Journey to the Pole
A party set out first with supplies with
the motor sledges while the others with ponies and dogs followed behind.
One machine soon gave out while the other was abandoned shortly afterwards.
On November 1st 1911, twelve men, each
with a pony and sledge, left Cape Evans in detachments. This included the
final party of five that would push on towards the pole. The other men were
not to reach the pole, their role was supportive in helping transport supplies
for the polar party and establishing depots for the polar party to use on
the way back. They would then return to the winter quarters at Hut point.
The distance from the winter quarters at Hut Point to
the Pole and back was 1766 statute miles (further than Land's End to John
O'Groats and back again, (or from New York city to Wyoming, Chicago or Denver).
Every step of the way had to be marched on foot, with or without skis.
They travelled by night for the benefit of the ponies.
Temperatures never rose above zero Fahrenheit (-18°C). Fighting constant
snowfalls, the team reached One Ton Camp on the fifteenth day. There was
a constant worry that the ponies would not be able to keep going and upon
reaching Camp 20 on November 24th, the first pony was killed. Four camps
later, on December 1st, the second pony was shot. Depots were made at regular
intervals of roughly seventy miles, each containing food and fuel for a
week for the returning parties.
The weather that season was particularly bad, extreme
cold interspersed with warmer than usual blizzards that melted the snow
and made everything wet and travelling impossible. The ponies continued
to have a difficult time of it sinking to the level of their bellies in
the soft snow and becoming totally exhausted, they were shot and left behind
as a depot, leaving the remainder of the travelling to manhauling.
Each of the party then began by pulling around 200 pounds
through soft snow into which they sank into nearly up to their knees. They
were affected by snow-blindness and sometimes stumbled into crevasses, sledges
and all. On December 13th, the day before Amundsen reached the Pole, in
nine hours the party had advanced less than four miles. On December 20th
Scott named the first returning party of four. Scott had dreaded this moment
as all had pulled to the limit of their strength, but were now to be deprived
of their reward, attainment of the South Pole. They reached "home" at Hut
point 35 days later on January 26th.
The remaining men made good progress and soon the time
came for Scott to make his second difficult announcement that a further
three men were to return to Hut point leaving the final party of five to
continue to the pole. The two parties separated on January 3rd at 87°32'S,
at an altitude of 10,280 feet and 169 miles from the Pole.
Scott and the others followed Shackleton's route, on January
6th they crossed the line of latitude where Shackleton turned back and were
farther south, 88°23'S, as they believed, than any man had been before.
They were now 97 miles from the pole, but this took them ten days to
cover this due to the weather conditions and state of the snow and ice that
they were pulling across.
The men were growing very tired by this point, progress
was often made of only five, six or seven miles a day. Each day was
a hard grind and was taking a dreadful toll on the men. On January 16th
they made good progress and thought that they would reach the Pole the following
day. In the afternoon of that day, Bowers spotted something ahead which
looked like a cairn. Half and hour later they realized the black speck was
a flag tied to a sledge bearer. Nearby was the remains of a camp along with
tracks made by sledges and dogs.
us the whole story. The Norwegians have forestalled us and are
first at the Pole. It is a terrible disappointment and I am
very sorry for my loyal companions. Many thoughts come and much
discussion we have had. To-morrow we must march on the Pole,
and then hasten home with all the speed we can compass. All
the day-dreams must go; it will be a wearisome return".
January the 17th was "....a horrible day..." , a strong
headwind and temperatures of -30°C giving three of them frostbite. Scott's
journal records "Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough
for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority".
They reached the pole on January 18th 1912 to find a
small tent supported by a single bamboo flying a Norwegian flag. Inside
was a record of the five who had been the first to reach the pole;
Olav Olavson Bjaaland
Sverre H. Hassel Oscar Wisting
There was also a letter to be
delivered to King Haakon of Norway.
"We built a cairn,
put up our poor slighted Union Jack, and photographed ourselves
- mighty cold work all of it....."
The return trip started out
fairly well but the weather would inevitably become more severe and there
was no incentive of being the first to reach the pole to cheer them and
spur them onwards. Scott wrote on the 21st of January "Oates is feeling
the cold and fatigue more than most of us" and on the 23rd of January "Wilson
suddenly discovered Evans nose was frostbitten - it was white and hard.
There is no doubt that Evans is a good deal run down".
By the 24th the
first note of serious apprehension entered into Scott's diary
"This is the second
full gale since we left the pole. I don't like the look of it.
Is the weather breaking up? If so God help us, with the tremendous
journey and scanty food".
The men were becoming tired
now and injuries were increasing, Wilson suffered snow-blindness, Oates
had frostbitten feet. Frostbite also affected Evans' fingers and nose. They
had many falls, Scott damaging his shoulder in one. Evans had a bad fall
on the 4th of February suffering concussion - he was never to really recover.
They became lost at one point
while descending the Beardmore glacier and had a nightmarish two days in
badly crevassed and broken ice not knowing in which direction to head and
becoming more despondent. They were down to their last meal and unable
to find the food depot until at the last they did so. "It was an immense
relief and we were soon in possession of our three and a half days food.
The relief to all is inexpressible.......... Yesterday was the worst experience
of the trip and gave a horrid feeling of insecurity".
February 16th - "Evans has
nearly broken down in brain, we think". The next day he started reasonably
well but soon left his sledge traces to walk alongside. He fell further
and further back and was soon out of sight. By lunchtime the others went
back to find him. He was on his knees, clothing disarranged, hands uncovered
and frostbitten and with a "wild look in his eyes". He was placed onto a
sledge and taken to the camp they had set up, he was comatose by the time
he was placed in the tent. He died quietly at 12.30 a.m.
The weather continued to
be against them, particularly intense cold down to -40°C and the surface
bad beyond their worst fears. On March 5th Scott records "Oates' feet
are in a wretched condition... The poor soldier is very nearly done." Despite
the cold and awful surfaces Oates kept going attended to by Wilson the doctor,
but on March the 16th he proposed that his companions leave him in his sleeping
bag and continue themselves. A request they could not grant and induced
him to join the afternoon march when they made a few extra miles. He was
worse that night and went to sleep hoping not to wake, he did wake however
to find a blizzard blowing. His last words were "I am just going outside
and may be some time." He walked out to his death so that he would no
longer be a burden to his friends who themselves were in worsening physical
condition. His feet had been so bad and the process of putting his boots
on so painful that he didn't go through this torture and walked out to his
death in his socks.
"We knew that
poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to
dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English
gentleman. We all hope to meet the end with a similar spirit
and assuredly the end is not far."
The last camp was made on
March 19th only 11 miles from the next depot. They woke on the 20th
to another raging blizzard. Scott was suffering badly from a frostbitten
foot and Wilson and Bowers were to go to the depot for fuel. By the 22nd
they still had not been able to set off, the blizzard was as bad as ever.
They never left this final camp having run out of food and fuel, eventually
being too weak, cold and hungry to attempt the march. On the 29th of March
1912 Scott made his last diary entry;
"Since the 21st we have
had a continuous gale from W.S.W. and S.W. We had fuel to make two cups
of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have
been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door
of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we
can hope for better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but
we are getting weaker of course, and the end cannot be far.
It seems a pity but I do
not think I can write more."
The tent and the three frozen
bodies were not discovered until nearly 8 months later on November 12th
that year. A great cairn of ice was raised over their bodies surmounted
by a cross made from skis, a sledge was stood on one end in a smaller cairn
A search was made for Captain
Oates' body, but it was never found, only his discarded sleeping bag, cut
open for much of the length to enable him to enter it with badly frostbitten
A cairn was placed at the scene of the search with a note that
began "Hereabouts died a very gallant gentleman...."
Later at hut point a cross
was erected to the memory of :
Lieutenant H. R. Bowers
Petty officer Edgar "Taff" Evans
Captain L. E. G. Oates
Dr. E. A. Wilson