The Extraordinary Story of the Race to Reach the South Pole
Two teams with startlingly different strategies, but who was victorious?
In 1911, two teams of five scientists assembled; today would be the start of the race to reach the South Pole. Both teams had contrastingly different strategies. The British team would push as hard as they could every day.
The Norwegian team would go fifteen miles daily; regardless of the weather, they would cover a steady fifteen miles. On good days this would be easily accomplished; on bad days, they would struggle to reach their goal.
Most had their ideas on who would win the race. The two strategies had contrasting successes and problems. For one of the teams, their strategy resulted in disaster.
The British Team
The British team was led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, a British explorer. Scott had attempted to reach the South Pole previously in 1902. But unfortunately, his party had been forced to turn back due to ill health and the horrific weather conditions.
With the support of the British Admiralty and the government, Scott had a grant of £20,000 for this attempt. He recruited a mix of men from his original voyage and Shackleton's ship Nimrod.
His crew included naval seaman, paying members and scientists. The group of explorers sailed from Cardiff on 15th June 1910.
The team planned to travel as far as they could every day. They were sure that this would result in them reaching the South Pole first.
On 1st November 1911, Scott started his trek for the pole.
On the good days, the British team travelled twenty-plus miles. The problem was that on the bad days, they were exhausted and barely covered a couple of miles. Some days not even making it out of the tents.
The Norwegian Team
Explorer Roald Amundsen led the Norwegian team. He was an experienced explorer who kept his plans a secret.
Initially, he was going to attempt to reach the North Pole, but when this feat was completed, he changed his ambitions to the South Pole.
Amundsen's ship reached the Ross Ice Shelf on 14th January 1911. Amundsen landed at the Bay of Whales. Having landed at McMurdo Sound, the British team was already sixty miles further away from the pole than the Norwegians.
The Norwegian team set out on 18th October 1911; they planned to do 15 miles a day, whether the weather was good or bad.
On good days they finished early and had time to rest. However, they had enough energy to push on to their fifteen-mile goal on difficult days.
The South Pole
At approximately 3 pm on 14th December 1911, Amundsen raised the flag of Norway on the South Pole. He reached the pole a full thirty-three days before the British. Slow and steady had won the race.
The Norwegian team returned to their base camp on 25th January 1912. The trip took ninety-nine days and covered 1400 miles.
The British finally arrived at the South Pole on 17th January 1912. It was there they discovered Norway had beaten them.
Following their disappointment, they left the pole to make their way back to camp
The return journey was faced with stoicism, British spirit and dignity. The team was, however, exhausted from their efforts to reach the South Pole; they had left nothing in reserve to make the trip back home.
The exhaustion, hunger and extreme cold took their toll on the men. They all perished on the way back from the race for the South Pole.
The last diary entry from the team dated the 29th March 1912. Unfortunately, the man passed away in his tent, along with two teammates.
Amundsen was an overnight celebrity. His success was celebrated worldwide. He received telegrams from President Roosevelt and King George congratulating him.
Scott's efforts did not go unrecognised; he was given a posthumous Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.
Strangely though, Scott is hailed as a hero when this tale is told. Amundsen was passed over for further acclaim.
Amundsen, in contrast, was haunted by accusations of unsporting conduct, changing his plans and racing for the South Pole without giving the other team notice. Moreover, the accusations increased when the British team failed to return.
Amundsen died in 1928 in what was presumed to be an aeroplane crash over the Arctic. The wreckage was found in the area, but no bodies. The Amundsen Scott station still stands proudly at the South Pole, home to two hundred research students yearly.
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