SCOTT & The South-Pole

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15 - "Back From The Pole: Across the Central Plain"

Crowded Tent

On January 18th, 1912, 79 days after starting their journey, and after 900 miles of "solid dragging," Scott and his four companions turned their backs to the pole and faced the 900 mile return. On foot, through climatic and terrain, that most of us could not even imagine. We continue with Scott's accounting: January 19th:

"Early in the march [back] we picked up a Norwegian cairn ... We followed these to the ominous black flag which had first apprised us of our predecessors' success. ...
We pick up our cairns easily, and ought to do so right through, I think; but, ... I'm afraid the return journey is going to be dreadfully tiring and monotonous.
January 20th [See Map]:
"We have come along very well [they reached their Southern Depot] ... and we pick up 4 days' food. ... The same sort of weather and a little more wind, sail drawing well.
[After lunch] ... with full sail we went along at a great rate; then we got on to an extraordinary surface ... The pulling was really awful, but we went steadily on and camped a short way beyond our cairn of the 14th. ... luckily the wind holds. I shall be very glad when Bowers gets his ski; I'm afraid he must find these long marches very trying with short legs, but he is an undefeated little sportsman. I think Oates is feeling the cold and fatigue more than most of us. It is blowing pretty hard to-night, but with a good march we have earned one good hoosh and are very comfortable in the tent. It is everything now to keep up a good marching pace; I trust we shall be able to do so and catch the ship. Total march, 18 1/2 miles."
January 21st:
"Awoke to a stiff blizzard; air very thick with snow ... We decided not to march owing to likelihood of losing track; expected at least a day of lay up, but whilst at lunch there was a sudden clearance and wind dropped to light breeze. We got ready to march, but gear was so iced up we did not get away till 3.45. ... we only did 5 1/2 miles (6 1/4 statute). The surface bad, horribly bad on new sastrugi, and decidedly rising again in elevation."
January 22nd:
"Temp. -21°. I think about the most tiring march we have had; solid pulling the whole way, in spite of the light sledge and some little helping wind at first. ...
We got away sharp at 8 and marched a solid 9 hours, and thus we have covered 14.5 miles (geo.) but, by Jove! it has been a grind. ... I'm afraid we have passed out of the wind area. ... Ski boots are beginning to show signs of wear ..."
January 23rd:
"Lowest Minimum last night -30°, Temp, at start -28°. ... The old tracks show so remarkably well that we can follow them without much difficulty -- a great piece of luck.
In the afternoon we had to reorganise. Could carry a whole sail. ... We came along at a great rate and should have got within an easy march of our depot had not Wilson suddenly discovered that [PO] Evans' nose was frostbitten -- it was white and hard. We thought it best to camp ... Got the tent up with some difficulty, and now pretty cosy after good hoosh.
There is no doubt Evans is a good deal run down -- his fingers are badly blistered and his nose is rather seriously congested with frequent frost bites. He is very much annoyed with himself, which is not a good sign. I think Wilson, Bowers and I are as fit as possible under the circumstances. Oates gets cold feet."
January 24th:
"Things beginning to look a little serious. A strong wind at the start has developed into a full blizzard at lunch, and we have had to get into our sleeping-bags. It was a bad march, but we covered 7 miles. At first Evans, and then Wilson went ahead to scout for tracks. Bowers guided the sledge alone ... At 12.30 the sun coming ahead made it impossible to see the tracks ... we had to stop. ... we had the dickens of a time getting up the tent, cold fingers all round. ... I don't like the look of it. ... Wilson and Bowers are my standby. I don't like the easy way in which Oates and Evans get frostbitten."
January 25th [See Map]:
"... Thank God we found our Half Degree Depôt. After lying in our bags yesterday afternoon and all night, we debated breakfast; decided to have it later and go without lunch. ... It was a long and terribly cold job digging out our sledge and breaking camp, but we got through and on the march without sail, all pulling. ... at about 2.30, to our joy, we saw the red depôt flag. We had lunch and left with 9 1/2 days' provisions ... it's time we cleared off this plateau.
We are not without ailments: Oates suffers from a very cold foot; [PO] Evans' fingers and nose are in a bad state, and to-night Wilson is suffering tortures from his eyes. Bowers and I are the only members of the party without troubles just at present.
... the wind is strong from the south, and this afternoon has been very helpful with the full sail. ... The tracks seem as good as ever so far, sometimes for 30 or 40 yards we lose them under drifts, but then they reappear quite clearly raised above the surface. If the light is good there is not the least difficulty in following. Blizzards are our bugbear ... Bowers got another rating sight to-night—it was wonderful how he managed to observe in such a horribly cold wind. He has been on ski to-day whilst Wilson walked by the sledge or pulled ahead of it."
January 26th:
"Started late ... Knowing there were two cairns at four mile intervals, we had little anxiety ... We marched 16 miles (geo.) to-day, but made good only 15.4 [In order to pick up both cairns -- the old track disappearing at times -- they had to do a little weaving.]"
January 27th:
"Minimum -19° ... Wilson and I pulled in front on ski, the remainder on foot. [They had trouble picking up the trail,] consequently there were many zig-zags. We lost a good deal over a mile by these halts, in which we unharnessed and went on the search for signs.
... In the afternoon the sastrugi gradually diminished in size and now we are on fairly level ground to-day, the obstruction practically at an end, and, to our joy, the tracks showing up much plainer again. For the last two hours we had no difficulty at all in following them. There has been a nice helpful southerly breeze all day, a clear sky and comparatively warm temperature. The air is dry again, so that tents and equipment are gradually losing their icy condition imposed by the blizzard conditions of the past week.
Our sleeping-bags are slowly but surely getting wetter ... We are slowly getting more hungry, and it would be an advantage to have a little more food, especially for lunch. ... but we can't look for a real feed till we get to the pony food depot. A long way to go, and, by Jove, this is tremendous labour."
January 28th:
"Lunch, -20°. ... Supper Temp. -18°. ... We are 43 miles from the depot, with six days' food in hand. ...
Three articles were dropped on our outward march - (Oates' pipe, Bowers' fur mitts, and Evans' night boots). We picked up the boots and mitts on the track, and to-night we found the pipe lying placidly in sight on the snow.
... We are getting more hungry, there is no doubt. ... We are pretty thin, especially Evans, but none of us are feeling worked out. ... We talk of food a good deal more ..."
January 29th:
"Lunch Temp. -23°. Supper Temp. -25°. ... Excellent march of 19 1/2 miles, 10.5 before lunch. Wind helping greatly, considerable drift; tracks for the most part very plain. Some time before lunch we picked up the return track of the supporting party, so that there are now three distinct sledge impressions. ... It is monotonous work, but, thank God, the miles are coming fast at last. We ought not to be delayed much now with the down-grade in front of us.
January 30th:
"... Thank the Lord, another fine march -- 19 miles. We have passed the last cairn before the depôt, the track is clear ahead, the weather fair, the wind helpful, the gradient down ... This is the bright side; the reverse of the medal is serious. Wilson has strained a tendon in his leg; it has given pain all day and is swollen to-night. Of course, he is full of pluck over it, but I don't like the idea of such an accident here. To add to the trouble Evans has dislodged two finger-nails to-night; his hands are really bad, and to my surprise he shows signs of losing heart over it. He hasn't been cheerful since the accident.56 The wind shifted from S.E. to S. and back again all day, but luckily it keeps strong. We can get along with bad fingers, but it (will be) a mighty serious thing if Wilson's leg doesn't improve.
January 31st:
"... we marched on the depôt [Three Degree Depôt] picked it up, and lunched an hour later. ... we have only four men to pull. Wilson rested his leg as much as possible by walking quietly beside the sledge; the result has been good, and to-night there is much less inflammation. ... the sledge tracks stand high. This afternoon we picked up Bowers' ski [depoted there on December 31st].
February 1st:
"Lunch Temp. -20°, Supper -19.8°. Heavy collar work most of the day. ... Wilson's leg much better. Evans' fingers now very bad, two nails coming off, blisters burst."
February 2nd:
"We started well on a strong southerly wind. ... [then] the sledge overran and upset us one after another. We got off our ski, and pulling on foot reeled off 9 miles by lunch ... All went well till, in trying to keep the track at the same time as my feet, on a very slippery surface, I came an awful 'purler' on my shoulder. It is horribly sore to-night and another sick person added to our tent -- three out of five injured, and the most troublesome surfaces to come. We shall be lucky if we get through without serious injury. Wilson's leg is better, but might easily get bad again, and Evans' fingers.
... we picked up E. Evans' return track, which we are now following. We have managed to get off 17 miles. The extra food is certainly helping us, but we are getting pretty hungry. ... Our bags are getting very wet and we ought to have more sleep.
February 3rd:
"Lunch -20°; Supper -20°. ... Started pretty well on foot ... I went on ski to avoid another fall, and we took the slope gently with our sail, constantly losing the track ... Vexatious delays, searching for tracks, &c., reduced morning march to 8.1 miles. Afternoon, came along a little better, but again lost tracks on hard slope. To-night we are near camp of December 26, but cannot see cairn. Have decided it is waste of time looking for tracks and cairn, and shall push on due north as fast as we can.
... Evans' fingers are going on as well as can be expected, but it will be long before he will be able to help properly with the work. Wilson's leg much better, and my shoulder also, though it gives bad twinges. The extra food is doing us all good, but we ought to have more sleep."
February 4th [See Map]:
"Pulled on foot in the morning over good hard surface and covered 9.7 miles. Just before lunch unexpectedly fell into crevasses, Evans and I together -- a second fall for Evans ...
[Covered 18 miles.] We have come down some hundreds of feet. ... [It was clear] I decided to make straight for Mt. Darwin [as opposed to trying to pick up and follow tracks]. The party is not improving in condition, especially [PO] Evans, who is becoming rather dull and incapable. Thank the Lord we have good food at each meal, but we get hungrier in spite of it. Bowers is splendid, full of energy and bustle all the time."
February 5th:
"A good forenoon, few crevasses; we covered 10.2 miles. In the afternoon we soon got into difficulties. ... crevasses partly open. ... It is very difficult manoeuvring amongst these and I should not like to do it without ski.
... Our faces are much cut up by all the winds we have had, mine least of all ... Evans' nose is almost as bad as his fingers. He is a good deal crocked up."
February 6th:
"We've had a horrid day and not covered good mileage. ... amongst huge open chasms, unbridged, but not very deep, I think. We turned to the north between two, but to our chagrin they converged into chaotic disturbance. We had to retrace our steps for a mile or so, then struck to the west and got on to a confused sea of sastrugi, pulling very hard; we put up the sail, [PO] Evans' nose suffered, Wilson very cold, everything horrid. ... the only comfort ... we were obviously going downhill. ... crossing many crevasses -- very easy work on ski.
Food is low and weather uncertain ... Evans is the chief anxiety now; his cuts and wounds suppurate, his nose looks very bad, and altogether he shows considerable signs of being played out.
It is at this point that Scott's group found themselves entering the second stage: to travel down the 120 miles to the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. From there, they would start out, north, over a bleak plain of snow and ice, the Ross Ice Shelf.



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Peter Landry