CHAPTER V. WINTER

                     Come what may 
  Time and the hour runs through the darkest day. 
   - SHAKESPEARE.

During the latter part of June the Cape Crozier Party were busy in making preparations for their departure. The object of their journey to the Emperor penguin rookery in the cold and darkness of an Antarctic winter was to secure eggs at such a stage as could furnish a series of early embryos, by means of which alone the particular points of interest in the development of the bird could be worked out. As the Emperor is peculiar in nesting at the coldest season of the year, this journey entailed the risk of sledge traveling in mid-winter, and the travelers had also to traverse about a hundred miles of the Barrier surface, and to cross a chaos of crevasses which had previously taken a party as much as two hours to cross by daylight.

Such was the enterprise for which Wilson, Bowers and Cherry-Garrard were with the help of others making preparations, and apart from the extraordinarily adventurous side of this journey, it was most interesting because the travelers were to make several experiments. Each man was to go on a different food scale, eiderdown sleeping-bags were to be carried inside the reindeer ones, and a new kind of crampon and a double tent were to be tried. 'I came across a hint as to the value of a double tent in Sverdrup's book, "New Land,"' Scott wrote on June 20, 'and P.O. Evans has made a lining for one of the tents, it is secured on the inner side of the poles and provides an air space inside the tent. I think it is going to be a great success.'

By the 26th preparations for the party to start from Cape Evans 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, made a hasty dash for their camp, which by good luck they regained.

On that same night a blizzard began, and from moment to moment increased in fury. Very soon they found that the place where they had, with the hope of shelter, built their hut, was unfortunately chosen, for the wind instead of striking them directly was deflected on to them in furious, whirling gusts. Heavy blocks of snow and rock placed on the roof were hurled away and the canvas ballooned up, its disappearance being merely a question of time.

Close to the hut they had erected their tent and had left several valuable articles inside it; the tent had been well spread and amply secured with snow and boulders, but one terrific gust tore it up and whirred it away. Inside the hut they waited for the roof to vanish, and wondered, while they vainly tried to make it secure, what they could do if it went. After fourteen hours it disappeared, as they were trying to pin down one corner. Thereupon the smother of snow swept over them, and all they could do was to dive immediately for their sleeping-bags. Once Bowers put out his head and said, 'We're all right,' in as ordinary tones as he could manage, whereupon Wilson and Cherry-Garrard replied, 'Yes, we're all right'; then all of them were silent for a night and half a day, while the wind howled and howled, and the snow entered every chink and crevice of their sleeping-bags.

'This gale,' Scott says, 'was the same (July 23) in which we registered our maximum wind force, and it seems probable that it fell on Cape Crozier even more violently than on us.'

The wind fell at noon on the following day, and the wretched travelers then crept from their icy nests, spread the floorcloth over their heads, and lit their primus. For the first time in forty-eight hours they tasted food, and having eaten their meal under these extraordinary conditions they began to talk of plans to build shelters on the homeward route. Every night, they decided, they must dig a large pit and cover it as best they could with their floorcloth.

Fortune, however, was now to befriend them, as about half a mile from the hut Bowers discovered their tent practically uninjured. But on the following day when they started homeward another blizzard fell upon them, and kept them prisoners for two more days.

By this time the miserable condition of their effects was beyond description. The sleeping-bags could not be rolled up, in fact they were so thoroughly frozen that attempts to bend them actually broke the skins. All socks, finnesko, and mitts had long been coated with ice, and when placed in breast-pockets or inside vests at night they did not even show signs of thawing. Indeed it is scarcely possible to realize the horrible discomforts of these three forlorn travelers, as they plodded back across the Barrier in a temperature constantly below - 60°.

'Wilson,' Scott wrote, 'is disappointed at seeing so little of the penguins, but to me and to everyone who has remained here the result of this effort is the appeal it makes to our imagination as one of the most gallant stories of Polar history. That men should wander forth in the depth of a Polar night to face the most dismal cold and the fiercest gales in darkness is something new; that they should have persisted in this effort in spite of every adversity for five full weeks is heroic. It makes a tale for our generation which I hope may not be lost in the telling.

'Moreover the material results are by no means despicable. We shall know now when that extraordinary bird the Emperor penguin lays its eggs, and under what conditions; but even if our information remains meager concerning its embryology, our party has shown the nature of the conditions which exist on the Great Barrier in winter. Hitherto we have only imagined their severity; now we have proof, and a positive light is thrown on the local climatology of our Strait.'

Of the indomitable spirit shown by his companions on this journey Cherry-Garrard gives wonderful and convincing proof in his diary. Bowers, with his capacity for sleeping under the most distressing conditions, was 'absolutely magnificent'; and the story of how he arranged a line by which he fastened the cap of the tent to himself, so that if it went away a second time it should not be unaccompanied, is only one of the many tales of his resource and determination.

In addition to the eggs that the party had brought back and the knowledge of the winter conditions on the Barrier that they had gained, their journey settled several points in connection with future sledding work. They had traveled on a very simple food ration in different and extreme proportions, for the only provisions they took were pemmican, butter, biscuit and tea. After a short experience they found that Wilson, who had arranged for the greatest quantity of fat, had too much of it, while Cherry-Garrard, who had declared for biscuit, had more than he could eat. Then a middle course was struck which gave a proportion agreeable to all of them, and which at the same time suited the total quantities of their various articles of food. The only change that was suggested was the addition of cocoa for the evening meal, because the travelers, thinking that tea robbed them of their slender chance of sleep, had contented themselves with hot water. 'In this way,' Scott decided, 'we have arrived at a simple and suitable ration for the inland plateau.'

Of the sleeping-bags there was little to be said, for although the eiderdown bag might be useful for a short spring trip, it became iced up too quickly to be much good on a long journey. Bowers never used his eiderdown bag, [Footnote: He insisted upon giving it to Cherry-Garrard. 'It was,' the latter says, 'wonderfully self-sacrificing of him, more than I can write. I felt a brute to take it, but I was getting useless unless I got some sleep, which my big bag would not allow.'] and in some miraculous manner he managed more than once to turn his reindeer bag. The weights of the sleeping-bags before and after the journey give some idea of the ice collected.

                     Starting Final 
                     Weight Weight 
  Wilson, reindeer and eiderdown. 17 lbs. 40 lbs. 
  Bowers, reindeer only. 17 " 33 " 
  C.-Garrard, reindeer and eiderdown. 18 " 45 "

The double tent was considered a great success, and the new crampons were much praised except by Bowers, whose fondness for the older form was not to be shaken. 'We have discovered,' Scott stated in summing up the results of the journey, 'a hundred details of clothes, mitts, and footwear: there seems no solution to the difficulties which attach to these articles in extreme cold; all Wilson can say, speaking broadly, is "The gear is excellent, excellent." One continues to wonder as to the possibilities of fur clothing as made by the Esquimaux, with a sneaking feeling that it may outclass our more civilized garb. For us this can only be a matter of speculation, as it would have been quite impossible to have obtained such articles. With the exception of this radically different alternative, I feel sure we are as near perfection as experience can direct. At any rate we can now hold that our system of clothing has come through a severer test than any other, fur included.'

With the return of the Cape Crozier Party lectures were resumed, and apart from one or two gales the weather was so good and the returning light so stimulating both to man and beast, that the spirits of the former rose apace while those of the latter became almost riotous when exercised. On August 10, Scott and the new masters were to take charge on September 1, so that they could exercise their respective animals and get to know them as well as possible. The new arrangement was:

  Bowers Victor 
  Wilson Nobby 
  Atkinson Jehu 
  Wright Chinaman 
  Cherry-Garrard Michael 
  Evans (P.O.) Snatcher 
  Crean Bones 
  Keohane Jimmy Pigg 
  Oates Christopher 
  Scott and Oates Snippets.

On the same day Oates gave his second excellent lecture on 'Horse Management,' and afterwards the problem of snow-shoes was seriously discussed. Besides the problem of the form of the shoes was also the question of the means of attachment, and as to both points all sorts of suggestions were made. At that time Scott's opinion was that the pony snow-shoes they had, which were made on the grating or racquet principle, would probably be the best, the only alternative seeming to be to perfect the principle of the lawn mowing shoe. 'Perhaps,' he adds, 'we shall come to both kinds: the first for the quiet animals and the last for the more excitable. I am confident the matter is of first importance.'

Ten days later Scott had to admit that the ponies were becoming a handful, and for the time being they would have been quite unmanageable if they had been given any oats. As it was, Christopher, Snippets and Victor were suffering from such high spirits that all three of them bolted on the 21st.

A prolonged gale arrived just as the return of the sun was due, and for three days everyone was more or less shut up in the hut. Although the temperature was not especially low anyone who went outside for even the briefest moment had to dress in wind clothes, because exposed woolen or cloth materials became so instantaneously covered with powdery crystals, that when they were brought back into the warmth they were soon wringing wet. When, however, there was no drift it was quicker and easier to slip on an overcoat, and for his own garment of this description Scott admits a sentimental attachment. 'I must confess,' he says, 'an affection for my veteran uniform overcoat, inspired by its persistent utility. I find that it is twenty-three years of age and can testify to its strenuous existence. It has been spared neither rain, wind, nor salt sea spray, tropic heat nor Arctic cold; it has outlived many sets of buttons, from their glittering gilded youth to green old age, and it supports its four-stripe shoulder straps as gaily as the single lace ring of the early days which proclaimed it the possession of a humble sub-lieutenant. Withal it is still a very long way from the fate of the "one-horse shay."'

Not until August 26 did the sun appear, and everyone was at once out and about and in the most cheerful frame of mind. The shouts and songs of men could be heard for miles, and the outlook on life of every member of the expedition seemed suddenly to have changed. For if there is little that is new to be said about the return of the sun in Polar regions, it must always be a very real and important event to those who have lived without it for so many months, and who have almost forgotten the sensation of standing in brilliant sunshine.