CHAPTER VIII. ON THE BEARDMORE GLACIER

  In thrilling region of thick ribbed ice 
  To be imprison'd in the viewless winds 
  And blown with restless violence round about. 
   - SHAKESPEARE.

On the death of the ponies at Camp 31 the party was reorganized, and for some days advanced in the following order:

  Sledge 1. Scott, Wilson, Oates and P.O. Evans. 
  Sledge 2. E. Evans, Atkinson, Wright and Lashly. 
  Sledge 3. Bowers, Cherry-Garrard, Crean and Keohane; with 
            Meares and Demetri continuing to drive the dogs.

When leaving this Camp Scott was very doubtful whether the loads could be pulled over such an appalling surface, and that success attended their efforts was due mainly to the ski. The start was delayed by the readjustments that had to be made, but when they got away at noon, and with a 'one, two, three together' Scott's party began to pull their sledge, they were most agreeably surprised to find it running fairly easily behind them. The first mile was gained in about half an hour, but then they began to rise, and soon afterwards with the slope becoming steeper and the surface getting worse they had to take off their ski. After this the pulling was extraordinarily exhausting, for they sank above their finnesko, and in some places nearly up to their knees.

The runners of the sledges became coated with a thin film of ice from which it was impossible to free them, and the sledges themselves sank in soft spots to the cross-bars. At 5 P.M. they reached the top of the slope, and after tea started on the down grade. On this they had to pull almost as vigorously as on the upward slope, but they could just manage to get along on ski.

Evans and his party, however, were unable to keep up the pace set by the leaders, and when they camped at 9.15 Scott heard some news that thoroughly alarmed him. 'It appears,' he wrote, 'that Atkinson says that Wright is getting played out, and Lashly is not so fit as he was owing to the heavy pulling since the blizzard. I have not felt satisfied about this party. The finish of the march to-day showed clearly that something was wrong.... True, the surface was awful and growing worse every moment. It is a very serious business if the men are going to crack up. As for myself, I never felt fitter and my party can easily hold its own. P.O. Evans, of course, is a tower of strength, but Oates and Wilson are doing splendidly also.'

Round the spot where Camp 32 had been pitched the snow was appallingly deep and soft. 'Every step here one sinks to the knees, and the uneven surface is obviously insufficient to support the sledges.' A wind, however, had sprung up, and though under ordinary circumstances it would have been far from welcome, on this occasion it was a blessing because it hardened the snow; and a good surface was all the more necessary because, after half another march, Meares and Demetri were to return with the dogs, and in consequence 200 lbs. would have to be added to each sledge-load.

Before starting from Camp 32 they built a depôt (the Lower Glacier depôt), made it very conspicuous, and left a good deal of gear there. Then at the very beginning of their march they got into big pressure, and must have passed over several crevasses. After four hours, however, they were clear of the pressure, and then they said good-bye to Meares and Demetri, who took back a note from Scott to say that 'Things are not so rosy as they might be, but we keep our spirits up and say the luck must turn. This is only to tell you that I find I can keep up with the rest as well as of old.'

The start after lunch was anxious work, for the question whether they could pull their loads had to be answered. Scott's party went away first, and, to their joy, found that they could make fairly good headway. Every now and again the sledge sank in a soft patch which brought them up, and then they got sideways to the sledge and hauled it out. 'We learned,' Scott wrote on December 11, at Camp 33, 'to treat such occasions with patience.... The great thing is to keep the sledge moving, and for an hour or more there were dozens of critical moments when it all but stopped, and not a few when it brought up altogether. The latter were very trying and tiring. But suddenly the surface grew more uniform and we more accustomed to the game, for after a long stop to let the other parties come up, I started at 6 and ran on till 7, pulling easily without a halt at the rate of about 2 miles an hour. I was very jubilant; all difficulties seemed to be vanishing; but unfortunately our history was not repeated with the other parties. Bowers came up half an hour after us. They also had done well at the last, and I'm pretty sure they will get on all right. Keohane is the only weak spot, and he only, I think, because temporarily blind. But Evans' party didn't get up till 10. They started quite well, but got into difficulties, did just the wrong thing by straining again and again, and so, tiring themselves, went from bad to worse. Their ski shoes, too, are out of trim.'

During the morning of the 12th they steered for the Commonwealth Range until they reached about the middle of the glacier and then the course was altered for the 'Cloudmaker,' and afterwards still further to the west. In consequence they got a much better view of the southern side of the main glacier than Shackleton's party had obtained, and a number of peaks not noticed previously were observed. On the first stage of this march Scott's party was bogged time after time, and do what they could their sledge dragged like a huge lump of lead. Evans' team had been sent off in advance and kept well ahead until lunch-time. Then, when Scott admits being 'pretty well cooked,' the secret of their trouble was disclosed in a thin film with some hard knots of ice on the runners of the sledge; these impediments having been removed they went ahead without a hitch, and in a mile or two resumed their leading position. As they advanced it became more and more evident that, with the whole of the lower valley filled with snow from the storm, they would have been bogged had they been without ski. 'On foot one sinks to the knees, and if pulling on a sledge to half-way between knee and thigh.'

Scott's hope was that they would get better conditions as they rose, but on the next march the surface became worse instead of better, the sledges simply plunging into the soft places and stopping dead. So slow in fact was the progress they made, that on his sledge Scott decided at lunch to try the 10-foot runners under the cross-bars, for the sledge was sinking so deeply that the cross-pieces were on the surface and acting as brakes. Three hours were spent in securing the runners, and then Scott's party started and promptly saw what difficulties the other teams were having.

In spite of the most desperate efforts to get along, Bowers and his men were so constantly bogged that Scott soon passed them. But the toil was awful, because the snow with the sun shining and a high temperature had become very wet and sticky, and again and again the sledge got one runner on harder snow than the other, canted on its side, and refused to move. At the top of the rise Evans' party was reduced to relay work, and shortly afterwards Bowers was compelled to adopt the same plan. 'We,' Scott says, 'got our whole load through till 7 P.M., camping time, but only with repeated halts and labor which was altogether too strenuous. The other parties certainly cannot get a full load along on the surface, and I much doubt if we could continue to do so, but we must try again to-morrow. I suppose we have advanced a bare four miles to-day and the aspect of things is very little changed. Our height is now about 1,500 feet.'

On the following morning Evans' party got off first from Camp 35, and after stiff hauling for an hour or so found the work much easier than on the previous day. Bowers' contingent followed without getting along so well, and so Scott, whose party were having no difficulty with their load, exchanged sledges with them, and a satisfactory morning's march was followed by still better work in the afternoon, eleven or twelve miles being gained. 'I think the soft snow trouble is at an end, and I could wish nothing better than a continuance of the present surface. Towards the end of the march we were pulling our load with the greatest ease. It is splendid to be getting along and to find some adequate return for the work we are putting into the business.'

At Camp 37, on Friday, December 15, they had reached a height of about 2,500 feet, after a march on which the surface steadily improved and the snow covering over the blue ice became thinner and thinner. During the afternoon they found that at last they could start their sledges by giving one good heave, and so, for the first time, they were at liberty to stop when they liked without the fear of horrible jerks before they could again set the sledge going. Patches of ice and hard névé were beginning to show through in places, and had not the day's work been interrupted by a snowstorm at 5 P.M. their march would have been a really good one, but, as it was, eleven more miles had to be put to their credit. The weather looked, however, very threatening as they turned in for the night, and Scott expressed a fervent hope that they were not going to be afflicted by snowstorms as they approached the worst part of the glacier.

As was to be expected after the storm they found the surface difficult when the march was resumed, but by sticking to their work for over ten hours - 'the limit of time to be squeezed into one day' - they covered eleven miles, and altered greatly the aspect of the glacier. Beginning the march as usual on ski, they had to take them off in the afternoon because they struck such a peculiarly difficult surface that the sledges were constantly being brought up. Then on foot they made better progress, though no advance could be made without the most strenuous labor. The brittle crust would hold for a pace or two, and then let them down with a bump, while now and again a leg went down a crack in the hard ice underneath. So far, since arriving among the disturbances, which increased rapidly towards the end of the march, they had not encountered any very alarming crevasses, though a large quantity of small ones could be seen.

At the end of the march to Camp 39, Scott was able to write, 'For once we can say "Sufficient for the day is the good thereof." Our luck may be on the turn - I think we deserve it. In spite of the hard work everyone is very fit and very cheerful, feeling well fed and eager for more toil. Eyes are much better except poor Wilson's; he has caught a very bad attack. Remembering his trouble on our last Southern journey, I fear he is in for a very bad time.... I'm inclined to think that the summit trouble will be mostly due to the chill falling on sunburned skins. Even now one feels the cold strike directly one stops. We get fearfully thirsty and chip up ice on the march, as well as drinking a great deal of water on halting. Our fuel only just does it, but that is all we want, and we have a bit in hand for the summit.... We have worn our crampons all day (December 17) and are delighted with them. P.O. Evans, the inventor of both crampons and ski shoes, is greatly pleased, and certainly we owe him much.'

On the 19th, although snow fell on and off during the whole day and crevasses were frequent, a splendid march of 14 miles was accomplished. The sledges ran fairly well if only the haulers could keep their feet, but on the rippled ice which they were crossing it was impossible to get anything like a firm foothold. Still, however, they stuck most splendidly to their task, and on the following day even a better march was made to Camp 41.

Starting on a good surface they soon came to a number of criss-cross cracks, into two of which Scott fell and badly bruised his knee and thigh. Then they reached an admirably smooth ice surface over which they traveled at an excellent pace. A long hour was spent over the halt for lunch, during which angles, photographs and sketches were taken, and continuing to make progress in the second part of the day's march they finished up with a gain of 17 miles. 'It has not been a strain except perhaps for me with my wounds received early in the day. The wind has kept us cool on the march, which has in consequence been very much pleasanter.... Days like this put heart in one.'

On Wednesday, December 20, however, the good marches of the previous two days were put entirely into the shade by one of nearly 23 miles, during which they rose 800 feet. Pulling the sledges in crampons was not at all difficult on the hard snow and on hard ice with patches of snow. At night they camped in Lat. 84° 59' 6", and then Scott had to perform a task that he most cordially disliked. 'I have just told off the people to return to-morrow night: Atkinson, Wright, Cherry-Garrard and Keohane. All are disappointed - poor Wright rather bitterly, I fear. I dreaded this necessity of choosing - nothing could be more heartrending. I calculated our program to start from 85° 10' with twelve units of food [Footnote: A unit of food means a week's supplies for four men.] and eight men. We ought to be in this position to-morrow night, less one day's food. After all our harassing trouble one cannot but be satisfied with such a prospect.'

The next stage of the journey, though accomplished without accident, was too exciting to be altogether pleasant, for crevasses were frequent and falls not at all uncommon. And at mid-day, while they were in the worst of places, a fog rolled up and kept them in their tents for nearly three hours.

During this enforced delay, Scott wrote a letter which was taken back by the returning party.

'December 21, 1911, Lat. 85° S. We are struggling on, considering all things, against odds. The weather is a constant anxiety, otherwise arrangements are working exactly as planned.

'For your ear also I am exceedingly fit and can go with the best of them.

'It is a pity the luck doesn't come our way, because every detail of equipment is right... but all will be well if we can get through to the Pole.

'I write this sitting in our tent waiting for the fog to clear, an exasperating position as we are in the worst crevassed region. Teddy Evans and Atkinson were down to the length of their harness this morning, and we have all been half-way down. As first man I get first chance, and it's decidedly exciting not knowing which step will give way. Still all this is interesting enough if one could only go on.

'Since writing the above I made a dash for it; got out of the valley out of the fog and away from crevasses. So here we are practically on the summit and up to date in the provision line. We ought to get through.'

After the fog had cleared off they soon got out of the worst crevasses, and on to a snow slope that led past Mount Darwin. The pull up the slope was long and stiff, but by holding on until 7.30 P.M. they got off a good march and found a satisfactory place for their depôt. Fortunately the weather was both calm and bright, and all the various sorting arrangements that had to be made before the returning party left them were carried out under most favorable conditions. 'For me,' Scott says, 'it is an immense relief to have the indefatigable little Bowers to see to all detail arrangements of this sort,' and on the following day he added, 'we said an affecting farewell to the returning party, who have taken things very well, dear good fellows as they are.'

Then the reorganized parties (Scott, Wilson, Oates and P.O. Evans; Bowers, E. R. Evans, Crean and Lashly) started off with their heavy loads, and any fears they had about their ability to pull them were soon removed.

'It was a sad job saying good-bye,' Cherry-Garrard wrote in his diary, 'and I know some eyes were a bit dim. It was thick and snowing when we started after making the depôt, and the last we saw of them as we swung the sledge north, was a black dot just disappearing over the next ridge, and a big white pressure wave ahead of them.'

Then the returning party set off on their homeward march, and arrived at Cape Evans on January 28, 1912, after being away for three months.

Repairs to the sledgemeter delayed the advancing party for some time during their first march under the new conditions, but they managed to cover twelve miles, and, with the loads becoming lighter every day, Scott hoped to march longer hours and to make the requisite progress. Steering, however, south-west on the next morning they soon found themselves among such bad crevasses and pressure, that they were compelled to haul out to the north, and then to the west. One comfort was that all the time they were rising. 'It is rather trying having to march so far to the west, but if we keep rising we must come to the end of the disturbance some time.' During the second part of this march great changes of fortune awaited them. At first they started west up a slope, and on the top another pressure appeared on the left, but less lofty and more snow-covered than that which had troubled them in the morning. There was temptation to try this, but Scott resisted it and turned west up yet another slope, on the top of which they reached a most extraordinary surface. Narrow crevasses, that were quite invisible, ran in all directions. All of these crevasses were covered with a thin crust of hardened névé which had not a sign of a crack in it. One after another, and sometimes two at a time, they all fell in; and though they were getting fairly accustomed to unexpected falls through being unable to mark the run of the surface appearances of cracks, or where such cracks were covered with soft snow, they had never expected to find a hardened crust formed over a crack, and such a surface was as puzzling as it was dangerous and troublesome.

For about ten minutes or so, while they were near these narrow crevasses, they came on to snow which had a hard crust and loose crystals below it, and each step was like breaking through a glass-house. And then, quite suddenly, the hard surface gave place to regular sastrugi, and their horizon leveled in every direction. At 6 P.M., when they reached Camp 45 (height about 7,750 feet), 17 miles stood to their credit and Scott was feeling 'very cheerful about everything.' 'My determination,' he said, 'to keep mounting irrespective of course is fully justified, and I shall be indeed surprised if we have any further difficulties with crevasses or steep slopes. To me for the first time our goal seems really in sight.'

On the following day (Christmas Eve) they did not find a single crevasse, but high pressure ridges were still to be seen, and Scott confessed that he should be glad to lose sight of such disturbances. Christmas Day, however, brought more trouble from crevasses - 'very hard, smooth névé between high ridges at the edge of crevasses, and therefore very difficult to get foothold to pull the sledges.' To remedy matters they got out their ski sticks, but this did not prevent several of them from going half-down; while Lashly, disappearing completely, had to be pulled out by means of the Alpine rope. 'Lashly says the crevasse was 50 feet deep and 8 feet across, in form U, showing that the word "unfathomable" can rarely be applied. Lashly is 44 to-day and as hard as nails. His fall has not even disturbed his equanimity.'

When, however, they had reached the top of the crevasse ridge a better surface was found, and their Christmas lunch - at which they had such luxuries as chocolate and raisins - was all the more enjoyable because 8 miles or so had already been gained.

In the middle of the afternoon they got a fine view of the land, but more trouble was caused by crevasses, until towards the end of their march they got free of them and on to a slight decline down which they progressed at a swinging pace. Then they camped and prepared for their great Christmas meal. 'I must,' Scott says, 'write a word of our supper last night. We had four courses. The first, pemmican, full whack, with slices of horse meat flavored with onion and curry powder, and thickened with biscuit; then an arrowroot, cocoa and biscuit hoosh sweetened; then a plum-pudding; then cocoa with raisins, and finally a dessert of caramels and ginger. After the feast it was difficult to move. Wilson and I couldn't finish our share of plum-pudding. We have all slept splendidly and feel thoroughly warm - such is the effect of full feeding.'

The advance, possibly owing to the 'tightener' on Christmas night, was a little slow on the following morning, but nevertheless 15 miles were covered in the day and the 86th parallel was reached. Crevasses still appeared, and though they avoided them on this march, they were not so lucky during the next stage to Camp 49.

In fact Wednesday, December 27, was unfortunate owing to several reasons. To begin with, Bowers broke the only hypsometer thermometer, and so they were left with nothing to check their two aneroids. Then during the first part of the march they got among sastrugi which jerked the sledges about, and so tired out the second team that they had great difficulty in keeping up. And, finally, they found more crevasses and disturbances during the afternoon. For an hour the work was as painful as it could be, because they tumbled into the crevasses and got the most painful jerks. 'Steering the party,' Scott wrote at Camp 49, 'is no light task. One cannot allow one's thoughts to wander as others do, and when, as this afternoon, one gets amongst disturbances, I find it very worrying and tiring. I do trust we shall have no more of them. We have not lost sight of the sun since we came on the summit; we should get an extraordinary record of sunshine. It is monotonous work this; the sledgemeter and theodolite govern the situation.'

During the next morning the second sledge made such 'heavy weather' that Scott changed places with E. R. Evans. That, however, did not improve matters much, for Scott soon found that the second team had not the same swing as his own team, so he changed Lashly for P.O. Evans, and then they seemed to get on better. At lunch-time they discussed the difficulties that the second party was having, and several reasons for them were put forward. One was that the team was stale, another that all the trouble was due to bad stepping and want of swing, and yet another was that the first's party's sledge pulled much more easily than the second party's.

On the chance that this last suggestion was correct, Scott and his original team took the second party's sledge in the afternoon, and soon found that it was a terrible drag to get it along in soft snow, whereas the second party found no difficulty in pulling the sledge that had been given to them. 'So the sledge is the cause of the trouble, and taking it out, I found that all is due to want of care. The runners ran excellently, but the structure has been distorted by bad strapping, bad loading, &c. The party are not done, and I have told them plainly that they must wrestle with the trouble and get it right for themselves.'

Friday evening found them at Camp 51, and at a height of about 9,000 feet, But they had encountered a very bad surface, on which 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.'

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.