CHAPTER VII. THE SOUTHERN JOURNEY BEGINS
To test the surface the man-haulers tried to pull a load during the afternoon, and although it proved a tough job they managed to do it by pulling in ski. On foot the men sank to their knees, and an attempt to see what Nobby could do under such circumstances was anything but encouraging.
Writing in the evening Scott said, 'Wilson thinks the ponies finished, but Oates thinks they will get another march in spite of the surface, if it comes to-morrow. If it should not, we must kill the ponies to-morrow and get on as best we can with the men on ski and the dogs. But one wonders what the dogs can do on such a surface. I much fear they also will prove inadequate. Oh! for fine weather, if only to the Glacier.'
By 11 P.M. the wind had gone to the north, and the sky at last began really to break. The temperature also helped matters by falling to +26°, and in consequence the water nuisance began to abate; and at the prospect of action on the following morning cheerful sounds were once more heard in the camp. 'The poor ponies look wistfully for the food of which so very little remains, yet they are not hungry, as recent savings have resulted from food left in their nose-bags. They look wonderfully fit, all things considered. Everything looks more hopeful to-night, but nothing can recall four lost days.' During the night Scott turned out two or three times to find the weather slowly improving, and at 8 o'clock on December 9 they started upon a most terrible march to Camp 31.
The tremendous snowfall had made the surface intolerably soft, and the half-fed animals sank deeper and deeper. None of them could be led for more than a few minutes, but if they were allowed to follow the poor beasts did fairly well. Soon, however, it began to seem as if no real headway could be made, and so the man-haulers were pressed into the service to try and improve matters.
Bowers and Cherry-Garrard went ahead with one 10-foot sledge and made a track - thus most painfully a mile or so was gained. Then when it seemed as if the limit had been reached P.O. Evans saved the situation by putting the last pair of snow-shoes upon Snatcher, who at once began to go on without much pressure, and was followed by the other ponies.
No halt was made for lunch, but after three or four laborious miles they found themselves engulfed in pressures which added to the difficulties of their march. Still, however, they struggled on, and by 8 P.M. they were within a mile of the slope ascending to the gap, which Shackleton called the Gateway. This gateway was a neck or saddle of drifted snow lying in a gap of the mountain rampart which flanked the last curve of the Glacier, and Scott had hoped to be through it at a much earlier date, as indeed he would have been had not the prolonged storm delayed him.
By this time the ponies, one and all, were quite exhausted. 'They came on painfully slowly a few hundred yards at a time.... I was hauling ahead, a ridiculously light load, and yet finding the pulling heavy enough. We camped, and the ponies have been shot. Poor beasts! they have done wonderfully well considering the terrible circumstances under which they worked.'
On December 8 Wilson wrote in his journal, 'I have kept Nobby all my biscuits to-night as he has to try to do a march to-morrow, and then happily he will be shot and all of them, as their food is quite done.' And on the following day he added: 'Nobby had all my biscuits last night and this morning, and by the time we camped I was just ravenously hungry.... Thank God the horses are now all done with and we begin the heavy work ourselves.'
This Camp 31 received the name of Shambles Camp, and although the ponies had not, owing to the storm, reached the distance Scott had expected, yet he, and all who had taken part in that distressing march, were relieved to know that the sufferings of their plucky animals had at last come to an end.