SCOTT & The South-Pole

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17 - "Back From The Pole: Across the Ross Ice Shelf"

February 18th [See Map]:

"At Shambles Camp. We gave ourselves 5 hours' sleep at the lower glacier depot after the horrible night, and came on at about 3 to-day to this camp, coming fairly easily over the divide. Here with plenty of horsemeat we have had a fine supper, to be followed by others such, and so continue a more plentiful era if we can keep good marches up. New life seems to come with greater food almost immediately, but I am anxious about the Barrier surfaces."
February 19th:
"Lunch T. -16°. It was late (past noon) before we got away to-day, as I gave nearly 8 hours sleep, and much camp work was done shifting sledges [there was a spare one left at each major depot] and fitting up new one with mast, &c., packing horsemeat and personal effects. ... Perhaps lucky to have a fine day for this and our camp work, but we shall want wind or change of sliding conditions to do anything on such a surface as we have got.
We have struggled out 4.6 miles in a short day over a really terrible surface -- it has been like pulling over desert sand, not the least glide in the world. ... In all other respects things are improving. We have our sleeping-bags spread on the sledge and they are drying, but, above all, we have our full measure of food again. To-night we had a sort of stew fry of pemmican and horseflesh, and voted it the best hoosh we had ever had on a sledge journey. The absence of poor Evans is a help to the commissariat, but if he had been here in a fit state we might have got along faster. I wonder what is in store for us, with some little alarm at the lateness of the season."
February 20th:
"Lunch Temp. -13°; Supper Temp. -15°. Same terrible surface; four hours' hard plodding in morning brought us to our Desolation Camp, where we had the four-day blizzard (December 4th to 8th). We looked for more pony meat, but found none. After lunch we took to ski with some improvement of comfort. Total mileage for day 7 ... We have left another cairn behind. ... It is distressing, but as usual trials are forgotten when we camp, and good food is our lot. Pray God we get better travelling as we are not fit as we were, and the season is advancing apace."
February 21st:
"The marching almost as bad as yesterday. Heavy toiling all day, inspiring gloomiest thoughts at times. ... we passed the last pony walls ... everything depends on the weather. We never won a march of 8 1/2 miles with greater difficulty, but we can't go on like this."
February 22nd:
"Supper Temp. -2°. There is little doubt we are in for a rotten critical time going home, and the lateness of the season may make it really serious. ... we have passed another pony camp without seeing it. Looking at the map to-night there is no doubt we are too far to the east. ... To-night we had a pony hoosh so excellent and filling that one feels really strong and vigorous again."
February 23rd [See Map]:
"Lunch Temp.-9.8°; Supper Temp. -12°. Started in sunshine, wind almost dropped. [It seems that at this point they had missed a couple cairns] and we were none of us happy about it. But just as we decided to lunch, Bowers' wonderful sharp eyes detected an old double lunch cairn, the theodolite telescope confirmed it, and our spirits rose accordingly. This afternoon we marched on and picked up another cairn; then on and camped only 2 1/2 miles from the depot. We cannot see it, but, given fine weather, we cannot miss it. We are, therefore, extraordinarily relieved. Covered 8.2 miles in 7 hours, showing we can do 10 to 12 on this surface. Things are again looking up, as we are on the regular line of cairns, with no gaps right home, I hope."
February 24th:
"Beautiful day -- too beautiful -- an hour after starting loose ice crystals spoiling surface. Saw depot and reached it middle forenoon. Found store in order except shortage oil -- shall have to be very saving with fuel -- otherwise have ten full days' provision from to-night ... Note from Meares who passed through December 15, saying surface bad; from Atkinson, after fine marching ... reporting Keohane better after sickness. Short note from Evans, not very cheerful, saying surface bad, temperature high. Think he must have been a little anxious. It is an immense relief to have picked up this depot and, for the time, anxieties are thrust aside. ... Great difference now between night and day temperatures. Quite warm as I write in tent. We are on tracks with half-march cairn ahead; have covered 4 1/2 miles. Poor Wilson has a fearful attack snow-blindness consequent on yesterday's efforts. Wish we had more fuel.
Night camp A little despondent again. We had a really terrible surface this afternoon and only covered 4 miles. ... I don't know what to think, but the rapid closing of the season is ominous. It is great luck having the horsemeat to add to our ration. To-night we have had a real fine 'hoosh.' It is a race between the season and hard conditions and our fitness and good food."
February 25th:
"Lunch Temp. -12°. Managed just 6 miles this morning. ... Bit by bit surface grew better, less sastrugi, more glide, slight following wind for a time. ...
Evans' track very conspicuous. ... the pulling is tiring us, though we are getting into better ski drawing again. Bowers hasn't quite the trick and is a little hurt at my criticisms, but I never doubted his heart. ... excellent [lunch] meal ... one pannikin [metal cup] very strong tea—four biscuits and butter.
... Oh! for a little wind -- E. Evans evidently had plenty. [Night] Temp. -20°. Better march in afternoon. Day yields 11.4 miles -- the first double figure of steady dragging for a long time, but it meant and will mean hard work if we can't get a wind to help us. ... this is wonderfully fair weather ..."
February 26th:
"Lunch Temp. -17°. Sky overcast ... but able see tracks and cairn distinct at long distance. ... Bowers and Wilson now in front. Find great relief pulling behind with no necessity to keep attention on track. Very cold nights now and cold feet starting march, as day footgear doesn't dry at all. We are doing well on our food, but we ought to have yet more. I hope the next depôt, now only 50 miles, will find us with enough surplus to open out. The fuel shortage still an anxiety.
[Night] -21° Nine hours' solid marching has given us 11 1/2 miles. Only 43 miles from the next depôt. Wonderfully fine weather but cold, very cold. Nothing dries and we get our feet cold too often. We want more food yet and especially more fat. Fuel is woefully short. We can scarcely hope to get a better surface at this season, but I wish we could have some help from the wind, though it might shake us badly if the temp. didn't rise."
February 27th:
"Desperately cold last night: -33° when we got up, with -37° minimum. Some suffering from cold feet, but all got good rest. We must open out on food soon. But we have done 7 miles this morning ... It is good to be marching the cairns up, but there is still much to be anxious about. We talk of little but food, except after meals. Land disappearing in satisfactory manner. Pray God we have no further set-backs. We are naturally always discussing possibility of meeting dogs, where and when, &c. It is a critical position. We may find ourselves in safety at next depôt, but there is a horrid element of doubt.
[Night] Temp. -32°. Still fine clear weather but very cold -- absolutely calm to-night. We have got off an excellent march for these days (12.2) and are much earlier than usual in our bags. 31 miles to depot, 3 days' fuel at a pinch, and 6 days' food. Things begin to look a little better; we can open out a little on food from to-morrow night, I think."
February 28th:
"Lunch. Thermometer went below -40° last night; it was desperately cold for us, but we had a fair night. I decided to slightly increase food ... Started marching in -32° with a slight north-westerly breeze -- blighting [they were hauling directly north, so this wind would hit them on their left cheeks]. Many cold feet this morning; long time over foot gear ... Things must be critical till we reach the depot, and the more I think of matters, the more I anticipate their remaining so after that event. Only 24 1/2 miles from the depot. The sun shines brightly, but there is little warmth in it. There is no doubt the middle of the Barrier is a pretty awful locality.
... Splendid pony hoosh sent us to bed and sleep happily after a horrid day, wind continuing; did 11 1/2 miles. Temp. ... -27°"
February 29th:
"Lunch. Cold night. Minimum Temp. -37.5°; -30° with north-west wind, force 4 [Moderate breeze], when we got up. Frightfully cold starting; luckily Bowers and Wilson in their last new finnesko [polar boots]; keeping my old ones for present. Expected awful march and for first hour got it. Then things improved and we camped after 5 1/2 hours marching ... Next camp is our depot and it is exactly 13 miles. It ought not to take more than 1 1/2 days; we pray for another fine one. The oil will just about spin out in that event, and we arrive 3 clear days' food in hand. The increase of ration has had an enormously beneficial result. Mountains now looking small."
March 1st [See Map]:
"Lunch. Very cold last night -- minimum -41.5°. ... Got away at 8 and have marched within sight of depot; flag something under 3 miles away. We did 11 1/2 yesterday and marched 6 this morning. Heavy dragging yesterday and very heavy this morning. Apart from sledging considerations the weather is wonderful. Cloudless days and nights and the wind trifling. Worse luck, the light airs come from the north and keep us horribly cold. ... All our gear is out drying."
March 2nd:
"Misfortunes rarely come singly. We marched to the (Middle Barrier) depot fairly easily yesterday afternoon, and since that have suffered three distinct blows ... First we found a shortage of oil; with most rigid economy it can scarce carry us to the next depot on this surface (71 miles away). Second, Titus Oates disclosed his feet, the toes showing very bad indeed, evidently bitten by the late temperatures. The third blow came in the night ... [the temperature] fell below -40° ... this morning it took 1 1/2 hours to get our foot gear on, but we got away before eight. We lost cairn and tracks together and made as steady as we could N. by W., but have seen nothing. Worse was to come -- the surface is simply awful. In spite of strong wind and full sail we have only done 5 1/2 miles. We are in a very queer street since there is no doubt we cannot do the extra marches and feel the cold horribly."
March 3rd:
"We picked up the track again yesterday ... Did close on 10 miles and things looked a trifle better; but this morning the outlook is blacker than ever. Started well and with good breeze; for an hour made good headway; then the surface grew awful beyond words. The wind drew forward; every circumstance was against us. After 4 1/4 hours things so bad that we camped, having covered 4 1/2 miles. ... God help us, we can't keep up this pulling, that is certain. Amongst ourselves we are unendingly cheerful, but what each man feels in his heart I can only guess. Pulling on foot gear in the morning is getter slower and slower, therefore every day more dangerous."
March 4th:
"Things looking very black indeed. As usual we forgot our trouble last night, got into our bags, slept splendidly on good hoosh, woke and had another, and started marching. Sun shining brightly, tracks clear, but surface [is bad]. ... in 4 1/2 hours we covered 3 1/2 miles. ... We are about 42 miles from the next depot and have a week's food, but only about 3 to 4 days' fuel ... we cannot afford to save food and pull as we are pulling. ... we preserve every semblance of good cheer, but one's heart sinks as the sledge stops dead at some sastrugi behind which the surface sand lies thickly heaped. ... temperature ... -20° ... but a colder snap is bound to come ... I fear that Oates at least will weather such an event very poorly. ... extra food at the next depot. It will be real bad if we get there and find the same shortage of oil. Shall we get there? Such a short distance it would have appeared to us on the summit! I don't know what I should do if Wilson and Bowers weren't so determinedly cheerful over things."
March 5th:
"... going from bad to worse. [With much work they covered 9 miles.] We went to bed on a cup of cocoa and pemmican solid with the chill off. [Not using fuel.] The result is telling on all, but mainly on Oates, whose feet are in a wretched condition. One swelled up tremendously last night and he is very lame this morning. We started march on tea and pemmican as last night -- we pretend to prefer the pemmican this way. ... Sledge capsized twice; we pulled on foot ... Our fuel dreadfully low and the poor Soldier [Oates] nearly done. ... we can do nothing for him; more hot food might do a little ... Wilson [medically trained] ... self-sacrificing devotion in doctoring Oates' feet. ... pulling harder ... the progress is so slow. One can only say 'God help us!' and plod on our weary way, cold and very miserable, though outwardly cheerful. We talk ... not much of food now, since we decided to take the risk of running a full ration. We simply couldn't go hungry at this time."
March 6th:
"We did a little better with help of wind yesterday afternoon, finishing 9 1/2 miles for the day, and 27 miles from depot. ... I overslept myself by more than an hour; then we were slow with foot gear; then, pulling with all our might (for our lives) we could scarcely advance at rate of a mile an hour; then it grew thick and three times we had to get out of harness to search for tracks. ... Poor Oates is unable to pull, sits on the sledge when we are track-searching -- he is wonderfully plucky ... He makes no complaint, but ... he grows more silent in the tent. ... nothing but a strong wind and good surface can help us now, and though we had quite a good breeze this morning, the sledge came as heavy as lead. If we were all fit I should have hopes of getting through, but the poor Soldier has become a terrible hindrance ..."
March 8th:
"One of Oates' feet very bad this morning; he is wonderfully brave. We still talk of what we will do together at home.
We only made 6 1/2 miles yesterday. This morning in 4 1/2 hours we did just over 4 miles. We are 16 from our depot. If we only find the correct proportion of food there and this surface continues ... We hope against hope that the dogs have been to Mt. Hooper; then we might pull through. If there is a shortage of oil again we can have little hope. One feels that for poor Oates the crisis is near, but none of us are improving, though we are wonderfully fit considering the really excessive work we are doing. We are only kept going by good food."
March 8th:
"Worse and worse in morning; poor Oates' left foot ... Wilson's feet giving trouble now ... We did 4 1/2 miles this morning and are now 8 1/2 miles from the depot -- a ridiculously small distance ... equal half our old marches, and that for that effort we expend nearly double the energy. The great question is, What shall we find at the depot? If the dogs have visited it we may get along a good distance, but if there is another short allowance of fuel, God help us indeed. We are in a very bad way, I fear, in any case."
March 9th: [no entry]

March 10th:

"Things steadily downhill. Oates' foot worse. .. He asked Wilson if he had a chance [to make it through] this morning, and of course Bill had to say he didn't know. In point of fact he has none. ... I doubt whether we could get through. ... The weather conditions are awful, and our gear gets steadily more icy and difficult to manage. At the same time of course poor Titus [Oates] is the greatest handicap. He keeps us waiting in the morning until we have partly lost the warming effect of our good breakfast, when the only wise policy is to be up and away at once; again at lunch. Poor chap! it is too pathetic to watch him; one cannot but try to cheer him up.
Yesterday we marched up the depot, Mt. Hooper. Cold comfort. Shortage on our allowance all round. I don't know that anyone is to blame. The dogs which would have been our salvation have evidently failed. Meares had a bad trip home I suppose.
This morning it was calm when we breakfasted, but the wind came from W.N.W. as we broke camp. It rapidly grew in strength. After travelling for half an hour I saw that none of us could go on facing such conditions. We were forced to camp and are spending the rest of the day in a comfortless blizzard camp, wind quite foul."
March 11th:
"Titus Oates is very near the end ... We discussed the matter after breakfast; he is a brave fine fellow and understands the situation, but he practically asked for advice. Nothing could be said but to urge him to march as long as he could. One satisfactory result to the discussion; I practically ordered Wilson to hand over the means of ending our troubles to us, so that anyone of us may know how to do so. Wilson had no choice between doing so and our ransacking the medicine case. We have 30 opium tabloids apiece and he is left with a tube of morphine. ...
... 6 miles is about the limit of our endurance now, if we get no help from wind or surfaces. We have 7 days' food and should be about 55 miles from One Ton Camp ... leaving us 13 miles short of our distance, even if things get no worse. Meanwhile the season rapidly advances."
March 12th:
"We did 6.9 miles yesterday, under our necessary average. Things are left much the same, Oates not pulling much, and now with hands as well as feet pretty well useless. We did 4 miles this morning in 4 hours ... We shall be 47 miles from the depot. I doubt if we can possibly do it. The surface remains awful, the cold intense, and our physical condition running down. God help us! Not a breath of favourable wind for more than a week, and apparently liable to head winds at any moment."
March 13th: [no entry]

March 14th:

"... everything going wrong for us. Yesterday we woke to a strong northerly wind with temp. -37°. Couldn't face it, so remained in camp till 2, then did 5 1/4 miles. Wanted to march later, but party feeling the cold badly as the breeze [from the north] and as the sun sank the temp. fell. Long time getting supper in dark.
This morning started with southerly breeze, set sail and passed another cairn at good speed ... however, the wind shifted ... blew through our wind clothes and into our mitts. Poor Wilson horribly cold, could not get off ski for some time. Bowers and I practically made camp, and when we got into the tent at last we were all deadly cold. Then temp, now midday down -43° and the wind strong. We must go on ... [though] must be near the end ... Poor Oates ... I shudder to think what it will be like to-morrow. ... No idea there could be temperatures like this at this time of year with such winds. Truly awful outside the tent. Must fight it out to the last biscuit, but can't reduce rations."
A Very Gallant Gentlemen: Painting by John Charles Dollman

March 16th or 17th (Scott losing track):

"... At lunch, the day before yesterday, poor Titus Oates said he couldn't go on; he proposed we should leave him in his sleeping-bag. That we could not do, and induced him to come on, on the afternoon march. In spite of its awful nature for him he struggled on and we made a few miles. At night he was worse and we knew the end had come.
Should this be found I want these facts recorded. Oates' last thoughts were of his Mother, but immediately before he took pride in thinking that his regiment would be pleased with the bold way in which he met his death. We can testify to his bravery. He has borne intense suffering for weeks without complaint, and to the very last was able and willing to discuss outside subjects. He did not -- would not -- give up hope to the very end. He was a brave soul. This was the end. He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning -- yesterday. It was blowing a blizzard. He said, 'I am just going outside and may be some time.' He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since.
... We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman. We all hope to meet the end with a similar spirit, and assuredly the end is not far.
I can only write at lunch and then only occasionally. The cold is intense, -40° at midday. My companions are unendingly cheerful, but we are all on the verge of serious frostbites, and though we constantly talk of fetching through I don't think anyone of us believes it in his heart.
We are cold on the march now, and at all times except meals. Yesterday we had to lay up for a blizzard and to-day we move dreadfully slowly. We are at No. 14 pony camp, only two pony marches from One Ton Depôt. We leave here our theodolite, a camera, and Oates' sleeping-bags. Diaries, &c., and geological specimens carried at Wilson's special request, will be found with us or on our sledge."
March 18th:
"... we are 21 miles from the depot. Ill fortune presses, but better may come. We have had more wind and drift from ahead yesterday; had to stop marching; wind N.W., force 4, temp. -35°. No human being could face it, and we are worn out nearly.
My right foot has gone, nearly all the toes -- two days ago I was proud possessor of best feet. ... Bowers takes first place in condition ... We have the last half fill of oil in our primus and a very small quantity of spirit -- this alone between us and thirst. The wind is fair for the moment ..."
Scott's Last Journal Entry

March 19th:

"We camped with difficulty last night, and were dreadfully cold till after our supper of cold pemmican and biscuit and a half a pannikin [metal cup] of cocoa cooked over the spirit. Then, contrary to expectation, we got warm and all slept well. To-day we started in the usual dragging manner. Sledge dreadfully heavy. We are 15 1/2 miles from the depot and ought to get there in three days. What progress! We have two days' food but barely a day's fuel. All our feet are getting bad ... There is no chance to nurse one's feet till we can get hot food into us. ... The weather doesn't give us a chance -- the wind from N. to N.W. and -40° temp ..."
March (not clear, but likely the 21st):
"Got within 11 miles of depôt Monday night [19th] had to lay up all yesterday in severe blizzard. To-day forlorn hope, Wilson and Bowers going to depot for fuel."

March 22nd & 23rd:
"Blizzard bad as ever -- Wilson and Bowers unable to start -- to-morrow last chance -- no fuel and only one or two of food left -- must be near the end. Have decided it shall be natural -- we shall march for the depot with or without our effects and die in our tracks."
In a letter to a family member found near his body, Scott wrote, "... we got to within 11 miles of our depot, with one hot meal and two days' cold food. We should have got through but have been held for four days by a frightful storm."

March 29th (Scott's last entry):

"Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale from W.S.W. and S.W. We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far.
It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.
For God's sake look after our people.
And on that note: Scott's journal comes to an end; and, we might suppose, shortly thereafter, he and the others did too. After travelling in the worst of conditions over 1,600 plus miles, the three died but 11 miles from the safety of the "One Ton Depot." (See Map.)



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Peter Landry