December 9, 2011

Saturday, 9 December 1911


"The Gateway", photographed by Shackleton. Mt Hope is the pointed peak near centre, with the Gateway to the right. [1]

"A most painful day," Scott wrote. They were at last able to get away, but the heavy snow from the blizzard made the surface too soft for the ponies to manage much more than a few miles. "The horses could hardly move, sank up to their bellies, and finally lay down. They had to be driven, lashed on. It was a grim business." [2]

"My impressions of that day," Cherry wrote later, "are of groping our way, for Bowers and I were pulling a light sledge ahead to make the track, through a vague white wall. First a confused crowd of men behind us gathered round the leading pony sledge, pushing it forward, the poor beast barely able to struggle out of the holes it made as it plunged forward. The others were induced to follow, and after a start had been made the regular man-hauling party went back to fetch their load. There was not one man there who would willingly have caused pain to a living thing. But what else was to be done -- we could not leave our pony depôt in that bog. Hour after hour we plugged on: and we dare not halt for lunch, we knew we could never start again. After crossing many waves huge pressure ridges suddenly showed themselves all round, and we got on to a steep rise with the coastal chasm on our right hand appearing as a great dip full of enormous pressure. Scott was naturally worried about crevasses, and though we knew there was a way through, the finding of it in the gloom was most difficult. For two hours we zig-zagged about, getting forward it is true, but much bewildered, and once at any rate almost bogged. Scott joined us, and we took off our ski so as to find the crevasses, and if possible a hard way through. Every step we sank about fifteen inches, and often above our knees. Meanwhile Snatcher was saving the situation in snow-shoes, and led the line of ponies. Snippets nearly fell back into a big crevasse, into which his hind quarters fell: but they managed to unharness him, and scramble him out.

"I do not know how long we had been going when Scott decided to follow the chasm. We found a big dip with hard ice underneath, and it was probably here that we made the crossing: we could now see the ring of pressure behind us. Almost it was decided to make the depôt here, but the ponies still plugged on in the most plucky way, though they had to be driven. Scott settled to go as far as they could be induced to march, and they did wonderfully. We had never thought that they would go a mile: but painfully they marched for eleven hours without a long halt, and covered a distance which we then estimated at seven miles. But our sledge-meters were useless being clogged with the soft snow, and we afterwards came to believe the distance was not so great: probably not more than five. When we had reached a point some two miles from the top of the snow divide which fills the Gateway we camped, thankful to rest, but more thankful still that we need drive those weary ponies no more. Their rest was near. It was a horrid business, and the place was known as Shambles Camp." [3]

"I had hoped to be through the Gateway with the ponies still in hand at a very much earlier date," Scott wrote, "and, but for the devastating storm, we should have been. It has been a most serious blow to us, but things are not yet desperate, if only the storm has not hopelessly spoilt the surface."

"Thank God the horses are now all done with," Wilson wrote, "and we begin the heavier work ourselves." [4]

With the ponies gone, the parties were now rearranged. With Scott were Wilson, Oates, and P.O. Evans on one sledge. Teddy Evans's team had the second sledge, with Bowers, Cherry, Crean, and Keohane on the third. Evans's team had already been man-hauling for some days, Evans and Lashly since the breakdown of the motors five weeks earlier.

The dogs were supposed to turn back at the foot of the Beardmore, but Scott suddenly changed his mind and ordered them on for another two days.


The Norwegians' sledge compass, later marked with the date of arrival at the Pole. [5]

"-28°," wrote Amundsen. "Breeze from the south and crystal clear. It has been a little cool to go upwind [with their sore faces], but nothing to make a fuss over. Terrain and going the same old kind -- first class. Quite even and flat, the Vidda [plateau] lies before us. Sledges and ski glide easily and pleasantly." [4]

The dogs were tiring, but they still managed a little over their stipulated 16 nautical miles. "Another 5 days, and it is our intention to arrive.... Got a splendid altitude at midday which gave 88°30' S. lat., or 1' more than dead reckoning. That's fine."


[1] Shackleton Centenary Expedition Journal, 14 December, 2008.
[2] R.F. Scott, diary, 9 December, 1911, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition : the Journals, v.1.
[3] Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, v.2.
[4] E.A. Wilson, diary, [9 December, 1911], quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.464.
[5] "In pictures: UK's first Roald Amundsen exhibition", BBC News Cambridgeshire, 16 September 2011. The compass was loaned from the Fram Museum in Oslo to the Polar Museum (SPRI) in Cambridge for the exhibit.
[6] Roald Amundsen, diary, 10 December, 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in Race for the South Pole : the expedition diaries of Scott and Amundsen (London : Continuum, c2010), p.174.

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