, a phenomenal rise. Evidently there is very great disturbance of atmospheric conditions. Well, one must stick it out, that is all, and hope for better things, but it makes me feel a little bitter to contrast such weather with that experienced by our predecessors.
Camp 30. – The wind fell in the forenoon, at 12.30 the sky began to clear, by 1 the sun shone, by 2 P.M. we were away, and by 8 P.M. camped here with 13 miles to the good. The land was quite clear throughout the march and the features easily recognised. There are several uncharted glaciers of large dimensions, a confluence of three under Mount Reid. The mountains are rounded in outline, very massive, with small excrescent peaks and undeveloped ‘cwms’ (T. + 18º). The cwms are very fine in the lower foot-hills and the glaciers have carved deep channels between walls at very high angles; one or two peaks on the foot-hills stand bare and almost perpendicular, probably granite; we should know later. Ahead of us is the ice-rounded, boulder-strewn Mount Hope and the gateway to the Glacier. We should reach it easily enough on to-morrow’s march if we can compass 12 miles. The ponies marched splendidly to-day, crossing the deep snow in the undulations without difficulty. They must be in very much better condition than Shackleton’s animals, and indeed there isn’t a doubt they would go many miles yet if food allowed. The dogs are simply splendid, but came in wanting food, so we had to sacrifice poor little Michael, who, like the rest, had lots of fat on him. All the tents are consuming pony flesh and thoroughly enjoying it.

We have only lost 5 or 6 miles on these two wretched days, but the disturbed condition of the weather makes me anxious with regard to the Glacier, where more than anywhere we shall need fine days. One has a horrid feeling that this is a real bad season. However, sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. We are practically through with the first stage of our journey. Looking from the last camp towards the S.S.E., where the farthest land can be seen, it seemed more than probable that a very high latitude could be reached on the Barrier, and if Amundsen journeying that way has a stroke of luck, he may well find his summit journey reduced to 100 miles or so. In any case it is a fascinating direction for next year’s work if only fresh transport arrives. The dips between undulations seem to be about 12 to 15 feet. To-night we get puffs of wind from the gateway, which for the moment looks uninviting.

Sunday, December 3rd 1911 Camp 29.

Sunday, December 3rd, 1911

Our luck in weather is preposterous. I roused the hands at 2.30 A.M., intending to get away at 5. It was thick and snowy, yet we could have got on; but at breakfast the wind increased, and by 4.30 it was blowing a full gale from the south. The pony wall blew down, huge drifts collected, and the sledges were quickly buried. It was the strongest wind I have known here in summer. At 11 it began to take off. At 12.30 we got up and had lunch and got ready to start. The land appeared, the clouds broke, and by 1.30 we were in bright sunshine. We were off at 2 P.M., the land showing all round, and, but for some cloud to the S.E., everything promising. At 2.15 I saw the south-easterly cloud spreading up; it blotted out the land 30 miles away at 2.30 and was on us before 3. The sun went out, snow fell thickly, and marching conditions became horrible. The wind increased from the S.E., changed to S.W., where it hung for a time, and suddenly shifted to W.N.W. and then N.N.W., from which direction it is now blowing with falling and drifting snow. The changes of conditions are inconceivably rapid, perfectly bewildering. In spite of all these difficulties we have managed to get 11 1/2 miles south and to this camp at 7 P.M.-the conditions of marching simply horrible.

The man-haulers led out 6 miles (geo.) and then camped. I think they had had enough of leading. We passed them, Bowers and I ahead on ski. We steered with compass, the drifting snow across our ski, and occasional glimpse of south-easterly sastrugi under them, till the sun showed dimly for the last hour or so. The whole weather conditions seem thoroughly disturbed, and if they continue so when we are on the Glacier, we shall be very awkwardly placed. It is really time the luck turned in our favour – we have had all too little of it. Every mile seems to have been hardly won under such conditions. The ponies did splendidly and the forage is lasting a little better than expected. Victor was found to have quite a lot of fat on him and the others are pretty certain to have more, so that vwe should have no difficulty whatever as regards transport if only the weather was kind.

Saturday, December 2nd 1911

Saturday, December 2nd, 1911

Camp 28. Lat. 83º. Started under very bad weather conditions. The stratus spreading over from the S.E. last night meant mischief, and all day we marched in falling snow with a horrible light. The ponies went poorly on the first march, when there was little or no wind and a high temperature. They were sinking deep on a wretched surface. I suggested to Oates that he should have a roving commission to watch the animals, but he much preferred to lead one, so I handed over Snippets very willingly and went on ski myself. It was very easy work for me and I took several photographs of the ponies plunging along – the light very strong at 3 (Watkins actinometer). The ponies did much better on the second march, both surface and glide improved; I went ahead and found myself obliged to take a very steady pace to keep the lead, so we arrived in camp in flourishing condition. Sad to have to order Victor’s end – poor Bowers feels it. He is in excellent condition and will provide five feeds for the dogs. (Temp. + 17º.) We must kill now as the forage is so short, but we have reached the 83rd parallel and are practically safe to get through. To-night the sky is breaking and conditions generally more promising – it is dreadfully dismal work marching through the blank wall of white, and we should have very great difficulty if we had not a party to go ahead and show the course. The dogs are doing splendidly and will take a heavier load from to-morrow. We kill another pony to-morrow night if we get our march off, and shall then have nearly three days’ food for the other five. In fact everything looks well if the weather will only give us a chance to see our way to the Glacier. Wild, in his Diary of Shackleton’s Journey, remarks on December 15, that it is the first day for a month that he could not record splendid weather. With us a fine day has been the exception so far. However, we have not lost a march yet. It was so warm when we camped that the snow melted as it fell, and everything got sopping wet. Oates came into my tent yesterday, exchanging with Cherry-Garrard.

The lists now: Self, Wilson, Oates, and Keohane. Bowers, P.O. Evans, Cherry and Crean.

Man-haulers: E. R. Evans, Atkinson, Wright, and Lashly. We have all taken to horse meat and are so well fed that hunger isn’t thought of.

Friday, December 1st 1911 – Camp 27.

Friday, December 1st, 1911

Lat. 82º 47′. The ponies are tiring pretty rapidly. It is a question of days with all except Nobby. Yet they are outlasting the forage, and to-night against some opinion I decided Christopher must go. He has been shot; less regret goes with him than the others, in remembrance of all the trouble he gave at the outset, and the unsatisfactory way he has gone of late. Here we leave a depÙt [31] so that no extra weight is brought on the other ponies; in fact there is a slight diminution. Three more marches ought to bring us through. With the seven crocks and the dog teams we must get through I think. The men alone ought not to have heavy loads on the surface, which is extremely trying.

Nobby was tried in snowshoes this morning, and came along splendidly on them for about four miles, then the wretched affairs racked and had to be taken off. There is no doubt that these snowshoes are the thing for ponies, and had ours been able to use them from the beginning they would have been very different in appearance at this moment. I think the sight of land has helped the animals, but not much. We started in bright warm sunshine and with the mountains wonderfully clear on our right hand, but towards the end of the march clouds worked up from the east and a thin broken cumulo-stratus now overspreads the sky, leaving the land still visible but dull. A fine glacier descends from Mount Longstaff. It has cut very deep and the walls stand at an angle of at least 50º. Otherwise, although there are many cwms on the lower ranges, the mountains themselves seem little carved. They are rounded massive structures. A cliff of light yellow-brown rock appears opposite us, flanked with black or dark brown rock, which also appears under the lighter colour. One would be glad to know what nature of rock these represent. There is a good deal of exposed rock on the next range also.

Thursday, November 30th 1911

Thursday, November 30th, 1911

Camp 26. A very pleasant day for marching, but a very tiring march for the poor animals, which, with the exception of Nobby, are showing signs of failure all round. We were slower by half an hour or more than yesterday. Except that the loads are light now and there are still eight animals left, things don’t look too pleasant, but we should be less than 60 miles from our first point of aim. The surface was much worse to-day, the ponies sinking to their knees very often. There were a few harder patches towards the end of the march. In spite of the sun there was not much ‘glide’ on the snow. The dogs are reported as doing very well. They are going to be a great standby, no doubt. The land has been veiled in thin white mist; it appeared at intervals after we camped and I had taken a couple of photographs.