CHAPTER VII. THE SOUTHERN JOURNEY BEGINS
After Day and Hooper had turned back the party was re-arranged and started together. The man-haulers, Atkinson, E. Evans and Lashly, went ahead with their gear on the 10-foot sledge, then came Wright with Chinaman and Keohane with James Pigg, the rest following close behind them. But although the two crocks had not been given their usual start, they stuck to their work so gallantly that at the finish they were less than a quarter of a mile behind.
At Camp 22, in Lat. 81° 35' the Middle Barrier Depôt was made, and as they did not leave until 3 A.M. they were gradually getting back to day-marching. The next stage, however, of their journey was struggled through under the greatest difficulties. At the start the surface was bad, and the man-haulers in front made such heavy weather of it that they were repeatedly overtaken. This threw the ponies out and prolonged the march so much that six hours were spent in reaching the lunch camp. But bad as the first part of the march had been, the latter part was even worse. The advance party started on ski, but had the greatest difficulty in keeping a course; and presently snow began to fall heavily with a rise of temperature, and the ski became hopelessly clogged. At this time the surface was terribly hard for pulling, and the man-haulers also found it impossible to steer. The march of 13 miles was eventually completed, but under the most harassing circumstances and with very tired animals.
'Our forage supply necessitates that we should plug on the 13 (geographical) miles daily under all conditions, so that we can only hope for better things. It is several days since we had a glimpse of land, which makes conditions especially gloomy. A tired animal makes a tired man, I find, and none of us are very bright now after the day's march.'
No improvement in the weather was in store for them on the following day (November 28), for snowstorms swept over them, the driving snow not only preventing them from seeing anything, but also hitting them stingingly in their faces. Chinaman was shot on this night, but in struggling on until he was within go miles of the Glacier he had done more than was ever expected of him; and with only four bags of forage left the end of all the ponies was very near at hand.
During the march to Camp 25, Lat. 82° 21', 'the most unexpected and trying summer blizzard yet experienced in this region' ceased, and prospects improved in every respect. While they were marching the land showed up hazily, and at times looked remarkably close to them. 'Land shows up almost ahead now,' Scott wrote on the 29th, 'and our pony goal is less than 70 miles away. The ponies are tired, but I believe all have five days' work left in them, and some a great deal more.... It follows that the dogs can be employed, rested and fed well on the homeward track. We could really get through now with their help and without much delay, yet every consideration makes it desirable to save the men from heavy hauling as long as possible. So I devoutly hope the 70 miles will come in the present order of things.'
Snippets and Nobby by this time walked by themselves, but both of them kept a continually cunning eye upon their driver, and if he stopped they at once followed his example. It was, Scott admitted, a relief no longer to have to lead his animal, for fond of Snippets as he was, the vagaries of the animal were annoying when on the march. Thursday, November 30, brought most pleasant weather with it, but the surface was so bad that all of the ponies, with the exception of Nobby, began to show obvious signs of failure. A recurrence of 'sinking crusts' (areas which gave way with a report) was encountered, and the ponies very often sank nearly to their knees.
At Camp 27 Nobby was the only pony who did not show signs of extreme exhaustion, but forage was beginning to get so scarce that even Nobby had nearly reached the end of his life. On this night (December 1) Christopher was shot, and by no possibility could he be much regretted, for he had given nothing but trouble at the outset, and as soon as his spirits began to fail his strength had also disappeared. 'He has been a great disappointment,' Cherry-Garrard wrote, 'even James Pigg has survived him.'
A depôt, called the Southern Barrier Depôt, was left at Camp 27, so that no extra weight was added to the loads of the other ponies. 'Three more marches ought to carry us through. With the seven crocks and the dog teams we must get through, I think. The men alone ought not to have heavy loads on the surface, which is extremely trying.'
On the morning of the 1st Nobby had been tried in snow-shoes, and for about four miles had traveled splendidly upon them, but then the shoes racked and had to be taken off; nevertheless, in Scott's opinion, there was no doubt that snow-shoes were the thing for ponies, and that if his ponies had been able to use them from the beginning their condition would have been very different from what it was.
From Camp 28, Lat. 83°, Scott wrote, 'Started under very bad weather conditions. The stratus spreading over from the S.E. last night meant mischief, and all day we marched in falling snow with a horrible light.... The ponies were sinking deep in a wretched surface. I suggested to Oates that he should have a roving commission to watch the animals, but he much preferred to lead one, so I handed over Snippets very willingly and went on ski myself.' This he found such easy work, that he had time to take several photographs of the ponies as they plunged through the snow. But in the afternoon they found a better surface, and Scott, who was leading, had to travel at a very steady pace to keep the lead.