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- The Voyages of Captain Scott - 40/60 -


were completed, their heavy load when they set out on the following morning being distributed on two 9-foot sledges, 'This winter travel is a new and bold venture, but the right men have gone to attempt it. All good luck go with them!'

While the winter travelers were pursuing their strenuous way work went steadily on at Cape Evans, with no exciting nor alarming incident until July 4. On the morning of that day the wind blew furiously, but it moderated a little in the afternoon when Atkinson and Gran, without Scott's knowledge, decided to start over the floe for the North and South Bay thermometers respectively. This happened at 5.30 P.M., and Gran had returned by 6.45, but not until later did Scott hear that he had only gone two or three hundred yards from the land, and that it had taken him nearly an hour to find his way back.

Atkinson's continued absence passed unnoticed until dinner was nearly finished, but Scott did not feel seriously alarmed until the wind sprang up again and still the wanderer did not return. At 9.30, P.O. Evans, Crean and Keohane, who had been out looking for him, returned without any news, and the possibility of a serious accident had to be faced. Organized search parties were at once dispatched, Scott and Clissold alone remaining in the hut. And as the minutes slipped slowly by Scott's fears naturally increased, as Atkinson had started for a point not much more than a mile off and had been away more than five hours. From that fact only one conclusion could be drawn, and there was but small comfort to be got from the knowledge that every spot which was likely to be the scene of an accident would be thoroughly searched.

Thus 11 o'clock came, then 11.30 with its six hours of absence; and the strain of waiting became almost unbearable. But a quarter of an hour later Scott heard voices from the Cape, and presently, to his extreme relief, Meares and Debenham appeared with Atkinson, who was badly frost-bitten in the hand, and, as was to be expected after such an adventure, very confused.

At 2 A.M. Scott wrote in his diary, 'The search parties have returned and all is well again, but we must have no more of these very unnecessary escapades. Yet it is impossible not to realize that this bit of experience has done more than all the talking I could have ever accomplished to bring home to our people the dangers of a blizzard.'

On investigation it was obvious that Atkinson had been in great danger. First of all he had hit Inaccessible Island, and not until he arrived in its lee did he discover that his hand was frost-bitten. Having waited there for some time he groped his way to the western end, and then wandering away in a swirl of drift to clear some irregularities at the ice-foot, he completely lost the island when he could only have been a few yards from it. In this predicament he clung to the old idea of walking up wind, and it must be considered wholly providential that on this course he next struck Tent Island. Round this island he walked under the impression that it was Inaccessible Island, and at last dug himself a shelter on its lee side. When the moon appeared he judged its bearing well, and as he traveled homeward was vastly surprised to see the real Inaccessible Island appear on his left. 'There can be no doubt that in a blizzard a man has not only to safeguard the circulation in his limbs, but must struggle with a sluggishness of brain and an absence of reasoning power which is far more likely to undo him.'

About mid-day on Friday, July 7, the worst gale that Scott had ever known in Antarctic regions began, and went on for a week. The force of the wind, although exceptional, had been equaled earlier in the year, but the extraordinary feature of this gale was the long continuance of a very cold temperature. On Friday night the thermometer registered -39, and throughout Saturday and the greater part of Sunday it did not rise above -35. It was Scott's turn for duty on Saturday night, and whenever he had to go out of doors the impossibility of enduring such conditions for any length of time was impressed forcibly upon him. The fine snow beat in behind his wind guard, the gusts took away his breath, and ten paces against the wind were enough to cause real danger of a frost-bitten face. To clear the anemometer vane he had to go to the other end of the hut and climb a ladder; and twice while engaged in this task he had literally to lean against the wind with head bent and face averted, and so stagger crab-like on his course.

By Tuesday the temperature had risen to +5 or +7, but the gale still continued and the air was thick with snow. The knowledge, however, that the dogs were comfortable was a great consolation to Scott, and he also found both amusement and pleasure in observing the customs of the people in charge of the stores. The policy of every storekeeper was to have something up his sleeve for a rainy day, and an excellent policy Scott thought it. 'Tools, metal material, leather, straps, and dozens of items are administered with the same spirit of jealous guardianship by Day, Lashly, Oates and Meares, while our main storekeeper Bowers even affects to bemoan imaginary shortages. Such parsimony is the best guarantee that we are prepared to face any serious call.'

For an hour on Wednesday afternoon the wind moderated, and the ponies were able to get a short walk over the floe, but this was only a temporary lull, for the gale was soon blowing as furiously as ever. And the following night brought not only a continuance of the bad weather but also bad news. At mid-day one of the best ponies, Bones, suddenly went off his feed, and in spite of Oates' and Anton's most careful attention he soon became critically ill. Oates gave him an opium pill and later on a second, and sacks were heated and placed on the suffering animal, but hour after hour passed without any improvement. As the evening wore on Scott again and again visited the stable, only to hear the same tale from Oates and Crean, [Footnote: Bones was the pony which had been allotted to Crean.] who never left their patient. 'Towards midnight,' Scott says, 'I felt very downcast. It is so certain that we cannot afford to lose a single pony--the margin of safety has already been overstepped, we are reduced to face the circumstance that we must keep all the animals alive or greatly risk failure.'

Shortly after midnight, however, there were signs of an improvement, and two or three hours afterwards the pony was out of danger and proceeded to make a rapid and complete recovery. So far, since the return to Cape Evans, the ponies had given practically no cause for anxiety, and in consequence Scott's hopes that all would continue to be well with them had steadily grown; but this shock shattered his sense of security, and although various alterations were made in the arrangements of the stables and extra precautions were taken as regards food, he was never again without alarms for the safety of the precious ponies.

Another raging blizzard swept over Cape Evans on July 22 and 23, but the spirit of good comradeship still survived in spite of the atrocious weather and the rather monotonous life. 'There is no longer room for doubt that we shall come to our work with a unity of purpose and a disposition for mutual support which have never been equaled in these paths of activity. Such a spirit should tide us over all minor difficulties.'

By the end of the month Scott was beginning to wonder why the Crozier Party did not return, but on Tuesday, August 1, they came back looking terribly weather-worn and 'after enduring for five weeks the hardest conditions on record.' Their faces were scarred and wrinkled, their eyes dull, and their hands whitened and creased with the constant exposure to damp and cold. Quite obviously the main part of their afflictions arose from sheer lack of sleep, and after a night's rest they were very different people both in mind and body.

Writing on August 2, Scott says, 'Wilson is very thin, but this morning very much his keen, wiry self--Bowers is quite himself to-day. Cherry-Garrard is slightly puffy in the face and still looks worn. It is evident that he has suffered most severely--but Wilson tells me that his spirit never wavered for a moment. Bowers has come through best, all things considered, and I believe that he is the hardest traveler that ever undertook a Polar journey, as well as one of the most undaunted; more by hint than direct statement I gather his value to the party, his untiring energy and the astonishing physique which enables him to continue to work under conditions which are absolutely paralyzing to others. Never was such a sturdy, active, undefeatable little man.'

Gradually Scott gathered an account of this wonderful journey from the three travelers who had made it. For more than a week the thermometer fell below -60, and on one night the minimum showed -71, and on the next -77. Although in this fearful cold the air was comparatively still, occasional little puffs of wind eddied across the snow plain with blighting effect. 'No civilized being has ever encountered such conditions before with only a tent of thin canvas to rely on for shelter.' Records show that Amundsen when journeying to the N. magnetic pole met temperatures of a similar degree, but he was with Esquimaux who built him an igloo shelter nightly, he had also a good measure of daylight, and finally he turned homeward and regained his ship after five days' absence, while this party went outward and were absent for five weeks.

Nearly a fortnight was spent in crossing the coldest region, and then rounding C. Mackay they entered the wind-swept area. Blizzard followed blizzard, but in a light that was little better than complete darkness they staggered on. Sometimes they found themselves high on the slopes of Terror on the left of the track, sometimes diving on the right amid crevasses and confused ice disturbance. Having reached the foothills near Cape Crozier they ascended 800 feet, packed their belongings over a moraine ridge, and began to build a hut. Three days were spent in building the stone walls and completing the roof with the canvas brought for the purpose, and then at last they could attend to the main object of their journey.

The scant twilight at mid-day was so short that a start had to be made in the dark, and consequently they ran the risk of missing their way in returning without light. At their first attempt they failed to reach the penguin rookery, but undismayed they started again on the following day, and wound their way through frightful ice disturbances under the high basalt cliffs. In places the rock overhung, and at one spot they had to creep through a small channel hollowed in the ice. At last the sea-ice was reached, but by that time the light was so far spent that everything had to be rushed. Instead of the 2,000 or 3,000 nesting birds that had been seen at this rookery in Discovery days, they could only count about a hundred. As a reason for this a suggestion was made that possibly the date was too early, and that if the birds had not permanently deserted the rookery only the first arrivals had been seen.

With no delay they killed and skinned three penguins to get blubber for their stove, and with six eggs, only three of which were saved,


The Voyages of Captain Scott - 40/60

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