Robert Falcon Scott

"Our luck in weather is preposterous." Scott’s words a century ago were the exasperation of a leader whose expedition was on hold, thwarted by the elements on his approach to the pole. But they also came to be bleakly prophetic of arguably history’s most famous and tragic Antarctic expedition.

Trace the Terra Nova Expedition: from RossIslandon 13 September 1911, sixteen men crossed what is now called the Ross Ice Shelf and twelve men ascended the Beardmore Glacier, the other four returning to base. It was around the glacier’s foot where the problems began: vicious blizzards closed in for days, preventing any meaningful progress and depleting vital rations. On they pressed, and a five-man team finally made a bid for the pole, reaching its goal on 17thJanuary 1912, only to find Amundsen had been and gone a little over a month earlier. And that late arrival was one of the factors that would eventually prove fatal: the increasingly wild and frigid Antarctic autumn was arriving; Scott had been forced to leave it late and his men would now have to brave astonishingly hostile conditions on their return to base.

The debate goes on about Scott and his fateful expedition. A destructively autocratic leader? Needlessly risk-taking? Poorly planned and equipped? If there’s any truth in the criticisms, Scott’s expedition was also cursed with misfortune, chiefly the perilous weather. The homeward march suffered from some of the most extreme conditions ever recorded on the Ross Ice Shelf. But there’s no disputing the poignancy of his writings. To wit, his final diary entry: “Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 milesaway, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more. R. Scott. For God's sake look after our people.”

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