The deadly race to the South Pole

Everyone in this photo died soon after it
was taken. These are British explorers standing at the
South Pole in January 1912. The photo marks the finish line of a race
into the unknown. Two teams, one British, one Norwegian, trekked
900 miles into brutal territory and had to get back to safety before winter hit. And at first glance, this looks like a victory
photo for the British. Except that is the Norwegian flag. And it only gets worse from here. Robert Falcon Scott was a meticulous planner. And his dream was to be the first person to
reach the South Pole. He and his English team of explorers and scientists
had been conducting research in Antarctica and collected years of data on seasonal cycles
on the continent. These lines show what they estimated average
temperatures would be throughout the year, with summer ranging from around 30 to negative
10 degrees Fahrenheit, and huge drops beginning around April. Remember this chart because later, it will
help us understand Scott’s decision-making. Scott planned to use pony transport for the
first 425 miles across the Ross Ice Shelf, shoot them at the base of the Beardmore Glacier,
and finish the rest of the journey on foot. Which included a 125-mile hike across the
top of the glacier, 350 more miles to the pole, and all the way back again, all while
hauling hundreds of pounds of equipment. Using ponies and brute strength made sense
to Scott at the time: British explorers had used this method to
haul equipment during an earlier attempt on the South Pole. Plus, the English didn’t have experience
with the other good option: dog teams. And they believed man-hauling was the surest
way to make the tricky climb up the glacier and on to the Polar Plateau, where the South
Pole sits. It was hard, slow work, but the route they
were on had reached the plateau before, and it seemed to be worth the effort. But Scott’s team wasn’t alone. Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was camped
nearby. And he wanted to get to the pole first. The Norwegian team, all of them expert skiers,
knew how to travel in cold conditions. And to make matters worse for the English,
Amundsen had dogs — and he knew how to use them. News of the Norwegians’ last-minute bid
worried Scott, but he was still optimistic. Amundsen had started about 60 miles closer
to the pole but was taking a route not yet proven to be passable. Coming against an unknown obstacle or falling into an unmarked crevasse could end his attempt prematurely. But that’s not how it happened. By the time Scott reached his goal, Amundsen’s
flag was there waiting for him. The Norwegians and their dogs had comfortably
reached the pole five weeks earlier and were almost back to their starting point
by the time the English arrived. Scott and his team were heartbroken. They took this photo outside of Amundsen’s
tent the day they started their long journey back. Scott wrote: Left a note to say I had visited the tent
with companions. Bowers photographing and Wilson sketching. We have turned our back now on the goal of
our ambition and must face our 800 miles of solid dragging — and good-bye to most of
the daydreams! This is where the trouble really begins. It’s mid-January in this photo — still the height of the Antarctic summer. Told you this chart was coming back. According to their research, the team had
about 3 months left before temperatures on the Ross Ice Shelf, the last leg of the journey
back, would drop to deadly levels. That left plenty of time to make the long
trek on foot. But this isn’t what happened in 1912. This is that average line again, and these
are the temperatures Scott’s party endured that summer: consecutive days of temperatures
around minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Those conditions, at prolonged exposure, are
not survivable. The first man died here — he collapsed and
soon went comatose following several falls on the glacier. The next man died about a month later, after
crippling frostbite in his hands and feet began hurting the team’s progress and their
chances of survival. Nearly unable to walk, he left the tent and
sacrificed himself to a snowstorm. The last three, including Scott, made it here
before getting trapped in their tent by a blizzard, just 11 miles from the supply depot that would
have saved their lives. The tent, along with the bodies, journals,
and photographs, was found 8 months later by a search team. As time went on, Scott’s legacy vacillated
between fearless explorer and bumbling fool who tried to take ponies into the Antarctic. But the thing is his plan should have worked. Measurements from modern weather stations
along his route show the predictions he was relying on were impressively accurate. What Scott couldn’t have known is that 1912
was an anomaly — the temperatures his party suffered through occur roughly once every
15 years, turning an already risky venture into a hopeless one. The photo they took outside of Amundsen’s
tent was meant to be a gentlemanly admission of defeat at the end of a long race. But instead, it was the starting line of a
race they didn’t see coming — a desperate attempt to escape from the coldest place on
Earth. Darkroom is a new series I’m working on
where each episode tells a story based around a single photograph. Here’s a quick look at some upcoming episodes. And you should also check out our new YouTube
membership program, the Video Lab. For a monthly fee, subscribers get access
to tons of special features. I’ll be sharing stuff there that I come
across while making Darkroom, so if you’re interested, head on over to and
sign up. See you there.

100 thoughts on “The deadly race to the South Pole

  1. Hey Darkroom fans! We've released a video extra from Coleman about Robert Falcon Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole in the Video Lab. Sign up here and check it out!

  2. grossly oversimplified the troubles they faced beginning with taking an extra (unplanned) man to the pole

  3. Don't worry we the current generation did a good job warming the earth now its warmer there😁

  4. This intro is literally perfect, catches my attention immediately and makes me curious about the subject.

  5. Scott, Amundsen, sorry for Scott and his men. Now if Scott had listened and got a little more experience ??????

  6. This is kind of sad. At a glance, they seem like the type of people that would get along with anyone.

  7. how does Fahrenheit and Celsius converge between -40 and -50, and why are Americans still using this outdated way of measuring things.

  8. Scott was arrogant in his approach to reaching pole, relying less on "meticulous planning" and more on "British pluck". Unlike Amundsen, Scott failed to adequately equip his expedition for the tough conditions they inevitably faced on the South Pole (e.g., use of ponies, inadequate rations). The story of the Scott expedition is one of hubris and tragedy, more than it is one of true heroics.

  9. Seriously, why do people risk their lives to compete over these sort of things?

  10. The dogs!! may I know what their breed is? Man s best friend is not a joke

  11. Anyone who sacrifices animals for there own gain deserve what they get

  12. Hey ,favor could you guys explain the NO BAIL SWEDEN SITUATION ? would help us ASAP.

  13. Respect from india; these people are the true definition of human nature.
    We were pioneers, explorer, inventors but now we we're losing the sight.

  14. If you found this story interesting, you should look into the story of Earnest Shackleton and The Endurance.

  15. Anybody else have to read about this during standardized testing?

  16. 0:26 Thank you for pointing that out I thought it was the unioun jack.

  17. No hubo lápida

    Si hubo plática

    Que Dios salve a la reina

    Gloria eterna a los héroes

    De la Antártida

  18. Why is nobody talking about how genuinely heartbreaking it is that those men died, three of them so close to safety

  19. I have read a fair bit about this story before watching the video. The nugget about Scott's temperature estimations was new to me. Changed my view on him being ill prepared.

  20. No hole? Nah! North and south pole has holes in it.. 😑😑

  21. "The Norwegian team members, all of them expert skiers…" Prøv å finn en nordmann, selv til denne dag, som ikke er god på ski.

  22. remember this is the South Pole. anything that is south of the equator would have the opposite season.
    summer time at North, is winter in the south.
    these guys possibly didn't think or know about this

  23. At this time, the English were convinced they were smarter than Nature and many other Humans. Science was the bell ringer to their perception of superiority, they opted out learning from cultures who live in the cold, they went with Donkeys, they choose poorly about food, they chose poorly about almost all logistics relating to survival. They somehow thought that Science and statistical analyses was their savior. Humankind and their science are superior to Nature and they will prevail with their Data and their presumptuousness. I liked your video, and you touched on some of this ideology that I believe was their undoing. Even to this day many within science and corporatism seem that science is the be all and end all to knowledge and the human condition. The road of life is littered with 1000’s of science base endeavours that override Nature, the repugnance and self centeredness, almost misogynistic. Nature being feminine, matriarchal, sociological studies of societies that live within Nature.

    The Norwegians studied sociological systems and cultures, they looked at societies and how they survived in tough conditions. Their logistics is what saved them and made their endeavour successful, they used science but used it in partnership with Nature. They knew that Humankind is not dominant to Nature, it is part of it. Therefore they all lived and were successful on their Journey. In this time period the English had a huge Ego and had a superiority complex. There are many journeys and exploration and exploitation of Nature and other Human Species. This was their time period of Colonisation and massive growth.

  24. I mean
    Once London was covered with a inch snow and British freaked out and closed almost everything so what you expect?


  26. I love the red lines . seems oldy , precise and sort of top secret files.

  27. My country only talks about getting to the south MAGNETIC pole because we did it in 1907-1909. We named a base after Scott there but we only ever really talk about Ernest Shackleton

  28. I'm 10 and I learnt about this when I was 9 I am Irish and I knew about Tom crean cause he was british oh ye Tom crean is from county Kerry in Ireland and he has a pub named after him

  29. British people are are good at sea.. Norwegian people are pro at ice. They know ice like it's their back lawn. No wonder nordic won the race. But if it was a sea voyage race.. the Brits would have won by 1 month

  30. If you have a real interest in this, read "The Worst Journey in the World" by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Amazing stuff. As for Scott's south pole party, Oates likely did them all in by slowing them down to a deadly degree. Oates was fully aware of his negative influence on their progress, and after camp was made one evening, during a deadly blizzard, simply announced "I am just going outside and may be some time". Maybe the most British statement of all time. No one stopped him.
    The rest of the party was so beat down and low on supplies that they succumbed to fatigue and the weather within a few days of Oates death. Turns out they were only a few short miles from a supply cache that likely would have saved them.

  31. This could make an awesome movie with the right cast and director , was a bit sad at the end

  32. I mean 1912 is a kind of bad year for the 🇬🇧


  33. love how the first image shown of amundsen is him wearing fur. amundsen spent years living with and learning from the inuits during a prior expedition in the north — using fur and eschewing the usual slops, was just one of the things that he learned from the inuits that greatly helped him in the race to the South Pole.

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