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South Pole Expeditions: 100 Years Ago and Today

Posted October 12, 2011 @ 6:52pm | by TravelWild

The Guardian has published a fascinating account of the race for the South Pole in 1911, and the cruel luck and deception that plagued Captain Robert Falcon Scott. Committed to geological, meteorological and biological research as well as testing sleds pulled mechanically and by ponies and dogs, his multifaceted purpose probably precluded a polar victory—a victory that went to Norwegian Roald Amundsen.

Yet it had taken a series of deceptions to send Amundsen on his way to clash with Scott….”Scott would not have got to the South Pole any quicker, but his party’s return—having been first to the pole—would have been a far more spirited, cheerful affair. Scott, Bowers and Wilson died 11 miles short of a huge food depot. They just might have made that with the spring of victory in their steps,” explains Nick Cox, UK polar expert.

“Amundsen was keen on science, but not on this expedition,” admits (Geir Klover, director of the Fram Museum in Oslo). Unencumbered, his teams of dog sledges swept easily to the pole. By contrast, Scott refused to give up a single scientific goal and that cost his men dearly.

After discovering that Amundsen beat him to the Pole, Scott and his four men died of exhaustion, hypothermia, starvation and frostbite on the return to base camp. Historian Diana Preston writes about it, “The point is not that they ultimately failed but that they so very nearly succeeded.”

Fortunately, today’s travelers to Antarctica won’t suffer hypothermia, starvation or hardship. But two young Australians are preparing for the worst, including the challenge of manhauling 350 pounds of weight —each!—across the ice. James “Cas” Castrission and Justin “Jonesy” Jones, are preparing to embark on a 2,200 kilometer trek across Antarctica, unassisted by dogs or any support. Their project, “Crossing the Ice,” will attempt to walk from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back without assistance, departing October 16 and completing in January. If they are successful they will be the first.

Cas and Jonesy will use this expedition to raise much needed funds and awareness for “You Can,” a national fundraising campaign to build specialized youth cancer centers across Australia. They will each carry 100 kg in food—enough fuel to provide the equivalent of 15 Big Macs/day—as well as another 60 kilos each of gear. “We’re going to be our own husky dogs,” says Jones.

Referring to this year’s 100-year anniversary of the race between Amundsen and Scott to be the first to get to the South Pole, Castrission added, “It’s an absolutely pristine, hostile, beautiful environment. When we are slogging it out for thousands of kilometres we are not going to feel very different to what those guys did a 100 years ago.”

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