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Race to the South Pole

The South Pole was flagged hundred years ago and it’s quite a story...

india Updated: Oct 26, 2011 00:45 IST
Geetika Jain
Geetika Jain
Hindustan Times

On December 14 2011 our ship will dock in Antarctica, exactly a hundred years after the first people arrived at the South Pole. Having read various accounts of the famous race between Captain Robert Falcon Scott, an Englishman and Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian, during the “Heroic age of Exploration,” I’d like to share their story with you…

In January 1911, Scott and his men sailed on the Terra Nova into Cape Evans, Antarctica from New Zealand and set up their camp. An earlier attempt by Scott seven years ago to reach the South Pole had failed due to blizzards, frostbite and exhaustion. This time Scott brought 30 Siberian ponies, several Siberian dogs and motor tractors to haul the sledges.

Scott knew that Amundsen too was attempting to reach the pole, but had no idea as to where he was. Since he was a boy, Amundsen’s dream had been to be the first person to be at the North Pole and he was preparing to sail north on the Fram in 1909 when he came to know that Frederick Cook had claimed it. He hastily decided to sail south instead, veiling his plans in secrecy for fear of being recalled as Scott’s journey had been announced. A telegraph was finally sent to Scott en route to New Zealand from Portugal, when he was well on his way. It read, “BEG TO INFORM YOU FRAM PROCEEDING ANTARCTIC”. Amundsen’s team arrived on the Bay of Whales on the Ross Ice Shelf with the single-minded focus of attaining the pole. He named the camp Franheim, or home of the Fram.

The supporting parties of both the teams joined them at the start and deposited food stores at intervals to be used on the return journey. They would return to base and a smaller polar team was to continue to 90 degrees south. Scott’s party set out on November 2 and ran into problems as the tractors failed and the ponies collapsed. The final polar party of five men ended up hauling their sledges laden with tents and food as they walked and skied to the pole. They did not know that Amundsen’s group with four sledges and 52 dogs had departed earlier on October 19.

The Norwegians moved much faster and were the first to arrive at the pole on December 11, 1911, where they planted their flag, set up a tent and left some letters for Scott. Arriving in Australia three months later, they announced their success to the world.

When Scott’s party arrived at the pole, they were disheartened to find that they had been beaten by 33 days. Their woes grew worse as they did not have the exact bearings of their food supplies and endured terrible storms. Ultimately all five succumbed to the cold.

A few months later, a search party found Scott and two men frozen to death in their tent eleven miles short of their “one ton” deposit. Scott’s endeavour, however, caught the imagination of the world. He wrote, “The gale is howling about us. We are weak, but for my own sake I do not regret this journey which has shown that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another and meet death with great fortitude as ever in the past.” The research station in the South Pole has been named the Amundsen-Scott Station.

Geetika Jain will be going to Antarctica on December 6 with Abercrombie and Kent.
How to get there: Fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina then fly to Ushuwaia in the south to board the ship “Le Boreal” that will sail to Antarctica. Abercrombie and Kent offer three journeys a year during the Antarctic summer; December (two weeks), January (three weeks) and February (three weeks)

First Published: Oct 25, 2011 15:53 IST