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- The Voyages of Captain Scott - 50/60 -
the strain of pulling was terrific. The hardest work occurred on two rises, because the loose snow had been blown over the rises and had rested on the north-facing slopes, and these heaps were responsible for the worst of their troubles. However, there was one satisfactory result of the march, for now that the second party had seen to the loading of their sledge they had ceased to lag.
But the next stage was so exhausting that Scott's fears for the conditions of the second party again arose. Writing from Camp 52, on December 30, he says: 'To-morrow I'm going to march half a day, make a depôt and build the 10-foot 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°.) We have caught up Shackleton's dates. Everything would be cheerful if I could persuade myself that the second party were quite fit to go forward.'
Camp was pitched after the morning's march on December 31, and the process of building up the 10-foot sledges was at once begun by P.O. Evans and Crean. 'It is a very remarkable piece of work. Certainly P.O. Evans is the most invaluable asset to our party. To build a sledge under these conditions is a fact for special record.'
[Illustration: Man Hauling Camp, 87th parallel.]
Half a day was lost while the sledges were made, but this they hoped to make up for by advancing at much greater speed. A depôt, called 'Three Degree Depôt,' consisting of a week's provision for both units, was made at this camp, and on New Year's morning, with lighter loads, Evans' party led the advance on foot, while Scott's team followed on ski. With a stick of chocolate to celebrate the New Year, and with only 170 miles between them and the Pole, prospects seemed to be getting brighter on New Year's night, and on the next evening at Camp 55 Scott decided that E. R. Evans, Lashly and Crean should go back after one more march.
Writing from Camp 56 he says, 'They are disappointed, but take it well. Bowers is to come into our tent, and we proceed as a five-man unit to-morrow. We have 5-1/2 units of food--practically over a month's allowance for five people--it ought to see us through.... Very anxious to see how we shall manage tomorrow; if we can march well with the full load we shall be practically safe, I take it.'
By the returning party Scott sent back a letter, dated January 3, in which he wrote, 'Lat. 87° 32".' A last note from a hopeful position. I think it's going to be all right. We have a fine party going forward and arrangements are all going well.'
On the next morning the returning men followed a little way until Scott was certain that his team could get along, and then farewells were said. In referring to this parting with E. Evans, Crean and Lashly, Scott wrote, 'I was glad to find their sledge is a mere nothing to them, and thus, no doubt, they will make a quick journey back,' and under average conditions they should easily have fulfilled anticipations. But a blizzard held them up for three days before they reached the head of the glacier, and by the time they reached the foot of it E. Evans had developed symptoms of scurvy. At One Ton Camp he was unable to stand without the support of his ski sticks, and although, with the help of his companions, he struggled on for 53 more miles in four days, he could go no farther. Rejecting his suggestion that he should be left alone while they pressed on for help, Crean and Lashly pulled him on the sledge with a devotion matching that of their captain years before, when he and Wilson had brought Shackleton, ill and helpless, safely to the Discovery.
After four days of this pulling they reached Corner Camp, and then there was such a heavy snowfall that the sledge could not travel. In this crisis Crean set out to tramp alone to Hut Point, 34 miles away, while Lashly stayed to nurse E. Evans, and most certainly was the means of keeping him alive until help came. After a remarkable march of 18 hours Crean reached Hut Point, and as soon as possible Atkinson and Demetri started off with both dog teams to relieve Evans and Lashly. Some delay was caused by persistent bad weather, but on February 22 Evans was got back to the Discovery hut, where he was unremittingly tended by Atkinson; and subsequently he was sent by sledge to the Terra Nova. So ended the tale of the last supporting party, though, as a sequel, it is good to record that in reward for their gallant conduct both Lashly and Crean received the Albert Medal.
THE SOUTH POLE
The Silence was deep with a breath like sleep As our sledge runners slid on the snow, And the fate-full fall of our fur-clad feet Struck mute like a silent blow On a questioning 'Hush?' as the settling crust Shrank shivering over the floe. And the sledge in its track sent a whisper back Which was lost in a white fog-bow.
And this was the thought that the Silence wrought, As it scorched and froze us through, For the secrets hidden are all forbidden Till God means man to know. We might be the men God meant should know The heart of the Barrier snow, In the heat of the sun, and the glow, And the glare from the glistening floe, As it scorched and froze us through and through With the bite of the drifting snow.
(These verses, called 'The Barrier Silence,' were written by Wilson for the South Polar Times. Characteristically, he sent them in typewritten, lest the editor should recognize his hand and judge them on personal rather than literary grounds. Many of their readers confess that they felt in these lines Wilson's own premonition of the event. The version given is the final form, as it appeared in the South Polar Times.)
The ages of the five men when they continued the journey to the Pole were: Scott 43, Wilson 39, P.O. Evans 37, Oates 32, Bowers 28.
After the departure of the last supporting party Scott was naturally anxious to get off a good day's march, and he was not disappointed. At first the sledge on which, thanks to P.O. Evans, everything was most neatly stowed away, went easily. But during the afternoon they had to do some heavy pulling on a surface covered with loose sandy snow. Nevertheless they covered some 15 miles before they camped, and so smoothly did everything seem to be going that Scott began to wonder what was in store for them. 'One can scarcely believe that obstacles will not present themselves to make our task more difficult. Perhaps the surface will be the element to trouble us.'
And on the following day his supposition began to prove correct, for a light wind from the N.N.W. brought detached cloud and a constant fall of ice crystals, and in consequence the surface was as bad as it could be. The sastrugi seemed to increase as they advanced, and late in the afternoon they encountered a very rough surface with evidences of hard southerly wind. Luckily the sledge showed no signs of capsizing, but the strain of trying to keep up a rate of a little over a mile and a quarter an hour was very great. However, they were cheered by the thought, when they reached Camp 58 (height 10,320 feet), that they were very close to the 88th parallel, and a little more than 120 miles from the Pole.
Another dreadful surface was their fate during the next march on Saturday, January 6. The sastrugi increased in height as they advanced, and presently they found themselves in the midst of a sea of fishhook waves, well remembered from their Northern experience. And, to add to their trouble, each sastrugus was covered with a beard of sharp branching crystals. They took off their ski and pulled on foot, but both morning and afternoon the work of getting the sledge along was tremendous. Writing at Camp 59, Latitude 88° 7', Scott said, 'We think of leaving our ski here, mainly because of risk of breakage. Over the sastrugi it is all up and down hill, and the covering of ice crystals prevents the sledge from gliding even on the downgrade. The sastrugi, I fear, have come to stay, and we must be prepared for heavy marching, but in two days I hope to lighten loads with a depôt. We are south of Shackleton's last camp, so, I suppose, have made the most southerly camp.'
During the next day, January 7, they had good cause to think that the vicissitudes of their work were bewildering. On account of the sastrugi the ski were left at Camp 59, but they had only marched a mile from it when the sastrugi disappeared. 'I kept debating the ski question and at this point stopped, and after discussion we went back and fetched the ski; it cost us 1-1/2 hours nearly. Marching again, I found to my horror we could scarcely move the sledge on ski; the first hour was awful owing to the wretched coating of loose sandy snow.' Consequently this march was the shortest they had made on the summit, and there was no doubt that if things remained for long they were, it would be impossible to keep up the strain of such strenuous pulling. Luckily, however, loads were to be lightened on the following day by a weight of about 100 lbs., and there was also hope of a better surface if only the crystal deposit would either harden up or disappear. Their food, too, was proving ample. 'What luck to have hit on such an excellent ration. We really are an excellently found party.' Indeed, apart from the strain of pulling, Scott's only anxiety on Sunday, January 7, was that Evans had a nasty cut on his hand.
They woke the next morning to find their first summit blizzard; but Scott was not in the least perturbed by this delay, because he thought that the rest would give Evans' hand a better chance of recovery, and he also felt that a day in their comfortable bags within their double-walled tent would do none of them any harm. But, both on account of lost time and food and the slow accumulation of ice, he did not want more than one day's delay.
'It is quite impossible,' he wrote during this time of waiting, 'to speak too highly of my companions. Each fulfils his office to the party; Wilson, first as doctor, ever on the lookout to alleviate the small pains and troubles incidental to the work; now as cook, quick, careful and dexterous, ever thinking of some fresh expedient to help the camp life; tough as steel on the traces, never wavering from start to finish.
'Evans, a giant worker with a really remarkable head-piece. It is
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