January 17, 1912 main content.

January 17, 1912

Part of the Race to the End of the Earth exhibition.

Approaching The Pole, Scott's Hopes Are Dashed

With Evidence of Norwegian Triumph, Scott Reluctantly Accepts Second Place: January 17, 1912

As late as mid-January, Scott and his men had seen no sign of the Norwegians and thought they might actually beat them to the prize. It was not to be. On January 16, Bowers saw something strange fluttering on the southern horizon. It was a black flag. This, together with ski and dog tracks told the story: The British team had come in second.

They continued on their way until their instruments told them on the next day that they had reached the South Pole. They discovered a tent -- Polheim -- nearby that Amundsen had left. In addition to a few discarded items, it contained a letter to the King of Norway, with a note from Amundsen asking Scott if he would be so kind as to deliver it. The British team took a few unhappy pictures to confirm their presence at 90°S, made additional observations, and started back to McMurdo on January 19.

Scott wrote, "Well, we have turned our back now on the goal of our ambition with sore feelings and must face 800 miles of solid dragging--and goodbye to most of the day-dreams!"

With Defeat Still Fresh, Scott And Crew Face A Harrowing Return Journey

For Scott and his men, a successful march home from the pole depended on decisions that had been made months ago, with virtually no room for error. Heading north in blizzard season meant that their depots would have to be located and reached in a timely manner, and Scott had not made allowance for injuries to any of his men, which would and did slow them down. They were burning more calories each day than they were consuming. In effect, they were slowly starving. Although they were still within the envelope of what passes for summer in Antarctica, they were almost 900 miles away from the safety of their base camp at Camp Evans. To get off the ice shelf before cold conditions started in earnest, Scott calculated that they had to average nearly 15 miles (33 km) a day.