SCOTT & The South-Pole

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14 - "To The Pole: Across The Central Plain"

Well, Scott and his men had completed the first two stages of their trek to the pole -- as we have now reviewed. Four hundred miles across the permanently frozen southern part of the Ross Sea, the Ross Ice Shelf. They then completed the second stage and climbed the Transantarctic Mountain Range some 10,000 plus feet up by way of the Beardmore Glacier, a distance of 120 miles. Next came the third stage, 350 miles to the Pole, along the frozen central plain. (See Map) We shall continue by letting Scott tell us of it.

December 22nd:

"Camp 44, ... This, the third stage of our journey, is opening with good promise. We made our depot this morning, then said an affecting farewell to the returning party, who have taken things very well, dear good fellows as they are.
Then we started with our heavy loads ... we went off and up a slope at a smart pace. The second sledge came close behind us, showing that we have weeded the weak spots and made the proper choice for the returning party. ... with 7 hours' marching we covered 12 miles.
To-morrow we march longer hours, about 9 I hope. Every day the loads will lighten ..."
Camp No. 47

December 23rd:

"[Still climbing]Height about 7750. ... hard crust and loose crystals below. It was like breaking through a glass house at each step ... I am feeling very cheerful about everything to-night. We marched 17 miles ... mounting nearly 800 feet and all in about 8 1/2 hours. ... I only pray for a fair share of good weather. There is a cold wind now as expected, but with good clothes and well fed as we are, we can stick a lot worse than we are getting. I trust this may prove the turning-point in our fortunes for which we have waited so patiently."
December 24th:
"Sunday, ... Christmas Eve. 7 1/4 miles due south ... We are now marching in our wind blouses and with somewhat more protection on the head. ... 14 miles in 4 hours is not so bad considering the circumstances. The southerly wind is continuous and not at all pleasant in camp, but on the march it keeps us cool. The only inconvenience is the extent to which our faces get iced up. The temperature hovers about zero.
We have not struck a crevasse all day, which is a good sign. The sun continues to shine in a cloudless sky, the wind rises and falls, and about us is a scene of the wildest desolation, but we are a very cheerful party and to-morrow is Christmas Day, with something extra in the hoosh."
December 25th:
Camp No. 47. [See Map] "... for the first hour and a half we went along in fine style. Then we started up a rise, and to our annoyance found ourselves amongst crevasses once more -- very hard, smooth ... therefore very difficult to get foothold to pull the sledges. Got our ski sticks out, which improved matters, but we had to tack a good deal ... the second sledge halted some way in rear ... We saw the rescue work going on ... Lashly went down very suddenly, nearly dragging the crew with him. The ... Alpine rope had to be got out and used to pull Lashly to the surface again. ... Lashly is 44 to-day and as hard as nails. His fall has not even disturbed his equanimity. ...
We will shortly come back to Scott's description of this Christmas day on the central plain of Antarctica. The trouble that Lashly got into was one that they all feared and might come about with the next step taken. Lashly dropped into an ice crevice. Let us give Lashly's view of this, almost, disaster:
"Christmas Day and a good one. We have done 15 miles over a very changing surface. First of all it was very much crevassed and pretty rotten; we were often in difficulties as to which way we should tackle it. I had the misfortune to drop clean through, but was stopped with a jerk when at the end of my harness. It was not of course a very nice sensation, especially on Christmas Day, and being my birthday as well. While spinning round in space like I was it took me a few seconds to gather together my thoughts and see what kind of a place I was in. It certainly was not a fairy's place. When I had collected myself I heard some one calling from above, 'Are you all right, Lashly?' I was all right it is true, but I did not care to be dangling in the air on a piece of rope, especially when I looked round and saw what kind of a place it was. It seemed about 50 feet deep and 8 feet wide, and 120 feet long. This information I had ample time to gain while dangling there. I could measure the width with my ski sticks, as I had them on my wrists. It seemed a long time before I saw the rope come down alongside me with a bowline in it for me to put my foot in and get dragged out. It was not a job I should care to have to go through often, as by being in the crevasse I had got cold and a bit frost-bitten on the hands and face, which made it more difficult for me to help myself. Anyhow Mr. Evans, Bowers and Crean hauled me out and Crean wished me many happy returns of the day, and of course I thanked him politely and the others laughed, but all were pleased I was not hurt bar a bit of a shake. It was funny although they called to the other team to stop they did not hear, but went trudging on and did not know until they looked round just in time to see me arrive on top again. They then waited for us to come up with them. The Captain asked if I was all right and could go on again, which I could honestly say 'Yes' to, and at night when we stopped for dinner I felt I could do two dinners in. Anyhow we had a pretty good tuck-in. Dinner consisted of pemmican, biscuits, chocolate éclair, pony meat, plum pudding and crystallized ginger and four caramels each. We none of us could hardly move."
Now, let us come back to Scott, and his description of Christmas Day on the ice:
"After sundry luxuries, such as chocolate and raisins at lunch, we started off well, but soon got amongst crevasses, huge snowfields roadways running almost in our direction, and across hidden cracks into which we frequently fell. ... Getting clear of crevasses and on a slightly down grade, we came along at a swinging pace -- splendid. ... covered about 17 miles ...
I must write a word of our supper last night. We had four courses. The first, pemmican, full whack, with slices of horse meat flavoured with onion and curry powder and thickened with biscuit; then an arrowroot, cocoa and biscuit hoosh sweetened; then a plum-pudding; then cocoa with raisins, and finally a dessert of caramels and ginger. After the feast it was difficult to move. Wilson and I couldn't finish our share of plum-pudding. We have all slept splendidly and feel thoroughly warm -- such is the effect of full feeding."
Bowers the cook for that week served up the Christmas meal. Bowers:
"We had a great feed which I [Bowers, the chief organizer and packer of the supplies] had kept hidden and out of the official weights since our departure from Winter Quarters. It consisted of a good fat hoosh with pony meat and ground biscuit; a chocolate hoosh made of water, cocoa, sugar, biscuit, raisins, and thickened with a spoonful of arrowroot. (This is the most satisfying stuff imaginable.) Then came 2½ square inches of plum-duff each, and a good mug of cocoa washed down the whole. In addition to this we had four caramels each and four squares of crystallized ginger. I positively could not eat all mine, and turned in feeling as if I had made a beast of myself. I wrote up my journal—in fact I should have liked somebody to put me to bed."
December 26th: Scott:
Camp 48. "Four and three-quarters hours, 7 miles. Perhaps a little slow after plum-pudding, but I think we are getting on to [a good surface]. ... generally speaking the plain is flattening out ... The temperature has been pretty consistent of late, -10° to -12° at night, -3° in the day."
December 27th:
"The wind light this morning and the pulling heavy. Everyone sweated, especially the second team, which had great difficulty in keeping up.
... covered 13 1/3 miles. Steering the party is no light task. ... [measuring distance and taking fixes to calculate latitude] govern the situation."

December 28th:

"I start cooking again to-morrow morning. We have had a troublesome day but have completed our 13 miles. My unit pulled away easy this morning ... the second unit made heavy weather. I changed with Evans and found the second sledge heavy -- could keep up, but the team was not swinging with me as my own team swings. ... In the afternoon we exchanged sledges ... the sledge is the cause of the trouble ... all is due to want of care. ... bad strapping, bad loading ... The marches are terribly monotonous. One's thoughts wander occasionally to pleasanter scenes and places, but the necessity to keep the course, or some hitch in the surface, quickly brings them back. ..."
December 30th:
Camp 52. "A very trying, tiring march, and only 11 miles covered. ... the usual clear sky. ... the second party was some way astern ... the other party still dropping ... To-morrow I'm going to march half a day, make a depot and build the 10-feet sledges. The second party is certainly tiring; it remains to be seen how they will manage with the smaller sledge and lighter load. The surface is certainly much worse than it was 50 miles back. (T. -10°.) ... Everything would be cheerful if I could persuade myself that the second party were quite fit to go forward."
December 31st:
Camp 53. (3 Degree Depot) "... The second party depoted its ski and some other weights equivalent to about 100 lbs. I sent them off first ...
We had a good full brew of tea and then set to work stripping the sledges. ... the process of building up the 10-feet sledges ... in the other tent is a long job. Evans (P.O.) and Crean are tackling it, and it is a very remarkable piece of work. Certainly P.O. Evans is the most invaluable asset to our party. ... We lose half a day, but I hope to make that up by going forward at much better speed."
A depot is built which holds "a week's provisions for both units."
... Except for the seamen we are all sitting in a double tent -- the first time we have put up the inner lining to the tent; it seems to make us much snugger.
... The 10-feet sledges look very handy. We had an extra drink of tea and are now turned into our bags in the double tent (five of us) as warm as toast, and just enough light to write or work with."
January 1st, 1912:
"Roused hands about 7.30 and got away 9.30, Evans' party going ahead on foot. We followed on ski. ... to our surprise the sledge pulled very easily, and we made fine progress, rapidly gaining on the foot-haulers.
Risen about 150 feet. Height about 9600 above Barrier. They camped for lunch at 5 1/2 miles and went on easily, completing 11.3 miles by 7.30. We were delayed again at lunch camp, Evans repairing the tent, and I the cooker. ... It was surprising how easily the sledge pulled; we have scarcely exerted ourselves all day.
... The temperature [-14] is steadily falling, but it seems to fall with the wind. We are very comfortable in our double tent. Stick of chocolate to celebrate the New Year. The supporting party not in very high spirits, they have not managed matters well for themselves. ... only 170 miles to go and plenty of food left."
January 2nd:
"Camp 55. Height about 9980. ... It's been a plod for the foot people and pretty easy going for us, and we have covered 13 miles.
The sky is slightly overcast for the first time since we left the glacier ... blue sky round the horizon. ... wind, which has been pretty light. ... We have not risen much to-day, and the plain seems to be flattening out. Irregularities are best seen by sastrugi. A skua gull visited us ... an extraordinary visitor considering our distance from the sea."
January 3rd (See Map):
"Within 150 miles of our goal. Last night I decided to reorganise, and this morning told ... Teddy Evans, Lashly, and Crean to return. They are disappointed, but take it well. Bowers is to come into our tent, and we proceed as a five man unit to-morrow. ...52
I think it's going to be all right. We have a fine party going forward and arrangements are all going well."
January 4th:
"We were naturally late getting away this morning, the sledge having to be packed and arrangements completed for separation of parties. It is wonderful to see how neatly everything stows on a little sledge, thanks to P.O. Evans. I was anxious to see how we could pull it, and glad to find we went easy enough. Bowers on foot pulls between, but behind, Wilson and myself; he has to keep his own pace and luckily does not throw us out at all.
The second party had followed us in case of accident, but as soon as I was certain we could get along we stopped and said farewell. Teddy Evans is terribly disappointed but has taken it very well and behaved like a man. Poor old Crean wept and even Lashly was affected. I was glad to find their sledge is a mere nothing to them, and thus, no doubt, they will make a quick journey back.53
... flat calm; the sun so warm that in spite of the temperature we can stand about outside in the greatest comfort. ... The plateau is now very flat, but we are still ascending slowly. The sastrugi are getting more confused, predominant from the S.E. I wonder what is in store for us?"
January 5th:
"Camp 58. [See Map] ... A dreadfully trying day. ... The surface ... as bad as could be ... the hardest we have yet done on the plateau [However] ... we had done 12 l/2 miles ... [and] ... we are very close to the 88th parallel, little more than 120 miles from the Pole, only a march from Shackleton's final camp, and in a general way 'getting on.'
... What lots of things we think of on these monotonous marches! What castles one builds now hopefully that the Pole is ours. Bowers took sights to-day and will take them every third day. We feel the cold very little, the great comfort of our situation is the excellent drying effect of the sun. Our socks and finnesko54 are almost dry each morning."
January 6th:
Camp 59. "... we are in the midst of a sea of fish-hook waves well remembered from our Northern experience. We took off our ski after the first 1 1/2 hours and pulled on foot. It is terribly heavy in places, and, to add to our trouble, every sastrugus55 is covered with a beard of sharp branching crystals. We have covered 6 1/2 miles, but we cannot keep up our average if this sort of surface continues. There is no wind. ...
[The temperature] ... Minimum -25.8°. Morning. Fearfully hard pull again, and when we had marched about an hour we discovered that a sleeping-bag had fallen off the sledge. We had to go back and carry it on. It cost us over an hour and disorganised our party. We have only covered 10 1/2 miles and it's been about the hardest pull we've had. ... in two days I hope to lighten loads with a depot. We are south of Shackleton's last camp, so, I suppose, have made the most southerly camp.
January 7th:
"Height 10,560. Lunch. Temp. -21.3°. The vicissitudes of this work are bewildering. Last night we decided to leave our ski on account of the sastrugi. This morning we marched out a mile in 40 min. and the sastrugi gradually disappeared. ... after discussion we went back and fetched the ski ...
Very heavy pulling still, but did 5 miles in over four hours. ... I am awfully glad we have hung on to the ski; hard as the marching is, it is far less tiring on ski. Bowers has a heavy time on foot, but nothing seems to tire him. Evans has a nasty cut on his hand (sledge-making). I hope it won't give trouble. Our food continues to amply satisfy. What luck to have hit on such an excellent ration. We really are an excellently found party."
January 8th:
"Camp 60. Noon. T. -19.8°. Min. for night -25°. Our first summit blizzard.
Evans' hand was dressed this morning, and the rest ought to be good for it. I am not sure it will not do us all good as we lie so very comfortably, warmly clothed in our comfortable bags, within our double-walled tent. However, we do not want more than a day's delay at most, both on account of lost time and food and the snow accumulation of ice. ... we are very comfortable in our double tent and the cold snow is not sticky and not easily carried into the tent, so that the sleeping-bags remain in good condition.
January 9th:
"Camp 61. ... Still blowing, and drifting when we got to breakfast ... After lunch we were able to break camp ... We made a very steady afternoon march, covering 6 1/2, miles (geo.). This should place us in Lat. 88° 25', beyond the record of Shackleton's walk. All is new ahead. ...
The marching is growing terribly monotonous ..."
January 10th:
"Camp 62. Terrible hard march in the morning; only covered 5.1 miles (geo.). Decided to leave depot at lunch camp. Built cairn and left one week's food together with sundry articles of clothing. We are down as close as we can go in the latter. We go forward with eighteen days' food. ... the surface is beyond words ...
Only 85 miles (geo.) from the Pole ..."
January 11th:
"Camp 63.... I never had such pulling; all the time the sledge rasps and creaks. We have covered 6 miles, but at fearful cost to ourselves. ... About 74 miles from the Pole -- can we keep this up for seven days? ... Snow crystals falling all the time ... The sun so bright and warm to-night ... Our chance still holds good if we can put the work in, but it's a terribly trying time."
January 12th:
"Camp 64. T. -17.5°. Lat. 88° 57'. Another heavy march with snow getting softer all the time. Sun very bright, calm at start; first two hours terribly slow. Lunch, 4 3/4 hours, 5.6 miles geo.; Sight Lat. 88° 52'. Afternoon, 4 hours, 5.1 miles—total 10.7.
... With the surface as it is, one gets horribly sick of the monotony and can easily imagine oneself getting played out, were it not that at the lunch and night camps one so quickly forgets all one's troubles and bucks up for a fresh effort. It is an effort to keep up the double figures, but if we can do so for another four marches we ought to get through. It is going to be a close thing.
... Little Bowers is wonderful; in spite of my protest he would take sights after we had camped to-night, after marching in the soft snow all day ..."
January 13th:
"... very heavy dragging and went slow. ... Have done 5.6 miles and are now over the 89th parallel.
... 11 [miles] for the day. Well, another day with double figures and a bit over. The chance holds.
... It is wearisome work this tugging and straining to advance a light sledge. ... We should be in a poor way without our ski, though Bowers manages to struggle through the soft snow without tiring his short legs.
Only 51 miles from the Pole to-night."
January 14th:
"... the surface was a little better, and we came along very steadily ... but the steering was awfully difficult and trying; very often I could see nothing, and Bowers on my shoulders directed me. ... To-night it is looking very thick. The sun can barely be distinguished, ... there are practically no signs of heavy wind here ... we are less than 40 miles from the Pole. ... all our feet were cold ... due to the bald state of our finnesko. I put some grease under the bare skin and found it made all the difference. Oates seems to be feeling the cold and fatigue more than the rest of us, but we are all very fit. ... Oh! for a few fine days! So close it seems and only the weather to baulk us."
Camp No. 47

January 15th:

"Lunch camp, Height 9,950. Last depot. During the night the air cleared entirely and the sun shone in a perfectly clear sky. The light wind had dropped and the temperature fallen to -25°, minimum -27°. ... here we leave our last depot -- only four days' food and a sundry or two. The load is now very light ...
Night, ... The sledge came surprisingly lightly after lunch -- something from loss of weight, something, I think, from stowage, and, most of all perhaps, as a result of tea. Anyhow we made a capital afternoon march of 6.3 miles, bringing the total for the day to over 12 (12.3). The sastrugi again very confused, ... so that the sledge continually bumps over ridges.
It is wonderful to think that two long marches would land us at the Pole. ... the only appalling possibility the sight of the Norwegian flag forestalling ours. Little Bowers continues his indefatigable efforts to get good sights, and it is wonderful how he works them up in his sleeping-bag in our congested tent. (Minimum for night -27.5°.) Only 27 miles from the Pole. We ought to do it now."
January 16th:
"Camp 68. [See Map] ... The worst has happened, or nearly the worst. We marched well in the morning and covered 7 1/2 miles. Noon sight showed us in Lat. 89° 42' S., and we started off in high spirits in the afternoon, feeling that to-morrow would see us at our destination. About the second hour of the march Bowers' sharp eyes detected what he thought was a cairn; he was uneasy about it, but argued that it must be a sastrugus. Half an hour later he detected a black speck ahead. Soon we knew that this could not be a natural snow feature. We marched on, found that it was a black flag tied to a sledge bearer; near by the remains of a camp; sledge tracks and ski tracks going and coming and the clear trace of dogs' paws -- many dogs. This told us the whole story. The Norwegians have forestalled us and are first at the Pole. It is a terrible disappointment, and I am very sorry for my loyal companions. Many thoughts come and much discussion have we had. To-morrow we must march on to the Pole and then hasten home with all the speed we can compass. All the day dreams must go; it will be a wearisome return. We are descending in altitude -- certainly also the Norwegians found an easy way up."
In February of the previous year, after returning from building the "One Ton Depot." Scott, on arriving at base camp, first learned that Amundsen had established a camp at the Bay of Whales with a large number of dogs. The Bay of Whales was 200 miles to the east of Scott's establishment. And, So What! Scott commented: "The proper, as well as the wiser course, is for us to proceed exactly as though this had not happened." Scott also knew the geography of the area. He knew that the Norwegians' base was closer to the pole and that they had great experience in traveling by skis and trains of dogs. Later, in October (1911) Scott, just before he started his trek to the pole, wrote: "I don't know what to think of Amundsen's chances. If he gets to the Pole, it must be before we do, as he is bound to travel fast with dogs and pretty certain to start early. On this account I decided at a very early date to act exactly as I should have done had he not existed. Any attempt to race must have wrecked my plan, besides which it doesn't appear the sort of thing one is out for."

January 17th (Wednesday):

"Camp 69. T. -22° at start. Night -21°. The Pole. Yes, but under very different circumstances from those expected. ... companions labouring on with cold feet and hands.
We started at 7.30, none of us having slept much after the shock of our discovery. We followed the Norwegian sledge tracks for some way; as far as we make out there are only two men. [There were five.] ... At 12.30 Evans had such cold hands we camped for lunch -- an excellent 'week-end one.' We had marched 7.4 miles. ... To-night little Bowers is laying himself out to get sights in terrible difficult circumstances; the wind is blowing hard, T. -21°, and there is that curious damp, cold feeling in the air which chills one to the bone in no time. We have been descending again, I think, but there looks to be a rise ahead; otherwise there is very little that is different from the awful monotony of past days. Great God! this is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority. Well, it is something to have got here, and the wind may be our friend to-morrow. We have had a fat Polar hoosh in spite of our chagrin, and feel comfortable inside -- added a small stick of chocolate and the queer taste of a cigarette brought by Wilson. Now for the run home and a desperate struggle. I wonder if we can do it."
January 18th:
"Decided after summing up all observations that we were 3.5 miles away from the Pole -- one mile beyond it and 3 to the right. More or less in this direction Bowers saw a cairn or tent.
We have just arrived at this tent, 2 miles from our camp, therefore about 1 1/2 miles from the Pole. In the tent we find a record of five Norwegians having been here, as follows:

Roald Amundsen
Olav Olavson Bjaaland
Hilmer Hanssen
Sverre H. Hassel
Oscar Wisting

The [Norwegian] tent is fine -- a small compact affair supported by a single bamboo. A note from Amundsen, which I keep, asks me to forward a letter to King Haakon!
The following articles have been left in the tent: 3 half bags of reindeer containing a miscellaneous assortment of mitts and sleeping socks, very various in description, a sextant, a Norwegian artificial horizon and a hypsometer without boiling-point thermometers, a sextant and hypsometer of English make.
Left a note to say I had visited the tent with companions. Bowers photographing and Wilson sketching. Since lunch we have marched 6.2 miles S.S.E. by compass (i.e. northwards). Sights at lunch gave us 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile from the Pole, so we call it the Pole Camp. (Temp. Lunch -21°.) We built a cairn, put up our poor slighted Union Jack, and photographed ourselves -- mighty cold work all of it ... [As for the Norwegians,] there is no doubt that our predecessors have made thoroughly sure of their mark and fully carried out their programme. ... I fancy the Norwegians arrived at the Pole on the 15th Dec. and left on the 17th, ahead of a date quoted by me in London as ideal, viz. Dec. 22. ... Well, we have turned our back now on the goal of our ambition and must face our 800 miles of solid dragging -- and good-bye to most of the daydreams!"

Camp No. 47
At The South-Pole:
Oates, Bowers, Scott, Wilson & PO Evans



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Peter Landry