Go East. Cherry-Garrard notes that the other returning parties had run into the same difficult area that Scott now found himself in but in trying to get out of it by heading East Scott and his men became entangled in some awful terrain. Fiennes describes the event as, ‘with twenty five miles to go to their food cache, Scott’s normally intuitive path finding abilities deserted him and the British descended into an icy version of hell’. Things got worse and the next day they became lost and Oates remarked, ‘got among bad crevasses and pressure, all blue ice. We struggled in this chaos until about 9pm when we were absolutely done’. They had a difficult three days and Williams reports that ‘food became the dominant anxiety’. A terrible and anxious time for the men and all mention of injury disappears from their journals indicating just how all concerning this episode was.
Scott’s Journal 11th February 1912. Temperature has fallen and Scott describes the day as ‘the worse day we have had during the trip and greatly owing to our own fault’. There were poor surfaces, horrible light and they made decision on direction which took them into even worse areas. They made it onto a decent surface and had a full lunch only to then find themselves in ‘the worst ice mess I have ever been in’. They switched directions but nothing seemed to improve and Scott’s spirits ‘received a very rude shock’. Scott’s words tell the story. ‘There were times when it seemed almost impossible to find a way out of the awful turmoil in which we found ourselves’. At length, arguing that there must be a way on our left, we plunged in that direction. It got worse, harder, more icy and crevassed. We could not manage our ski and pulled on foot, falling into crevasses every minute—most luckily no bad accident. At length we saw a smoother slope towards the land, pushed for it, but knew it was a woefully long way from us. The turmoil changed in character, irregular crevassed surface giving way to huge chasms, closely packed and most difficult to cross. It was very heavy work, but we had grown desperate. We won through at 10 P.M. and I write after 12 hours on the march. I think we are on or about the right track now, but we are still a good number of miles from the depot, so we reduced rations to-night. We had three pemmican meals left and decided to make them into four. To-morrow’s lunch must serve for two if we do not make big progress. It was a test of our endurance on the march and our fitness with small supper. We have come through well. A good wind has come down the glacier which is clearing the sky and surface. Pray God the wind holds to-morrow. Short sleep to-night and off first thing, I hope.
Commentary. It’s hard to grasp just how difficult this time must have been, both physically and mentally. They are hungry and food is running out and now they must pull the sledge up ridges and then control its weight as they lower it down the other side. They were also falling into crevasses just to add to their woes. Each twist and turn they made to escape just sucked them deeper into this horrendous icy maze. Fiennes sees Scott as someone taking responsibility for his mistake in directing them into this area and refers to him as his own worse critic. Huntford regards this as further evidence of Scott’s incompetence in planning, provision and navigation. It’s just not that simple. The end outcome is that they escape with hardly any food left and Scott admits he made an error. Admitting to getting things wrong after the event is important but measures of the leaders courage in this regard depend upon the situations eventual outcome. Admitting to making a mistake when things have turned out well, ‘I got it wrong but it all turned out OK’, could almost be seen as a success and therefore may not be quite as courageous as at first thought. I would like to know more about Scott’s response to the disagreements that took place during this time. Were Scott’s decisions challenged ? did he listen attentively to all viewpoints, was he prepared to change his mind ? his response in the moment may be a better indicator of his leadership than the admission of error after it. It is hard to gauge how much time Scott thought he had, he may have judged that lengthy debate was a risk and imposed his will for the good of all, he was a leader in a crisis. But before the crisis moment the function of the team and its members should be understood by all and they should be able to assess the difference between crisis decisions and complex competing ones. Leaders need to hear all options and remember that resistance to their ideas is actually feedback and a gift to be welcomed and thanked. The leader takes responsibility for creating an environment within the team where this behaviour is encouraged, rewarded and expected. Then, in the end, when all have been heard and taken into account the leader must make a decision and take responsibility for it.