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Scott's Last Expedition

Archive for the ‘Chapter V: Depôt Laying To One Ton Camp’ Category

Monday, February 6th 1911

Monday, February 6th, 1911

Corner Camp, No. 6. 6 P.M. The wind increased in the night. It has been blowing very hard all day. No fun to be out of the tent – but there are no shirkers with us. Oates has been out regularly to feed the ponies; Meares and Wilson to attend to the dogs – the rest of us as occasion required. The ponies are fairly comfortable, though one sees now what great improvements could be made to the horse clothes. The dogs ought to be quite happy. They are curled snugly under the snow and at meal times issue from steaming warm holes. The temperature is high, luckily. We are comfortable enough in the tent, but it is terribly trying to the patience – over fifty hours already and no sign of the end. The drifts about the camp are very deep – some of the sledges almost covered. It is the old story, eat and sleep, sleep and eat – and it’s surprising how much sleep can be put in.

Sunday, February 5th 1911 – 11pm

Sunday, February 5th, 1911

Still blowing hard – a real blizzard now with dusty, floury drift – two minutes in the open makes a white figure. What a wonderful shelter our little tent affords! We have just had an excellent meal, a quiet pipe, and fireside conversation within, almost forgetful for the time of the howling tempest without; – now, as we lie in our bags warm and comfortable, one can scarcely realise that ‘hell’ is on the other side of the thin sheet of canvas that protects us.

Sunday, February 5th 1911

Sunday, February 5th, 1911

Corner Camp, No. 6. The blizzard descended on us at about 4 P.M. yesterday; for twenty-four hours it continued with moderate wind, then the wind shifting slightly to the west came with much greater violence. Now it is blowing very hard and our small frail tent is being well tested. One imagines it cannot continue long as at present, but remembers our proximity to Cape Crozier and the length of the blizzards recorded in that region. As usual we sleep and eat, conversing as cheerfully as may be in the intervals. There is scant news of our small outside world – only a report of comfort and a rumour that Bowers’ pony has eaten one of its putties!!

Saturday, February 4th 1911 – 8pm

Saturday, February 4th, 1911

It is blowing a blizzard – wind moderate – temperature mild.

Impressions
The deep, dreamless sleep that follows the long march and the satisfying supper.
The surface crust which breaks with a snap and sinks with a snap, startling men and animals.

Custom robs it of dread but not of interest to the dogs, who come to imagine such sounds as the result of some strange freak of hidden creatures. They become all alert and spring from side to side, hoping to catch the creature. The hope clings in spite of continual disappointment.

A dog must be either eating, asleep, or _interested_. His eagerness to snatch at interest, to chain his attention to something, is almost pathetic. The monotony of marching kills him.

This is the fearfullest difficulty for the dog driver on a snow plain without leading marks or objects in sight. The dog is almost human in its demand for living interest, yet fatally less than human in its inability to foresee.

The dog lives for the day, the hour, even the moment. The human being can live and support discomfort for a future.

Saturday, February 4th 1911 – 8am

Saturday, February 4th, 1911

Camp 6. A satisfactory night march covering 10 miles and some hundreds of yards.

Roused party at 10, when it was blowing quite hard from the S.E., with temperature below zero. It looked as though we should have a pretty cold start, but by the end of breakfast the wind had dropped and the sun shone forth.

Started on a bad surface – ponies plunging a good deal for 2 miles or so, Bowers’ ‘Uncle Bill’ walking steadily on his snow-shoes. After this the surface improved and the marching became steadier. We camped for lunch after 5 miles. Going still better in the afternoon, except that we crossed several crevasses. Oates’ pony dropped his legs into two of these and sank into one – oddly the other ponies escaped and we were the last. Some 2 miles from our present position the cracks appeared to cease, and in the last march we have got on to quite a hard surface on which the ponies drag their loads with great ease. This part seems to be swept by the winds which so continually sweep round Cape Crozier, and therefore it is doubtful if it extends far to the south, but for the present the going should be good. Had bright moonshine for the march, but now the sky has clouded and it looks threatening to the south. I think we may have a blizzard, though the wind is northerly at present.

The ponies are in very good form; ‘James Pigg’ remarkably recovered from his lameness.

Friday, February 3rd 1911 – 6pm

Friday, February 3rd, 1911

It has been blowing from the S.W., but the wind is dying away – the sky is overcast – I write after 9 hours’ sleep, the others still peacefully slumbering. Work with animals means long intervals of rest which are not altogether easily occupied. With our present routine the dogs remain behind for an hour or more, trying to hit off their arrival in the new camp soon after the ponies have been picketed. The teams are pulling very well, Meares’ especially. The animals are getting a little fierce. Two white dogs in Meares’ team have been trained to attack strangers – they were quiet enough on board ship, but now bark fiercely if anyone but their driver approaches the team. They suddenly barked at me as I was pointing out the stopping place to Meares, and Osman, my erstwhile friend, swept round and nipped my leg lightly. I had no stick and there is no doubt that if Meares had not been on the sledge the whole team, following the lead of the white dogs, would have been at me in a moment.

Hunger and fear are the only realities in dog life: an empty stomach makes a fierce dog. There is something almost alarming in the sudden fierce display of natural instinct in a tame creature. Instinct becomes a blind, unreasoning, relentless passion. For instance the dogs are as a rule all very good friends in harness: they pull side by side rubbing shoulders, they walk over each other as they settle to rest, relations seem quite peaceful and quiet. But the moment food is in their thoughts, however, their passions awaken; each dog is suspicious of his neighbour, and the smallest circumstance produces a fight. With like suddenness their rage flares out instantaneously if they get mixed up on the march – a quiet, peaceable team which has been lazily stretching itself with wagging tails one moment will become a set of raging, tearing, fighting devils the next. It is such stern facts that resign one to the sacrifice of animal life in the effort to advance such human projects as this.

The Corner Camp. [Bearings: Obs. Hill < Bluff 86º; Obs. Hill < Knoll 80 1/2º; Mt. Terror N. 4 W.; Obs. Hill N. 69 W.]

Friday, February 3rd 1911 – 8am

Friday, February 3rd, 1911

Camp 5. Roused the camp at 10 P.M. and we started marching at 12.30. At first surface bad, but gradually improving. We had two short spells and set up temporary camp to feed ourselves and ponies at 3.20. Started again at 5 and marched till 7. In all covered 9 miles. Surface seemed to have improved during the last part of the march till just before camping time, when Bowers, who was leading, plunged into soft snow. Several of the others following close on his heels shared his fate, and soon three ponies were plunging and struggling in a drift. Garrard’s pony, which has very broad feet, found hard stuff beyond and then my pony got round. Forde and Keohane led round on comparatively hard ground well to the right, and the entangled ponies were unharnessed and led round from patch to patch till firmer ground was reached. Then we camped and the remaining loads were brought in. Then came the triumph of the snow-shoe again. We put a set on Bowers’ big pony – at first he walked awkwardly (for a few minutes only) then he settled down, was harnessed to his load, brought that in and another also – all over places into which he had been plunging. If we had more of these shoes we could certainly put them on seven out of eight of our ponies – and after a little I think on the eighth, Oates’ pony, as certainly the ponies so shod would draw their loads over the soft snow patches without any difficulty. It is trying to feel that so great a help to our work has been left behind at the station.

Impressions

It is pathetic to see the ponies floundering in the soft patches. The first sink is a shock to them and seems to brace them to action. Thus they generally try to rush through when they feel themselves sticking. If the patch is small they land snorting and agitated on the harder surface with much effort. And if the patch is extensive they plunge on gamely until exhausted. Most of them after a bit plunge forward with both forefeet together, making a series of jumps and bringing the sledge behind them with jerks. This is, of course, terribly tiring for them. Now and again they have to stop, and it is horrid to see them half engulfed in the snow, panting and heaving from the strain. Now and again one falls and lies trembling and temporarily exhausted. It must be terribly trying for them, but it is wonderful to see how soon they recover their strength. The quiet, lazy ponies have a much better time than the eager ones when such troubles arise.

The soft snow which gave the trouble is evidently in the hollow of one of the big waves that continue through the pressure ridges at Cape Crozier towards the Bluff. There are probably more of these waves, though we crossed several during the last part of the march – so far it seems that the soft parts are in patches only and do not extend the whole length of the hollow. Our course is to pick a way with the sure-footed beasts and keep the others back till the road has been tested.

What extraordinary uncertainties this work exhibits! Every day some new fact comes to light – some new obstacle which threatens the gravest obstruction. I suppose this is the reason which makes the game so well worth playing.

Impressions

The more I think of our sledging outfit the more certain I am that we have arrived at something near a perfect equipment for civilised man under such conditions.
The border line between necessity and luxury is vague enough.

We might save weight at the expense of comfort, but all possible saving would amount to but a mere fraction of one’s loads. Supposing it were a grim struggle for existence and we were forced to drop everything but the barest necessities, the total saving on this three weeks’ journey would be:

lbs.
Fuel for cooking 100
Cooking apparatus 45
Personal clothing, &c., say 100
Tent, say 30
Instruments, &c. 100
– – 375

This is half of one of ten sledge loads, or about one-twentieth of the total weight carried. If this is the only part of our weights which under any conceivable circumstances could be included in the category of luxuries, it follows the sacrifice to comfort is negligible. Certainly we could not have increased our mileage by making such a sacrifice.

But beyond this it may be argued that we have an unnecessary amount of food: 32 oz. per day per man is our allowance. I well remember the great strait of hunger to which we were reduced in 1903 after four or five weeks on 26 oz., and am perfectly confident that we were steadily losing stamina at that time. Let it be supposed that 4 oz. per day per man might conceivably be saved. We have then a 3 lbs. a day saved in the camp, or 63 lbs. in the three weeks, or 1/100th part of our present loads.

The smallness of the fractions on which the comfort and physical well-being of the men depend is due to the fact of travelling with animals whose needs are proportionately so much greater than those of the men. It follows that it must be sound policy to keep the men of a sledge party keyed up to a high pitch of well-fed physical condition as long as they have animals to drag their loads. The time for short rations, long marches and carefullest scrutiny of detail comes when the men are dependent on their own traction efforts.

Thursday, February 2nd 1911

Thursday, February 2nd, 1911

Camp 4. Made a start at last. Roused out at 7, left camp about 10.30. Atkinson and Crean remained behind – very hard on the latter. Atkinson suffering much pain and mental distress at his condition – for the latter I fear I cannot have much sympathy, as he ought to have reported his trouble long before. Crean will manage to rescue some more of the forage from the Barrier edge – I am very sorry for him.

On starting with all the ponies (I leading Atkinson’s) I saw with some astonishment that the animals were not sinking deeply, and to my pleased surprise we made good progress at once. This lasted for more than an hour, then the surface got comparatively bad again – but still most of the ponies did well with it, making 5 miles. Birdie’s animal, however, is very heavy and flounders where the others walk fairly easily. He is eager and tries to go faster as he flounders. As a result he was brought in, in a lather. I inquired for our one set of snow-shoes and found they had been left behind. The difference in surface from what was expected makes one wonder whether better conditions may not be expected during the night and in the morning, when the temperatures are low. My suggestion that we should take to night marching has met with general approval. Even if there is no improvement in the surface the ponies will rest better during the warmer hours and march better in the night.

So we are resting in our tents, waiting to start to-night. Gran has gone back for the snow-shoes – he volunteered good-naturedly – certainly his expertness on ski is useful.
Last night the temperature fell to -6º after the wind dropped – to-day it is warm and calm.

Impressions

The seductive folds of the sleeping-bag.

The hiss of the primus and the fragrant steam of the cooker issuing from the tent ventilator.

The small green tent and the great white road.

The whine of a dog and the neigh of our steeds.

The driving cloud of powdered snow.

The crunch of footsteps which break the surface crust.

The wind blown furrows.

The blue arch beneath the smoky cloud.

The crisp ring of the ponies’ hoofs and the swish of the following sledge.

The droning conversation of the march as driver encourages or chides his horse.

The patter of dog pads.

The gentle flutter of our canvas shelter.

Its deep booming sound under the full force of a blizzard.

The drift snow like finest flour penetrating every hole and corner – flickering up beneath one’s head covering, pricking sharply as a sand blast.

The sun with blurred image peeping shyly through the wreathing drift giving pale shadowless light.

The eternal silence of the great white desert. Cloudy columns of snow drift advancing from the south, pale yellow wraiths, heralding the coming storm, blotting out one by one the sharp-cut lines of the land.

The blizzard, Nature’s protest – the crevasse, Nature’s pitfall – that grim trap for the unwary – no hunter could conceal his snare so perfectly – the light rippled snow bridge gives no hint or sign of the hidden danger, its position unguessable till man or beast is floundering, clawing and struggling for foothold on the brink.

The vast silence broken only by the mellow sounds of the marching column.

Wednesday, February 1st 1911

Wednesday, February 1st, 1911

Camp 3. A day of comparative inactivity and some disappointment. Meares and Wilson returned at noon, reporting the ice out beyond the Razor Back Island – no return to Cape Evans – no pony snow-shoes – alas! I have decided to make a start to-morrow without them. Late to-night Atkinson’s foot was examined: it is bad and there’s no possibility of its getting right for some days. He must be left behind – I’ve decided to leave Crean with him. Most luckily we now have an extra tent and cooker. How the ponies are to be led is very doubtful. Well, we must do the best that circumstances permit. Poor Atkinson is in very low spirits.

I sent Gran to the Discovery hut with our last mail. He went on ski and was nearly 4 hours away, making me rather anxious, as the wind had sprung up and there was a strong surface-drift; he narrowly missed the camp on returning and I am glad to get him back.

Our food allowance seems to be very ample, and if we go on as at present we shall thrive amazingly.

Tuesday, January 31st 1911

Tuesday, January 31st, 1911

Camp 3. We have everything ready to start – but this afternoon we tried our one pair of snow-shoes on ‘Weary Willy.’ The effect was magical. He strolled around as though walking on hard ground in places where he floundered woefully without them. Oates hasn’t had any faith in these shoes at all, and I thought that even the quietest pony would need to be practised in their use.

Immediately after our experiment I decided that an effort must be made to get more, and within half an hour Meares and Wilson were on their way to the station more than 20 miles away. There is just the chance that the ice may not have gone out, but it is a very poor one I fear. At present it looks as though we might double our distance with the snow-shoes.

Atkinson is better to-day, but not by any means well, so that the delay is in his favour. We cannot start on till the dogs return with or without the shoes. The only other hope for this journey is that the Barrier gets harder farther out, but I feel that the prospect of this is not very bright. In any case it is something to have discovered the possibilities of these shoes.

Low temperature at night for first time. Min. 2.4º. Quite warm in tent.