Monday, March 1, 2010
1st March, 1911
Weary Willy died in the night. All our efforts in vain! It is clear that the condition of the ponies will not stand up to these blizzards, and that they need time for their coats to come in. This absolutely necessitates a late start for the next year.
We have bought our experience at hard cost. Now, every effort must be made to save the remaining ponies.
Sent Bowers, Crean and Cherry out with four ponies - Guts, Nobby, Punch and Uncle Bill.
Oates, Gran and I turned out early, only to see great black mirages on the horizon. At least, they seemed like mirages at first, but alas! They turned out to be what I most feared - long black stretches of open water: the Barrier has started to break up! As we neared our depot, we could see that the sea ice was full of broken pieces of the Barrier edge. We made our way on til I could be sure of a safe spot, and set up tent. I wanted to warn Evans and his party. I sent Gran out with a note.
Meanwhile, after going over our situation with Oates, I spotted two figures coming towards us - Wilson and Meares, as it turns out, with the dog teams. They were surprised to see us, having seen ponies out on the sea ice, and thought it was we. We made them cocoa, as they had started off without breakfast. Just after this, Wilson saw a figure coming towards us from the west - it was Crean, exhausted and almost incoherent, telling us that disaster had befallen his team.
What had happened was this: Having come up against this broken ice yesterday, they had set up camp, only to be awoken in the middle of the night by noises. Bowers went out thinking his pony had gotten into his oats again only to discover a pool of water where Guts had been! The ice they were on had split off entirely and was floating out to sea! They dashed about to pack up their kit, Bowers rushing out to save the two sledges in just his stocking feet, and over the next several hours had leaped from floe to floe as one bumped up alongside the other, leading the ponies across, then going back for the sledges. Eventually, they came up against a part of the Barrier where it was possible for a man to climb up and seek help: though both he and Cherry volunteered, Crean was chosen to go. Cherry, after all, has such bad eyesight. Bowers wouldn't think of coming up, and saving himself. All the while, great killer whales were hunting and thrashing about them, lunging up just yards from where they stood, on a feeding frenzy to get at the seals imperiled by the break-up of the ice. This is where he left them.
Immediately, I sent Gran back to Hut point with Meares and Wilson, to warn Evans's party. I took Crean and Oates on to see if we could catch sight of Bowers and Cherry and the ponies. Good Lord, how I cursed myself for pushing them on, and was plagued mightily by the thought that I might be responsible for their deaths.
To my great joy we saw them. With the aid of our Alpine rope, we got both men to safety, and set up camp a good half mile inland where we could be pretty certain the ice was still safe. Bowers was terribly anxious about leaving his ponies out on the ice, but what could we do? There was no way to get them up the 15-20 feet sheer cliff of the Barrier. We left them well-fed, and there they stood.
Upon reaching them, Bowers said to me "What about the ponies and the sledges?" and I replied that I didn't give a damn about them. "It's you I want," I called down, "and I'm going to see you safe here up on the Barrier before I do anything else." Once they were up, having used both sledges as ladders - I told them "My dear chaps, you can't think how glad I am to see you safe—Cherry likewise." Bowers, being the plucky sod he is, was determined to get the sledges, so I let him.
Bowers and I took a walk down to the edge to see how the ponies were faring and could see that by this point (3AM) they had drifted out a long way. He tried to cheer me up by reminding me that Campbell wouldn't be needing his ponies now, which gave us two more. I told him that they were out only chance, as I had no confidence in the motor sledges, having seen how badly they handled when unloading the ship.
I fear I must have been drained of reason when I shared a confidence with him, that as far as the Pole is concerned at this point I have very little hope.
I have now ordered everyone rest, as we got no sleep last night, and everyone's been in great shock. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.