While we’re on the subject of Antarctica this morning, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge another important date in the history of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Race. A couple of weeks back I wrote a piece about Amundsen setting off on his journey, and today marks the 100 year anniversary of Robert Falcon Scott beginning his fateful trek to the South Pole as well.
When Scott set off from England to start his polar journey, he actually had no idea that he would end up in a race with Amundsen. In early 1910, the Norwegian had yet to declare his intentions regarding the South Pole, and in fact had spent the previous few years exploring the north polar regions. Scott didn’t know that Amundsen had started south until October of that year, when he received Amundsen’s telegram declaring “Beg to inform you Fram proceeding Antarctic — Amundsen.” If with that news however, Scott felt that he had a head start on his rival, and would still beat him to the pole.
A series of misfortunes doomed the expedition in the early going however, as Scott’s ship, the Terra Nova, spent twenty days trapped in the pack-ice and harsh weather conditions hampered preparations for the start of the journey. On top of that, Scott had elected to put his faith in ponies, which were sturdy pack animals in other environments, but didn’t adapt well to the cold and snow of the Antarctic.
Still, Scott remained undaunted and prepared to start as planned. He knew he faced a formidable rival in Amundsen, but the Norwegian had elected to take a new, unexplored route, to the Pole, while Scott himself was traveling along a path that had been pioneered by his countryman Ernest Shackleton a few years earlier. He felt that the knowledge of the trail would mean that he could travel faster and with fewer obstacles.
When he left for the Pole on November 1st, 1911, Scott took with him a mix of motorized transportation, dogs, and horses. All of these modes of transportation traveled at different rates of speed however and their exact roles in the final push for the Pole remained unknown. These logistical issues would later prove to be a problem for the entire team, but at the out-set of the expedition, Scott and his men were optimistic and hopeful that they would plant the British flag at the Pole for the honor of the entire Empire.
Little did he know that his story would become one of the most tragic in the history of exploration and adventure.
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