14 December 1911
110 Years ago today — Roald Amundsen was the first man to set foot on the South Pole.
THE GREAT RACE TO THE SOUTH POLE
Looking back 110 years later
On Friday 14 December 1911, there was a simultaneous cry of ‘halt’ as the sledge meters registered their arrival at the South Pole. They had reached their goal after almost two months on skis. Symbolizing their united struggle, each of the men grasped the Norwegian flag with their frostbitten hands, and planted it firmly on the geographical South Pole.
After the discovery of the North West Passage, Roald Amundsen had been planning an expedition to the North Pole with the polar vessel Fram for some time, when in 1909 he got the news that Robert E. Peary had beaten him to it. Amundsen immediately turned his attention to the South Pole instead. Captain Robert F. Scott had already announced his expedition to the South Pole, but Amundsen kept his South Pole plans to himself. When he left Oslo, Norway on 9 August 1910 on the Fram, the rest of the world thought he was still heading for the North Pole, even his crew thought so. On board Fram were 97 Greenland dogs, the key to Amundsen’s success, along with provisions for two years in the Antarctic.
THE RACE IS ON
Next stop was Madeira off Spain. Up to this point the routes to the North and South Poles were the same, but from Madeira on they split. Amundsen now had to inform the crew about the “small excursion” to the South Pole. Amazingly, the whole crew accepted the change of destination, and Amundsen informed the King of Norway and also notified Captain Robert F. Scott: “Beg leave to inform you Fram proceeding Antarctic. Amundsen”
After five months of sailing, they reached the Ross ice shelf in Antarctica. Amundsen and his crew set up their base camp Framheim, where they had to winter for eight months until the sun reappeared in August. By September the weather seemed warm enough for them to start the trek towards the Pole. After only a few days they experienced temperatures down to -60˚C (-76˚F), the fluid in their compasses froze solid and dogs froze to death in their sleep. They were forced to turn back to Framheim. In late October, Amundsen with a crew of four once more left Framheim on their historic trek to the Pole. The five men made their way over the snow on skis, with sledges pulled by dogs.
After a month they reached the foot of a mountain range, some 550 km from the South Pole. After a long and tough climb they found themselves at 3000 meters altitude. 24 dogs were shot since they were no longer needed, and used as food for the remaining dogs. For the next ten days they battled driving snow in 60kmph winds, raging blizzards and thick fog. Finally they reached the plateau, only to be confronted by The Devil’s Ballroom, a glacier with a thin crust of snow covering dangerous, deep crevasses. This proved to be their last major obstacle. The closer they came to the Pole, the more Amundsen worried that Scott had beaten him to it.
14 DECEMBER 1911
On Friday 14 December 1911, there was a simultaneous cry of ‘halt’ as the sledge meters registered their arrival at the South Pole. They had reached their goal after almost two months on skis. Symbolizing their united struggle, each of the men grasped the Norwegian flag with their frostbitten hands, and planted it firmly on the geographical South Pole. The Scott expedition reached the Pole one month after Amundsen, only to be met by the Norwegian flag. Scott and his party tragically perished during their return trek from the Pole.