December 2, 2011

Saturday, 2 December 1911


Ponies on the march, 2 December 1911, in a photograph by Scott. [1]

Bowers' pony was shot in the evening. "It seemed an awful pity to have to shoot a great strong animal," he mourned, "and it seemed like the irony of fate to me, as I had been downed for over-provisioning the ponies with needless excess of food, and the drastic reductions had been made against my strenuous opposition up to the last. It is poor satisfaction to me to know that I was right now that my horse is dead. Good old Victor! He has always had a biscuit out of my ration, and he ate his last before the bullet sent him to his rest.... He has done his share in our undertaking anyhow, and may I do my share as well when I get into harness myself." [2]

"Oates came into my tent yesterday," noted Scott, "exchanging with Cherry-Garrard. The lists now: Self, Wilson, Oates, and Keohane. Bowers, P.O. Evans, Cherry and Crean. Man-haulers: E. R. Evans, Atkinson, Wright, and Lashly. We have all taken to horse meat and are so well fed that hunger isn't thought of." [3]

"Hope I do not stay long in Teddy's tent," Wright grumbled, "am sure to have a row sooner or later." [4]


A lull in the weather brought them out on a rest day. They took a reading which gave their position as 86° 47', and set off, but the surface was so broken and crevassed that they had to double and sometimes triple up on the sledges. After only two miles, still in thick fog, they gave up and made camp.

Amundsen later recalled later the routine of camp: "Let us cast a glance into the tent this evening. It looks cosy enough. The inner half of the tent is occupied by three sleeping-bags, whose respective owners have found it both comfortable and expedient to turn in, and may now be seen engaged with their diaries. The outer half -- that nearest the door -- has only two sleeping-bags, but the rest of the space is taken up with the whole cooking apparatus of the expedition. The owners of these two bags are still sitting up. Hanssen is cook, and will not turn in until the food is ready and served. Wisting is his sworn comrade and assistant, and is ready to lend him any aid that may be required. Hanssen appears to be a careful cook; he evidently does not like to burn the food, and his spoon stirs the contents of the pot incessantly. 'Soup!' The effect of the word is instantaneous. Everyone sits up at once with a cup in one hand and a spoon in the other. Each one in his turn has his cup filled with what looks like the most tasty vegetable soup. Scalding hot it is, as one can see by the faces, but for all that it disappears with surprising rapidity. Again the cups are filled, this time with more solid stuff pemmican. With praiseworthy despatch their contents are once more demolished, and they are filled for the third time. There is nothing the matter with these men's appetites. The cups are carefully scraped, and the enjoyment of bread and water begins. It is easy to see, too, that it is an enjoyment -- greater, to judge by the pleasure on their faces, than the most skilfully devised menu could afford. They positively caress the biscuits before they eat them. And the water -- ice-cold water they all call for -- this also disappears in great quantities, and procures, I feel certain from their expression, a far greater pleasure and satisfaction than the finest wine that was ever produced. The Primus hums softly during the whole meal, and the temperature in the tent is quite pleasant.

"When the meal is over, one of them calls for scissors and looking-glass, and then one may see the Polar explorers dressing their hair for the approaching Sunday. The beard is cut quite short with the clipper every Saturday evening; this is done not so much from motives of vanity as from considerations of utility and comfort. The beard invites an accumulation of ice, which may often be very embarrassing. A beard in the Polar regions seems to me to be just as awkward and unpractical as -- well, let us say, walking with a tall hat on each foot. As the beard-clipper and the mirror make their round, one after the other disappears into his bag, and with five 'Good-nights,' silence falls upon the tent. The regular breathing soon announces that the day's work demands its tribute. Meanwhile the south-easter howls, and the snow beats against the tent. The dogs have curled themselves up, and do not seem to trouble themselves about the weather." [5]

Away to the north-east, the three men of Prestrud's Eastern Party were arriving at the Alexandra Mountains. Snow and mist had barred most of their surroundings along the way.

“As we approached the summit and our view over the surrounding ground became wider, the belief that we should see so much as a crag of this King Edward Land grew weaker and weaker. There was nothing but white on every side, not a single consolatory little black patch, however carefully we looked. And to think that we had been dreaming of great mountain masses in the style of McMurdo Sound, with sunny slopes, penguins by the thousand, seals and all the rest! All these visions were slowly but surely sunk in an endless sea of snow, and when at last we stood on the highest point, we certainly thought there could be no chance of a revival of our hopes.”

But there was land.

“A sailor, who for months has seen nothing but sea and sky, will lose himself in contemplation of a little islet, be it never so barren and desolate. To us, who for nearly a year had been staring our eyes out in a dazzling white infinity of snow and ice, it was indeed an experience to see once more a bit of the earth’s crust. That this fragment was as poor and bare as it could be was not taken into consideration at the moment.”

They searched eagerly and diligently for fossils, but found none. But "while it did not fall to our lot," Prestrud added, "to furnish any proof of the existence of an earlier flora in King Edward Land, we found living plants of the most primitive form. Even on that tiny islet in the ocean of snow the rock was in many places covered with thick moss. How did that moss come there?"


[1] "The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott", 5 October 2011, Scott noted in his diary for this day, "The ponies went poorly on the first march, when there was little or no wind and a high temperature. They were sinking deep on a wretched surface. I suggested to Oates that he should have a roving commission to watch the animals, but he much preferred to lead one, so I handed over Snippets very willingly and went on ski myself. It was very easy work for me and I took several photographs of the ponies plunging along."
[2] H.R. Bowers, quoted by Apsley Cherry-Garrard in The Worst Journey in the World, v.2.
[3] R.F. Scott, diary, 2 December, 1911, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition : the Journals, v.1.
[4] Charles Wright, diary, 2 December 1911, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.466.
[5] Roald Amundsen, The South Pole, ch.11.
[6] Kristian Prestrud, "The Eastern Sledge Journey", in Roald Amundsen's The South Pole, ch.15. The date is unclear, but probably according to other dates in this chapter 3rd December, actually 2nd; see Hinks' note on dates in "The Observations of Amundsen and Scott at the South Pole" (The Geographical Journal, April 1944, p.169).

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