National Geographic has a short piece, accompanied by some great photos on Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic Hut, which they call a “Time Capsule”, perfectly capturing the spirit of exploration and adventure from circa 1912, when the race to be the first to the South Pole was in full swing.
There is a major effort underway at the moment to save Scott’s hut, with experts in restoration working on the building, along with three others, hoping to prevent them from sinking beneath the snow and ice that is so dominant in Antarctica. The building is roughly 50 feet long and 25 feet wide, and was designed to be the base of operations for as many as 33 men.
While the building itself is a treasure, it is what was left inside that really has historians excited. They’ve found a number of very interesting items, including gear and other supplies, left behind by an expedition that took place nearly 100 years ago. Some of the things discovered included 100 year old butter, a primitive darkroom, all kinds of preserved foods, and even Scott’s bunk, complete with reindeer skin sleeping bag.
Scott’s story is, at least to me, one of the most tragic in the history of exploration. Back in 1911, the British explorer found himself in a race to the South Pole against Norwegian Rival Roald Amundsen. For years, men had been trying to reach the Pole, and failing, but these two men were locked in a desperate struggle to plant their flag at 90ºS. Scott would indeed eventually reach his goal on January 17, 1912, but imagine his supreme disappointment in finding Amundsen’s flag already there, taunting him. Amundsen himself had stood at the South Pole just 35 days earlier.
Exhausted and defeated, Scott and his four teammates began the long journey back to coast, a distance of 800 miles. Conditions were brutal, with lots of snow, high winds, and temperatures that plunged to dangerous lows. Of course, this precedes our age of high tech gear designed to keep us safe, and warm, and the men suffered greatly on the return trip. The journey took its toll, with one member of the party falling and suffering an injury that would claim his life a few days later, and another wandering out of the tent in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.
Scott, and his remaining companions were low on supplies and became trapped in their tent, while outside a fierce blizzard raged. For nine days they remained there, in a remote section of the Ross Ice Shelf, waiting for the weather to subside. Slowly, the ran out of food and strength, and eventually, the three men would perish. They were just 11 miles from their next supply cache, which would have likely saved their lives.
Scott wrote these words in his journal, which was later discovered by team that came looking for them:
We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last […] Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.
Powerful stuff that sticks with me every time I read it.
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