VI. FARTHEST SOUTH
Stevenson has written of a traveller whose wife slumbered by his side what time his spirit re-adventured forth in memory of days gone by. He was quite happy about it, and I suppose his travels had been peaceful, for days and nights such as these men spent coming down the Beardmore will give you nightmare after nightmare, and wake you shrieking—years after.
Of course they were shaken and weakened. But the conditions they had faced, and the time they had been out, do not in my opinion account entirely for their weakness nor for Evans’ collapse, which may have had something to do with the fact that he was the biggest, heaviest and most muscular man in the party. I do not believe that this is a life for such men, who are expected to pull their weight and to support and drive a larger machine than their companions, and at the same time to eat no extra food. If, as seems likely, the ration these men were eating was not enough to support the work they were doing, then it is clear that the heaviest man will feel the deficiency sooner and more severely than others who are smaller than he. Evans must have had a most terrible time: I think it is clear from the diaries that he had suffered very greatly without complaint. At home he would have been nursed in bed: here he must march (he was pulling the day he died) until he was crawling on his frost-bitten hands and knees in the snow—horrible: most horrible perhaps for those who found him so, and sat in the tent and watched him die. I am told that simple concussion does not kill as suddenly as this: probably some clot had moved in his brain.
For one reason and another they took very nearly as long to come down the glacier with a featherweight sledge as we had taken to go up it with full loads. Seven days’ food were allowed from the Upper to the Lower Glacier Depot. Bowers told me that he thought this was running it fine. But the two supporting parties got through all right, though they both tumbled into the horrible pressure above the Cloudmaker. The Last Return Party took 71/2 days: the Polar Party 10 days: the latter had been 251/2 days longer on the plateau than the former. Owing to their slow progress down the glacier the Polar Party went on short rations for the first and last time until they camped on March 19: with the exception of these days they had either their full, or more than their full ration until that date.
Until they reached the Barrier on their return journey the weather can be described neither as abnormal nor as unexpected. There were 300 statute miles (260 geo.) to be covered to One Ton Depot, and 150 statute miles (130 geo.) more from One Ton to Hut Point. They had just picked up one week’s food for five men: between the Beardmore and One Ton were three more depots each with one week’s food for five men. They were four men: their way was across the main body of the Barrier out of sight of land, and away from any immediate influence of the comparatively warm sea ahead of them. Nothing was known of the weather conditions in the middle of the Barrier at this time of year, and no one suspected that March conditions there were very cold. Shackleton turned homeward on January 10: reached his Bluff Depot on February 23, and Hut Point on February 28.