Depot Crisis. Huntford regards Scott’s method of finding his depots as poor and comments that ‘finding each depot now became a crisis, because there were none of Amundsen’s ingenious transverse markings, but merely a single inadequate flag’. Scott’s system had worked for them in the past but the poor weather did mean they had to stop and check for the cairns and tracks. Huntford refers to this as scratching about and describes the method of navigation as ‘tedious’ and for ‘fair weather only’. As for the journey itself Huntford comments that Scott’s men had only ‘their thoughts for company and a crushing monotony oppressed them on the march. They were suddenly feeling the cold more’. It is at this time that the men may have lost body fat which acts as insulation, some of the clothing was wearing thin and the temperatures recorded by Scott are dropping. Fiennes comments that the cairns and flags used by Scott worked well in visibility and that even the technique used by Amundsen did not stop them missing a depot in poor weather as the travelled down the glazier.
Scott’s Journal 24th January 1912. Scotts words from this day in the published version being used for this blog. ‘Things begin to look a little serious. A strong wind at the start has developed into a full blizzard at lunch, and we have had to get into our sleeping bags. It was a bad march, but we covered 7 miles. At first Evan’s and then Wilson went ahead to scout for tracks. Bowers guided the sledge alone for the first hour and then both Oates and he remained alongside it, they had a fearful time trying to make the pace between the soft patches. At 12:30 the sun coming ahead made it impossible to see the tracks further and we had to stop. By this time the gale was at it’s height and we had the dickens of a time getting up the tent, cold fingers all round. We are only 7 miles from our depot but I made sure we should be there tonight. This is the second full gale since we left the pole. I don’t like the look of it. Is the weather breaking up ? if so, God help us, with the tremendous summit journey and scant food. Wilson and Bowers are my standby. I don’t like the easy way in which Oates and Evan’s get frostbitten’.
Commentary. Huntford implies that the reason the men are feeling the cold is because of their mental state and approach to the current situation he also notes that Scott’s navigation system is flawed. Both assumptions may be true but this short emotive section from Huntford demonstrates so much about his telling of the story, Amundsen is ‘ingenious’ while Scott hapless. Scott miscalculated and planned for a range of circumstances that reality outpaced. Fiennes counters this attack on Scott with the news that there was a missed depot by Amundsen while Scott’s so called poor technique ensured they never missed a depot and while the conditions allowed them to travel they never ran out of food. So much has been written about this expedition and yet so much remains unknown or argued over. The telling of any story is never objective or neutral, be careful of those who tell you it is, it comes with as much complex baggage as this tale does. We cry out for evidence and science and are rewarded by getting it, piles and piles of it, and yet it very rarely gives us the absolute or definitive answer, but seems to ask more questions. One hundred years after Scott’s Terra Nova expedition we are asking more questions of those involved, it could be argued we are asking better questions. The role of the leader is to ask better questions, of themselves, their team, their systems, their resources, their task and their purpose.