CHAPTER III. PERILS

                ...Yet I argue not 
  Against Heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot 
  Of heart or hope; but still bear up and steer 
  Right onward. 
   - MILTON.

On the return journey Scott, Wilson, Meares and Cherry-Garrard went back at top speed with the dog teams, leaving Bowers, Oates and Gran to follow with the ponies. For three days excellent marches were made, the dogs pulling splendidly, and anxious as Scott was to get back to Safety Camp and find out what had happened to the other parties and the ponies, he was more than satisfied with the daily records. But on Tuesday, February 21, a check came in their rapid journey, a check, moreover, which might have been a most serious disaster.

The light though good when they started about 10 P.M. on Monday night quickly became so bad that but little of the surface could be seen, and the dogs began to show signs of fatigue. About an hour and a half after the start they came upon mistily outlined pressure ridges and were running by the sledges when, as the teams were trotting side by side, the middle dogs of the teams driven by Scott and Meares began to disappear. 'We turned,' Cherry-Garrard says, 'and saw their dogs disappearing one after another, like dogs going down a hole after a rat.'

In a moment the whole team were sinking; two by two they vanished from sight, each pair struggling for foothold. Osman, the leader, put forth all his strength and most wonderfully kept a foothold. The sledge stopped on the brink of the crevasse, and Scott and Meares jumped aside.

In another moment the situation was realized. They had actually been traveling along the bridge of a crevasse, the sledge had stopped on it, while the dogs hung in their harness in the abyss. 'Why the sledge and ourselves didn't follow the dogs we shall never know. I think a fraction of a pound of added weight must have taken us down.' Directly the sledge had been hauled clear of the bridge and anchored, they peered into the depths of the cracks. The dogs, suspended in all sorts of fantastic positions, were howling dismally and almost frantic with terror. Two of them had dropped out of their harness and, far below, could be seen indistinctly on a snow-bridge. The rope at either end of the chain had bitten deep into the snow at the side of the crevasse and with the weight below could not possibly be moved.

By this time assistance was forthcoming from Wilson and Cherry-Garrard, the latter hurriedly bringing the Alpine rope, the exact position of which on the sledge he most fortunately knew. The prospect, however, of rescuing the team was not by any means bright, and for some minutes every attempt failed. In spite of their determined efforts they could get not an inch on the main trace of the sledge or on the leading rope, which with a throttling pressure was binding poor Osman to the snow.

Then, as their thoughts became clearer, they set to work on a definite plan of action. The sledge was unloaded, and the tent, cooker, and sleeping-bags were carried to a safe place; then Scott, seizing the lashing off Meares' sleeping-bag, passed the tent-poles across the crevasse, and with Meares managed to get a few inches on the leading line. This freed Osman, whose harness was immediately cut. The next step was to secure the leading rope to the main trace and haul up together. By this means one dog was rescued and unlashed, but the rope already had cut so far back at the edge that efforts to get more of it were useless.

'We could now unbend the sledge and do that for which we should have aimed from the first, namely, run the sledge across the gap and work from it.' So the sledge was put over the crevasse and pegged down on both sides, Wilson holding on to the anchored trace while the others worked at the leader end. The leading rope, however, was so very small that Scott was afraid of its breaking, and Meares was lowered down to secure the Alpine rope to the leading end of the trace; when this had been done the chance of rescuing the dogs at once began to improve.

Two by two the dogs were hauled up until eleven out of the thirteen were again in safety. Then Scott began to wonder if the two other dogs could not be saved, and the Alpine rope was paid down to see if it was long enough to reach the bridge on which they were coiled. The rope was 90 feet, and as the amount remaining showed that the depth of the bridge was about 65 feet, Scott made a bowline and insisted upon being lowered down. The bridge turned out to be firm, and he quickly got hold of the dogs and saw them hauled to the surface. But before he could be brought up terrific howls arose above, and he had to be left while the rope-tenders hastened to stop a fight between the dogs of the two teams.

'We then hauled Scott up,' Cherry-Garrard says; 'it was all three of us could do, my fingers a good deal frost-bitten in the end. That was all the dogs, Scott has just said that at one time he never hoped to get back with the thirteen, or even half of them. When he was down in the crevasse he wanted to go off exploring, but we dissuaded him.... He kept on saying, "I wonder why this is running the way it is, you expect to find them at right angles."'

For over two hours the work of rescue had continued, and after it was finished the party camped and had a meal, and congratulated themselves on a miraculous escape. Had the sledge gone down Scott and Meares must have been badly injured, if not killed outright, but as things had turned out even the dogs showed wonderful signs of recovery after their terrible experience.

On the following day Safety Camp was reached, but the dogs were as thin as rakes and so ravenously hungry that Scott expressed a very strong opinion that they were underfed. 'One thing is certain, the dogs will never continue to drag heavy loads with men sitting on the sledges; we must all learn to run with the teams and the Russian custom must be dropped.'

At Safety Camp E. Evans, Forde and Keohane were found, but to Scott's great sorrow two of their ponies had died on the return journey. Forde had spent hour after hour in nursing poor Blucher, and although the greatest care had also been given to Blossom, both of them were left on the Southern Road. The remaining one of the three, James Pigg, had managed not only to survive but actually to thrive, and, severe as the loss of the two ponies was, some small consolation could be gained from the fact that they were the oldest of the team, and the two which Oates considered to be the least useful.

After a few hours' sleep Scott, Wilson, Meares, Cherry-Garrard and Evans started off to Hut Point, and on arrival were astonished to find that, although the hut had been cleared and made habitable, no one was there. A pencil line on the wall stated that a bag containing a mail was inside, but no bag was to be found. But presently what turned out to be the true solution of this curious state of affairs was guessed, namely, that Atkinson and Crean had been on their way from the hut to Safety Camp as the others had come from the camp to the hut, and later on Scott saw their sledge track leading round on the sea-ice.

Feeling terribly anxious that some disaster might have happened to Atkinson and Crean owing to the weakness of the ice round Cape Armitage, Scott and his party soon started back to Safety Camp, but it was not until they were within a couple of hundred yards of their destination that they saw three tents instead of two, and knew that Atkinson and Crean were safe. No sooner, however, had Scott received his letters than his feelings of relief were succeeded by sheer astonishment.

'Every incident of the day pales before the startling contents of the mail bag which Atkinson gave me - a letter from Campbell setting out his doings and the finding of Amundsen established in the Bay of Whales.

'One thing only fixes itself definitely in my mind. The proper, as well as the wiser, course for us is to proceed exactly as though this had not happened. To go forward and do our best for the honor of the country without fear or panic.

'There is no doubt that Amundsen's plan is a very serious menace to ours. He has a shorter distance to the Pole by 60 miles - I never thought he could have got so many dogs [116] safely to the ice. His plan for running them seems excellent. But above and beyond all he can start his journey early in the season - an impossible condition with ponies.'

The ship, to which Scott had said good-by a month before, had, after landing the Western Geological Party at Butter Point, proceeded along the Barrier, and on February 5 had come across Amundsen camped in the Bay of Whales. No landing place, however, for Campbell's party could be found. 'This,' Campbell says, 'was a great disappointment to us all, but there was nothing for it but to return to McMurdo Sound to communicate with the main party, and then try to effect a landing in the vicinity of Smith's Inlet or as far to the westward as possible on the north coast of Victoria Land, and if possible to explore the unknown coast west of Cape North. We therefore made the best of our way to Cape Evans, and arrived on the evening of the 8th. Here I decided to land the two ponies, as they would be very little use to us on the mountainous coast of Victoria Land, and in view of the Norwegian expedition I felt the Southern Party would require all the transport available. After landing the ponies we steamed up to the sea-ice by Glacier Tongue, and from there, taking Priestley and Abbott, I went with letters to Hut Point, where the depôt party would call on their way back.'

Thus Scott came on Wednesday, February 22, to receive the news which was bound to occupy his thoughts, however resolutely he refused to allow it to interfere in any way with his plans.

Thursday was spent preparing sledges to meet Bowers, Oates and Gran at Corner Camp, and on the following day Scott, Crean and Cherry-Garrard with one sledge and tent, E. Evans, Atkinson and Forde with second sledge and tent, and Keohane leading James Pigg, started their march. At 3 P.M. on Saturday Scott turned out and saw a short black line on the horizon towards White Island. Presently he made certain that it was Bowers and his companions, but they were traveling fast and failed to see Scott's camp; so when the latter reached Corner Camp he did not find Bowers, but was glad to see five pony walls and consequently to know that all the animals were still alive.

Having depôted six full weeks' provisions, Scott, Cherry-Garrard and Crean started for home, leaving the others to bring James Pigg by easier stages. The next day, however, had to be spent in the tent owing to a howling blizzard, and not until the Tuesday did Scott reach Safety Camp, where he found that the ponies were without exception terribly thin, and that Weary Willy was especially in a pitiable condition.

As no advantage was to be gained by staying at Safety Camp, arrangements were made immediately for a general shift to Hut Point, and about four o'clock the two dog teams driven by Wilson and Meares got safely away. Then the ponies were got ready to start, the plan being for them to follow in the tracks of the dogs; the route was over about six miles of sea-ice, which, owing to the spread of water holes, caused Scott to feel gravely anxious.

At the very start, however, Weary Willy fell down, and his plight was so critical that Bowers, Cherry-Garrard and Crean were sent on with Punch, Cuts, Uncle Bill and Nobby to Hut Point, while Scott, with Oates and Gran, decided to stay behind and attend to the sick pony. But despite all the attempts to save him, Weary Willy died during the Tuesday night. 'It makes a late start necessary for next year,' Scott wrote in his diary on Wednesday, March 1, but on the following day he had to add to this, 'The events of the past 48 hours bid fair to wreck the expedition, and the only one comfort is the miraculous avoidance of loss of life.'

Early on the morning following Weary Willy's death, Scott, Oates and Gran started out and pulled towards the forage depôt, which was at a point on the Barrier half a mile from the edge, in a S.S.E. direction from Hut Point. On their approach the sky looked black and lowering, and mirage effects of huge broken floes loomed out ahead. At first Scott thought that this was one of the strange optical illusions common in the Antarctic, but as he drew close to the depôt all doubt was dispelled. The sea was full of broken pieces of Barrier edge, and at once his thoughts flew to the ponies and dogs.

They turned to follow the sea-edge, and suddenly discovering a working crack, dashed over it and hastened on until they were in line between Safety Camp and Castle Rock. Meanwhile Scott's first thought was to warn E. Evans' party which was traveling back from Corner Camp with James Pigg. 'We set up tent, and Gran went to the depôt with a note as Oates and I disconsolately thought out the situation. I thought to myself that if either party had reached safety either on the Barrier or at Hut Point they would immediately have sent a warning messenger to Safety Camp. By this time the messenger should have been with us. Some half-hour passed, and suddenly with a "Thank God!" I made certain that two specks in the direction of Pram Point were human beings.'

When, however, Scott hastened in their direction he discovered them to be Wilson and Meares, who were astonished to see him, because they had left Safety Camp before the breakdown of Weary Willy had upset the original program. From them Scott heard alarming reports that the ponies were adrift on the sea-ice.

The startling incidents that had led to this state of affairs began very soon after Bowers, Crean and Cherry-Garrard had left Safety Camp with the ponies. 'I caught Bowers up at the edge of the Barrier,' Cherry-Garrard wrote in his diary, 'the dogs were on ahead and we saw them turn and make right round Cape Armitage. "Uncle Bill" got done, and I took up the dog tracks which we followed over the tide crack and well on towards Cape Armitage.

'The sea-ice was very weak, and we came to fresh crack after fresh crack, and at last to a big crack with water squelching through for many feet on both sides. We all thought it impossible to proceed and turned back.... The ponies began to get very done, and Bowers decided to get back over the tide crack, find a snowy place, and camp.

'This had been considered with Scott as a possibility and agreed to. Of course according to arrangements then Scott would have been with the ponies.

'We camped about 11 P.M. and made walls for the ponies. Bowers cooked with a primus of which the top is lost, and it took a long time. He mistook curry powder for cocoa, and we all felt very bad for a short time after trying it. Crean swallowed all his. Otherwise we had a good meal.

'While we were eating a sound as though ice had fallen outside down the tent made us wonder. At 2 A.M. we turned in, Bowers went out, and all was quiet. At 4.30 A.M. Bowers was wakened by a grinding sound, jumped up, and found the situation as follows: -

'The whole sea-ice had broken up into small floes, from ten to thirty or forty yards across. We were on a small floe, I think about twenty yards across, two sledges were on the next floe, and "Cuts" had disappeared down the opening. Bowers shouted to us all and hauled the two sledges on to our floe in his socks. We packed anyhow, I don't suppose a camp was ever struck quicker. It seemed to me impossible to go on with the ponies and I said so, but Bowers decided to try.

'We decided that to go towards White Island looked best, and for five hours traveled in the following way: - we jumped the ponies over floe to floe as the cracks joined.... We then man-hauled the sledges after them, then according to the size of the floe sometimes harnessed the ponies in again, sometimes man-hauled the sledge to the next crack, waited our chance, sometimes I should think five or ten minutes, and repeated the process.'

At length they worked their way to heavier floes lying near the Barrier edge, and at one time thought that it was possible to get up; but very soon they discovered that there were gaps everywhere off the high Barrier face. In this dilemma Crean volunteered to try and reach Scott, and after traveling a great distance and leaping from floe to floe, he found a thick floe from which with the help of his ski stick he could climb the Barrier face. 'It was a desperate venture, but luckily successful.'

And so while Scott, Oates, Wilson, Meares and Gran were discussing the critical situation, a man, who proved to be Crean, was seen rapidly making for the depôt from the west.

As soon as Scott had considered the latest development of the situation he sent Gran back to Hut Point with Wilson and Meares, and started with Oates, Crean, and a sledge for the scene of the mishap. A halt was made at Safety Camp to get some provisions and oil, and then, marching carefully round, they approached the ice-edge, and to their joy caught sight of Bowers and Cherry-Garrard. With the help of the Alpine rope both the men were dragged to the surface, and after camp had been pitched at a safe distance from the edge all hands started upon salvage work. The ice at this time lay close and quiet against the Barrier edge, and some ten hours after Bowers and Cherry-Garrard had been hauled up, the sledges and their contents were safely on the Barrier. But then, just as the last loads were saved, the ice began to drift again, and so, for the time, nothing could be done for the ponies except to leave them well-fed upon their floes.

'None of our party had had sleep the previous night and all were dog tired. I decided we must rest, but turned everyone out at 8.30 yesterday morning [after three or four hours]. Before breakfast we discovered the ponies had drifted away. We had tried to anchor their floes with the Alpine rope, but the anchors had drawn. It was a sad moment.'

Presently, however, Bowers, who had taken the binoculars, announced that he could see the ponies about a mile to the N. W. 'We packed and went on at once. We found it easy enough to get down to the poor animals and decided to rush them for a last chance of life. Then there was an unfortunate mistake: I went along the Barrier edge and discovered what I thought and what proved to be a practicable way to land a pony, but the others meanwhile, a little overwrought, tried to leap Punch across a gap. The poor beast fell in; eventually we had to kill him - it was awful. I recalled all hands and pointed out my road. Bowers and Oates went out on it with a sledge and worked their way to the remaining ponies, and started back with them on the same track.... We saved one pony; for a time I thought we should get both, but Bowers' poor animal slipped at a jump and plunged into the water: we dragged him out on some brash ice - killer whales all about us in an intense state of excitement. The poor animal couldn't rise, and the only merciful thing was to kill it. These incidents were too terrible. At 5 P.M. (Thursday, March 2), we sadly broke our temporary camp and marched back to the one I had just pitched.... So here we are ready to start our sad journey to Hut Point. Everything out of joint with the loss of our ponies, but mercifully with all the party alive and well.'

At the start on the march back the surface was so bad that only three miles were covered in four hours, and in addition to this physical strain Scott was also deeply anxious to know that E. Evans and his party were safe; but while they were camping that night on Pram Point ridges, Evans' party, all of whom were well, came in. Then it was decided that Atkinson should go on to Hut Point in the morning to take news to Wilson, Meares and Gran, who were looking after the dogs, and having a wretched time in trying to make two sleeping-bags do the work of three.

On March 2 Wilson wrote in his journal: 'A very bitter wind blowing and it was a cheerless job waiting for six hours to get a sleep in the bag.... As the ice had all gone out of the strait we were cut off from any return to Cape Evans until the sea should again freeze over, and this was not likely until the end of April. We rigged up a small fireplace in the hut and found some wood and made a fire for an hour or so at each meal, but as there was no coal and not much wood we felt we must be economical with the fuel, and so also with matches and everything else, in case Bowers should lose his sledge loads, which had most of the supplies for the whole party to last twelve men for two months.... There was literally nothing in the hut that one could cover oneself with to keep warm, and we couldn't run to keeping the fire going. It was very cold work. There were heaps of biscuit cases here which we had left in Discovery days, and with these we built up a small inner hut to live in.'

On Saturday Scott and some of his party reached the hut, and on Sunday he was able to write: 'Turned in with much relief to have all hands and the animals safely housed.' Only two ponies, James Pigg and Nobby, remained out of the eight that had started on the depôt journey, but disastrous as this was to the expedition there was reason to be thankful that even greater disasters had not happened.