The Pole Journey ~ November 1 – 5, 1911

For those of you wondering how the polar explorers have been faring, below are excerpts from their accounts of the last few days.

As of the 5th, Amundsen has reached a latitude of 82º S., where his last supply depot had been laid, 893 kilometers from the Pole. Scott has not yet reached his One Ton depot, at a latitude of 80º S. Though both parties are at different points on their journeys, the thoughts of both men are, rightly, occupied by the condition and care of the support animals (dogs and ponies) they are relying on at this stage.

From Amundsen:

There was a thick fog next morning, and very disagreeable weather; perhaps we felt it more after the previous fine day. When we passed this way for the first time going south, Hanssen’s dogs had fallen into a crevasse, but it was nothing to speak of; otherwise we had no trouble.

From 81º S. we began to erect beacons at every nine kilometres. The next day we observed the lowest temperature of the whole of this journey: -30.1º F The wind was south-south-east, but not very strong. It did not feel like summer, all the same. We now adopted the habit which we kept up all the way to the south — of taking our lunch while building the beacon that lay half-way in our day’s march. It was nothing very luxurious — three or four dry oatmeal biscuits, that was all. If one wanted a drink, one could mix snow with the biscuit — “bread and water.” It is a diet that is not much sought after in our native latitudes, but latitude makes a very great difference in this world. It anybody had offered us more “bread and water,” we should gladly have accepted it.

That day we crossed the last crevasse for a long time to come, and it was only a few inches wide. The surface looked grand ahead of us; it went in very long, almost imperceptible undulations. We could only notice them by the way in which the beacons we put up often disappeared rather rapidly.

On November 2 we had a gale from the south, with heavy snow. The going was very stiff, but the dogs got the sledges along better than we expected. The temperature rose, as usual, with a wind from this quarter: +14º F. It was a pleasure to be out in such a temperature, although it did blow a little. The day after we had a light breeze from the north. The heavy going of the day before had completely disappeared; instead of it we had the best surface one could desire, and it made our dogs break into a brisk gallop. That was the day we were to reach the depot in 82º S., but as it was extremely thick, our chances of doing so were small. In the course of the afternoon the distance was accomplished, but no depot was visible. However, our range of vision was nothing to boast of — ten sledge-lengths; not more. The most sensible thing to do, under the circumstances, was to camp and wait till it cleared.

At four o’clock next morning the sun broke through. We let it get warm and disperse the fog, and then went out. What a morning it was — radiantly clear and mild. So still, so still lay the mighty desert before us, level and white on every side. But, no; there in the distance the level was broken: there was a touch of colour on the white. The third important point was reached, the extreme outpost of civilization. Our last depot lay before us; that was an unspeakable relief. The victory now seemed half won… The depot stood as we had made it, and the sledge as we had left it. Falling snow and drift had not been sufficient to cover even this. The little drift that there was offered an excellent place for the tent, being hard and firm. We at once set about the work that had to be done. First, Uranus was sent into the next world, and although he had always given us the impression of being thin and bony, it was now seen that there were masses of fat along his back; he would be much appreciated when we reached here on the return. Jaala did not look as if she would fulfil the conditions, but we gave her another night. The dogs’ pemmican in the depot was just enough to give the dogs a good feed and load up the sledges again. We were so well supplied with all other provisions that we were able to leave a considerable quantity behind for the return journey.

Next day we stayed here to give the dogs a thorough rest for the last time. We took advantage of the fine weather to dry our outfit and check our instruments. When evening came we were all ready, and now we could look back with satisfaction to the good work of the autumn; we had fully accomplished what we aimed at — namely, transferring our base from 78º 38′ to 82º S. Jaala had to follow Uranus; they were both laid on the top of the depot, beside eight little ones that never saw the light of day. During our stay here we decided to build beacons at every fifth kilometre, and to lay down depots at every degree of latitude. Although the dogs were drawing the sledges easily at present, we knew well enough that in the long-run they would find it hard work if they were always to have heavy weights to pull. The more we could get rid of, and the sooner we could begin to do so, the better.

From Scott (note that Jehu, Michael, Nobby, Chinaman, Christopher, Bones, and Snippets are the ponies):

November 1.—Last night we heard that Jehu had reached Hut Point in about 5 1/2 hours. This morning we got away in detachments—Michael, Nobby, Chinaman were first to get away about 11 A.M. The little devil Christopher was harnessed with the usual difficulty and started in kicking mood, Oates holding on for all he was worth.

Bones ambled off gently with Crean, and I led Snippets in his wake. Ten minutes after Evans and Snatcher passed at the usual full speed.

The wind blew very strong at the Razor Back and the sky was threatening—the ponies hate the wind. A mile south of this island Bowers and Victor passed me, leaving me where I best wished to be—at the tail of the line.

About this place I saw that one of the animals ahead had stopped and was obstinately refusing to go forward again. I had a great fear it was Chinaman, the unknown quantity, but to my relief found it was my old friend ‘Nobby’ in obstinate mood. As he is very strong and fit the matter was soon adjusted with a little persuasion from Anton behind. Poor little Anton found it difficult to keep the pace with short legs.

Snatcher soon led the party and covered the distance in four hours. Evans said he could see no difference at the end from the start—the little animal simply romped in. Bones and Christopher arrived almost equally fresh, in fact the latter had been bucking and kicking the whole way. For the present there is no end to his devilment, and the great consideration is how to safeguard Oates. Some quiet ponies should always be near him, a difficult matter to arrange with such varying rates of walking. A little later I came up to a batch, Bowers, Wilson, Cherry, and Wright, and was happy to see Chinaman going very strong. He is not fast, but very steady, and I think should go a long way.

Victor and Michael forged ahead again, and the remaining three of us came in after taking a little under five hours to cover the distance.

We were none too soon, as the weather had been steadily getting worse, and soon after our arrival it was blowing a gale.

Thursday, November 2.—Hut Point. The march teaches a good deal as to the paces of the ponies. It reminded me of a regatta or a somewhat disorganised fleet with ships of very unequal speed. The plan of further advance has now been evolved. We shall start in three parties—the very slow ponies, the medium paced, and the fliers. Snatcher starting last will probably overtake the leading unit. All this requires a good deal of arranging. We have decided to begin night marching, and shall get away after supper, I hope. The weather is hourly improving, but at this season that does not count for much. At present our ponies are very comfortably stabled. Michael, Chinaman and James Pigg are actually in the hut. Chinaman kept us alive last night by stamping on the floor. Meares and Demetri are here with the dog team, and Ponting with a great photographic outfit. I fear he won’t get much chance to get results.

Friday, November 3.—Camp 1. A keen wind with some drift at Hut Point, but we sailed away in detachments. Atkinson’s party, Jehu, Chinaman and Jimmy Pigg led off at eight. Just before ten Wilson, Cherry-Garrard and I left. Our ponies marched steadily and well together over the sea ice. The wind dropped a good deal, but the temperature with it, so that the little remaining was very cutting. We found Atkinson at Safety Camp. He had lunched and was just ready to march out again; he reports Chinaman and Jehu tired. Ponting arrived soon after we had camped with Demetri and a small dog team. The cinematograph was up in time to catch the flying rearguard which came along in fine form, Snatcher leading and being stopped every now and again—a wonderful little beast. Christopher had given the usual trouble when harnessed, but was evidently subdued by the Barrier Surface. However, it was not thought advisable to halt him, and so the party fled through in the wake of the advance guard.

After lunch we packed up and marched on steadily as before. I don’t like these midnight lunches, but for man the march that follows is pleasant when, as to-day, the wind falls and the sun steadily increases its heat. The two parties in front of us camped 5 miles beyond Safety Camp, and we reached their camp some half or three-quarters of an hour later. All the ponies are tethered in good order, but most of them are tired—Chinaman and Jehu very tired. Nearly all are inclined to be off feed, but this is very temporary, I think. We have built walls, but there is no wind and the sun gets warmer every minute.

Mirage.—Very marked waving effect to east. Small objects greatly exaggerated and showing as dark vertical lines.

1 P.M.—Feeding time. Woke the party, and Oates served out the rations—all ponies feeding well. It is a sweltering day, the air breathless, the glare intense—one loses sight of the fact that the temperature is low (-22°)—one’s mind seeks comparison in hot sunlit streets and scorching pavements, yet six hours ago my thumb was frostbitten. All the inconveniences of frozen footwear and damp clothes and sleeping-bags have vanished entirely.

A petrol tin is near the camp and a note stating that the motor passed at 9 P.M. 28th, going strong—they have 4 to 5 days’ lead and should surely keep it.

‘Bones has eaten Christopher’s goggles.’

This announcement by Crean, meaning that Bones had demolished the protecting fringe on Christopher’s bridle. These fringes promise very well—Christopher without his is blinking in the hot sun.

Saturday, November 4.—Camp 2. Led march—started in what I think will now become the settled order. Atkinson went at 8, ours at 10, Bowers, Oates and Co. at 11.15. Just after starting picked up cheerful note and saw cheerful notices saying all well with motors, both going excellently. Day wrote ‘Hope to meet in 80° 30′ (Lat.).’ Poor chap, within 2 miles he must have had to sing a different tale. It appears they had a bad ground on the morning of the 29th. I suppose the surface was bad and everything seemed to be going wrong. They ‘dumped’ a good deal of petrol and lubricant. Worse was to follow. Some 4 miles out we met a tin pathetically inscribed, ‘Big end Day’s motor No. 2 cylinder broken.’ Half a mile beyond, as I expected, we found the motor, its tracking sledges and all. Notes from Evans and Day told the tale. The only spare had been used for Lashly’s machine, and it would have taken a long time to strip Day’s engine so that it could run on three cylinders. They had decided to abandon it and push on with the other alone. They had taken the six bags of forage and some odds and ends, besides their petrol and lubricant. So the dream of great help from the machines is at an end! The track of the remaining motor goes steadily forward, but now, of course, I shall expect to see it every hour of the march.

The ponies did pretty well—a cruel soft surface most of the time, but light loads, of course. Jehu is better than I expected to find him, Chinaman not so well. They are bad crocks both of them.

It was pretty cold during the night, -7° when we camped, with a crisp breeze blowing. The ponies don’t like it, but now, as I write, the sun is shining through a white haze, the wind has dropped, and the picketing line is comfortable for the poor beasts.

This, 1 P.M., is the feeding hour—the animals are not yet on feed, but they are coming on.

The wind vane left here in the spring shows a predominance of wind from the S.W. quarter. Maximum scratching, about S.W. by W.

Sunday, November 5.—Camp 3. ‘Corner Camp.’ We came over the last lap of the first journey in good order—ponies doing well in soft surface, but, of course, lightly loaded. To-night will show what we can do with the heavier weights. A very troubled note from Evans (with motor) written on morning of 2nd, saying maximum speed was about 7 miles per day. They have taken on nine bags of forage, but there are three black dots to the south which we can only imagine are the deserted motor with its loaded sledges. The men have gone on as a supporting party, as directed. It is a disappointment. I had hoped better of the machines once they got away on the Barrier Surface.

The appetites of the ponies are very fanciful. They do not like the oil cake, but for the moment seem to take to some fodder left here. However, they are off that again to-day. It is a sad pity they won’t eat well now, because later on one can imagine how ravenous they will become. Chinaman and Jehu will not go far I fear.

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