Scott 100 Day 66 5th January 1912 : The Journey Back

The Journey Back. The Terra Nova expedition is more than a story of Scott and the pole. We have explored the ‘The Worst Journey’ when Bower’s, Wilson and Cherry-Garrard headed for Cape Crozier in the Antarctic winter and the heroic battle by Campbell and his men in surviving the winter in an ice cave when Terra Nova could not get back to pick them up from the ice. The trip back by Teddy Evan’s, Crean and Lashly equals any adventure already encountered. Shortly after they separated from Scott Teddy Evan’s realised that agreeing to Scott taking Bower’s now placed them under a great strain and risk and had been ‘too great a sacrifice’ according to his book South With Scott. They had to face a return journey of 750 miles and they would endure hardship and take crazy risks to get back to Cape Evan’s and, according to Smith, the odds were stacked against them. Evan’s soon confessed to Crean and Lashly the truth of their situation and knew that they needed to march for longer periods if they were to get safe home. Evan’s says of Crean and Lashly that ‘no man was ever better served than I was by these two’. Rations and daily speed were the first considerations. They must make for the depots and only take the right proportion of supplies, getting from cairn to cairn and depot to depot on the bleak featureless snow plateau was not easy. They were weakening but managed to get across the plateau to the Beardmore Glazier. However, they had missed the point to descend and looked downwards at a 3 day diversion to get back into the correct position. After some discussion Evan’s gives an order to Crean and Lashly, he saw they had no option as a 3 day diversion would be too great. They mounted the sledge and rode down that part of the Glacier back onto their path. A huge risk of injury and death as there may have been a crevass at any point. An injury to one would mean death for them all. They survived the risky venture and continued on. Teddy Evan’s described it as follows, ‘It makes me sweat even now when I think of it. I’ve run a good many risks in my life but none compares with that tobogganing down the ice falls’. Teddy Evan’s becomes weaker and weaker and eventually he has to be placed on the sledge and pulled by Crean and Lashly. At one point Evan’s believes he is done for and asks he men to leave him, they refuse. They continue on and with only 35 miles to go they realise they can go no further. They build a tent and the decision is made that Lashly would stay with Evan’s and Crean would go on alone and bring back help. Crean’s heroic walk back to Hutpoint is the stuff of polar legend and his bravery second to none. Crean makes it to Hutpoint and as soon as the weather clears Atkinson heads out with the dogs to rescue Evan’s and Lashly. The men all make it back but as the team doctor Atkinson is shocked by their condition and begins to worry for the fate of the pole party.

Scott’s Journal 5th January 1912. The 5 men had a ‘dreadfully trying’ day, there was a light wind with detached cloud bringing falling ice crystals, thus a very bad surface. The 12 miles covered today were the hardest on the plateau so far. Increasing and confusing sastrugi showing evidence of a southerly wind. The sledges seem firm and show no signs of capsizing. They are just over 120 miles from the pole and only a march from Shackleton’s last camp, they are ‘getting on’. It is a strain to pull so hard and long shadows sweep round them as the day goes on. Scott reports his day dreams on the monotonous march as ‘castles one builds now hopefully the pole is ours’. They are not feeling the cold and the sun has a great drying effect so that most mornings they begin with dry clothes. ‘Cooking for 5 takes a seriously longer time than cooking for 4, perhaps half an hour on the whole day. It is an item I had not considered when re organising’.

Commentary. The time it takes to prepare food for 5 men is another of the often used decisions that seems to condemn Scott to the position of poor planner. Fiennes argues that the extra time was not such a high price to pay for extra pulling power but Scott himself appears concerned over the time it takes to cook. The terrible return march of Crean, Lashly and Evan’s serves as a warning to the teams at Hutpoint and Cape Evans. Teddy Evan’s is in a poor state and unable to take charge of the base camp and so Atkinson remains in command and now has to decide what action to take. Scott was a naval officer and would have left a series of tasks and orders to those men who remained at camp. The men would also have expected orders and a clear command structure to be in place. Atkinson now found himself in the position of command and had to marry the orders left by Scott before the march south and the changing circumstances over the last few months. The possibility of circumstances changing and the need to be flexible is a key reason why the leader should share their intent with their team. What was Scott’s intent ? how did this relate to any specific orders ? If Atkinson was operating under Scott’s intent which could have been, care for the dogs so we can undertake scientific work next year and take whatever action you see appropriate to support the polar parties safe return, he may have been able to see different opportunities and place old orders in an updated context. Atkinson was perhaps unsure on the boundary of his decision making and what would Scott do ? had the team discussed extreme possibilities of weather, timing, early failure of tractor, horse or dog and what they should do ? The army have an expression ‘train hard, fight easy’, had the team at Cape Evans trained and prepared for these changing circumstances ? Crean survived his epic march only to return to the Antarctic in The Endurance with Shackleton and he would take on an equally hazardous sea journey and march across the mountains of South Georgia. During the march across South Georgia Crean, Shackleton and Worsley would slide down a mountain in an act of desperation every much as risky as sledging down the Beardmore Glazier.

About hutpoint

Interested in leadership, teamwork, resistance, perseverence and change. A former senior nurse dedicated to learning from and sharing with other flawed humans.
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4 Responses to Scott 100 Day 66 5th January 1912 : The Journey Back

  1. Karen says:

    You state that “Evans… was carrying verbal orders concerning the dogs” and that Atkinson had “several orders” regarding them (which must have confused him).

    This is NOT TRUE. Huntford made an error in 1979 which has only now come to light. Please see the following link for the truth about Scott’s fixed written orders for the dogs (he did NOT give verbal orders to Evans on 5 Jan 1912).

    • hutpoint says:

      Dear Karen, Thank you very much for taking the time to alert me to this. I will update that post. I am very grateful for the information. Many thanks.

      • Karen says:

        Hello! Thank you very much for correcting the section about Evans and his “verbal orders” (an error by Huntford) but it is not “suggested” that Atkinson had written orders about the dogs – Atkinson unquestionably DID have written orders from Scott concerning the dogs, there is proof of this. The link to the article (in the journal Polar Record) shows the evidence that Atkinson independently took a decision to override Scott’s written orders when back at base.

        I would be very grateful if you could read the article in question, as I think it will assist this blog in coming to an understanding of Scott’s planning processes.

      • hutpoint says:

        Hi Karen. You are correct and it’s my poor combination of words which are leaving meaning unclear. I have corrected to a state where it is safe while I get access to the article. Thanks again for your feedback, truly appreciated. Steve

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