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The deadly race to the South Pole

Two exploration teams raced to the South Pole. Only one made it out alive.

Coleman Lowndes is a lead producer who has covered history, culture, and photography since joining the Vox video team in 2017.

Robert Falcon Scott was a British explorer who dreamed of being the first person to reach the South Pole. In 1912, after years of prep and intense struggle, he made it to the southernmost point of the world — only to learn that his Norwegian rival, Roald Amundsen, beat him to it.

Scott and his party took this photo outside of Amundsen’s tent as a testament to their loss.

Scott’s party outside of Amundsen’s tent on January 17, 1912.
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images

But the real race was still to come. With only a few weeks of summer left, Scott and his party still needed to make the 900-mile trek back to safety. They had planned their journey around carefully recorded average temperature estimates and seemed to have plenty of time.

But 1912’s weather was an anomaly, and record-low temperatures that only occur once every 15 years descended on their party during their return trip. They died one by one, their story told through the photographs and journals that a search team found with their bodies the following spring.

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Correction: A previous version of this video used an outdated British flag. The error has been corrected. We also occasionally referred to the British team as English. In fact, some members of Scott’s team were Scottish and Welsh.

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