Very short backstory: In the Antarctic summer of 1911, two teams set out to be the first explorers to reach the navigational South Pole. Of Earth. Roald Amundsen and his team of four reached 90 degrees south 100 years ago today, winning the race to the bottom of the world, and forever securing Amundsen’s place as the greatest polar explorer for all time. Robert Scott, the leader of the other team and Amundsen’s Antarctic rival, did not reach the pole until more than a month later.
Skepchick point of interest: Not so long after cartographers had filled in most of the “here be dragons” places on world maps, Earth’s poles were still untouched. (Amundsen was also the first explorer to successfully cross the Northwest Passage, and would go on to be the first to reach both poles, doing a North Pole flyover in 1926.) It was a great scientific exploration, which would captivate the whole world, and last well beyond the breaking of the next great frontier of humans in space. Personally, Antarctic exploration captivated me growing up. Stories of Amundsen, Scott, and Schackleton could keep me up all night reading and chilly even during August in New York City. So much so that I visited Antarctica in 2000 (see attached pic!)
Not-so-Skepchick?: For all the romance of the story of the race to the South Pole, Amundsen was far better prepared than his counterpart Scott. Scott, and his entire crew, died without ever making it off the continent after this trip. From the very start of this “race” Amundsen was vastly better prepared, and a final raging 10-day blizzard after the winning team had left the island (so to speak) sealed their fate. It’s sad to think of the lives lost in such an uneven match-up. Then again, in the big picture, Antarctica is a vastly unforgiving place for all humans. Sc0tt’s last entry in his journal, penned some six months before his final campsite was found the following summer, was “Last entry. For God’s sake, look after our people.”