Discovery Of The South Pole 1911
December 14, 2011 by staff
Discovery Of The South Pole 1911, One hundred years ago today, on December 14th, 1911, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and four companions trudged through fog, bitter cold and lacerating wind to stand at the absolute bottom of the world, the South Pole.
Nowhere was there a trace of their British rival, Robert Falcon Scott. No Union Jack mocked them, no ice cairn bespoke precedence. The Norwegians had won the race.
Amundsen and Scott: They were commanding forces driving early exploration of Antarctica, the ice-covered continent almost half again the size of the United States and unlike any other place on Earth.
Both were driven by ambition to win fame by grabbing one of the few remaining unclaimed geographic prizes. Each was different, though, in temperament and approach to exploration, which may have been decisive in the success of one and the undoing of the other.
Earnest and methodical, Amundsen had previously wintered over with an expedition in Antarctica and succeeded in the first navigation of the Northwest Passage, north of Canada, as he learned well how to prepare for work on the planet’s coldest, most unforgiving continent.
He knew from experience how indispensable well-trained dogs were for pulling sledges. His next destination was to have been the North Pole. But when he heard that two other groups claimed that triumph, Amundsen wrote that “there was nothing left for me but to try and solve the last great problem – the South Pole.”
Scott was a navy officer and a gentleman who had led an expedition that fell well short of the South Pole because of poor planning and execution. He had a romantic view of exploration as a self-affirming adventure, a kind of trial by ice.
Using dogs to pull all the sledges he thought unsporting: better, he wrote, “to go forth to face the hardships, dangers and difficulties with their unaided efforts.”
Its motorised sledges and the ponies soon broke down, leaving them to pull the sledges all the way up a glacier to the high polar plateau.
When Amundsen’s men already were only a week away from their base camp at the Bay of Whales, to complete their 2,000-mile round trip, the exhausted British team arrived at the pole on January 17th, 1912, five weeks too late. How deflating to see the Norwegian flag, alert to the wind.
In his diary, Scott wrote: “Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.”
Disappointment then turned to tragedy. Stalled by a nine-day blizzard, weak from hunger and sledge-pulling fatigue on the return trek, Scott and his four team members perished by the end of March.
Most of the bodies were not found until November, at their last camp, among diaries and field notes and rock specimens they had gone perhaps too far out of the way to collect.
Scott may have lost the race to the pole, but in death, he prevailed in the narrative for much of the last century as the brave and stoic hero of legend.
Ireland’s Ernest Shackleton had almost reached the South Pole three years previous to Amundsen.
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