CHAPTER X. ON THE HOMEWARD JOURNEY

  It matters not how strait the gate, 
    How charged with punishments the scroll; 
  I am the master of my fate, 
    I am the Captain of my soul. 
   - HENLEY.

During the afternoon of Thursday, January 18, they left the Pole 7 miles behind them, and early in the march on the following morning picked up their outward tracks and a Norwegian cairn. These tracks they followed until they came to the black flag that had been the first means of telling them of the Norwegians' success. 'We have picked this flag up, using the staff for our sail, and are now camped about 1-1/2 miles further back on our tracks. So that is the last of the Norwegians for the present.'

In spite of a surface that was absolutely spoilt by crystals they marched 18-1/2 miles on the Friday, and also easily found the cairns that they had built; but until they reached Three Degree Depôt which was still 150 miles away, anxiety, Scott said, could not be laid to rest.

On the next day they reached their Southern Depôt and picked up four days' food. With the wind behind them and with full sail they went along at a splendid rate in the afternoon, until they were pulled up by a surface on which drifting snow was lying in heaps; and then, with the snow clinging to the ski, pulling became terribly distressing. 'I shall be very glad when Bowers gets his ski,' Scott wrote at R. 3, [Footnote: A number preceded by R. marks the camps on the return journey.] 'I'm afraid he must find these long marches very trying with short legs, but he is an undefeated little sportsman. I think Oates is feeling the cold and fatigue more than most of us. It is blowing pretty hard to-night, but with a good march we have earned one good hoosh and are very comfortable in the tent. It is everything now to keep up a good marching pace; I trust we shall be able to do so and catch the ship. Total march, 18-1/2 miles.'

A stiff blizzard with thick snow awaited them on the Sunday morning, but the weather cleared after mid-day, and they struggled on for a few very weary hours. At night they had 6 days' food in hand and 45 miles between them and their next depôt, where they had left 7 days' food to take them on the go miles to the Three Degree Depôt. 'Once there we ought to be safe, but we ought to have a day or two in hand on arrival and may have difficulty with following the tracks. However, if we can get a rating sight for our watches to-morrow we should be independent of the tracks at a pinch.'

January 22 brought an added worry in the fact that the ski boots were beginning to show signs of wear, but this was nothing compared with the anxiety Scott began to feel about Evans on the following day. 'There is no doubt that Evans is a good deal run down - his fingers are badly blistered and his nose is rather seriously congested with frequent frost-bites. He is very much annoyed with himself, which is not a good sign. I think Wilson, Bowers and I are as fit as possible under the circumstances. Oates gets cold feet.... We are only about 13 miles from our "Degree and half" Depôt and should get there tomorrow. The weather seems to be breaking up. Pray God we have something of a track to follow to the Three Degree Depôt - once we pick that up we ought to be right.'

Another blizzard attacked them at mid-day on the morrow, and so, though only seven miles from their depôt, they were obliged to camp, for it was impossible to see the tracks. With the prospect of bad weather and scant food on the tremendous summit journey in front of them, and with Oates and Evans suffering badly from frost-bites, Scott had to admit that the situation was going from bad to worse. But on the next afternoon, they managed to reach the Half Degree Depôt, and left with 9-1/2 days' provision to carry them the next 89 miles.

During Friday, January 26, they found their old tracks completely wiped out, but knowing that there were two cairns at four-mile intervals they were not anxious until they picked up the first far on their right, and afterwards Bowers caught a glimpse of the second which was far on their left. 'There is not a sign of our tracks between these cairns, but the last, marking our night camp of the 6th, No. 59, is in the belt of hard sastrugi, and I was comforted to see signs of the track reappearing as we camped. I hope to goodness we can follow it to-morrow.'

Throughout the early part of the next day's march, however, these hopes were not realized. Scott and Wilson pulling in front on ski, the others being on foot, found it very difficult to follow the track, which constantly disappeared altogether and at the best could only just be seen.

On the outward journey, owing to the heavy mounds, they had been compelled to take a very zigzag course, and in consequence the difficulty of finding signs of it was greatly increased. But by hook or crook they succeeded in sticking to the old track, and during the last part of the march they discovered, to their joy and relief, that it was much easier to follow. Through this march they were helped on their way by a southerly breeze, and as the air was at last dry again their tents and equipment began to lose the icy state caused by the recent blizzards. On the other hand, they were beginning to feel that more food, especially at lunch, was becoming more and more necessary, and their sleeping-bags, although they managed to sleep well enough in them, were slowly but steadily getting wetter.

On Sunday night, at R. 11, they were only 43 miles from their depôt with six days food in hand, after doing a good march of 16 miles. 'If this goes on and the weather holds we shall get our depôt without trouble. I shall indeed be glad to get it on the sledge. We are getting more hungry, there is no doubt. The lunch meal is beginning to seem inadequate. We are pretty thin, especially Evans, but none of us are feeling worked out. I doubt if we could drag heavy loads, but we can keep going with our light one. We talk of food a good deal more, and shall be glad to open out on it.

With the wind helping greatly and with no difficulty in finding the tracks, two splendid marches followed; but on the Tuesday their position had its serious as well as its bright side, for Wilson strained a tendon in his leg. 'It has,' Scott wrote, 'given pain all day and is swollen to-night. Of course, he is full of pluck over it, but I don't like the idea of such an accident here. To add to the trouble Evans has dislodged two finger-nails to-night; his hands are really bad, and to my surprise he shows signs of losing heart over it. He hasn't been cheerful since the accident.... We can get along with bad fingers, but it [will be] a mighty serious thing if Wilson's leg doesn't improve.'

Before lunch on Wednesday, January 31, they picked up the Three Degree Depôt, and were able slightly to increase their rations, though not until they reached the pony food depôt could they look for a 'real feed.' After lunch (January 31) the surface, owing to sandy crystals, was very bad, and with Wilson walking by the sledge to rest his leg as much as possible, pulling was even more toilsome work than usual. During the afternoon they picked up Bowers' ski, which he had left on December 31. 'The last thing we have to find on the summit, thank Heaven! Now we have only to go north and so shall welcome strong winds.'

Pulling on throughout the next day they reached a lunch cairn, which had been made when they were only a week out from the Upper Glacier Depôt. With eight days' food in hand Scott hoped that they would easily reach it, for their increased food allowance was having a good effect upon all of them, and Wilson's leg was better. On the other hand, Evans was still a cause for considerable anxiety.

All went very well during their march to R. 16 on February 2 until Scott, trying to keep the track and his feet at the same time on a very slippery surface, came 'an awful purler' on his shoulder. 'It is horribly sore to-night and another sick person added to our tent - three out of five injured, and the most troublesome surfaces to come. We shall be lucky if we get through without serious injury.... The extra food is certainly helping us, but we are getting pretty hungry.... It is time we were off the summit - Pray God another four days will see us pretty well clear of it. Our bags are getting very wet and we ought to have more sleep.'

On leaving their sixteenth camp they were within 80 miles or so of the Upper Glacier Depôt under Mount Darwin, and after exasperating delays in searching for tracks and cairns, they resolved to waste no more time, but to push due north just as fast as they could. Evans' fingers were still very bad, and there was little hope that he would be able for some time to help properly with the work, and on the following day an accident that entailed the most serious consequences happened.

'Just before lunch,' Scott wrote at R. 18, 'unexpectedly fell into crevasses, Evans and I together - a second fall for Evans, [Footnote: Wilson afterwards expressed an opinion that Evans injured his brain by one of these falls.] and I camped. After lunch saw disturbance ahead.... We went on ski over hard shiny descending surface. Did very well, especially towards end of march, covering in all 18.1.... The party is not improving in condition, especially Evans, who is becoming rather dull and incapable. Thank the Lord we have good food at each meal, but we get hungrier in spite of it. Bowers is splendid, full of energy and bustle all the time.'

On Monday morning a capital advance of over 10 miles was made, but in the afternoon difficulties again arose to harass them. Huge pressures and great street crevasses partly open barred their way, and so they had to steer more and more to the west on a very erratic course. Camping-time found them still in a very disturbed region, and although they were within 25 to 30 miles of their depôt there seemed to be no way through the disturbances that continued to block their path. On turning out to continue their march they went straight for Mount Darwin, but almost at once found themselves among huge open chasms. To avoid these they turned northwards between two of them, with the result that they got into chaotic disturbance. Consequently they were compelled to retrace their steps for a mile or so, and then striking to the west they got among a confused sea of sastrugi, in the midst of which they camped for lunch. A little better fortune attended them in the afternoon, and at their twentieth camp Scott estimated that they were anything from 10 to 15 miles off the Upper Glacier Depôt. 'Food is low and weather uncertain,' he wrote, 'so that many hours of the day were anxious; but this evening (February 6), though we are not so far advanced as I expected, the outlook is much more promising. Evans is the chief anxiety now; his cuts and wounds suppurate, his nose looks very bad, and altogether he shows considerable signs of being played out. Things may mend for him on the Glacier, and his wounds get some respite under warmer conditions. I am indeed glad to think we shall so soon have done with plateau conditions. It took us 27 days to reach the Pole and 21 days back - in all 48 days - nearly 7 weeks in low temperature with almost incessant wind.'

February 7, which was to see the end of their summit journey, opened with a very tiresome march down slopes and over terraces covered with hard sastrugi. However, they made fairly good progress during the day, and between six and seven o'clock their depôt was sighted and soon afterwards they were camped close to it. 'Well,' Scott wrote at R. 21, 'we have come through our 7 weeks' ice camp journey and most of us are fit, but I think another week might have had a very bad effect on P.O. Evans, who is going steadily downhill.'

On the next morning they started late owing to various re-arrangements having to be made, and then steered for Mt. Darwin to get specimens. As Wilson was still unable to use his ski, Bowers went on and got several specimens of much the same type - a close-grained granite rock which weathers red; and as soon as Bowers had rejoined the party they skidded downhill fairly fast, Scott and Bowers (the leaders) being on ski, Wilson and Oates on foot alongside the sledge, while Evans was detached.

By lunch-time they were well down towards Mt. Buckley, and decided to steer for the moraine under the mountain. Having crossed some very irregular steep slopes with big crevasses, they slid down towards the rocks, and then they saw that the moraine was so interesting that, after an advance of some miles had brought escape from the wind, the decision was made to camp and spend the rest of the day in geologising.

It has been extremely interesting. We found ourselves under perpendicular cliffs of Beacon sandstone, weathering rapidly and carrying veritable coal seams. From the last Wilson, with his sharp eyes, has picked several plant impressions, the last a piece of coal with beautifully traced leaves in layers, also some excellently preserved impressions of thick stems, showing cellular structure. In one place we saw the cast of small waves in the sand. To-night Bill has got a specimen of limestone with archeo-cyathus - the trouble is one cannot imagine where the stone comes from; it is evidently rare, as few specimens occur in the moraine. There is a good deal of pure white quartz. Altogether we have had a most interesting afternoon, and the relief of being out of the wind and in a warmer temperature is inexpressible. I hope and trust we shall all buck up again now that the conditions are more favorable.... A lot could be written on the delight of setting foot on rock after 14 weeks of snow and ice, and nearly 7 out of sight of aught else. It is like going ashore after a sea voyage.'

On the following morning they kept along the edge of the moraine to the end of Mt. Buckley, and again stopping to geologise, Wilson had a great find of vegetable impression in a piece of limestone. The time spent in collecting these geological specimens from the Beardmore Glacier, and the labor endured in dragging the additional 35 lbs. to their last camp, were doubtless a heavy price to pay; but great as the cost was they were more than willing to pay it. The fossils contained in these specimens, often so inconspicuous that it is a wonder they were discovered by the collectors, proved to be the most valuable obtained by the expedition, and promise to solve completely the questions of the age and past history of this portion of the Antarctic continent. At night, after a difficult day among bad ice pressures, Scott almost apologizes for being too tired to write any geological notes, and as the sledgemeter had been unshipped he could not tell the distance they had traversed. 'Very warm on march and we are all pretty tired.... Our food satisfies now, but we must march to keep on the full ration, and we want rest, yet we shall pull through all right, D. V. We are by no means worn out.'

On the night of Friday, February 10, they got some of the sleep that was so urgently needed, and in consequence there was a great change for the better in the appearance of everyone. Their progress, however, was delayed during the next afternoon by driving snow, which made steering impossible and compelled them to camp. 'We have two full days' food left,' Scott wrote on the same evening, 'and though our position is uncertain, we are certainly within two outward marches from the middle glacier depôt. However, if the weather doesn't clear by to-morrow, we must either march blindly on or reduce food.'

The conditions on Sunday morning were utterly wretched for the surface was bad and the light horrible, but they marched on until, with the light getting worse and worse, they suddenly found themselves in pressure. Then, unfortunately, they decided to steer east, and after struggling on for several hours found themselves in a regular trap. Having for a short time in the earlier part of the day got on to a good surface, they thought that all was going well and did not reduce their lunch rations. But half an hour after lunch they suddenly got into a terrible ice mess.

For three hours they plunged forward on ski, first thinking that they were too much to the right, and then too much to the left; meanwhile the disturbance got worse and worse, and there were moments when Scott nearly despaired of finding a way out of the awful turmoil in which they found themselves. At length, arguing that there must be a way out on the left, they plunged in that direction, only to find that the surface was more icy and crevassed.

'We could not manage our ski and pulled on foot, falling into crevasses every minute - most luckily no bad accident. At length we saw a smoother slope towards the land, pushed for it, but knew it was a woefully long way from us. The turmoil changed in character, irregular crevassed surface giving way to huge chasms, closely packed and most difficult to cross. It was very heavy work, but we had grown desperate. We won through at 10 P.M., and I write after 12 hours on the march. I think we are on or about the right track now, but we are still a good number of miles from the depôt, so we reduced rations to-night. We had three pemmican meals left and decided to make them into four. To-morrow's lunch must serve for two if we do not make big progress. It was a test of our endurance on the march and our fitness with small supper. We have come through well.'

On leaving R. 25, early on Monday morning, everything went well in the forenoon and a good march was made over a fair surface. Two hours before lunch they were cheered by the sight of their night camp of December 18 (the day after they had made their depôt), for this showed them that they were still on the right track. In the afternoon, refreshed by tea, they started off confidently expecting to reach their depôt, but by a most unfortunate chance they kept too far to the left and arrived in a maze of crevasses and fissures. Afterwards their course became very erratic, and finally, at 9 P.M., they landed in the worst place of all.

'After discussion we decided to camp, and here we are, after a very short supper and one meal only remaining in the food bag; the depôt doubtful in locality. We must get there to-morrow. Meanwhile we are cheerful with an effort.'

On that night, at Camp R. 26, Scott says that they all slept well in spite of grave anxieties, his own being increased by his visits outside the tent, when he saw the sky closing over and snow beginning to fall. At their ordinary hour for getting up the weather was so thick that they had to remain in their sleeping-bags; but presently the weather cleared enough for Scott dimly to see the land of the Cloudmaker. Then they got up and after breakfasting off some tea and one biscuit, so that they might leave their scanty remaining meal for even greater emergencies, they started to march through an awful turmoil of broken ice. In about an hour, however, they hit upon an old moraine track where the surface was much smoother, though the fog that was still hanging over everything added to their difficulties. Presently Evans raised their hopes with a shout of depôt ahead, but it proved to be nothing but a shadow on the ice, and then Wilson suddenly saw the actual depôt flag. 'It was an immense relief, and we were soon in possession of our 3-1/2 days' food. The relief to all is inexpressible; needless to say, we camped and had a meal.'

Marching on in the afternoon Scott kept more to the left, and closed the mountain until they came to the stone moraines, where Wilson detached himself and made a collection, while the others advanced with the sledge. Writing that night (Tuesday, February 13) at 'Camp R. 27, beside Cloudmaker' Scott says, 'We camped late, abreast the lower end of the mountain, and had nearly our usual satisfying supper. Yesterday was the worst experience of the trip and gave a horrid feeling of insecurity. Now we are right, but we must march. In future food must be worked so that we do not run so short if the weather fails us. We mustn't get into a hole like this again.... Bowers has had a very bad attack of snow-blindness, and Wilson another almost as bad. Evans has no power to assist with camping work.'

A good march followed to Camp R. 28, and with nearly three days' food they were about 30 miles away from the Lower Glacier Depôt. On the other hand, Scott was becoming most gravely concerned about the condition of the party, and especially about Evans, who seemed to be going from bad to worse. And on the next evening, after a heavy march he wrote, 'We don't know our distance from the depôt, but imagine about 20 miles. We are pulling for food and not very strong evidently.... We have reduced food, also sleep; feeling rather done. Trust 1-1/2 days or 2 at most will see us at depôt.'

Friday's march brought them within 10 or 12 miles of their depôt, and with food enough to last them until the next night; but anxiety about Evans was growing more and more intense. 'Evans has nearly broken down in brain, we think. He is absolutely changed from his normal self-reliant self. This morning and this afternoon he stopped the march on some trivial excuse.... Memory should hold the events of a very troublesome march with more troubles ahead. Perhaps all will be well if we can get to our depôt to-morrow fairly early, but it is anxious work with the sick man.'

On the following morning (Saturday, February 17) Evans looked a little better after a good sleep, and declared, as he always did, that he was quite well; but half an hour after he had started in his place on the traces, he worked his ski shoes adrift and had to leave the sledge. At the time the surface was awful, the soft snow, which had recently fallen, clogging the ski and runners at every step, the sledge groaning, the sky overcast, and the land hazy. They stopped for about an hour, and then Evans came up again, but very slowly. Half an hour later he dropped out again on the same plea, and asked Bowers to lend him a piece of string. Scott cautioned him to come on as quickly as he could, and he gave what seemed to be a cheerful answer. Then the others were compelled to push on, until abreast the Monument Rock they halted and, seeing Evans a long way behind, decided to camp for lunch.

At first there was no alarm, but when they looked out after lunch and saw him still afar off they were thoroughly frightened, and all four of them started back on ski. Scott was the first to meet the poor man, who was on his knees with hands uncovered and frost-bitten and a wild look in his eyes. When asked what was the matter, he replied slowly that he didn't know, but thought that he must have fainted.

They managed to get him on his feet, but after two or three steps he sank down again and showed every sign of complete collapse. Then Scott, Wilson and Bowers hastened back for the sledge, while Oates remained with him.

'When we returned he was practically unconscious, and when we got him into the tent quite comatose. He died quietly at 12.30 A.M.'