National Geographic : 1979 Mar
A scrap of wood-crude epitaph to South Pole struggle 1910. The date is clearly marked on the scarred piece of packing crate. Some mittened hand pried loose the board and flung it aside. And there it lay in the Antarctic until another hand, years later, picked it up and entrusted it to the Society to preserve, a memento of polar exploration's heroic age. The heroes of that age bore the names of Robert E. Peary, Roald Amundsen, Ernest Shackleton, and Robert Falcon Scott. Struggling on foot through uncharted miles of ice and snow, they broke trail for future explorers, who would come in Sno-Cats, jet planes, and nuclear submarines. In 1910 Scott sailed for Antarctica. His objective: "to reach the South Pole, and to secure for the British Empire the honour of this achievement." Shackleton had tried to win the honor the year before, but the bull-strong Irishman fell 112 miles short. That same year Peary had planted the Stars and Stripes at the North Pole. Would he now aim for a polar grand slam? Scott heard that "the Americans are going." Instead, it was the Norwegians who challenged him. Amundsen tersely cabled: "Am going south." Amundsen! Scott underlined the name in his diary. First to sail the icebound Northwest Passage, Amundsen had set his sights on the North Pole. Peary beat him to it. "This was a blow indeed!" the Norwegian wrote. "I resolved upon a coup." The race for the South Pole began. Amundsen-like Peary traveled on the ice with dogs, using them for dog food as well as for transport. "I figured out," Amundsen stated, "the precise day on which I planned to kill each dog...." On December 14, 1911, eight weeks after leaving base camp at the Bay of Whales, he unfurled Norway's flag over the South Pole. Scott also used dogs. But he relied mainly on unproven tractors and ponies to haul supplies over the ice. Both failed. Many of his dogs died. So men strapped on harnesses and pulled sledges up tortuous Beardmore Glacier. On January 17, 1912, after a strength-sapping march of 78 days, Scott and four companions reached the Pole. They saw sledge tracks and paw prints in the snow, the Norwegian flag flying. "Great God!" Scott's diary shouts his disap pointment. "This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.... Now for the run home." Run? It was a crawl-slow, painful, desperate. One man, "nearly broken down in brain," died. Another, frostbitten, disappeared in a blizzard. A blinding gale pinned down the others. Helpless, their food and fuel gone, they holed up in a tent and awaited the end. Scott poured his remaining strength into letters and his diary. His last words: "For God's sake, look after our people." Inspired by the heroism of Scott, men continue to seek new heights of valor-in Ant arctica, on Mount Everest, in space, undersea. Readers dis cover their deeds unforgettably chronicled in the pages of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.