SCOTT & The South-Pole

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11 - "Winter (April to October)"

In the southern hemisphere, assuming one needs to be reminded, winter and summer are flipped from what is experienced by northerners. The winter, much of it, whether in the far north or in the far south is not only extremely cold, but it is spent in low light, indeed, in the middle of it, in the dark. It was intended from the start that the expedition would have to extent over two southern summers and one winter. The first summer (summer or winter, it is a frozen world) was used to proceed from New Zealand to the Antarctic, then to land -- the men, animals, supplies and equipment. They chose, and it seems chose well, to set up their winterized home in a certain place; their home was brought with them, in pieces. They chose a place that they could practically sail right up to (in the summer). It was on the lower western slopes of a volcanic snow covered mountain on Ross Island, Mt. Erebus. (See Map)

After battling ice flows, on January 4th, 1911, Scott and his party arrived at Cape Evans. This was pretty much in the middle of the Antarctic summer. (I use the term "summer" but one should not envision a green countryside with balmy breezes.) No matter the season in the Antarctic, it is a bleak, cold and icy place. On the 17th, Scott and his explorers took up their "abode in the hut to-day and are simply overwhelmed with its comfort." "Our residence is really a house of considerable size, in every respect the finest that has ever been erected in the Polar regions; 50 ft. long by 25 wide and 9 ft. to the eaves." Scott, it will be remembered, had been on an earlier expedition, The Discovery Expedition during the years, 1901 to 1904. The explorations for both of Scott's expeditions were to take place much in the same region. In 1901, Scott had built a hut on a southern promontory of Ross Island, Cape Armitage. Their new hut, which they built as their winter quarters at Cape Evans, in 1911, was 15 miles from the hut that was built ten years earlier by Scott. The old hut, given the deep cold temperatures, was still serviceable and was used as the jumping-off point for their southern journeys, as opposed to the shorter journeys they took both east and west of Cape Evans. (gain see Map)

It was planned that the assault on the south-pole, a trek which was to cover about 1,800 miles (to the pole and back), a trek which they knew would extend over a four month length of time. They used the last of the first summer to establish a major supply depot 150 miles south and thus to get a jump on the long trip planned for the next summer. We have seen, where, within the month of their arrival 12 men, 8 ponies and 26 dogs started out south in order to set up depots along the route to "The One Ton Depot."

The group set out on January 25th, and got themselves back to Hut Point on February 22nd, having accomplished their objective with out injury or loss to the men, though they lost seven ponies and a couple of dogs. The sea between Hut Point and Cape Evans had opened up and it was impossible to get everybody back to Cape Evans. The land route was also impossible, no matter the time of year, as the steep and glacial slopes of Mount Erebus were in the way.

By April 13th, the Antarctic winter now setting in, McMurdo Sound was sufficiently frozen over, such, that the men at Hut Point, except for two, set out for their intended winter quarters at Cape Evans. They arrived within a day.

By April 23rd, we might peek in on the men at Cape Evans, -- and, if we did, we would see them, that Sunday at Divine Service, singing from their hymn-books. The men had settled into their winter quarters. One might think for a long winter's sleep, but there was much to be done.

Scott describes their activities:

"Atkinson is unpacking and setting up his sterilizers and incubators. Wright is wrestling with the electrical instruments. Evans is busy surveying the Cape and its vicinity. Oates is reorganising the stable, making bigger stalls, &c. Cherry-Garrard is building a stone house for taxidermy ... Debenham and Taylor are taking advantage of the last of the light to examine the topography of the peninsula. In fact, everyone is extraordinarily busy. ...
To-day [April 27th] I have organised a series of lectures for the winter; the people seem keen and it ought to be exceedingly interesting to discuss so many diverse subjects with experts. We have an extraordinary diversity of talent and training in our people; it would be difficult to imagine a company composed of experiences which differed so completely."
At this point I slip in an amusing bit as was recorded in Cherry's diary:
"Before I left England people were always telling me the Antarctic must be dull without much life. Now we are in ourselves a perfect farmyard. There are nineteen ponies fifty yards off and thirty dogs just behind, and they howl like the wolves they are at intervals, led by Dyk. The skuas are nesting all round and fighting over the remains of the seals which we have killed, and the penguins which the dogs have killed, whenever they have got the chance. The collie bitch which we have brought down for breeding purposes wanders about the camp. A penguin is standing outside my tent, presumably because he thinks he is going to moult here. A seal has just walked up into the horse lines—there are plenty of Weddell and penguins and whales. On board we have Nigger [the ships black cat] and a blue Persian kitten, with rabbits and squirrels. The whole place teems with life."
Most of the men of the expedition were, by the first of May, situated at Cape Evans. There were, however, men still at The Hut taking care of two ponies and a number of dogs, which, to that point, it was felt, could not be safely brought over the ice flow to Cape Evans, 15 miles away. By the 4th, Scott was becoming concerned. "I am anxious to get our people back from Hut Point, mainly on account of the two ponies." Then on May 8th, "I cannot understand why the Hut Point party doesn't return. ... perhaps it waits for the moon, which will be bright in a day or two." Then, on May 13th:
"After tea Atkinson came in with the glad tidings that [the dogs, in teams] ... were returning from Hut Point. We were soon on the floe to welcome the last remnant of our wintering party. Meares reported everything well and the ponies not far behind.
The dogs were unharnessed and tied up to the chains; they are all looking remarkably fit -- apparently they have given no trouble at all of late; there have not even been any fights.
Half an hour later Day, Lashly, Nelson, Forde, and Keohane [see, Meares] arrived with the two ponies -- men and animals in good form.
It is a great comfort to have the men and dogs back, and a greater to contemplate all the ten ponies comfortably stabled for the winter. Everything seems to depend on these animals."
Then, on May 17th, Scott wrote:
[One of the white dogs died through the night.] "I'm afraid we can place but little reliance on our dog teams and reflect ruefully on the misplaced confidence with which I regarded the provision of our transport. Well, one must suffer for errors of judgment. This afternoon Wilson held a post-mortem on the dog; he could find no sufficient cause of death. This is the third animal that has died at winter quarters without apparent cause. Wilson, who is nettled, proposes to examine the brain of this animal to-morrow."
On May 26th:
"We are living extraordinarily well. At dinner last night we had some excellent thick seal soup, very much like thick hare soup; this was followed by an equally tasty seal steak and kidney pie and a fruit jelly. The smell of frying greeted us on awaking this morning, and at breakfast each of us had two of our nutty little Notothenia fish after our bowl of porridge. These little fish have an extraordinarily sweet taste—bread and butter and marmalade finished the meal. At the midday meal we had bread and butter, cheese, and cake, and to-night I smell mutton in the preparation. Under the circumstances it would be difficult to conceive more appetising repasts or a regime which is likely to produce scorbutic symptoms. I cannot think we shall get scurvy."46
On June 4th, a Sunday:
"A calm and beautiful day. The account of this, a typical Sunday, would run as follows: Breakfast. A half-hour or so selecting hymns and preparing for Service whilst the hut is being cleared up. The Service: a hymn; Morning prayer to the Psalms; another hymn; prayers from Communion Service and Litany; a final hymn and our special prayer. Wilson strikes the note on which the hymn is to start and I try to hit it after with doubtful success! After church the men go out with their ponies."
Ponies in the Stable

On June 6th, the wintering group celebrated Scott's birthday:

"It is my birthday, a fact I might easily have forgotten, but my kind people did not. At lunch an immense birthday cake made its appearance and we were photographed assembled about it. Clissold had decorated its sugared top with various devices in chocolate and crystallised fruit, flags and photographs of myself.
After my walk I discovered that great preparations were in progress for a special dinner, and when the hour for that meal arrived we sat down to a sumptuous spread with our sledge banners hung about us. Clissold's especially excellent seal soup, roast mutton and red currant jelly, fruit salad, asparagus and chocolate—such was our menu. For drink we had cider cup, a mystery not yet fathomed, some sherry and a liqueur."
Scott Outlines the Daily Routine (June 19, 1911):
"Our daily routine has possessed a settled regularity for a long time. Clissold is up about 7 A.M. to start the breakfast. At 7.30 Hooper starts sweeping the floor and setting the table. Between 8 and 8.30 the men are out and about, fetching ice for melting, &c. Anton is off to feed the ponies, Demetri to see the dogs; Hooper bursts on the slumberers with repeated announcements of the time, usually a quarter of an hour ahead of the clock. There is a stretching of limbs and an interchange of morning greetings, garnished with sleepy humour. Wilson and Bowers meet in a state of nature beside a washing basin filled with snow and proceed to rub glistening limbs with this chilling substance. A little later with less hardihood some others may be seen making the most of a meagre allowance of water. Soon after 8.30 I manage to drag myself from a very comfortable bed and make my toilet with a bare pint of water. By about ten minutes to 9 my clothes are on, my bed is made, and I sit down to my bowl of porridge; most of the others are gathered about the table by this time, but there are a few laggards who run the nine o'clock rule very close. The rule is instituted to prevent delay in the day's work, and it has needed a little pressure to keep one or two up to its observance. By 9.20 breakfast is finished, and before the half-hour has struck the table has been cleared. From 9.30 to 1.30 the men are steadily employed on a programme of preparation for sledging, which seems likely to occupy the greater part of the winter. The repair of sleeping-bags and the alteration of tents have already been done, but there are many other tasks uncompleted or not yet begun, such as the manufacture of provision bags, crampons, sealskin soles, pony clothes, &c. ...
We meet for our mid-day meal at 1.30 or 1.45, and spend a very cheerful half-hour over it. Afterwards the ponies are exercised, weather permitting; this employs all the men and a few of the officers for an hour or more—the rest of us generally take exercise in some form at the same time. After this the officers go on steadily with their work, whilst the men do odd jobs to while away the time. The evening meal, our dinner, comes at 6.30, and is finished within the hour. Afterwards people read, write, or play games, or occasionally finish some piece of work. The gramophone is usually started by some kindly disposed person, and on three nights of the week the lectures to which I have referred are given. These lectures still command full audiences and lively discussions.
At 11 P.M. the acetylene lights are put out, and those who wish to remain up or to read in bed must depend on candle-light. The majority of candles are extinguished by midnight, and the night watchman alone remains awake to keep his vigil by the light of an oil lamp.
Day after day passes in this fashion. ...
On Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning some extra bathing takes place; chins are shaven, and perhaps clean garments donned. Such signs, with the regular Service on Sunday, mark the passage of the weeks."47
Then July came and more of the freezing Antarctic winter passed:
"For an hour after lunch yesterday the gale showed signs of moderation and the ponies had a short walk over the floe.
The work goes on very steadily -- the men are making crampons and ski boots of the new style. ... The physicists are busy always, Meares is making dog harness, Oates ridding the ponies of their parasites, and Ponting printing from his negatives. ...
Our most popular game for evening recreation is chess; so many players have developed that our two sets of chessmen are inadequate."
Football was popular with most all of the men. Out in the snow they would go and did so regularly until the lack of light in the polar winter forced them to give up this activity, for awhile.
"[With the lack of light] we left off football -- I hope we shall be able to recommence the game ...
I am glad that the light is coming for more than one reason. The gale and consequent inaction not only affected the ponies, Ponting is not very fit as a consequence -- his nervous temperament is of the quality to take this wintering experience badly -- Atkinson has some difficulty in persuading him to take exercise ... Taylor is another ... and is not looking well. If we can get these people to run about at football all will be well. Anyway the return of the light should cure all ailments physical and mental."
One of the objectives that the Scott party had set for themselves, was, to make a winter trek. They were to go, by way of the ice south of the island, to the furthermost western promontory of Ross Island, Cape Crozier. It was better than 50 miles away from their main wintering camp at Cape Evans. (See Map) Not only did Scott want to report such a journey, midwinter, his the scientists wanted to take an up-close look at Empire Penguin rookery which, on previous expeditions, had been discovered there. A party of three (Wilson, Bowers & Cherry-Garrard) set out with two sledges on June 27th: in the middle of the antarctic winter.

The Cape Crozier party returned to Cape Evans on August 2nd. The three men had been out in the middle of the Anarchic winter for 36 days many of which brought dreadful blizzard conditions. They did reach -- just barely -- Cape Crozier; and they did find a number of Empire Penguins, but not near the number they had expected. More of this adventure is set out in the short biographical sketch on Cherry-Garrard.

Through the long dark winter, Scott determined that each of the men should give a lecture to the rest in respect to the expertise possessed by the lecturer. On August 11th, Oates gave his second lecture on "Horse management."

"He was brief and a good deal to the point. ...
It is to be remembered that loud talk to one horse may disturb other horses. The great thing is to be firm and quiet.
A horse's memory, explained the Soldier, warns it of events to come. He gave instances of hunters and race-horses which go off their feed and show great excitement in other ways before events for which they are prepared; for this reason every effort should be made to keep the animals quiet in camp. Rugs should be put on directly after a halt and not removed till the last moment before a march."
The winter was passing. Scott wrote on Aug 17th:
"The temperature hovers pretty constantly at about -35°, there is very little wind and the sky is clear and bright. In such weather one sees well for more than three hours before and after noon ... The balloon has become a daily institution. ... As the daylight comes, people are busier than ever."48
By August 21st, the men were encouraged by the returning sun. "The sun is shining into the hut windows -- already sunbeams rest on the opposite walls."

Then came September and the winter routine was winding down, and the men were working themselves up for the big event planned for the coming antarctic summer: the long trek to the South-Pole.

On October 3rd, Scott wrote, "Time simply flies and the sun steadily climbs the heavens. Breakfast, lunch, and supper are now all enjoyed by sunlight, whilst the night is no longer dark."

On October 6th, certain of the men (Wilson, Oates, Cherry-Garrard, and Crean) were sent with their assigned ponies to Hut Point. (See Map) Things were getting set. Incidentally, a telephone line had been laid earlier, and so, at this point, the two groups, the one at Cape Evans and the other, 15 miles away, at Cape Armitage ("The Hut") were able to communicate with one another.

During October (early spring in the Anarchic) a dog team under Meares hauled more supplies from Hut Point to The Corner Camp (no. 5) laid out earlier in February; it was 60 miles away. (See Map) "Evans says he carried eight bags of forage and that the dogs went away at a great pace." Meares ran the 120 miles (back and forth), from what I can see, in two days time. Scott was much impressed. However, he was never to put much faith in the dogs; and, for that matter, in Meares (there was something going on between the two?)

On October 22nd, Scott writes, "To-day everything is ready. The loads are ranged on the sea ice (at Cape Evans), the motors are having a trial run, and, all remaining well with the weather ..."

Then on October 30th, "We had another beautiful day yesterday, and one began to feel that the summer really had come." Before the day was out, however, a howling blizzard set in.



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Peter Landry