SCOTT & The South-Pole

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16 - "Back From The Pole: Down the Beardmore Glacier"

It took the returning group of five, 21 days to cover the 350 miles back across the frozen central plain. (See Map) The out-journey took 27 days, but on the way out the Antarctic travellers were laden with supplies. Whereas on the way back, not so much, as they picked up their cashed supplies left periodically on their out-going route. In total, these adventurers were out on the central frozen plain for 48 days (back and forth) covering 700 miles. That they got this far in such conditions (low temperatures and incessant winds), is, amazing enough; but they still had a long, and frozen way to get back to the safety of home base.

February 7th:

"... biscuit-box was short. ... Bowers is dreadfully disturbed about it. The shortage is a full day's allowance. ... travelled down slopes and over terraces covered with hard sastrugi -- very tiresome work ... what with hot tea and good food, we started the afternoon in a better frame of mind, and it soon became obvious we were nearing our mark. Soon after 6.30 we saw our depot easily and camped next it at 7.30. Mount Darwin Depot, or Upper Glacier Depot] ...
Found note from Evans to say the second return party passed through safely at 2.30 on January 14 -- half a day longer between depots than we have been. ...
Evans ... is going steadily downhill.
February 8th:
"Height 6260. Start Temp. -11°; Lunch Temp. -5°; Supper, zero. 9.2 miles. Started from the depot ... rearranging matters. Had a beastly morning. Wind very strong and cold. Steered in for Mt. Darwin to visit rock. [They were still keen on scientific discovery.]. Sent Bowers on, on ski ... He obtained several specimens57 ... After he rejoined we skidded downhill pretty fast, leaders on ski, Oates and Wilson on foot alongside sledge -- [PO] Evans' detached. ... wind half a gale and everybody very cold and cheerless. ... We decided to steer for the moraine under Mt. Buckley and, pulling with crampons, we crossed some very irregular steep slopes with big crevasses and slid down towards the rocks. The moraine was obviously so interesting that when we had advanced some miles and got out of the wind, I decided to camp and spend the rest of the day geologising. ... coal seams ... several plant impressions, the last a piece of coal with beautifully traced leaves in layers ... Altogether we have had a most interesting afternoon, and the relief of being out of the wind and in a warmer temperature is inexpressible. ... A lot could be written on the delight of setting foot on rock after 14 weeks of snow and ice and nearly 7 out of sight of aught else. It is like going ashore after a sea voyage. We deserve a little good bright weather after all our trials, and hope to get a chance to dry our sleeping-bags and generally make our gear more comfortable."
February 9th [See Map]:
"Height 5,210 ft. Lunch Temp. +10°; Supper Temp. +12.5°. About 13 miles. Kept along the edge of moraine to the end of Mt. Buckley. Stopped and geologised. ... found our night camp of December 20, and lunched an hour after. Did pretty well in the afternoon, marching 3 3/4 hours; the sledge-meter is unshipped, so cannot tell distance traversed. ... Our food satisfies now, but we must march to keep in the full ration, and we want rest, yet we shall pull through all right ..."
February 10th:
"Got off a good morning march ... Had a splendid night sleep, showing great change in all faces, so didn't get away till 10 A.M. Lunched just before 3. ... We held a course for 2 1/2 hours with difficulty, then the sun disappeared, and snow drove in our faces with northerly wind—very warm and impossible to steer, so camped. ... We have two full days' food left, and though our position is uncertain, we are certainly within two outward marches from the middle glacier depot. However, if the weather doesn't clear by to-morrow, we must either march blindly on or reduce food. ..."
February 11th:
"Lunch Temp. -6.5°; Supper -3.5°. The worst day we have had during the trip and greatly owing to our own fault. ... we got into the worst ice mess I have ever been in. For three hours we plunged on in ski, first thinking we were too much to the right, then too much to the left ... There were times when it seemed almost impossible to find a way out of the awful turmoil in which we found ourselves. At length, arguing that there must be a way on our left, we plunged in that direction. It got worse, harder, more icy and crevassed. We could not manage our ski and pulled on foot, falling into crevasses every minute -- most luckily no bad accident. ... still a good number of miles from the depôt, so we reduced rations to-night. We had three pemmican meals left and decided to make them into four. To-morrow's lunch must serve for two if we do not make big progress. It was a test of our endurance on the march and our fitness with small supper. We have come through well. A good wind has come down the glacier which is clearing the sky and surface. Pray God the wind holds to-morrow. Short sleep to-night and off first thing, I hope."
February 12th:
"In a very critical situation. All went well in the forenoon, and we did a good long march over a fair surface. Two hours before lunch we were cheered by the sight of our night camp of the 18th December, the day after we made our depôt—this showed we were on the right track. In the afternoon, refreshed by tea, we went forward, confident of covering the remaining distance, but by a fatal chance we kept too far to the left, and then we struck uphill and, tired and despondent, arrived in a horrid maze of crevasses and fissures. Divided councils caused our course to be erratic after this, and finally, at 9 P.M. we landed in the worst place of all. After discussion we decided to camp, and here we are, after a very short supper and one meal only remaining in the food bag; the depot doubtful in locality. We must get there to-morrow. Meanwhile we are cheerful with an effort. It's a tight place, but luckily we've been well fed up to the present. Pray God we have fine weather to-morrow."
February 13th [See Map]:
"Beside Cloudmaker [like half way down]. Temp. -10°. Last night we all slept well in spite of our grave anxieties. For my part these were increased by my visits outside the tent, when I saw the sky gradually closing over and snow beginning to fall. By our ordinary time for getting up it was dense all around us. We could see nothing, and we could only remain in our sleeping-bags. ... At 9 we got up, deciding to have tea, and with one biscuit, no pemmican, so as to leave our scanty remaining meal for eventualities. We started marching, and at first had to wind our way through an awful turmoil of broken ice ... The fog still hung over all and we went on for an hour, checking our bearings. Then the whole place got smoother and we turned outward a little. [PO] Evans raised our hopes with a shout of depot ahead, but it proved to be a shadow on the ice. Then suddenly Wilson saw the actual depot flag. It was an immense relief, and we were soon in possession of our 3 1/2 days' food. The relief to all is inexpressible; needless to say, we camped and had a meal.
In the midst of all of this Scott was determined to maintain the flavor of a scientific expedition:
... we fell on the stone moraines. Here Wilson detached himself and made a collection, whilst we pulled the sledge on. We camped late, abreast the lower end of the mountain, and had nearly our usual satisfying supper. Yesterday was the worst experience of the trip and gave a horrid feeling of insecurity. Now we are right up, we must march. In future food must be worked so that we do not run so short if the weather fails us. We mustn't get into a hole like this again. Greatly relieved to find that both the other parties got through safely. Evans seems to have got mixed up with pressures like ourselves. ... Bowers has had a very bad attack of snow blindness, and Wilson another almost as bad. Evans has no power to assist with camping work."
February 14th:
"A fine day with wind on and off down the glacier, and we have done a fairly good march. ... Started on crampons; one hour after, hoisted sail ... [but which] produced only slow speed, partly due to our torn sledge runners. At lunch these were scraped and sand-papered. ... we did 6 1/2 miles before night camp.
There is no getting away from the fact that we are not going strong. Probably none of us: Wilson's leg still troubles him ... but the worst case is Evans, who is giving us serious anxiety. This morning he suddenly disclosed a huge blister on his foot. ... I fear he is going from bad to worse ... He is hungry and so is Wilson. We can't risk opening out our food again ... We are inclined to get slack and slow with our camping arrangements, and small delays increase. I have talked of the matter to-night and hope for improvement. ... The next depot some 30 miles away and nearly 3 days' food in hand."
February 15th:
"Lunch Temp. -10°; Supper Temp. -4°. 13.5 miles. Again we are running short of provision. ... We have reduced food, also sleep; feeling rather done. Trust 1 1/2 days or 2 at most will see us at depot."
February 16th:
"12.5 m. Lunch Temp.-6.1°; Supper Temp. -7°. A rather trying position. Evans has nearly broken down in brain, we think. He is absolutely changed from his normal self-reliant self. This morning and this afternoon he stopped the march on some trivial excuse. We are on short rations ... We cannot be more than 10 or 12 miles from the depot, but the weather is all against us. ..."
February 17th:
"A very terrible day. [PO] Evans looked a little better after a good sleep, and declared, as he always did, that he was quite well. He started in his place on the traces, but half an hour later worked his ski shoes adrift, and had to leave the sledge. The surface was awful, the soft recently fallen snow clogging the ski and runners at every step, the sledge groaning, the sky overcast, and the land hazy. We stopped after about one hour, and Evans came up again, but very slowly. Half an hour later he dropped out again on the same plea. He asked Bowers to lend him a piece of string. I cautioned him to come on as quickly as he could, and he answered cheerfully as I thought. We had to push on, and the remainder of us were forced to pull very hard, sweating heavily. Abreast the Monument Rock we stopped, and seeing Evans a long way astern, I camped for lunch. There was no alarm at first, and we prepared tea and our own meal, consuming the latter. After lunch, and Evans still not appearing, we looked out, to see him still afar off. By this time we were alarmed, and all four started back on ski. I was first to reach the poor man and shocked at his appearance; he was on his knees with clothing disarranged, hands uncovered and frostbitten, and a wild look in his eyes. Asked what was the matter, he replied with a slow speech that he didn't know, but thought he must have fainted. We got him on his feet, but after two or three steps he sank down again. He showed every sign of complete collapse. Wilson, Bowers, and I went back for the sledge, whilst Oates remained with him. When we returned he was practically unconscious, and when we got him into the tent quite comatose. He died quietly at 12.30 A.M. On discussing the symptoms we think he began to get weaker just before we reached the Pole, and that his downward path was accelerated first by the shock of his frostbitten fingers, and later by falls during rough travelling on the glacier, further by his loss of all confidence in himself. Wilson thinks it certain he must have injured his brain by a fall. It is a terrible thing to lose a companion in this way, but calm reflection shows that there could not have been a better ending to the terrible anxieties of the past week. Discussion of the situation at lunch yesterday shows us what a desperate pass we were in with a sick man on our hands at such a distance from home. At 1 A.M. we packed up and came down over the pressure ridges, finding our depôt easily."58


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Peter Landry