These two pictures, taken in Antarctica, are of a native and a visitor. The native is an Adelie penguin, and the visitor is Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian who won the "race to the pole" - the South Pole, the top prize for explorers once the North Pole had been achieved. His competitor was the British explorer, Robert Scott.
Amundsen's expedition was better provisioned, and Amundsen himself is considered by many to have been a more capable leader. He certainly had more experience. The tragic death of Scott and his entire party on the way back to safety is a story in itself, and one that has often been told.
Ernest Shackleton was another who went to sea at an early age. He was sixteen. By the age of 24, he had his master's license and was qualified to command a British ship anywhere. He joined an expedition led by Robert Scott but, to his great disappointment he was sent away when he became ill, probably from scurvy.
Shackleton himself commanded an expedition during the years 1907-1909. It was men from his group that made the first ascent of Mt. Erebus. The party split up, with one group attempting to reach the magnetic pole and the other the "true" South Pole. The magnetic pole was reached, but the journey was perilous with serious injuries to some men. The group made a little ceremony of it, as one said, "I hereby take possession of this area now containing the Magnetic Pole for the British Empire" and then they gave three cheers for His Majesty King Edward VII.
The group attempting to reach the South Pole had to abandon their journey 97 miles short of the goal. This was the farthest south any person had ventured. By the time they returned safely to their small ship, Nimrod, they figured out they had walked 1700 miles.
Looking South Again
In Shackleton's own words, "After the conquest of the South Pole by Amundsen who, by a narrow margin of days only, was in advance of the British Expedition under Scott, there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeyings--the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea".
When Shackleton returned from the Nimrod Expedition, on which an attempt was made to plant the British flag on the South Pole, attention was turned towards the crossing of the continent as Shackleton felt certain that either Amundsen or Scott would succeed where he had failed, just 97 miles from his goal.
Shackleton felt that the first crossing of the Antarctic Continent, from sea to sea via the Pole, apart from its historic value, would be a journey of great scientific importance. The distance would be roughly 1800 miles, and the first half of this, from the Weddell Sea to the Pole, would be over unexplored territory. Two ships were required for the expedition. The Endurance would be used to transport the trans-continental party to the Weddell Sea and would afterwards explore the shores of the coastline.
In one sense, this expedition was a complete failure. Nothing planned was accomplished. The ship, Endurance was lost and not one of the 28 adventurers stepped foot on the Antarctic Continent. In another sense, however, the journey was an incredible odyssey and for sheer courage and determination of its participants will most likely never be equalled.
To Southern Climes, Part III
Back to Southern Climes, Part I