Monday, August 5, 2013

The first South Pole Station

I just finished reading "The South Pole" by Roald Amundsen. He gives an excellent account of the first 200 years of early Antarctic exploration and how ships sailed further and further south until they sighted the continent of Antarctica. Amundsen was originally focused on the North Pole with the proven polar exploration ship Fram. But in 1909 the rival American explorers Frederick Cook and Robert E. Peary each claimed to have reached the North Pole. Amundsen changed his plan and began the conquest of the South Pole.

After setting up quarters in the Bay of Whales and burying several food and supply depots south to 88 degrees, Amundsen and four others began their trek to the South Pole in October of 1911. 

Excellent book.
Roald Amundsen

The Fram was built for polar exploration.
Bay of whales on the Great Ice Barrier was the expedition's Antarctic base.

Amundsen had this cabin built at his home in Norway. Then it was dismantled, numbered and rebuilt on the ice.

They brought 96 Greenland husky sleddogs.
Seal meat was the steady diet for all.

Before the actual push to the Pole teams set up food and supply depots. This was the last one at 88 degrees south.

Typical polar wear.
The route from the Fram Winter Quarters to the South Pole was 60 miles closer than Scott's quarters. 400 miles to the east was Shackleton's earlier attempted route from McMurdo Sound. Shackleton was 112 miles from the Pole when he was forced to retreat. Robert Scott followed this route and achieved the South Pole on January 17, 1912. 

"The Pole...Great God! this is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority. Well, it is something to have got here, and the wind may be our friend to-morrow. Now for the run home and a desperate struggle. I wonder if we can do it. "

These words are from British explorer Scott's diary of 17 January 1912 on the subject of the Antarctic South Pole. They had just arrived at the South Pole, only to find that the Norwegian explorer Amundsen had got there a month before them. Already in bad shape, the British team were bitterly disappointed, and had to face the long journey back in the knowledge that they were not the victors. Technically, these were not Scott's last words, since he did not die for another 2 months. But they mark an absolute turning point in his fortunes, and resonate with the desperation the team must have felt and their foreboding of death on the return journey, during which all of the five-man team perished.

Two of the members perished on the return before Scott and the other two succumbed in their tent 11 miles from a food cache.

Scott's party at the South Pole January 17, 1912. Two died while walking and the other three perished in a tent on their return during a brutal storm just a few miles from a food and supply cache.

The South Pole achieved and the first South Pole Station. December 14, 1911. At first they were actually 2 miles from the real geographic South Pole. They spent several days boxing in the coordinates then corrected to within 1 mile of the real Pole. Not bad for instruments of 100 years ago. Today this tent is estimated to be a mile from the station and buried under 60 feet of ice. 


  1. Hello Zen Pole Master!
    I know the history is fascinating and would like to know more for the students to understand this kind of endeavor. This year I will use the blog to discuss with our students how a person plans for such an epic trip and how to adapt when the plans don't work out....

    Happy Anniversary on the 11th! Your life has included many experiences and the journey is something we didn't plan! I had a lovely vacation in Washington and hope to share some travels in that area with you in the future.
    Enjoy the sunlight soon.
    Love always, Andee

  2. Nice black and whites! Impressive ships.

    1. I love Antarctic history. I was born 120 years too late.