December 14, 2006

Today's "Writer's Almanac" on Amundsen

It was on this day in 1911 that the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team became the first people ever to reach the South Pole on the continent of Antarctica.

As far as we know, Antarctica was the last continent on earth to be explored by people. No one knows for sure who saw it first, but a Polynesian legend from New Zealand tells of a man in a war canoe sailing south and discovering a frozen ocean. In 1774, the English explorer James Cook saw vast mountains of ice to the south when he sailed around the southern tip of South America, and he believed there was probably a land mass behind the ice.

The first people to really explore the edges of Antarctica were the seal hunters who began to slaughter the fur seals that gathered by the thousands on Antarctica's shores. The Englishmen Robert F. Scott and Earnest Shackleton were the first men to lead teams into the interior of Antarctica, and Scott went on to try to find the South Pole. He was followed by another explorer named Roald Amundsen, who had decided to join the quest at the last minute.

Amundsen's expedition was a full eight weeks behind Scott's, and when word got out that he was racing to beat the famous English explorer, most people thought Amundsen was crazy. But he had a secret weapon: a team of well-trained Greenland sled dogs. Scott had decided not to use dogs for transportation because, he said, "No journey ever made with dogs can approach the height of that fine conception which is realized when men go forth to face hardships, dangers, and difficulties with their own unaided efforts."

As a result of Scott's aversion to dogs, Amundsen's team arrived at the South Pole more than a month before Scott's team did. And Scott's team perished in a snowstorm on their way home.

Posted by duver001 at December 14, 2006 12:14 PM