December 14, 2011

100 Years Ago Today: Amundson Reaches the South Pole

We are in a season of historic anniversaries for great acts of discovery and exploration. Next year marks the anniversary of both the Sinking of the Titanic and the demise of the Scott expedition to the South Pole. This year marks the centennial anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu. In a few years we will remember the great story of Shackleton and The Endurance. Today, however, is enormously important in the great history of man’s dominion over the planet. One hundred years ago, Roald Amundson won the race to the South Pole.

“Nineteen men, ninety-seven dogs, four pigs, six carrier pigeons, and one canary.”

From the New York Times
When Roald Amundsen’s ship, the Fram, left Norway on Aug. 9, 1910, it carried, in Amundsen’s words, “nineteen men, ninety-seven dogs, four pigs, six carrier pigeons, and one canary.” The ship was nearly 20 years old, and the expedition leader, Amundsen, was 38. He was already a formidable polar explorer, but this voyage to Antarctica and the South Pole made him one of the greatest explorers who ever lived. Related News
On Dec. 14, a century ago, Amundsen and the four members of his team reached the South Pole. “That day,” he wrote, “was a beautiful one,” and at 3 o’clock in the afternoon they planted the flag of Norway, each man with one hand on the flagpole. Like so many other days on that polar journey, that day was “like a pleasure trip,” as Amundsen later reported. The weather was good, but even better was the planning. The Norwegians were born skiers, excellent dog handlers and skilled navigators. They proceeded across the ice exactly as they had done across the ocean, fixing their location again and again by dead reckoning and with sextants. They also left innumerable cairns and markers to guide them on their return.
In his book, “The South Pole,” Amundsen makes none of this sound heroic. He admired the English for their “pluck and grit,” but what you feel in reading his account is joy and adventure. Even now, Amundsen is too little admired, mainly because his straightforward success was eclipsed by what a member of Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition called the “first-rate tragedy” of Scott’s polar push, which ended in the deaths of Scott and his four-man team.
On Dec. 14, Amundsen was at the pole, writing a letter to Scott wishing him a safe return. Scott was 34 days behind him, on a different route. Scott’s journal for that day reads, “We are just starting our march with no very hopeful outlook.”