On 1 June, 1910, Captain Scott left London to begin his Antarctic expedition. He received a telegram from the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen: ‘I’m going South.’ So the race to the South Pole was on!
During the polar summer of 1910-11, both teams organised food stores – they put food in tents along their route in preparation for their expeditions the following year. Then came the darkness of the polar winter. Scott and Amundsen waited for the first signs of spring.
Amundsen was the first to leave on 15 October, 1911. He had teams of dogs pulling his sledges and all his men were on skis.
Because of this, he made good progress. Scott left on 1 November and soon had problems. First, his two motor sledges broke down and then his ponies began to have serious difficulty with the snow and the cold. After a while, Scott and his men had to push the sledges themselves.
Amundsen reached the Pole on 14 December and put a Norwegian flag there. Then he prepared for the return journey.
Scott finally arrived at the Pole with four companions on 17 January and found the Norwegian flag. 35 Scott wrote of their disappointment in his diary:
‘Well, we lost the race and we must face 800 miles of hard pushing – and goodbye to most of our dreams.’
The return journey was one of the worst in the history of exploration. The men were exhausted and were running out of food. The weather conditions were terrible. Scott began to realise their desperate situation: ‘We appear very cheerful but what each man feels in his heart, I can only guess. Putting on our shoes in the morning is getting slower and slower.’
The expedition wasn’t completely unsuccessful because on their way back, they looked for rocks and fossils as planned. They carried twenty kilos of rocks all the way with them. Later, these rocks proved that in the distant past Antarctica was covered by plants. However, disaster soon came. One of the men, Edgar Evans, died after a bad fall. The next to die was Captain Oates, who was having difficulty in walking. Scott recorded his death sadly in his diary:
‘He said, “I am just going outside and I may be some time. ” We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death. We tried to stop him but we knew that it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman. We all hope to meet the end with a similar spirit, and certainly the end is not far.’
Scott and the last two men carried on and got within eleven miles of one of their food stores. But then a storm started and they could not leave their tent. Scott spent his last hours writing. He wrote a letter full of sadness to his wife, Kathleen:
‘ To my Widow, I could tell you lots about this journey. What stories you would have for the boy… But what a price to pay!
Scott’s diary told the story of their sad end:
‘The food is only 11 miles away but I do not think we can hope for any better things now.
We are getting weaker and weaker and the end can’t be far… I do not think I can write more.’
The news of Scott’s death and disastrous expedition shocked the world. He had failed to win the race to the Pole but the remarkable bravery shown by Captain Scott and his men made them into heroes.