Ice Crystals. Pulling sledges over these conditions is difficult enough without the climb up the glacier, the snowdrifts which make the sledge act like a plough, the crevasses, ice forming on the sledge runners, the sastrugi and then the ice crystals. Cherry-Garrard highlights that in many polar explorers diaries you find ice crystals mentioned and he believes these to be the ‘manhaulers greatest enemy’. Crystals in the air, gathered around sastrugi, lying loose on the surface and then when the sun shines on them they seem to become sticky making pulling even harder. The surface the manhauler wants is hard and to get that the temperature needs to be cold. The summer they have experienced seemed to have a great many references to high temperatures. High temperatures make the snow stick and make it wet, leading to heavy sledges, wet men and drifts to plough through. A warm summer in not a good manhauling summer.
Sastrugi – picture taken from Wikimedia Commons of the current base at the south pole
Scott’s Journal entry 10th January 1912. ‘Terrible hard march in the morning’. The surface was very difficult and covered with sandy snow with sastrugi that appear very confusing as they run in unpredictable directions. This makes steering and progress southward difficult. They left their last depot before the pole and built a cairn to mark the spot. They deposited food, supplies and clothing. They are now down to 18 days food with 85 miles to go to the pole. Scott refers to the food situation, ‘yesterday I should have said certain to see us through, but now the surface is beyond words, and if it continues we shall have the greatest difficulty to keep our march long enough’. The temperature is warmer than Scott anticipated at -11 and he finds it ‘difficult to imagine what is happening with the weather’. By the end of the day they had only covered 10 miles but Scott is pleased that at least they continue to progress.
Commentary. Vitamin C, as well as other nutrients, is missing from Scott’s diet. The lack of a full and varied diet slows down, halts or even reverses the healing process and both Evan’s and Oates carry worsening injuries. A lack of vitamins and nutrients is also a contributing factor to mood and morale. Huntford seizes upon this but adds fuel to the flame by suggesting the mood and morale of the men is made even worse due to Scott’s poor character and his depressive melancholy ways. The good morale of any team is important but getting it and then keeping it is a multi factorial process. Modern leaders may not need to worry about vitamin C but they should be concerned with the overall wellbeing of the team. Scott does care for his men, his comments indicate that, but he expects their drive, ambition and energy to match his and perhaps he assumes they are all as motivated to reach the pole as he is. If that was true then those groups of men who are heading back to Cape Evan’s after not being selected are in a poor way. Morale is much more than the measured achievement, that memory will fade quickly and morale can drop just as fast. People will remember how the leader made them feel long after the success of the project has been forgotten.