Excerpt: The Last March by Robert Falcon Scott

Part of the Antarctica: The Farthest Place Close to Home Curriculum Collection.

A British naval officer, Robert Falcon Scott commanded two noted expeditions to Antarctica. He spent much of his life at sea, becoming a naval cadet at thirteen, a midshipman at fifteen, and a full lieutenant at twenty-three. In 1901, Scott was chosen to lead his first expedition, which was organized jointly by the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society. The expedition is usually referred to as the Discovery expedition (1901-04), after the name of Scott's ship, which was specially made for Antarctic work and was well equipped for scientific research. Scott landed with more than thirty men on Ross Island, the southernmost point of Antarctica accessible by sea. He sounded the Ross Sea and used sleds to explore the continent. He discovered King Edward VII Land (now known as Edward VII Peninsula), surveyed the coast of Victoria Land, and reached a new "farthest South" of 82º17'. Promoted to captain upon his return to England, Scott set out for Antarctica again in 1910, this time intent on reaching the South Pole. He set up a base on the Ross Sea and in November 1911 started across the high polar plateau with four companions, pulling heavy sleds by hand. After immense physical hardship, they reached the Pole, only to find that Roald Amundsen and his team had claimed the prize just a month before. Excerpts from Scott's journal describe the long march back to the waiting ship.

Wednesday, January 17. Camp 69. T. -22ºF at start. Night -21ºF. The Pole. Yes, but under very different circumstances from those expected....

We started at 7:30, none of us having slept much after the shock of our discovery....; the wind is blowing hard, T. -21ºF, and there is that curious damp, cold feeling in the air which chills one to the bone in no time.... Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority. Well, it is something to have got here, and the wind may be our friend tomorrow. We have had a fat Polar hoosh [food in liquid form, typically made of lard, oatmeal, beef protein, vegetable protein, salt, and sugar] in spite of our chagrin, and feel comfortable inside—added a small stick of chocolate and the queer taste of a cigarette brought by Wilson. Now for the run home and a desperate struggle. I wonder if we can do it.

Sunday, January 21. R. 4. 10,0l0. Temp. blizzard, -18ºF to -11ºF, to -14ºF now. The surface bad, horribly bad on new sastrugi [ridges in the snow], and decidedly rising again in elevation.

We are going to have a pretty hard time this next one hundred miles I expect. If it was difficult to drag downhill over this belt, it will probably be a good deal more difficult to drag up....

Wednesday, January 24.
Lunch Temp. -8ºF. Things beginning to look a little serious. A strong wind at the start has developed into a full blizzard at lunch, and we have had to get into our sleeping-bags. It was a bad march, but we covered seven miles.... I don't like the look of it. Is the weather breaking up? If so, God help us, with the tremendous summit journey and scant food. Wilson and Bowers are my standby. I don't like the easy way in which Oates and Evans get frostbitten.

Thursday, January 25.
Lunch Temp. -11ºF, Temp. night -16ºF. Thank God we found our Half Degree Depot.... Only eighty-nine miles to the next depot, but it's time we cleared off this plateau. We are not without ailments: Oates suffers from a very cold foot; Evans' fingers and nose are in a bad state, and tonight Wilson is suffering tortures from his eyes. Bowers and I are the only members of the party without troubles just at present.... Needless to say I shall sleep much better with our provision bag full again.

Saturday, January 27.
R. 10. Temp. -16ºF (lunch), -14.3ºF (evening). Minimum -19ºF Height 9900. Barometer low? Our sleeping-bags are slowly but surely getting wetter and I'm afraid it will take a lot of this weather to put them right. However, we all sleep well enough in them, the hours allowed being now on the short side.... A long way to go, and, by Jove, this is tremendous labour.

Tuesday, January 30.
R. 13. 9860. Lunch Temp. -25ºF, Supper Temp. -24.5ºF. Thank the Lord, another fine march—nineteen miles. We have passed the last cairn before the depot, the track is clear ahead, the weather fair, the wind helpful, the gradient down—with any luck we should pick up our depot in the middle of the morning march. This is the bright side; the reverse of the medal is serious. Wilson has strained a tendon in his leg.... [and] Evans has dislodged two fingernails tonight; his hands are really bad, and to my surprise he shows signs of losing heart over it....

Thursday, February 1.
R. 15. 9778. Lunch Temp. -20ºF, Supper Temp. -19.8ºF. Heavy collar work most of the day.... Wilson's leg much better. Evans' fingers now very bad, two nails coming off, blisters burst.

Sunday, February 4.
R.18. 8620 feet. Temp. Lunch -22ºF; Supper -23ºF.... Just before lunch unexpectedly fell into crevasses, Evans and I together—a second fall for Evans, and I camped.... Half way in the march the land showed up splendidly, and I decided to make straight for Mt. Darwin, which we are rounding. Every sign points to getting away off this plateau.

Tuesday, February 6.
Lunch 7900; Supper 7210. Temp. -15ºF.... this evening, though we are not as far advanced as I expected, the outlook is much more promising. Evans is the chief anxiety now; his cuts and wounds suppurate, his nose looks very bad.... I am indeed glad to think we shall so soon have done with plateau conditions. It took us twenty-seven days to reach the Pole and twenty-one days back—in all forty-eight days—nearly seven weeks in low temperature with almost incessant wind....

Friday, February 16.
12.5 m. Lunch Temp. -6.1ºF; Supper Temp. -7ºF. A rather trying position. Evans has nearly broken down in brain, we think.... We cannot be more than ten or twelve miles from the depot, but the weather is all against us.... [and] it is anxious work with the sick man. But it's no use meeting troubles half way, and our sleep is all too short to write more.

Saturday, February 17.
A very terrible day. Evans looked a little better after a good sleep, and declared, as he always did, that he was quite well. He started in his place on the traces, but half an hour later worked his ski shoes adrift, and had to leave the sledge.... Abreast the Monument Rock we stopped, and seeing Evans a long way astern, I camped for lunch.... After lunch, we looked out, to see him still afar off. By this time we were alarmed, and all four started back on ski. I was first to reach the poor man and shocked at his appearance; he was on his knees with clothing disarranged, hands uncovered and frostbitten, and a wild look in his eyes. Asked what was the matter, he replied with a slow speech that he didn't know, but thought he must have fainted. We got him on his feet, but after two or three steps he sank down again. Wilson, Bowers, and I went back for the sledge, whilst Oates remained with him. When we returned he was practically unconscious, and when we got him into the tent quite comatose. He died quietly at 12:30 am.... It is a terrible thing to lose a companion in this way....

Wednesday, February 22.
R. 36. Supper Temp. -2ºF. Shortly after starting today the wind grew very fresh from the SE with strong surface drift. We lost the faint track immediately.... Result, we have passed another pony camp without seeing it.... Meanwhile it is satisfactory to note that such untoward events fail to damp the spirit of the party. Tonight we had a pony hoosh so excellent and filling that one feels really strong and vigorous again.

Friday, February 24.
Lunch. Saw depot and reached it middle forenoon. Found store in order except shortage oil—shall have to be very saving with fuel—otherwise have ten full days' provision from tonight and shall have less than seventy miles to go.... Great difference now between night and day temperatures. Quite warm as I write in tent.... Poor Wilson has a fearful attack snow blindness consequent on yesterday's efforts. Wish we had more fuel.

Tuesday, February 28.
Lunch. Thermometer went below -40ºF last night; it was desperately cold for us, but we had a fair night.... Only twenty-four miles from the depot. The Sun shines brightly, but there is little warmth in it. There is no doubt the middle of the Barrier is a pretty awful locality.

Sunday, March 4.
Lunch. Things looking very black indeed.... All the morning we had to pull with all our strength, and in four hours we covered three miles.... We are about forty-two miles from the next depot and have a week's food, but only about three to four days' fuel—we are as economical of the latter as one can possibly be, and we cannot afford to save food and pull as we are pulling.... I don't know what I should do if Wilson and Bowers weren't so determinedly cheerful over things.

Wednesday, March 7.
A little worse I fear. One of Oates' feet very bad this morning; he is wonderfully brave. We still talk of what we will do together at home.

Thursday, March 8.
Lunch. Worse and worse in morning; poor Oates' left foot can never last out, and time over footgear something awful. Have to wait in night footgear for nearly an hour before I start changing, and then am generally first to be ready. Wilson's feet giving trouble now, but this mainly because he gives so much help to others. We did four miles this morning and are now eight miles from the depot—a ridiculously small distance to feel in difficulties, yet on this surface we know we cannot equal half our old marches, and that for that effort we expend nearly double the energy.

Sunday, March 11.
Titus Oates is very near the end, one feels.... Nothing could be said but to urge him to march as long as he could. One satisfactory result to the discussion; I practically ordered Wilson to hand over the means of ending our troubles to us, so that any one of us may know how to do so. Wilson had no choice between doing so and our ransacking the medicine case. We have thirty opium tabloids apiece and he is left with a tube of morphine. So far the tragical side of our story. (R. 53.)

Friday, March 16 or Saturday 17.
At night Oates was worse and we knew the end had come.... He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning—yesterday. It was blowing a blizzard. He said, "I am just going outside and may be some time." He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since.... We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman. We all hope to meet the end with a similar spirit, and assuredly the end is not far.... We are cold on the march now, and at all times except meals.... We are at No. 14 pony camp, only two pony marches from One Ton Depot. We leave here our theodolite, a camera, and Oates' sleeping bags. Diaries, etc., and geological specimens carried at Wilson's special request, will be found with us or on our sledge.

Sunday, March 18.
Today, lunch, we are twenty-one miles from the depot. Ill fortune presses, but better may come.... My right foot has gone, nearly all the toes—two days ago I was proud possessor of best feet.... Bowers takes first place in condition, but there is not much to choose after all. The others are still confident of getting through—or pretend to be— I don't know!.... The mileage would have seemed ridiculously small on our outward journey.

Thursday, March 22 and 23.
Blizzard bad as ever—--Wilson and Bowers unable to start.... Have decided it shall be natural—--we shall march for the depot with or without our effects and die in our tracks.

Thursday, March 29. . . .
Every day we have been ready to start for our depot eleven miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. 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.

Last entry. For God's sake look after our People.