One hundred years ago today the South Pole was reached by a party of Norwegian explorers under the command of Roald Amundsen. The existence of the pole had been known, but the inhospitable landscape presented a barrier until Amundsen’s party made the dangerous trek across ice and snow to stand at the geographical South Pole on this day a century ago.
One of Amundsen’s competitors, Robert Falcon Scott and his party, achieved a different kind of fame: they arrived on January 17, 1912 to find they were second in the race to fame, and they perished on their way back north.
News of Amundsen’s achievement was telegraphed to the world on March 7, 1912, on his return to Hobart, Australia.
From Scientific American, Vol. CV1, No. 11, March 16, 1911
The Discovery of the South Pole
It is much too early to give any critical account of Capt. Roald Amundsen's achievement. Many weeks must elapse before we are in complete possession of all his data. Yet even the laconic account, which he has cabled to the press, throws a flood of light on the mystery of Antarctic geography. Amundsen seems to have collected enough evidence to substantiate the theory that the great chain of mountains which extends almost uninterruptedly from Alaska to Patagonia finds its continuation in a ridge connecting Victoria Land and King Edward VII Land, and which, in honor of his queen, he has named "Queen Maude's Range."
The ice barrier, which had proved for a century and a half a formidable obstacle to Antarctic exploration, is found to terminate in a bay, lying between the southeast mountain range running from South Victoria Land and a range which is probably a continuation of King Edward the VII Land and which extends in a southwesterly direction. Contrary to his original plan, Amundsen despatched one of his officers, Lieut. Prestud, to survey the Bay of Whales and the great ice barrier and to explore King Edward VII Land, of which practically nothing is known. No doubt the spur of competition played its part in unfolding the secrets of the last unexplored frigid region of the earth.
Amundsen and his party at the geographic South Pole, December 14, 1911.
CREDIT: PHOTO COURTESY OF NORWEGIAN-U.S. SCIENTIFIC TRAVERSE OF EAST ANTARCTICA
No less than four other expeditions were in the Antarctic regions at the time while Amundsen was forcing his way south. Besides Amundsen's, there was the Japanese expedition under Lieut. Shirase, which had to retreat to Australia last spring in order to replenish its supply of dogs, and which Amundsen says landed on January 16th at the Bay of Whales, two weeks before he sailed for home; Dr. Mawson's Australian expedition, for which $215,000 had been raised up to November 1st last, and which was to land three parties between Cape Adare and Gaussberg; the German expedition under Lieut. Filchner in the "Deutschland," elaborately equipped with wireless, magnetic, and meteorological apparatus, full of the hope of establishing a base southwest of Coats Land in as high a latitude as possible; and lastly, Capt. Scott's English expedition in the "Terra Nova," which left New Zealand in November, 1910, badly damaged by stormy weather; so badly, indeed, that the necessary repairs and the cost of making good the stores that had been lost seriously depleted the resources of the party.
Amundsen seems to have been helped by exceptionally favorable weather conditions. To be sure, there were storms, but not those frightful hurricanes which thwarted Shackleton. It was cold, so cold that the dogs suffered visibly; yet the average temperature was no lower than that in many an inhabited part of Canada. Amundsen himself states that part of his journey was much like a pleasure trip--"excellent ground, fine sledging, and an even temperature." The glaciers and crevasses make detours necessary, yet, despite them, progress was remarkably rapid. The party climbed up 2,000 to 5,000 feet in a day. Throughout much of his journey Amundsen covered entirely new ground. Therefore he will bring back absolutely new information of Antarctic geography. He made up his mind that he would reach the plateau on which the Pole is situated by another route than that of Beardmore Glacier. Luck, instinct, experience, call it what you will, the new route proved easier than that which either Shackleton or Scott took on their expeditions. To that comparatively easy route, coupled with exceptionally favorable weather, may be attributed Amundsen's success.