Skis. They arrived at the depot picked up food and Bowers located his skis. They are now 180 miles away from the pole and in the next few days they would start their descent through the chaos of the Beardmore. They may be going downhill but the dangers of hidden crevasses remain. One of the reason given for the overall mental decline of PO Evans is a head injury sustained during one of the many falls down a crevasse. Through some difficult sastrugi and on a combination of ski and foot the party made 22 miles today. The use of ski or foot for best progress seems to vary and depending upon the surface. Today only Scott stayed on his ski for the whole day while the others alternated between ski and foot. The correct use of ski does seem to depend on the surface not simply technique. Training and appropriate use of ski that has been a criticism of Scott. Wilson continued to care for Evans and his hands are getting worse but ‘still smell sweet’, which means they are not gangrene.
Scott’s Journal 31st January 1912. A little warmer with a temperature of -20 today. They reached the depot, collected supplies and marched on. The surface and conditions started well but became worse as the day progressed. The surface became difficult to travel over and the wind that had been pushing them along dropped. Wilson was still walking alongside the sledge as his leg had not recovered and so only four men were pulling. Scott notes that while the surface is undulating more this does not seem to slow them down it is the sandy crystals that stick and don’t allow the sledge to move easily that have the greater impact. Wilsons leg does improve over time. They came across the spot where Bowers had depoted his ski and Scott concludes his entry, ‘the last thing we have to find on the summit, thank heaven ! Now all we have only to go north and so shall welcome strong winds’.
Commentary. Evans must have been suffering greatly at this point. Hungry and in pain with raw skin on his hands it must have been torture taking off itchy woolen gloves. Wilson is limping but improving and Oates carries on but must have been in a terrible way. The issue over ski is often mentioned due to Scotts lack of training with the men. Tryggve Gran had been brought south as a ski expert but any training of the men seemed informal and an optional extra. There is mention in the text that Scott was unimpressed with Gran and this may have blinded him to the need for systematic and universal skills training. The same could be said for navigation skills and the knowledge required to work the dogs. Expertise seemed to lie in specific people. There is a balance to be struck between expertise and general ability. No one can became a master or expert in everything and being able to specialise in a knowledge and skill base creates a deep understanding and awareness. Yet the leader must balance that with the ability of the team to have redundancy built in, especially in such hazardous environments. Illness or injury to team members should be a contingency that needs consideration and it is peculiar that Scott, as a naval officer, didn’t undertake to do so. The reason maybe in the environment he now finds himself, he is not at sea and perhaps the same clarity or risk was not present in his thinking. The initial selection of the team is vital as well, had Scott recruited the right balance for success ?