Finding The Bottom

Man has always been fascinated with exploring the unknown.  Today, as humans reach into uncharted lands, they have a wealth of technology to aid them, including satellite images, new forms of transportation for a number of different environments, high tech communication devices, and photographic probes to go where man can not.  Even though there are still great dangers today, exploration in the early 1900’s was a much riskier business.  However,after seal and whale hunters reported discovery of Antarctica in 1920, risk did not deter the yearning of some to be the first to plant a flag at the South Pole.  Roald Amundsen of Norway, Robert Falcon Scott of England, and Ernest Shackleton, and Irish-born British explorer, each dreamed of claiming victory in the race to finding the bottom of the earth.

A Norwegian, Roald Amundsen was the first to treck successfully across the newly discovered continent from Ross Sea to the South Pole.  He was well aware that Englishman Robert Falcon Scott was racing for the pole at the same time.  Amundsen selected his crew with the Antarctic climate and terrain in mind.  It included experienced dog handlers, skiers, and approximately fifty husky dogs.  As they traveled toward their goal, they buried supplies and food which they would need for the return trip.  Along the way they shot the weaker of the dogs for food for themselves and for the other dogs. Amundsen and four others from his crew arrived at the pole on December 14, 1911.  He planted a flag and left a note for Scott, just in case he made it.

Robert Falcon Scott’s trip was less well planned.  He did not bring experienced dog handlers with him.  Instead, his plan included using ponies and dogs to pull the sleds.  Not far into the journey, they discovered that the ponies had difficulty walking on the ice covered continent.  After shooting the ponies, they had to expend their energy pulling the sleds themselves.  The men on his crew were not skilled skiers.  Scott had to send most of his men back to the base camp they had established.  Finally, on January 17, 1912, Scott reached the South Pole.  His hopes of being first were dashed when he found Amundsen’s flag and note.  His emotions he recorded in his journal,  “All the daydreams must go.”  The return trip posed many problems for the Scott expedition.  They were plagued with blizzards.  Hunger gnawed at their bellies.  Illness dragged them down.  They began to die, one by one.  On March 20, Scott inscribed in his diary,  “We shall stick it out to the end, but…the end cannot be far.”  Later that same day he wrote,  “For God’s sake look after our people.”  The bodies of Scott and his men were found eight months later eleven miles from their hidden supplies.

One of the men that had originally been with Scott was Ernest Shackleton.  He was Scott’s 3rd officer but was sent home due to illness.  In 1907, he became the leader of the Nimrod Expedition.  Though he did not make it to the South Pole on that expedition, King Edward VII knighted Shackleton for his Fartherist South honor. In 1914, Shackleton dreamed of becoming the first to traverse 2,000 miles across the continent of Antarctica from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea.  The dream was doomed before it really got started.  His ship became trapped and was crushed by pack ice.  It took the crew ten months to make their way to Elephant Island.  Shackleton and five other members of his crew traveled 800 miles in a small open boat to a whaling station.  Upon arrival at the station, he got help and returned to rescue his men.

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