R.F. Scott was a British Antarctic explorer in the early 1900's. Born in 1868 to middle class parents, he led a relatively unremarkable career as a Torpedo Officer in the Royal Navy, until unknowingly impressing the president of the Royal Geographical Society in a sailing race. He was later tapped to lead the first British Antartic Expedition in 1901. While it was not the express purpose of the expedition, his team came within 180 mile of reaching the south pole. Among his companions were Ernest Shackleton, who would later lead the famous, yet disasterous British Transantartic Expedition.

Captain Scott would return to the Antarctic a second time, with the express purpose claming the pole for England, during the years from 1910 to 1911. However, the expedition became a race when Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian professional adventurer, made a bid to beat the Scott team to the Pole. Amundsen had been preparing in secret for months.

Scott's team were neophytes, with little knowledge of polar operations. They brought dogs, manchurian ponies, and three experimental "motor sledges" - basically tractors. One broke through the ice and sank into the ocean. The other two exploded, most likely due to bad metallurgy with the casting of their engine blocks. Also, the altitude leaned out the fuel air mix from the carburators, which made the engines run hot, exacerbating the problem. The horses were gradually overcome by the cold and fatigue. The horses might have made a better contribution if enough snowshoes had been brought for them, but this was exactly the kind of detail that Scott seemed to overlook. Instead, Scott and his men dragged their 700 pound sledges by hand, over hundreds of miles of crevasse-shot ice. In his journals, Scott felt this the "most manly" way to reach the pole - the "old college" try as opposed to what was seen as the trickery and professional snobbery of Amundsen.

By contrast, Amundsen brought 120 dogs. They whisked his team along the ice at a tremendous pace, sometimes covering as much as 60 miles a day. Their load becoming lighter as stores were consumed, Amundsen and his men would shoot the dogs to feed both themselves and the other dogs. While setting out at basically the same time as the British team, the Norwegians would eventually beat them to the pole by more than a month.

The Scott team ultimately paid for their lack of knowledge and expertise with their lives. Trapped in a blizzard for 9 days, finding their camping stove fuel evaporated, they succumbed to the cold, dying just 11 miles from a supply depot that may have saved them.

For a fantastic book on the expedition and the team, read Diana Preston's "A First Rate Tragedy". She also has a great book on the Boxer Rebellion.