The Winter Journey: Part XI

The Vaguest Idea

When we left the men of the Crozier party yesterday they had just wrapped up their coldest day of the journey yet. Temperatures nearly dropped as low as -80°F (-62.2°C) and the crew only managed to make 1.5 miles of progress across bad pulling surfaces. At this point in the journey, Cherry-Garrard noted that routine camp work was taking upwards of nine hours per day due to the extreme cold (The Worst Journey in the World, pg. 242). The artificial lines between night and day are blurred during the polar winter, and the men’s sense of routine based on time seemed to fade with it. The Crozier party did not get started until after noon on July 7th, 1911, and the first weather observation of the day indicated that conditions had not improved much:

Position: Camp 9

Time: 14:00

Temperature: -67.3°F (-55.2°C)

Wind Direction/Force: Calm

Sky Condition: Clear

Weather: Light fog

Overnight Minimum Temperature: -74.8°F (-59.3°C)

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913, Meteorology, Vol. III Table 69

After stepping off in a light fog the men were reduced to relay work yet again, the cold still too intense for the sledge runners to glide along the snow surface. As the day dragged on the temperature began to rise a bit, and the fog began to thicken.

Bowers reading the meteorological screen at Cape Evans. Watercolor by Dr. Edward A. Wilson

By late evening, the men had to call a halt to the march as the fog had thickened to the point that they could no longer see where they were going. When the men pitched camp for the night they had made about 1.66 miles of progress.

Crozier party progress after 11 days

Cherry-Garrard documents just how tough the prolonged cold and sledging had been on the men’s bodies at this juncture:

Our hearts were doing very gallant work. Towards the end of the march they were getting beaten and were finding it difficult to pump the blood to our extremities. There were few days where Wilson and I did not get some part of our feet frostbitten. As we camped, I suspect our hearts were beating comparatively weakly and slowly.

The Worst Journey in the World, pg. 242

One of the more interesting and somewhat surreal things from the day’s march was to read what the men had to say about the great sense of relief they got when the temperature rose into the -50°F (-45.6°C) range, as opposed to -70°F (-56.7°C) and below. I guess it’s all relative, right? At the end of the day, here is where things stood with the weather:

Position: Camp 10

Time: 01:15 (June 8th)

Miles Made Good: 1.66

Temperature: -56.7°F (-49.3°C)

Wind Direction: N

Wind Force (Beaufort): 1 (1-3 knots)

Wind Chill: -72.6°F (-58.1°C)

Sky Condition: Mostly cloudy w/ stratus

Weather: Fog

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913, Meteorology, Vol. III Table 69

Will conditions improve tomorrow for the Crozier party? Check back to find out!



The Winter Journey: Part VI

An Experience to be Remembered

After covering 17 miles on the first two days of the journey, the men of the Crozier party have only managed to cover a total of 10 miles over the last 3 marches due to blistering cold and poor snow surfaces. Their fourth night on the ice shelf wasn’t any better, with temperatures below -60°F (-51.1°C) and a stiff easterly breeze stirring up some drift. The wind subsided by late morning, but the bitter cold remained on the morning of July 2nd, 1911:

Position: Camp 5

Time: 10:30

Temperature: -59.4°F (-50.8°C)

Wind Direction/Force: Calm

Sky Condition: Partly cloudy w/cirrostratus

Overnight minimum temperature: -64.2°F

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913, Meteorology, Vol. III Table 69

After struggling through their morning routine of wedging themselves into their gear and striking camp, the men faced another day of relay work in the sandy snow of the Windless Bight. On the bright side, the men were able to discard their candles in favor of the light of the moon to guide their way. Unfortunately for the men, the temperature fell throughout the day and the surface continued to impose a slow, heavy trudge. In the words of Cherry-Garrard:

It was a really terrible march, and parts of both my feet were frozen at lunch. After supper I pricked six or seven of the worst blisters, and the relief was considerable.

The Worst Journey in the World, pg. 236

Dr. Wilson also reported that light easterly airs would freeze exposed skin almost instantly, and that the men had to make extensive use of their nose nips (Diary of the Terra Nova Expedition to the Antarctic 1910~1912).

Balaclava helmet won by Apsley Cherry-Garrard during the Terra Nova Expedition. Those metal snaps had to be hell in those temperatures. Photo from my visit to the Antarctic Dinosaurs exhibit in Charlotte (Feb. 2020).

Even though the sledging on this day was brutal, there were still a few moments of wonder as the men were captivated by the beautiful auroral activity to the east:

For there was one halt when we just lay on our backs and gazed up into the sky, where, so the others said, there was blazing the most beautiful aurora they had ever seen. I did not see it, being so near-sighted and unable to wear spectacles owing to the cold.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, pg. 237

I’m convinced that Cherry-Garrard was the Charlie Brown of this expedition…he really did have the worst luck. However, I think there is something to be said about the interesting juxtapositions that Antarctica creates. I always found it fascinating that a place of such harsh, unforgiving conditions could also possess such an ethereal beauty.

As for the men of the Crozier party, their arduous efforts only gained them another 2 miles of progress for the day. On camping for the evening, the weather conditions were as follows:

Position: Camp 6

Time: 21:15

Miles Made Good: 2

Temperature: -64°F (-53.3°C)

Wind Direction/Force: Calm

Sky Condition: Partly cloudy w/cirrostratus

British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913, Meteorology, Vol. III Table 69

It almost seems pointless to ask this question now, but will the luck of the Crozier party ever improve? Check in tomorrow!