Robert writes eclectic and informative articles about a variety of historical subjects including unusual events and people.
The First Explorers to Reach the South Pole
This is an account of the thrilling story of the first men to reach the South Pole in Antarctica, one of the most desolate and hazardous places in the world. It was a journey full of danger and daring, which succeeded where many had failed before and paid with their lives.
Roald Amundsen and the Race to the South Pole
Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen (born 16 July 1872 – died 18 June 1928) was a Norwegian explorer. In 1910, Amundsen led the first successful expedition to ever reach the South Pole in Antarctica, reaching the Pole in 1912, nearly two full years after leaving home.
Amundsen had originally planned to attempt to reach the North Pole (which he eventually did on a later trip, making him the first man to ever reach both the North and South Poles of the Earth) but he scrapped his plans while en route to the North Pole after learning that two rival explorer, Frederick Cook and then Robert Peary both claimed to have already reached the North Pole. This was the age of great arctic exploration, with several nations vying for the honour of being first to reach these desolate ends of the earth.
Having been stymied in his attempt to be the first to reach the North pole, before his expedition had even really gotten underway, Amundsen redirected his ship, the Fram towards the South Pole but did not tell his crew about his plans until they were well on their way south. While in port in Spain, Amundsen sent a telegram to a rival explorer, Robert Scott whom he knew was planning to try to reach the South Pole. The telegram read simply: "Beg to inform you Fram proceeding to Antarctiic - Amundsen."
Thus began an epic race to the South Pole between Amundsen and Scott. Both explorers reached their objective but Amundsen not only reached the South Pole sixteen days before Scott and his team reached it, he was able to return alive. Scott and his men died on the return trip from cold and starvation.
An Improvised Expedition
Incredibly, despite the last minute decision to try for the South Pole, a significantly different type of journey than the one originally planned, Amundsen's expedition proved to be the better equipped and planned than that of Scott. While Scott's expedition relied on horses and men to pull the sleds, Amundsen bet on the ability of Eskimo sled dogs to not only carry the enormous weight of his sleds but to endure the extremely cold weather which often reached 80 degrees below zero.
However no amount of preparation or superior equipment could eliminate the enormous risks faced by the Amundsen expedition. The expedition entered Antarctic waters in a sailing vessel - they were completely cut off from any hope of rescue should something go wrong. Unlike today's Antarctic scientists, they could not hope for any supply drops by plane nor to be medivaced in case any of the crew were injured or fell ill. All they had to rely upon was their own courage and the primitive equipment that they brought with them or could improvise along the way. Being first also meant that the explorers did not have any maps to follow - although the coast of Antarctica had been surveyed to some extent by previous explorers, the interior was a terra incognita. Therefore the expedition did not know whether the rout which they had planned out was feasible or whether they would meet a tragic end in some hidden crevasse.
Getting to the South Pole - Then and Now
Antarctic Exploration Today
Antarctica - Photo Gallery of a Journey to the South Pole
Amundsen was conscious of the historical significance of being the first to reach the South Pole, so he documented his journey by taking a series of photographs. These pictures are remarkable because they give us an idea of how the men and dogs of the expedition lived and worked under some of the harshest conditions on earth. It is also remarkable that the expedition was even able to take these photographs given the fragile nature of the photographic equipment available at the time: the pictures were taken on glass plate negatives, and then had to be transported without cracking over thousands of miles of uneven ice, in frigid temperatures.
The Final Push Towards the South Pole
At the South Pole
Today Antarctica remains a hostile and virtually uninhabited continent. However it is not as dangerous or as inaccessible as when these brave explorers made the first journey to the South Pole. Permanent research bases now dot the coastline and there are regular flights and ships to Antarctica, bringing supplies and even tourists to the southernmost continent.
Even the South Pole is not as remote as it was in the days of this first expedition. Nowadays when an expedition reaches the Pole, it no longer merits front page news and these trips have become, though not yet commonplace, at least more common. But nothing can take away from the honor of being the first or the skill and determination it took for these explorers to be the first men to reach the South Pole and live to tell about it.
© 2010 Robert P
Fertile Forest from Sydney, Australia on December 13, 2010:
Tremendous Hub. Will follow you to some interesting places from now on! Thanks.