WorldThe horrors of that return journey are blurred in my memory and I know they were blurred to my body at the time. I think this applies to all of us, for we were much weakened and callous. The day we got down to the penguins I had not cared whether I fell into a crevasse or not. We had been through a great deal since then.
I know that we slept on the march; for I woke up when I bumped against Birdie, and Birdie woke when he bumped against me. I think Bill steering out in front managed to keep awake. I know we fell asleep if we waited in the comparatively warm tent when the primus was alight --- with our pannikins or the primus in our hands. I know that our sleeping-bags were so full of ice that we did not worry if we split water or hoosh over them its they lay on the floor-cloth, when we cooked on them with our maimed cooker. They were so bad that we never rolled them up in the usual way when we got out of them in the morning; we opened their mouths as much as possible before they froze, and hoisted them more or less flat on to the sledge.
All three of us helped to raise each bag, which looked rather like a squashed coffin and was probably a good deal harder. I know that if it was only minus forty degrees when we camped for the night we considered quite seriously that we were going to have a warm one, and that when we got up in the morning if the temperature was in the minus sixties we did not enquire what it was. The day's march was bliss compared to the night's rest, and both were awful. We were about as bad as men can be and do good travelling, but I never heard a word of complaint, nor, I believe, an oath, and I saw self-sacrifice standing every test.
Always we were getting nearer home; and we were doing good marches. We were going to pull through; it was only a matter of sticking this for a few more days; six, five, four...three perhaps now, if we were not blizzed. Our main hut was behind that ridge where the mist was always forming and blowing away, and there was Castle Rock; we might even see Observation Hill to-morrow, and the Discovery Hut furnished and trim was behind it, and they would have sent some dry sleeping-bags from Cape Evans to greet us there. We reckoned our troubles over at the Barrier edge, and assuredly it was not far away. You've got it in the neck, stick it, you've got it in the neck --- it was always running in my head.
And we did stick it. How good the memories of those days are. With jokes about Birdie's picture hat; with songs we remembered off the gramophone; with ready words of sympathy for frost-bitten feet; with generous smiles for poor jests; with suggestions of happy beds to come. We did not forget the Please and Thank you, which mean much in such circumstances, and all the little links with decent civilization which we could still keep going. I'll swear there was still a grace about us when we staggered in. And we kept our tempers --- even with God.
We might reach Hut Point to-night; we were burning more oil now, that one-gallon tin had lasted us well, and burning more candle too; at one time we feared they would give out. A hell of a morning we had: minus fifty-seven degrees in our present state. But it was calm, and the Barrier edge could not be much farther now. The surface was getting harder; there were a few wind-blown furrows, the crust was coming up to us. The sledge was dragging easier; we always suspected the Barrier sloped downwards hereabouts. Now the hard snow was on the surface, peeping out like great inverted basins on which we slipped, and our feet became warmer for not sinking into soft snow. Suddenly we saw a gleam of light in a line of darkness running across our course. It was the Barrier edge; we were all right now.
We ran the sledge off a snow-drift on to the sea-ice, with the same cold stream of air flowing down it which wrecked my hands five weeks ago; pushed out of this, camped and had a meal; the temperature had already risen to minus forty-three degrees. We could almost feel it getting warmer as we went round Cape Armitage the last three miles. We managed to haul our sledge up the ice-foot, and dug the drift away from the door. The old hut struck us as fairly warm.
Bill was convinced that we ought not to go into the warm hut at Cape Evans when we arrived there --- to-morrow night! We ought to get back to warmth gradually, live in a tent outside, or in the annexe for a day or two. But I'm sure we never meant to do it. Just now Hut Point did not prejudice us in favour of such abstinence. It was just as we had left it; there was nothing sent down for us there --- no sleeping-bags, nor sugar, but there was plenty of oil. Inside the hut we pitched a dry tent left there since Depot Journey days, set two primuses going in it; sat dozing on our bags ; and drank cocoa without sugar so thick that next morning we were gorged with it. We were very happy, falling asleep between each mouthful, and after several hours discussed schemes of not getting into our bags at all. But someone would have to keep the primus going to prevent frost-bite, and we could not trust ourselves to keep awake. Bill and I tried to sing a part-song. Finally we sopped our way into our bags. We only stuck them three hours, and thankfully turned out at 3 A.M., and were ready to pack up when we heard the wind come away. It was no good, so we sat in our tent and dozed again. The wind dropped at 9.30 ; we were off at 11. We walked out into what seemed to us a blaze of light. It was not until the following year that I understood that a great part of such twilight as there is in the latter part of the winter was cut off from us by the mountains under which we travelled. Now, with nothing between us and the northern horizon below which lay the sun, we saw as we had not seen for months, and the iridescent clouds that day were beautiful.
We just pulled for all we were worth and did nearly two miles an hour; for two miles a baddish salt surface, then big undulating hard sastrugi and good going. We slept as we walked. We had done eight miles by 4 P.M. and were past Glacier Tongue. We lunched there.
As we began to gather our gear together to pack up for the last time, Bill said quietly: "I want to thank you two for what you have done. I couldn't have found two better companions and what is more I never shall."
I am proud of that.
Antarctic exploration is seldom as bad as you imagine, seldom as bad as it sounds. But this journey had beggared our language; no words could express its horror.
We trudged on for several more hours and it grew very dark. There was a discussion as to where Cape Evans lay. We rounded it at last; it must have been ten or eleven o'clock, and it was possible that someone might see us as we pulled in to the hut. "Spread out well," said Bill, "and they will able to see that there are three men." But we pulled along the cape, over the tide-crack, up the bank to the very door of hut without a sound. No noise from the stable, nor the bark of a dog from the snow-drifts above us. We halted and stood there trying to get ourselves and one another out of our frozen harnesses --- the usual long job. The door opened --- "Good God, I here is the Crozier Party," said a voice, and disappeared.
--- From The Worst Journey In the WorldApsley Cherry-Garrard