Scott's Last Expedition: The Return of the Sun

Source: Project.gutenberg
Return to Table of Contents of Scott's Last Expedition (e-book)

CHAPTER XIII 
The Return of the Sun

 

Thursday, August 3. -- We have had such a long spell of fine clear weather without especially low temperatures that one can scarcely grumble at the change which we found on waking this morning, when the canopy of stratus cloud spread over us and the wind came in those fitful gusts which promise a gale. All day the wind force has been slowly increasing, whilst the temperature has risen to -15°, but there is no snow falling or drifting as yet. The steam cloud of Erebus was streaming away to the N.W. this morning; now it is hidden.

Our expectations have been falsified so often that we feel ourselves wholly incapable as weather prophets -- therefore one scarce dares to predict a blizzard even in face of such disturbance as exists. A paper handed to Simpson by David[1], and purporting to contain a description of approaching signs, together with the cause and effect of our blizzards, proves equally hopeless. We have not obtained a single scrap of evidence to verify its statements, and a great number of our observations definitely contradict them. The plain fact is that no two of our storms have been heralded by the same signs.

The low Barrier temperatures experienced by the Crozier Party has naturally led to speculation on the situation of Amundsen and his Norwegians. If his thermometers continuously show temperatures below -60°, the party will have a pretty bad winter and it is difficult to see how he will keep his dogs alive. I should feel anxious if Campbell was in that quarter[2].

 

Saturday, August 5. -- The sky has continued to wear a disturbed appearance, but so far nothing has come of it. A good deal of light snow has been falling to-day; a brisk northerly breeze is drifting it along, giving a very strange yet beautiful effect in the north, where the strong red twilight filters through the haze.

The Crozier Party tell a good story of Bowers, who on their return journey with their recovered tent fitted what he called a 'tent downhaul' and secured it round his sleeping-bag and himself. If the tent went again, he determined to go with it.

Our lecture programme has been renewed. Last night Simpson gave a capital lecture on general meteorology. He started on the general question of insolation, giving various tables to show proportion of sun's heat received at the polar and equatorial regions. Broadly, in latitude 80° one would expect about 22 per cent, of the heat received at a spot on the equator.

He dealt with the temperature question by showing interesting tabular comparisons between northern and southern temperatures at given latitudes. So far as these tables go they show the South Polar summer to be 15° colder than the North Polar, but the South Polar winter 3° warmer than the North Polar, but of course this last figure would be completely altered if the observer were to winter on the Barrier. I fancy Amundsen will not concede those 3°!!

From temperatures our lecturer turned to pressures and the upward turn of the gradient in high southern latitudes, as shown by the Discovery Expedition. This bears of course on the theory which places an anticyclone in the South Polar region. Lockyer's theories came under discussion; a good many facts appear to support them. The westerly winds of the Roaring Forties are generally understood to be a succession of cyclones. Lockyer's hypothesis supposes that there are some eight or ten cyclones continually revolving at a rate of about 10° of longitude a day, and he imagines them to extend from the 40th parallel to beyond the 60th, thus giving the strong westerly winds in the forties and easterly and southerly in 60° to 70°. Beyond 70° there appears to be generally an irregular outpouring of cold air from the polar area, with an easterly component significant of anticyclone conditions.

Simpson evolved a new blizzard theory on this. He supposes the surface air intensely cooled over the continental and Barrier areas, and the edge of this cold region lapped by warmer air from the southern limits of Lockyer's cyclones. This would produce a condition of unstable equilibrium, with great potentiality for movement. Since, as we have found, volumes of cold air at different temperatures are very loath to mix, the condition could not be relieved by any gradual process, but continues until the stream is released by some minor cause, when, the ball once started, a huge disturbance results. It seems to be generally held that warm air is passing polewards from the equator continuously at the high levels. It is this potentially warm air which, mixed by the disturbance with the cold air of the interior, gives to our winds so high a temperature.

Such is this theory -- like its predecessor it is put up for cockshies, and doubtless by our balloon work or by some other observations it will be upset or modified. Meanwhile it is well to keep one's mind alive with such problems, which mark the road of advance.

 

Sunday, August 6. -- Sunday with its usual routine. Hymn singing has become a point on which we begin to take some pride to ourselves. With our full attendance of singers we now get a grand volume of sound.

The day started overcast. Chalky is an excellent adjective to describe the appearance of our outlook when the light is much diffused and shadows poor; the scene is dull and flat.

In the afternoon the sky cleared, the moon over Erebus gave a straw colour to the dissipating clouds. This evening the air is full of ice crystals and a stratus forms again. This alternation of clouded and clear skies has been the routine for some time now and is accompanied by the absence of wind which is delightfully novel.

The blood of the Crozier Party, tested by Atkinson, shows a very slight increase of acidity -- such was to be expected, and it is pleasing to note that there is no sign of scurvy. If the preserved foods had tended to promote the disease, the length of time and severity of conditions would certainly have brought it out. I think we should be safe on the long journey.

I have had several little chats with Wilson on the happenings of the journey. He says there is no doubt Cherry-Garrard felt the conditions most severely, though he was not only without complaint, but continuously anxious to help others.

Apropos, we both conclude that it is the younger people that have the worst time; Gran, our youngest member (23), is a very clear example, and now Cherry-Garrard at 26.

Wilson (39) says he never felt cold less than he does now; I suppose that between 30 and 40 is the best all round age. Bowers is a wonder of course. He is 29. When past the forties it is encouraging to remember that Peary was 52!!

 

Thursday, August 10. -- There has been very little to record of late and my pen has been busy on past records.

The weather has been moderately good and as before wholly incomprehensible. Wind has come from a clear sky and from a clouded one; we had a small blow on Tuesday but it never reached gale force; it came without warning, and every sign which we have regarded as a warning has proved a bogey. The fact is, one must always be prepared for wind and never expect it.

The daylight advances in strides. Day has fitted an extra sash to our window and the light admitted for the first time through triple glass. With this device little ice collects inside.

The ponies are very fit but inclined to be troublesome: the quiet beasts develop tricks without rhyme or reason. Chinaman still kicks and squeals at night. Anton's theory is that he does it to warm himself, and perhaps there is something in it. When eating snow he habitually takes too large a mouthful and swallows it; it is comic to watch him, because when the snow chills his inside he shuffles about with all four legs and wears a most fretful, aggrieved expression: but no sooner has the snow melted than he seizes another mouthful. Other ponies take small mouthfuls or melt a large one on their tongues -- this act also produces an amusing expression. Victor and Snippets are confirmed wind suckers. They are at it all the time when the manger board is in place, but it is taken down immediately after feeding time, and then they can only seek vainly for something to catch hold of with their teeth. 'Bones' has taken to kicking at night for no imaginable reason. He hammers away at the back of his stall merrily; we have covered the boards with several layers of sacking, so that the noise is cured, if not the habit. The annoying part of these tricks is that they hold the possibility of damage to the pony. I am glad to say all the lice have disappeared; the final conquest was effected with a very simple remedy -- the infected ponies were washed with water in which tobacco had been steeped. Oates had seen this decoction used effectively with troop horses. The result is the greater relief, since we had run out of all the chemicals which had been used for the same purpose.

I have now definitely told off the ponies for the Southern Journey, and the new masters will take charge on September 1. They will continually exercise the animals so as to get to know them as well as possible. The arrangement has many obvious advantages. The following is the order:

Bowers Victor. Evans (P.O.) Snatcher. Wilson Nobby. Crean Bones. Atkinson Jehu. Keohane Jimmy Pigg. Wright Chinaman. Oates Christopher. Cherry-Garrard Michael. Myself & Oates Snippets.

The first balloon of the season was sent up yesterday by Bowers and Simpson. It rose on a southerly wind, but remained in it for 100 feet or less, then for 300 or 400 feet it went straight up, and after that directly south over Razor Back Island. Everything seemed to go well, the thread, on being held, tightened and then fell slack as it should do. It was followed for two miles or more running in a straight line for Razor Back, but within a few hundred yards of the Island it came to an end. The searchers went round the Island to try and recover the clue, but without result. Almost identically the same thing happened after the last ascent made, and we are much puzzled to find the cause.

The continued proximity of the south moving air currents above is very interesting.

The Crozier Party are not right yet, their feet are exceedingly sore, and there are other indications of strain. I must almost except Bowers, who, whatever his feelings, went off as gaily as usual on the search for the balloon.

Saw a very beautiful effect on my afternoon walk yesterday: the full moon was shining brightly from a quarter exactly opposite to the fading twilight and the icebergs were lit on one side by the yellow lunar light and on the other by the paler white daylight. The first seemed to be gilded, while the diffused light of day gave to the other a deep, cold, greenish-blue colour -- the contrast was strikingly beautiful.

 

Friday, August 11. -- The long-expected blizzard came in the night; it is still blowing hard with drift.

Yesterday evening Oates gave his second lecture on 'Horse management.' He was brief and a good deal to the point. 'Not born but made' was his verdict on the good manager of animals. 'The horse has no reasoning power at all, but an excellent memory'; sights and sounds recall circumstances under which they were previously seen or heard. It is no use shouting at a horse: ten to one he will associate the noise with some form of trouble, and getting excited, will set out to make it. It is ridiculous for the rider of a bucking horse to shout 'Whoa!' -- 'I know,' said the Soldier, 'because I have done it.' Also it is to be remembered that loud talk to one horse may disturb other horses. The great thing is to be firm and quiet.

A horse's memory, explained the Soldier, warns it of events to come. He gave instances of hunters and race-horses which go off their feed and show great excitement in other ways before events for which they are prepared; for this reason every effort should be made to keep the animals quiet in camp. Rugs should be put on directly after a halt and not removed till the last moment before a march.

After a few hints on leading the lecturer talked of possible improvements in our wintering arrangements. A loose box for each animal would be an advantage, and a small amount of litter on which he could lie down. Some of our ponies lie down, but rarely for more than 10 minutes -- the Soldier thinks they find the ground too cold. He thinks it would be wise to clip animals before the winter sets in. He is in doubt as to the advisability of grooming. He passed to the improvements preparing for the coming journey -- the nose bags, picketing lines, and rugs. He proposes to bandage the legs of all ponies. Finally he dealt with the difficult subjects of snow blindness and soft surfaces: for the first he suggested dyeing the forelocks, which have now grown quite long. Oates indulges a pleasant conceit in finishing his discourses with a merry tale. Last night's tale evoked shouts of laughter, but, alas! it is quite unprintable! Our discussion hinged altogether on the final subjects of the lecture as concerning snow blindness -- the dyed forelocks seem inadequate, and the best suggestion seems the addition of a sun bonnet rather than blinkers, or, better still, a peak over the eyes attached to the headstall. I doubt if this question will be difficult to settle, but the snow-shoe problem is much more serious. This has been much in our minds of late, and Petty Officer Evans has been making trial shoes for Snatcher on vague ideas of our remembrance of the shoes worn for lawn mowing.

Besides the problem of the form of the shoes, comes the question of the means of attachment. All sorts of suggestions were made last night as to both points, and the discussion cleared the air a good deal. I think that with slight modification our present pony snow-shoes made on the grating or racquet principle may prove best after all. The only drawback is that they are made for very soft snow and unnecessarily large for the Barrier; this would make them liable to be strained on hard patches. The alternative seems to be to perfect the principle of the lawn mowing shoe, which is little more than a stiff bag over the hoof.

Perhaps we shall come to both kinds: the first for the quiet animals and the last for the more excitable. I am confident the matter is of first importance.

 

Monday, August 14. -- Since the comparatively short storm of Friday, in which we had a temperature of -30° with a 50 m.p.h. wind, we have had two delightfully calm days, and to-day there is every promise of the completion of a third. On such days the light is quite good for three to four hours at midday and has a cheering effect on man and beast.

The ponies are so pleased that they seize the slightest opportunity to part company with their leaders and gallop off with tail and heels flung high. The dogs are equally festive and are getting more exercise than could be given in the dark. The two Esquimaux dogs have been taken in hand by Clissold, as I have noted before. He now takes them out with a leader borrowed from Meares, usually little 'Noogis.' On Saturday the sledge capsized at the tide crack; Clissold was left on the snow whilst the team disappeared in the distance. Noogis returned later, having eaten through his harness, and the others were eventually found some two miles away, 'foul' of an ice hummock. Yesterday Clissold took the same team to Cape Royds; they brought back a load of 100 lbs. a dog in about two hours. It would have been a good performance for the best dogs in the time, and considering that Meares pronounced these two dogs useless, Clissold deserves a great deal of credit.

Yesterday we had a really successful balloon ascent: the balloon ran out four miles of thread before it was released, and the instrument fell without a parachute. The searchers followed the clue about 2 1/2 miles to the north, when it turned and came back parallel to itself, and only about 30 yards distant from it. The instrument was found undamaged and with the record properly scratched.

Nelson has been out a good deal more of late. He has got a good little run of serial temperatures with water samples, and however meagre his results, they may be counted as exceedingly accurate; his methods include the great scientific care which is now considered necessary for this work, and one realises that he is one of the few people who have been trained in it. Yesterday he got his first net haul from the bottom, with the assistance of Atkinson and Cherry-Garrard.

Atkinson has some personal interest in the work. He has been getting remarkable results himself and has discovered a host of new parasites in the seals; he has been trying to correlate these with like discoveries in the fishes, in hope of working out complete life histories in both primary and secondary hosts.

But the joint hosts of the fishes may be the mollusca or other creatures on which they feed, and hence the new fields for Atkinson in Nelson's catches. There is a relative simplicity in the round of life in its higher forms in these regions that would seem especially hopeful for the parasitologist.

My afternoon walk has become a pleasure; everything is beautiful in this half light and the northern sky grows redder as the light wanes.

 

Tuesday, August 15. -- The instrument recovered from the balloon shows an ascent of 2 1/2 miles, and the temperature at that height only 5° or 6° C. below that at the surface. If, as one must suppose, this layer extends over the Barrier, it would there be at a considerably higher temperature than the surface Simpson has imagined a very cold surface layer on the Barrier.

The acetylene has suddenly failed, and I find myself at this moment writing by daylight for the first time.

The first addition to our colony came last night, when 'Lassie' produced six or seven puppies -- we are keeping the family very quiet and as warm as possible in the stable.

It is very pleasant to note the excellent relations which our young Russians have established with other folk; they both work very hard, Anton having most to do. Demetri is the more intelligent and begins to talk English fairly well. Both are on the best terms with their mess-mates, and it was amusing last night to see little Anton jamming a felt hat over P.O. Evans' head in high good humour.

Wright lectured on radium last night.

The transformation of the radio-active elements suggestive of the transmutation of metals was perhaps the most interesting idea suggested, but the discussion ranged mainly round the effect which the discovery of radio-activity has had on physics and chemistry in its bearing on the origin of matter, on geology as bearing on the internal heat of the earth, and on medicine in its curative powers. The geologists and doctors admitted little virtue to it, but of course the physicists boomed their own wares, which enlivened the debate.

 

Thursday, August 17. -- The weather has been extremely kind to us of late; we haven't a single grumble against it. The temperature hovers pretty constantly at about -35°, there is very little wind and the sky is clear and bright. In such weather one sees well for more than three hours before and after noon, the landscape unfolds itself, and the sky colours are always delicate and beautiful. At noon to-day there was bright sunlight on the tops of the Western Peaks and on the summit and steam of Erebus -- of late the vapour cloud of Erebus has been exceptionally heavy and fantastic in form.

The balloon has become a daily institution. Yesterday the instrument was recovered in triumph, but to-day the threads carried the searchers in amongst the icebergs and soared aloft over their crests -- anon the clue was recovered beyond, and led towards Tent Island, then towards Inaccessible, then back to the bergs. Never was such an elusive thread. Darkness descended with the searchers on a strong scent for the Razor Backs: Bowers returned full of hope.

The wretched Lassie has killed every one of her litter. She is mother for the first time, and possibly that accounts for it. When the poor little mites were alive she constantly left them, and when taken back she either trod on them or lay on them, till not one was left alive. It is extremely annoying.

As the daylight comes, people are busier than ever. It does one good to see so much work going on.

 

Friday, August 18. -- Atkinson lectured on 'Scurvy' last night. He spoke clearly and slowly, but the disease is anything but precise. He gave a little summary of its history afloat and the remedies long in use in the Navy.

He described the symptoms with some detail. Mental depression, debility, syncope, petechiae, livid patches, spongy gums, lesions, swellings, and so on to things that are worse. He passed to some of the theories held and remedies tried in accordance with them. Ralph came nearest the truth in discovering decrease of chlorine and alkalinity of urine. Sir Almroth Wright has hit the truth, he thinks, in finding increased acidity of blood -- acid intoxication -- by methods only possible in recent years.

This acid condition is due to two salts, sodium hydrogen carbonate and sodium hydrogen phosphate; these cause the symptoms observed and infiltration of fat in organs, leading to feebleness of heart action. The method of securing and testing serum of patient was described (titration, a colorimetric method of measuring the percentage of substances in solution), and the test by litmus paper of normal or super-normal solution. In this test the ordinary healthy man shows normal 30 to 50: the scurvy patient normal 90.

Lactate of sodium increases alkalinity of blood, but only within narrow limits, and is the only chemical remedy suggested.

So far for diagnosis, but it does not bring us much closer to the cause, preventives, or remedies. Practically we are much as we were before, but the lecturer proceeded to deal with the practical side.

In brief, he holds the first cause to be tainted food, but secondary or contributory causes may be even more potent in developing the disease. Damp, cold, over-exertion, bad air, bad light, in fact any condition exceptional to normal healthy existence. Remedies are merely to change these conditions for the better. Dietetically, fresh vegetables are the best curatives -- the lecturer was doubtful of fresh meat, but admitted its possibility in polar climate; lime juice only useful if regularly taken. He discussed lightly the relative values of vegetable stuffs, doubtful of those containing abundance of phosphates such as lentils. He touched theory again in continuing the cause of acidity to bacterial action -- and the possibility of infection in epidemic form. Wilson is evidently slow to accept the 'acid intoxication' theory; his attitude is rather 'non proven.' His remarks were extremely sound and practical as usual. He proved the value of fresh meat in polar regions.

Scurvy seems very far away from us this time, yet after our Discovery experience, one feels that no trouble can be too great or no precaution too small to be adopted to keep it at bay. Therefore such an evening as last was well spent.

It is certain we shall not have the disease here, but one cannot foresee equally certain avoidance in the southern journey to come. All one can do is to take every possible precaution.

Ran over to Tent Island this afternoon and climbed to the top -- I have not been there since 1903. Was struck with great amount of loose sand; it seemed to get smaller in grain from S. to N. Fine view from top of island: one specially notices the gap left by the breaking up of the Glacier Tongue.

The distance to the top of the island and back is between 7 and 8 statute miles, and the run in this weather is fine healthy exercise. Standing on the island to-day with a glorious view of mountains, islands, and glaciers, I thought how very different must be the outlook of the Norwegians. A dreary white plain of Barrier behind and an uninviting stretch of sea ice in front. With no landmarks, nothing to guide if the light fails, it is probable that they venture but a very short distance from their hut.

The prospects of such a situation do not smile on us.

The weather remains fine -- this is the sixth day without wind.

 

Sunday, August 20. -- The long-expected blizzard came yesterday -- a good honest blow, the drift vanishing long before the wind. This and the rise of temperature (to 2°) has smoothed and polished all ice or snow surfaces. A few days ago I could walk anywhere in my soft finnesko with sealskin soles; to-day it needed great caution to prevent tumbles. I think there has been a good deal of ablation.

The sky is clear to-day, but the wind still strong though warm. I went along the shore of the North Bay and climbed to the glacier over one of the drifted faults in the ice face. It is steep and slippery, but by this way one can arrive above the Ramp without touching rock and thus avoid cutting soft footwear.

The ice problems in our neighbourhood become more fascinating and elusive as one re-examines them by the returning light; some will be solved.

 

Monday, August 21. -- Weights and measurements last evening. We have remained surprisingly constant. There seems to have been improvement in lung power and grip is shown by spirometer and dynamometer, but weights have altered very little. I have gone up nearly 3 lbs. in winter, but the increase has occurred during the last month, when I have been taking more exercise. Certainly there is every reason to be satisfied with the general state of health.

The ponies are becoming a handful. Three of the four exercised to-day so far have run away -- Christopher and Snippets broke away from Oates and Victor from Bowers. Nothing but high spirits, there is no vice in these animals; but I fear we are going to have trouble with sledges and snow-shoes. At present the Soldier dare not issue oats or the animals would become quite unmanageable. Bran is running low; he wishes he had more of it.

 

Tuesday, August 22. -- I am renewing study of glacier problems; the face of the ice cliff 300 yards east of the homestead is full of enigmas. Yesterday evening Ponting gave us a lecture on his Indian travels. He is very frank in acknowledging his debt to guide-books for information, nevertheless he tells his story well and his slides are wonderful. In personal reminiscence he is distinctly dramatic -- he thrilled us a good deal last night with a vivid description of a sunrise in the sacred city of Benares. In the first dim light the waiting, praying multitude of bathers, the wonderful ritual and its incessant performance; then, as the sun approaches, the hush -- the effect of thousands of worshippers waiting in silence -- a silence to be felt. Finally, as the first rays appear, the swelling roar of a single word from tens of thousands of throats: 'Ambah!' It was artistic to follow this picture of life with the gruesome horrors of the ghat. This impressionist style of lecturing is very attractive and must essentially cover a great deal of ground. So we saw Jeypore, Udaipore, Darjeeling, and a confusing number of places -- temples, monuments and tombs in profusion, with remarkable pictures of the wonderful Taj Mahal -- horses, elephants, alligators, wild boars, and flamingoes -- warriors, fakirs, and nautch girls -- an impression here and an impression there.

It is worth remembering how attractive this style can be -- in lecturing one is inclined to give too much attention to connecting links which join one episode to another. A lecture need not be a connected story; perhaps it is better it should not be.

It was my night on duty last night and I watched the oncoming of a blizzard with exceptional beginnings. The sky became very gradually overcast between 1 and 4 A.M. About 2.30 the temperature rose on a steep grade from -20° to -3°; the barometer was falling, rapidly for these regions. Soon after 4 the wind came with a rush, but without snow or drift. For a time it was more gusty than has ever yet been recorded even in this region. In one gust the wind rose from 4 to 68 m.p.h. and fell again to 20 m.p.h. within a minute; another reached 80 m.p.h., but not from such a low point of origin. The effect in the hut was curious; for a space all would be quiet, then a shattering blast would descend with a clatter and rattle past ventilator and chimneys, so sudden, so threatening, that it was comforting to remember the solid structure of our building. The suction of such a gust is so heavy that even the heavy snow-covered roof of the stable, completely sheltered on the lee side of the main building, is violently shaken -- one could well imagine the plight of our adventurers at C. Crozier when their roof was destroyed. The snow which came at 6 lessened the gustiness and brought the ordinary phenomena of a blizzard. It is blowing hard to-day, with broken windy clouds and roving bodies of drift. A wild day for the return of the sun. Had it been fine to-day we should have seen the sun for the first time; yesterday it shone on the lower foothills to the west, but to-day we see nothing but gilded drift clouds. Yet it is grand to have daylight rushing at one.

 

Wednesday, August 23. -- We toasted the sun in champagne last night, coupling Victor Campbell's name as his birthday coincides. The return of the sun could not be appreciated as we have not had a glimpse of it, and the taste of the champagne went wholly unappreciated; it was a very mild revel. Meanwhile the gale continues. Its full force broke last night with an average of nearly 70 m.p.h. for some hours: the temperature has been up to 10° and the snowfall heavy. At seven this morning the air was thicker with whirling drift than it has ever been.

It seems as though the violence of the storms which succeed our rare spells of fine weather is in proportion to the duration of the spells.

 

Thursday, August 24. -- Another night and day of furious wind and drift, and still no sign of the end. The temperature has been as high as 16°. Now and again the snow ceases and then the drift rapidly diminishes, but such an interval is soon followed by fresh clouds of snow. It is quite warm outside, one can go about with head uncovered -- which leads me to suppose that one does get hardened to cold to some extent -- for I suppose one would not wish to remain uncovered in a storm in England if the temperature showed 16 degrees of frost. This is the third day of confinement to the hut: it grows tedious, but there is no help, as it is too thick to see more than a few yards out of doors.

 

Friday, August 25. -- The gale continued all night and it blows hard this morning, but the sky is clear, the drift has ceased, and the few whale-back clouds about Erebus carry a promise of improving conditions.

Last night there was an intensely black cloud low on the northern horizon -- but for earlier experience of the winter one would have sworn to it as a water sky; but I think the phenomenon is due to the shadow of retreating drift clouds. This morning the sky is clear to the north, so that the sea ice cannot have broken out in the Sound.

During snowy gales it is almost necessary to dress oneself in wind clothes if one ventures outside for the briefest periods -- exposed woollen or cloth materials become heavy with powdery crystals in a minute or two, and when brought into the warmth of the hut are soon wringing wet. Where there is no drift it is quicker and easier to slip on an overcoat.

It is not often I have a sentimental attachment for articles of clothing, but I must confess an affection for my veteran uniform overcoat, inspired by its persistent utility. I find that it is twenty-three years of age and can testify to its strenuous existence. It has been spared neither rain, wind, nor salt sea spray, tropic heat nor Arctic cold; it has outlived many sets of buttons, from their glittering gilded youth to green old age, and it supports its four-stripe shoulder straps as gaily as the single lace ring of the early days which proclaimed it the possession of a humble sub-lieutenant. Withal it is still a very long way from the fate of the 'one-horse shay.'

Taylor gave us his final physiographical lecture last night. It was completely illustrated with slides made from our own negatives, Ponting's Alpine work, and the choicest illustrations of certain scientific books. The preparation of the slides had involved a good deal of work for Ponting as well as for the lecturer. The lecture dealt with ice erosion, and the pictures made it easy to follow the comparison of our own mountain forms and glacial contours with those that have received so much attention elsewhere. Noticeable differences are the absence of moraine material on the lower surfaces of our glaciers, their relatively insignificant movement, their steep sides, &c.... It is difficult to convey the bearing of the difference or similarity of various features common to the pictures under comparison without their aid. It is sufficient to note that the points to which the lecturer called attention were pretty obvious and that the lecture was exceedingly instructive. The origin of 'cirques' or 'cwms,' of which we have remarkably fine examples, is still a little mysterious -- one notes also the requirement of observation which might throw light on the erosion of previous ages.

After Taylor's effort Ponting showed a number of very beautiful slides of Alpine scenery -- not a few are triumphs of the photographer's art. As a wind-up Ponting took a flashlight photograph of our hut converted into a lecture hall: a certain amount of faking will be required, but I think this is very allowable under the circumstances.

Oates tells me that one of the ponies, 'Snippets,' will eat blubber! the possible uses of such an animal are remarkable!

The gravel on the north side of the hut against which the stable is built has been slowly but surely worn down, leaving gaps under the boarding. Through these gaps and our floor we get an unpleasantly strong stable effluvium, especially when the wind is strong. We are trying to stuff the holes up, but have not had much success so far.

 

Saturday, August 26. -- A dying wind and clear sky yesterday, and almost calm to-day. The noon sun is cut off by the long low foot slope of Erebus which runs to Cape Royds. Went up the Ramp at noon yesterday and found no advantage -- one should go over the floe to get the earliest sight, and yesterday afternoon Evans caught a last glimpse of the upper limb from that situation, whilst Simpson saw the same from Wind Vane Hill.

The ponies are very buckish and can scarcely be held in at exercise; it seems certain that they feel the return of daylight. They were out in morning and afternoon yesterday. Oates and Anton took out Christopher and Snippets rather later. Both ponies broke away within 50 yards of the stable and galloped away over the floe. It was nearly an hour before they could be rounded up. Such escapades are the result of high spirits; there is no vice in the animals.

We have had comparatively little aurora of late, but last night was an exception; there was a good display at 3 A.M.

P.M. -- Just before lunch the sunshine could be seen gilding the floe, and Ponting and I walked out to the bergs. The nearest one has been overturned and is easily climbed. From the top we could see the sun clear over the rugged outline of C. Barne. It was glorious to stand bathed in brilliant sunshine once more. We felt very young, sang and cheered -- we were reminded of a bright frosty morning in England -- everything sparkled and the air had the same crisp feel. There is little new to be said of the return of the sun in polar regions, yet it is such a very real and important event that one cannot pass it in silence. It changes the outlook on life of every individual, foul weather is robbed of its terrors; if it is stormy to-day it will be fine to-morrow or the next day, and each day's delay will mean a brighter outlook when the sky is clear.

Climbed the Ramp in the afternoon, the shouts and songs of men and the neighing of horses borne to my ears as I clambered over its kopjes.

We are now pretty well convinced that the Ramp is a moraine resting on a platform of ice.

The sun rested on the sunshine recorder for a few minutes, but made no visible impression. We did not get our first record in the Discovery until September. It is surprising that so little heat should be associated with such a flood of light.

 

Sunday, August 27. -- Overcast sky and chill south-easterly wind. Sunday routine, no one very active. Had a run to South Bay over 'Domain.'

 

Monday, August 28. -- Ponting and Gran went round the bergs late last night. On returning they saw a dog coming over the floe from the north. The animal rushed towards and leapt about them with every sign of intense joy. Then they realised that it was our long lost Julick.

His mane was crusted with blood and he smelt strongly of seal blubber -- his stomach was full, but the sharpness of back-bone showed that this condition had only been temporary, daylight he looks very fit and strong, and he is evidently very pleased to be home again.

We are absolutely at a loss to account for his adventures. It is exactly a month since he was missed -- what on earth can have happened to him all this time? One would give a great deal to hear his tale. Everything is against the theory that he was a wilful absentee -- his previous habits and his joy at getting back. If he wished to get back, he cannot have been lost anywhere in the neighbourhood, for, as Meares says, the barking of the station dogs can be heard at least 7 or 8 miles away in calm weather, besides which there are tracks everywhere and unmistakable landmarks to guide man or beast. I cannot but think the animal has been cut off, but this can only have happened by his being carried away on broken sea ice, and as far as we know the open water has never been nearer than 10 or 12 miles at the least. It is another enigma.

On Saturday last a balloon was sent up. The thread was found broken a mile away. Bowers and Simpson walked many miles in search of the instrument, but could find no trace of it. The theory now propounded is that if there is strong differential movement in air currents, the thread is not strong enough to stand the strain as the balloon passes from one current to another. It is amazing, and forces the employment of a new system. It is now proposed to discard the thread and attach the instrument to a flag and staff, which it is hoped will plant itself in the snow on falling.

The sun is shining into the hut windows -- already sunbeams rest on the opposite walls.

I have mentioned the curious cones which are the conspicuous feature of our Ramp scenery -- they stand from 8 to 20 feet in height, some irregular, but a number quite perfectly conical in outline. To-day Taylor and Gran took pick and crowbar and started to dig into one of the smaller ones. After removing a certain amount of loose rubble they came on solid rock, kenyte, having two or three irregular cracks traversing the exposed surface. It was only with great trouble they removed one or two of the smallest fragments severed by these cracks. There was no sign of ice. This gives a great 'leg up' to the 'debris' cone theory.

Demetri and Clissold took two small teams of dogs to Cape Royds to-day. They found some dog footprints near the hut, but think these were not made by Julick. Demetri points far to the west as the scene of that animal's adventures. Parties from C. Royds always bring a number of illustrated papers which must have been brought down by the Nimrod on her last visit. The ostensible object is to provide amusement for our Russian companions, but as a matter of fact everyone finds them interesting.

 

Tuesday, August 29. -- I find that the card of the sunshine recorder showed an hour and a half's burn yesterday and was very faintly marked on Saturday; already, therefore, the sun has given us warmth, even if it can only be measured instrumentally.

Last night Meares told us of his adventures in and about Lolo land, a wild Central Asian country nominally tributary to Lhassa. He had no pictures and very makeshift maps, yet he held us really entranced for nearly two hours by the sheer interest of his adventures. The spirit of the wanderer is in Meares' blood: he has no happiness but in the wild places of the earth. I have never met so extreme a type. Even now he is looking forward to getting away by himself to Hut Point, tired already of our scant measure of civilisation.

He has keen natural powers of observation for all practical facts and a quite prodigious memory for such things, but a lack of scientific training causes the acceptance of exaggerated appearances, which so often present themselves to travellers when unfamiliar objects are first seen. For instance, when the spoor of some unknown beast is described as 6 inches across, one shrewdly guesses that a cold scientific measurement would have reduced this figure by nearly a half; so it is with mountains, cliffs, waterfalls, &c. With all deduction on this account the lecture was extraordinarily interesting. Meares lost his companion and leader, poor Brook, on the expedition which he described to us. The party started up the Yangtse, travelling from Shanghai to Hankow and thence to Ichang by steamer -- then by house-boat towed by coolies through wonderful gorges and one dangerous rapid to Chunking and Chengtu. In those parts the travellers always took the three principal rooms of the inn they patronised, the cost 150 cash, something less than fourpence -- oranges 20 a penny -- the coolies with 100 lb. loads would cover 30 to 40 miles a day -- salt is got in bores sunk with bamboos to nearly a mile in depth; it takes two or three generations to sink a bore. The lecturer described the Chinese frontier town Quanchin, its people, its products, chiefly medicinal musk pods from musk deer. Here also the wonderful ancient damming of the river, and a temple to the constructor, who wrote, twenty centuries ago, 'dig out your ditches, but keep your banks low.' On we were taken along mountain trails over high snow-filled passes and across rivers on bamboo bridges to Wassoo, a timber centre from which great rafts of lumber are shot down the river, over fearsome rapids, freighted with Chinamen. 'They generally come through all right,' said the lecturer.

Higher up the river (Min) live the peaceful Ching Ming people, an ancient aboriginal stock, and beyond these the wild tribes, the Lolo themselves. They made doubtful friends with a chief preparing for war. Meares described a feast given to them in a barbaric hall hung with skins and weapons, the men clad in buckskin dyed red, and bristling with arms; barbaric dishes, barbaric music. Then the hunt for new animals; the Chinese Tarkin, the parti-coloured bear, blue mountain sheep, the golden-haired monkey, and talk of new fruits and flowers and a host of little-known birds.

More adventures among the wild tribes of the mountains; the white lamas, the black lamas and phallic worship. Curious prehistoric caves with ancient terra-cotta figures resembling only others found in Japan and supplying a curious link. A feudal system running with well oiled wheels, the happiest of communities. A separation (temporary) from Brook, who wrote in his diary that tribes were very friendly and seemed anxious to help him, and was killed on the day following -- the truth hard to gather -- the recovery of his body, &c.

As he left the country the Nepaulese ambassador arrives, returning from Pekin with large escort and bound for Lhassa: the ambassador half demented: and Meares, who speaks many languages, is begged by ambassador and escort to accompany the party. He is obliged to miss this chance of a lifetime.

This is the meagrest outline of the tale which Meares adorned with a hundred incidental facts -- for instance, he told us of the Lolo trade in green waxfly -- the insect is propagated seasonally by thousands of Chinese who subsist on the sale of the wax produced, but all insects die between seasons. At the commencement of each season there is a market to which the wild hill Lolos bring countless tiny bamboo boxes, each containing a male and female insect, the breeding of which is their share in the industry.

We are all adventurers here, I suppose, and wild doings in wild countries appeal to us as nothing else could do. It is good to know that there remain wild corners of this dreadfully civilised world.

We have had a bright fine day. This morning a balloon was sent up without thread and with the flag device to which I have alluded. It went slowly but steadily to the north and so over the Barne Glacier. It was difficult to follow with glasses frequently clouding with the breath, but we saw the instrument detached when the slow match burned out. I'm afraid there is no doubt it fell on the glacier and there is little hope of recovering it. We have now decided to use a thread again, but to send the bobbin up with the balloon, so that it unwinds from that end and there will be no friction where it touches the snow or rock.

This investigation of upper air conditions is proving a very difficult matter, but we are not beaten yet.

 

Wednesday, August 30. -- Fine bright day. The thread of the balloon sent up to-day broke very short off through some fault in the cage holding the bobbin. By good luck the instrument was found in the North Bay, and held a record.

This is the fifth record showing a constant inversion of temperature for a few hundred feet and then a gradual fall, so that the temperature of the surface is not reached again for 2000 or 3000 feet. The establishment of this fact repays much of the trouble caused by the ascents.

 

Thursday, August 31. -- Went round about the Domain and Ramp with Wilson. We are now pretty well decided as to certain matters that puzzled us at first. The Ramp is undoubtedly a moraine supported on the decaying end of the glacier. A great deal of the underlying ice is exposed, but we had doubts as to whether this ice was not the result of winter drifting and summer thawing. We have a little difference of opinion as to whether this morainic material has been brought down in surface layers or pushed up from the bottom ice layers, as in Alpine glaciers. There is no doubt that the glacier is retreating with comparative rapidity, and this leads us to account for the various ice slabs about the hut as remains of the glacier, but a puzzling fact confronts this proposition in the discovery of penguin feathers in the lower strata of ice in both ice caves. The shifting of levels in the morainic material would account for the drying up of some lakes and the terrace formations in others, whilst curious trenches in the ground are obviously due to cracks in the ice beneath. We are now quite convinced that the queer cones on the Ramp are merely the result of the weathering of big blocks of agglomerate. As weathering results they appear unique. We have not yet a satisfactory explanation of the broad roadway faults that traverse every small eminence in our immediate region. They must originate from the unequal weathering of lava flows, but it is difficult to imagine the process. The dip of the lavas on our Cape corresponds with that of the lavas of Inaccessible Island, and points to an eruptive centre to the south and not towards Erebus. Here is food for reflection for the geologists.

The wind blew quite hard from the N.N.W. on Wednesday night, fell calm in the day, and came from the S.E. with snow as we started to return from our walk; there was a full blizzard by the time we reached the hut.

 

  1. ^Prof. T. Edgeworth David, of Sydney University, who accompanied Shackleton's expedition as geologist.

  2. ^ See Vol. II., Dr. Simpson's Meteorological Report.

 

Glossary

Citation

(2009). Scott's Last Expedition: The Return of the Sun. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbeed87896bb431f69aaa5

0 Comments

To add a comment, please Log In.