Date: 22 May 2013
Temperature: -26 degrees C
Wind Speed: 25 knots
Temp with wind chill: -44 degrees C
When it comes to working with historical material that is only 100 years old, most things we recognise at least by function, if not from our own lives and times, then perhaps from those of our grandparents.
When reading Captain RF Scott's journals from his last expedition (1910 until his untimely death in 1912), he makes a number of references to the Norwegian snowshoes they took along for their ponies. The ponies hauled the heavy loads as he and his team erected their hut at Cape Evans and laid food and fuel depots southwards towards the Pole. Click here to see a photo of Wilson, Bowers and Cherry-Garrard with their ponies, 1911. http://http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.963/
When they first trialled a pair of the snowshoes, on a pony they named Weary Willy, Scott wrote: 'The effect was magical. He strolled around as though walking on hard ground in places where he floundered woefully without them'. Scott offers nothing by way of a description but records that many a discussion was had over the snowshoes' efficacy and design.
Not being a person with much horse or snow experience, I imagined these snowshoes to be quite basic and to look something like a plate or a tennis racquet. My first glimpse of one was during my visit to Scott's hut where a couple hang on the wall of the stables and others fill some nearby boxes. (A quick search of our project database reveals there are 44 pony snowshoes at the Cape Evans hut.)
Pony showshoes on the wall of the stables, Cape Evans (SB)
A stash of pony snowshoes in a stall of the stables, Cape Evans (SB)
And then we were fortunate to have six come through the lab recently for conservation treatment, allowing closer examination. They truly are expertly crafted with a base of coiled cane, bound neatly with copper wire, around a framework of iron links. A leather-wrapped fibre upper fits around the hoof and a buckled strap or woven tie attaches around the ankle ... probably not the most comfortable of winter attire, but splendidly made nonetheless!
Norwegian pony snowshoe from Cape Evans (Marie-Amande)
http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.963/ Photo credit H Ponting, SPRI.#