December 21, 2011

Thursday, 21 December 1911


A 1965 map of the top of the Beardmore Glacier, from aerial photographs taken 1960-1962 by the USGS. [1]

"I write this sitting in our tent waiting for the fog to clear," wrote Scott in a letter home, "an exasperating position as we are in the worst crevassed region. Teddy Evans and Atkinson were down to the length of their harness this morning, and we have all been half-way down. As first man I get first chance, and it's decidedly exciting not knowing which step will give way. Still all this is interesting enough if one could only go on." [2]

When the fog cleared in the afternoon, they "made a dash for it", heading for Mount Darwin, now visible in the near-distance.

"Scott was fairly wound up," wrote Bowers, "and he went on and on. Every rise topped seemed to fire him with a desire to top the next, and every rise had another beyond and above it. We camped at 8 p.m., all pretty weary, having come up nearly 1500 feet, and done over eleven miles in a S.W. direction. We were south of Mount Darwin in 85° 7' S., and our corrected altitude proved to be 7000 feet above the Barrier. I worked up till a very late hour getting the depôt stores ready, and also weighing out and arranging allowances for the returning party, and arranging the stores and distribution of weights of the two parties going on." [3]

"So here we are," Scott added, "practically on the summit and up to date in the provision line. We ought to get through."

Wilson had taken Atkinson aside earlier and asked, as a fellow-doctor, which of the seamen he thought fittest to go on to the Pole. Atkinson had said that he felt that was Lashly. Scott wanted, as a Naval officer, to have the "Lower Deck" represented, and had already privately chosen P.O. Evans, a favorite of his since the Discovery days -- and by having Atkinson's opinion, Wilson wanted to reinforce his own arguments in favour of Lashly or perhaps Crean continuing, having doubts about Evans' mental and physical stability. [4]

"There is a very mournful air to-night," Cherry wrote in his diary, "those going on and those turning back. Bill [Wilson] came in while I was cooking, to say good-bye. He told me he fully expected to come back with the next party: that he could see Scott was going to take on the strongest fellows, perhaps three seamen. It would be a great disappointment if Bill did not go on.... I have been trying to give away my spare gear where it may be most acceptable: finnesko to Birdie, pyjama trousers to Bill, and a bag of baccy for Bill to give Scott on Christmas Day, some baccy to Titus, jaeger socks and half my scarf to Crean, and a bit of handkerchief to Birdie. Very tired to-night." [5]

Scott changed Atkinson's orders for the dogs, that he was to bring the dog teams south in the event of Meares returning home. "Come as far as you can," he added casually. [6] "This was not meant in any way to be a relief journey," Cherry noted later. "Scott said that he was not relying upon the dogs; and that in view of the sledging in the following year, the dogs were not to be risked." [7]

"The temperature has dropped below zero," Scott wrote, "but to-night it is so calm and bright that one feels delightfully warm and comfortable in the tent. Such weather helps greatly in all the sorting arrangements, &c., which are going on to-night. For me it is an immense relief to have the indefatigable little Bowers to see to all detail arrangements of this sort." [8]


"Pure summer today," wrote Bjaaland. "Absolutely calm, sunshine, tracks indistinct but cairns gleaming like electric beacons." [9]

Another dog had been put down, worn out, possibly -- although they did not realise it at the time -- due to dehydration.


[1] United States Geological Survey, "Buckley Island" map.
[2] R.F. Scott, 21 December, 1911, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition : the Journals, v.1. The passages in inverted commas, such as this one, are from letters home, and are quoted in the correspondingly-dated diary entries in both the print and online versions of the journals.
[3] H.R. Bowers, diary, 21 December, 1911, quoted in by Apsley Cherry-Garrard in The Worst Journey in the World, ch.X.
[4] Roland Huntford, Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.467-468.
[5] Apsley Cherry-Garrard, diary, 21 December 1911, quoted in The Worst Journey in the World, ch.X.
[6] Roland Huntford, Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.470.
[7] Apsley Cherry-Garrard, in The Worst Journey in the World, ch.XIII. "According to the [original] plans for the Polar Journey the food necessary to bring the three advance parties of man-haulers back from One Ton Depôt to Hut Point was to be taken out to One Ton during the absence of these parties. This food consisted of five weekly units of what were known as XS rations. It was also arranged that if possible a depôt of dog-biscuit should be taken out at the same time: this was the depôt referred to above by Scott. In the event of the return of the dog-teams in the first half of December, which was the original plan, the five units of food and the dog-biscuit would have been run out by them to One Ton. If the dog-teams did not return in time to do this a man-hauling party from Cape Evans was to take out three of the five units of food." Since Meares and the dog teams had been taken on further than planned, they had not returned until a month later, on 4th January.
[8] R.F. Scott, diary, 21 December, 1911, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition : the Journals, v.1.
[9] Olav Bjaaland, diary, 22 December 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in Race for the South Pole : the expedition diaries of Scott and Amundsen (London : Continuum, c2010), p.200.

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