Time Bomb. Fiennes refers to this time in the journey home with the pole less than a week behind them as a moment in which Scott had two ‘time bombs ticking’. He is referring to Evan’s and Oates. But Fiennes adds more valuable information to this moment. Not only do those men have injuries and have been on the same rations as everyone else but other factors are considered. The altitude on the plateau causes an array of problems, oxygen shortage, nose bleeds, headaches etc. Then an interesting observation about the state of health of the men before they even began the march back in November. There are references to an aversion that Evan’s had to horsemeat and to seal blubber and there are records that indicate Evan’s didn’t eat his allocation of lever and blubber whilst still at base and therefore may have refrained from the horsemeat on the march. It has been over 6 weeks since they ate any fresh food and if Evan’s had abstained it could have been even longer for him.
Scott’s Journal 23rd January 1912. They experienced their lowest ever temperature last night at -30. It was a hard start to the days marching but the wind increased pushing them along and their rate increased. Scott notes that ‘the old tracks show so remarkably well that we can follow them without much difficulty – a great piece of luck.’. They made even better progress in the afternoon as they fixed the sail and they would have made it to within one march of the next depot but Wilson spotted that Evan’s had frostbite on his nose, they stopped and put up their tent. The conditions that had made progress so swift also made putting up the tent difficult but they achieve it and feel refreshed and ‘cosy after good hoosh’. Scott describes Evan’s as being a ‘good deal run down’, his fingers are blistered, his wound gets worse and his nose now has frostbite. Scott notes that Evan’s is ‘very much annoyed with himself. which is not a good sign’. A health check on the rest of the party sees Scott, Wilson and Bowers in good condition but Oates now has constantly cold feet. They should make it to the depot tomorrow as only 13 miles away. Scott concludes with, ‘The weather seems to be breaking up. Pray God we have something of a track to follow to the Three Degree Depot – once we pick that up we ought to be right’.
Commentary. Scott describes being able to follow the outward track as ‘great luck’ and he is praying to God to be able to follow a track in the morning. This language used by Scott may show a desperation but it has been common all the way through his writing. It leaves him open to criticism, and Huntford pounces on that, but it could just be his communication style. Critics use it to argue that Scott was dependant on luck rather than good planning and that Amundsen was much better prepared and luck didn’t enter his thinking. The pattern of Scott is visible, he hopes for luck before the event and then when they have achieved he credits the plan, the men and the resources. Luck as an unknown element or an unplanned moment is present in all the journeys, Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen. I don’t buy that this was a man who prepared poorly and hoped for the best. His naval training, his experience on the Discovery and the evidence he had from others provide him with knowledge to plan well. He certainly made mistakes and it could be argued that some of his decisions and assumptions were wrong but the image of some useless Edwardian buffoon leading lambs to the slaughter just doesn’t add up. If Scott is at fault for the tragedy that befalls his men it is not because of a dependence on randomness, this is simply a writing or communicating style and we should differentiate style over substance.