Frozen Frontier: A Journey to the Extremes of Antarctica - 02

by Laine Ye on Apr 30, 2024

Frozen Frontier: A Journey to the Extremes of Antarctica - 02

When we mention Antarctica, we cannot ignore the first expedition to reach the South Pole, the Amundsen Antarctic Expedition. On December 14, 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen led a team of five and reached the South Pole, becoming the first humans in history to accomplish this feat, five weeks ahead of the British expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott.

Amundsen's initial dream was to conquer the North Pole. However, when he learned in 1909 that American explorers Robert Peary and Frederick Cook had both claimed to reach the North Pole, he was devastated. This meant the shattering of his dream and the futility of all his efforts. So, he secretly changed his plans and decided to go to Antarctica instead. On the other hand, Scott's original ambition was to explore Antarctica. In 1901, at the age of around 30, Scott organized the Discovery Expedition as the expedition leader. He demonstrated remarkable capabilities, organizing everything meticulously. Later, Scott, along with Wilson and Shackleton, attempted to reach the South Pole but had to turn back at 82°16'S due to scurvy caused by insufficient food.

Although Scott set out two months earlier than Amundsen and Amundsen's Antarctic plan was improvised with limited knowledge of the region, Amundsen seemed destined for exploration.

As the Fram ship unloaded its final supplies, Amundsen left the camp to establish the first supply depot, following a meticulously planned strategy. His plan involved setting up a supply depot at each degree of latitude starting from 80°S. With four team members and three sleds, each equipped with six dogs, Amundsen even made special arrangements for lunch, storing it in thermos flasks to save fuel and time. Before the onset of winter, they established three supply depots, with a minimal loss of only three dogs. Despite the minor setbacks, they managed to store three tons of supplies at various depots along the route to the South Pole, providing crucial resources for their return journey.

"Fill a bathtub with ice and sit in it for twelve hours, staring at a blank sheet of paper. That's what polar exploration feels like."

After five months of preparation and acclimatization, Amundsen chose to set out for the supply depots again in the spring. Each trip was made with dogs and sleds, utilizing skiing and dog sled transportation, which greatly saved their energy. With Amundsen's experience and careful planning, the Amundsen expedition reached the geographic South Pole on December 14, 1911. This point marks the southernmost tip of the Earth's axis of rotation and the convergence of all lines of longitude in the southern hemisphere. Overwhelmed with joy, they planted their national flag in the icy terrain, leaving an eternal mark.

The return journey went smoothly, and on January 25, Amundsen and his team of five safely returned to their base camp. Remarkably, it was the exact day Amundsen had planned for the return three years prior. While Scott's expedition faced tragic circumstances, Amundsen's journey unfolded relatively smoothly. Perhaps it was due to Amundsen's better preparation or his good fortune that allowed him to overcome one challenge after another. However, his success was not a mere coincidence.

Amundsen later reflected on the expedition, stating that the most crucial factor is how well the expedition is prepared. One must anticipate potential difficulties and know how to handle or avoid them. Success awaits those who are well-organized, often referred to as good luck, while failure is inevitable for those who fail to foresee challenges and respond promptly, labeled as bad luck.

Five weeks later, Scott's expedition also reached the South Pole, only to find that Amundsen had beaten them to it. They were the second group to arrive.

In his diary, Scott wrote: "We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last."

Scott may have failed, but he was also successful. The brave and tenacious spirit of Scott's British expedition left a glorious mark in the history of Antarctic exploration. When Scott and his team's bodies were discovered, it was found that they had found the first fossils ever discovered in Antarctica. These fossils were identified as belonging to the genus Glossopteris, proving that Antarctica was once a forested landmass connected to other continents. Despite their hardships and suffering, they did not discard the collected plant fossils and mineral specimens, making significant contributions to Antarctic geology. Their expedition diaries and photographs remain valuable historical records for Antarctic scientific research and are preserved to this day.

Antarctica, with its mystery and challenges, continues to attract explorers and research teams from around the world. It is a breathtaking place with magnificent glaciers, the aurora, towering mountains, and vast ice plains. Additionally, it is home to unique wildlife species and valuable scientific research.