March 13, 2023



Half a century before the great space race between the United States and the Soviet Union was the age of competitive discovery of the polar regions.  I’m your host, LeahI’m Philand I’m Steve. Today we're going to learn about the two brave men who led rival expeditions to be the first to reach the South Pole.

Many years ago when I first began teaching, I can remember showing my geography class a 16 mm film narrated by the actor Anthony Quinn about the 1911 race to the South Pole between the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and the Englishman Robert Falcon Scott. My interest in this story was rekindled this past September when I visited the Fram Museum which is located in Oslo, Norway. 

THE FRAM    The Fram was a ship that was utilized in polar exploration from the 1890s into the 1910s. The ship is on display in the museum and tourists are free to walk about and even below its beautiful wooden decks. The word Fram is Norwegian for Forward. The museum has steeply pitched ceilings angling over the ship. Video projections of rough seas shown on the ceiling gives tourists on the ship’s deck the feeling of being in an actual storm. The Fram was first utilized by the Norwegian Explorer Fridtjof [freet yoff] Nansen who attempted to sail to the North Pole in 1893. He came close, reaching almost to the 86-degree North Latitude, but could get no further due to Arctic Ice. The Fram was utilized in further Arctic exploration before being taken by Roald Amundsen to Antarctica in 1911. The Fram is believed to have traveled further north and further south than any other ship before or since that time. 

The 1890s and early 1900s came to be known as the last great era of Earth exploration. All of the other continents had been explored, charted, and written about in great detail. All that were left were the polar regions. There was great urgency among the era’s explorers and scientists to gobble up one of the few remaining Firsts. Both Amundsen and Scott were members of previous polar explorations. 

Roald Amundsen [ahh mun sen] was born in Norway in 1872 to a family of merchant mariners. He grew up loving the sea, but he was also an excellent cross-country skier.  In 1897 at age 25, Amundsen joined what is considered the first Antarctic exploration. Lead by the Belgian explorer Adrien de Gerlache [ger lash], this was the first expedition to winter-over in Antarctica. Amundsen later wrote that this expedition was likely saved from scurvy by Dr Frederick Cook who hunted animals and fed the crew fresh uncooked meat which contains enough vitamin to stave off scurvy. (Citrus was not available) Amundsen remembered this for his future expeditions.  Then in 1903 – 1906 Amundsen led the first successful navigation of the Northwest Passage traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Canadian islands. 

During this time Amundsen learned more Arctic survival skills from the local Inuit tribe. Specifically, he learned the value of using sled dogs for hauling gear. He also learned that wearing animal skins and furs was far superior in extreme cold to the woolen parkas that he and his crew wore. The parkas could not keep out the cold when they got wet. The Inuit wore multiple layers of loose-fitting skins and furs which allowed for air circulation and prevented sweating. In 1905, Amundsen stopped in Nome, Alaska and received the news by telegram that Norway had just separated from Sweden and was now its own country. Amundsen cabled a message of congratulations to his new king Haakon VII, and stated that his traverse of the Northwest Passage was a great achievement for the young country.

Robert Falcon Scott was born in 1868 making him just four years older than Amundsen. Coming from a British family with a long military tradition, Scott began his naval career in 1881 as a 13-year-old cadet. Six years later Scott was involved in a cutter race in the British West Indies. Upon winning the race, he was introduced to Clements Markham who was Secretary of the Royal Geographic Society. Markham was always on the lookout for talented young naval officers to potentially lead polar explorations. Twelve years later, in 1899, Scott was selected by Markham to lead an Antarctic expedition called Discovery which was financed by the Royal Geographic Society, known from hereafter as the RGS.

Discovery departed England in August 1901 with a crew of 50. Unfortunately, only a couple of the crew had any experience in polar exploration, and little specialized training was offered before departing. Scott was a man who prided himself on his ability to improvise to meet the needs that arose. His insistence on Royal Navy formalities didn’t sit well with many of the merchant men crew. Upon arriving in Antarctica in December of 1901 the crew set up a base camp which largely consisted of reinforced tents. In March of 1902, one member died from slipping over an icy cliff. Several members of the crew also developed scurvy. In an attempt to penetrate as far south as possible, Scott along with Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson made it to just beyond the 82nd parallel. However, Shackleton was taken ill on the return leg and left the expedition, along with several other crew members, on an early relief ship. The rest of the Discovery Expedition wintered over for two years and returned to England in September of 1904. The Discovery Expedition had caught the public’s imagination and Scott became a popular hero. King Edward VII promoted him to Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.

Scott and Shackleton would become rivals in future years as Shackleton was selected to lead the next RGS Antarctic expedition in 1907 in which he reached the 88th parallel, only 112 miles from the South Pole. 

Meanwhile in 1908 and 1909 two Americans named Frederick Cook and Robert Perry both claimed to have lead expeditions that reached the North Pole. Both claims have since been disputed, but at the time they set off a frenzy of urgency among explorers including Amundsen and Scott as now only one great unexplored conquest remained, the South Pole. This became known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Amundsen and Scott weren’t alone in their quest. Expeditions from Germany, France, Japan, and Australia/New Zealand were planned. 

After Shackleton’s return to England in 1908, Scott went into full persuasion mode. He badly wanted to lead the next Antarctic expedition. In his 1909 prospectus to the RGS, Scott wrote, “The main objective is to reach the South Pole, and to secure for the British Empire the honor of this achievement.” A key element of Scott’s plan was to utilize new motorized sledges, the forerunners of the modern snowmobile which were in the infancy of their development at the time. As a back-up he would bring horses as well as some dogs. But he was concerned that these means of conveyance would not be able to ascend to the Polar Plateau, so he reasoned that his men would have to pull the sleds themselves once they neared the pole. The RGS was impressed by Scott’s plan, and he was selected to lead the Terra Nova Expedition which would launch in 1910. He selected a crew of 50 men. Again, most had no experience in polar exploration. Some had never seen snow before. 

Antarctica Fast facts

Antarctica is the highest, driest, coldest and windiest continent on Earth and it is a continent. It does have land mass whereas the north pole is located on just ice.

Antarctica covers 14.2 million km² (5.5 million square miles)

The Antarctic ice sheet is the largest ice store on earth and covers an area of 5.4 million square miles (14 million kilometers)

Antarctica holds most of the world’s fresh water. An incredible 60-90% of the world’s freshwater is locked in Antarctica’s vast ice sheet. In spite of this Antarctica is considered to be a desert.

When we think about deserts, we think about hot, arid and sandy places but actually a desert is more about the lack of water than high temperature. A desert is any region that receives very little annual precipitation. Less than half an inch of rain has fallen on Antarctica in the last 30 years. Because of the lack of rain, the ice on the continent has taken an incredible 45 million years to grow to its current thickness.

Back in Norway, Amundsen had been working on plans for an expedition to the North Pole and to explore the Arctic region. He had received government approval and permission to use the Fram for this purpose. The Fram actually belonged to the Norwegian government. Upon hearing about Cook and Perry, however, Amundsen decided to go to the South Pole instead. Only he didn’t bother telling anybody about this change. Not the crew, not the government, and especially not his creditors! It had been in his original plan to sail south from Norway, go around South America, and then north through the Pacific and enter the Arctic through the Bering Straits. So nobody on the 19-man crew thought much about it when the Fram left the fjords and turned to warmer waters. Putting in at Madeira in Portugal, however, Amundsen cabled his backers in Norway that he was heading for the South Pole, not the North. He also sent a cable to Scott. “I am heading South. See you at the Pole!” The Race was on! Scott received this cable at a stop in Melbourne, Australia, but he thought it was a hoax. He didn’t take it seriously. Upon leaving Madeira, Amundsen announced to his crew the true destination of their objective. He must have been a good salesman, because they all cheered wildly upon hearing the news.

While the two men, Scott and Amundsen were from the same generation, they could not have been more different. Scott was steeped in British Naval tradition. Amundsen’s family owned a fleet of merchant ships and he grew up valuing the practical side of nautical trade. Scott had never considered polar exploration until he was offered to lead the Discovery Expedition when he was 32. Amundsen, like most Norwegians, was an excellent skier and grew up reading about Arctic expeditions. Scott highly valued pomp and tradition and could get caught up with micro-managing his crew. Amundsen was a practical leader and valued allowing his crew members space to do their work on their own. Scott’s Terra Nova had 50 crew members, aboard the Fram with Amundsen there were only 19 men. 

Another area of their difference centered on their means of conveyance. Scott put great hope in the new motorized sleds and considered the horses to be a reliable back-up. He had some dogs along too, but Scott considered them to be vulgar. On the other hand, Amundsen had learned a great deal from the Inuit about how powerful and efficient dog sleds were. He discovered that his men on skis could keep up with the pace of dogs pulling heavy sleds without riding along and adding extra weight. Amundsen relied on dogs entirely. He did not bring any horses or any other means of conveyance. 

Now, while Amundsen had learned from the Inuit people the effectiveness of animal skins and furs against the extreme cold weather, Scott, on the other hand, felt that only ignorant natives wrap themselves if furs and skins. They were not qualified for civilized men. His men wore wool and the latest that British textiles had to offer.  

Scott’s ship, the Terra Nova had a good head start on the Fram, but the Fram made good time upon leaving Madeira, Portugal. The Terra Nova then found itself stuck in sea ice for nearly three weeks before breaking free. Finally on January 4th, 1911, the Terra Nova reached the Antarctic shore at a location called McMurdo Sound. Unloading began immediately as Scott’s men had to haul supplies over a patch of sea ice to the campsite. Disaster struck right away as one of the motorized sledges broke through the ice and sank to the bottom of McMurdo Sound. Huts were soon constructed on what was thought to be solid ground, but turned out to be ice which began shifting. This caused the structures to be taken down and reassembled further inland. The huts were divided into two parts, one for officers and gentlemen and the other for the grunts. 

Just a couple of weeks after Scott’s landing, Amundsen and the Fram docked at a location called the Bay of Whales on the Ross Ice Barrier. The prefabricated log house was erected about two miles from the water’s edge. This meant that Fram’s cargo had to be transported by dog sled. This time was used to teach dog sled driving to all the crew members. After being cooped up on the ship for several months, the dogs were frisky and eager to pull. Soon after the log house was completed a blizzard hit the area causing an enormous snow drift to pile up against one end of the house. Amundsen saw this as an opportunity rather than a hindrance. The snow drift was hollowed out and turned into a workshop for improving and repairing skis and sleds. They even constructed a sauna inside the drift. Amundsen called it, “Working with nature, not against it!”

Scott wanted to establish a second base in case something happened to the first and he needed to relocate. He sent several men on the Terra Nova to scout out a second location. On February 4, 1911, the ship appeared in the Bay of Whales. The British were thunderstruck upon sighting the Fram and Amundsen’s camp. They were not expecting the Norwegians to be there at all, much less seeing the highly efficient and orderly camp. Scott had not shared the cable that he had received in Melbourne with his crew. One of the British seamen wrote in his journal, “It appears that Capt. Amundsen is going to have a run for the Pole, so it will prove a very exciting affair. He has dogs for sledge work and all his men are good on skis” The British guests were given a tour of the Fram, being notably fill with wonder by walking on the decks of the famous boat. They also observed the easy and precise manner in which Amundsen’s men went about their tasks. In their minds they were likely a bit envious as their own camp was far from efficient. Amundsen invited them to set up camp near his, but feeling a bit miffed at his presence, the British returned to the Terra Nova and sailed off the same afternoon. This is the only time that the two expedition parties encountered each other. 

If you have ever watched the Winter Olympics, you will know that Norwegians score very well in Nordic skiing events, frequently taking the gold medals. Norwegians are practically born on skis. This almost natural ability gave them a great advantage in the Antarctic. Amundsen wrote in his diary, “Every day we had reason to praise our skis. We often asked each other where we would have been without these excellent devices. The answer is probably at the bottom of some crevasse or hole. Many a time we moved over parts so crevassed and broken that it would have been impossible to negotiate on foot. I need not elaborate on the advantage of skis in deep loose snow.” Amundsen’s crew had a total of nearly 200 years of skiing experience whereas Scott’s crew only had about 5. 

Amundsen’s plan was to utilize the few remaining days of the Antarctic summer--which is November to February-- to drop supply depots as far south as possible, then wait out the winter months and begin the push for the South Pole in the spring months of September and October. The men and the dogs could utilize the food and supply deposits without having to carry everything with them. His goal was to drop a supply depot at 80 degrees South. The dog teams worked so well that they moved more than a ton of supplies 80 miles toward the pole and were back at their base in only 5 days. 

Over at the Scott camp, things weren’t going so well. The remaining motor sleds proved to be useless. The fuel was freezing in the tanks and the motors kept breaking down. Furthermore, his horses were clearly unprepared to work in -20 weather. Also, they required tedious care. Each day they had to be rubbed down and covered with blankets. Snow walls were built to shield them from the wind. For lack of snowshoes, the horses sank in snow drifts up to their bridles. By comparison, Amundsen’s dogs trotted happily over the snow. In camp they slept together and kept warm on their own and usually just took care of themselves. Scott did have dogs too, but only about 30 whereas Amundsen had more than 100. Scott also attempted to drop a supply depot, but he only made it about 60 miles and it had taken 24 days. To make matters worse, several horses had died on the return trip when they fell through a crack in the ice. 

The leadership styles of the two men were completely divergent. Amundsen shared his plans in full detail with his men. He was open to suggestions and prized each crew member’s individual expertise. He had chosen them for their skills and personality. After the Fram had left Madeira, he posted his entire plan on the ships chart house so that each man could see his role, have time to study the operation, and knew how their contributions fit into the overall function of the expedition. Amundsen intended to converge each man’s talent in order to achieve a common goal. The first successful depot drop proved to everyone that his plan was working well. 

Scott on the other hand kept his plans to himself. He depended on the military tradition of blind obedience to orders. To him, any questions or suggestions was almost like mutiny. Two members of his expedition were actually gentlemen citizens who had paid today’s equivalent of about $100,000 each to go along. They frequently confided in their diaries and to one another their concerns about Scott’s irrational orders to his crew. Oddly enough, Scott did have one Norwegian crewman who was brought along to teach the rest how to ski. On the depot journey, he found himself being ordered to leave his skis on the sled and to lead a horse on foot. 

Bolstered by the success of his first depot run, Amundsen set out again on February 22 to try to deposit more supplies along the route. He succeeded in making a depot at 81 and 82 degrees South, but it took a full month and eight dogs had died as the weather was turning decidedly colder. The Antarctic winter was setting in. Utilizing their hollowed-out snowdrift, the crew went to work making improvements on their skis, sleds, tents, boots, and other equipment. While the dogs played away the winter in their tents eating, sleeping, and breeding, their masters kept busy working on equipment. 

Over in the Scott winter camp there was more of a leisurely atmosphere. Scott arranged for the various members of his crew to give after dinner lectures on their various areas of expertise. One member who was a photographer had traveled extensively spent many hours showing photos via a new invention called a lantern slide. It may have been the first example of people being coerced into watching someone else’s vacation photos. After mid-winter the grunts began working part time on the sleds, getting them prepared for the push to the pole. 

Let’s just talk a moment about the winter in Antarctica. Of course, it is very brutal and even if you have adequate shelter and plenty of supplies the dark winter months are hard to get through. We talked in our recent PSYCHE episode about Winter-Over Syndrome and how the isolation and lack of sunlight can really wreak havoc on the brain. 

I found an article in the Los Angeles Times titled, “Antarctica scientist allegedly stabs colleague for spoiling the endings of books.” No kidding! The attack was not fatal but for whatever reason one of the Russian scientists took pleasure in finding out what book another scientist was reading from the station’s limited library and would spoil the ending. The scientists were both well respected men in their 50s and had worked together in this station for about 6 months before the stabbing occurred. 

Back to Amundsen and Scott  With no radio equipment, the two camps had no idea how each other were progressing. Amundsen didn’t know that Scott’s motor sleds were not working. He imagined them gliding speedily along while his dogs trailed behind. This made him eager to start for the pole as soon as possible. The Antarctic winter night lasts for 3 ½ months until near the end of August when the sun finally faintly breaks the horizon. On September 8th, 1911, Amundsen and his men decided they had waited long enough. The temperature had risen from – 55 to - 37 degrees Celsius, warm enough it seemed to make a start. 

On the first day things were going well. The dog sleds and men on skis covered more than ten miles in less than three hours. Amundsen wrote, “The skiing had been brilliant today, I have rarely had such good skiing!” The second day they covered 13.5 miles, and all seemed well. The third day started off rough as the dogs were so ready to rush that several of the dog teams crashed into each other and some dogs broke loose, ran off, and had to be retrieved. It took several hours to get them all back together and untangled. The rest of the day went well and the group covered more than 16 miles. 

On that same day, Scott was still preparing to leave his base. He wrote in his journal, “I have tried to take every reasonable possibility of misfortune into consideration, and to so organize the parties as to be prepared to meet them. It is good to have arrived at a point where one can run over facts and figures again and again without detecting a flaw or foreseeing a difficulty.” His plan was to strengthen his horses for a few more weeks then begin the journey south.

The following day, September 11, Amundsen notes that the temperature had dropped to – 55.5 Celcius which is -68 F. He also notes that one of the sleds fell into a crevasse, but they were able to haul it out again. “Fog has formed so thickly around the sleds that sometimes we could not see them.” The next day Amundsen writes that the temperature hasn’t warmed up and that the dogs are weakened by the cold. He made the decision to deposit their supplies at the first depot and then return to the base camp. “To risk men and animals out of sheer obstinacy and continue, just because we have started on our way, that would never occur to me. If we are to win this game, the pieces must be moved carefully – one false move and everything can be lost.” That night, instead of pitching their tents, they built igloos which turned out to be considerably warmer. Two days later they dropped their supplies at the 80-degree depot and started back. The weather did not improve, and it took three more days to get back to their base. Several dogs died and three of the men had badly frostbitten feet. 

The false start caused a good deal of grumbling among Amundsen’s crew. One man named Johansen openly blamed Amundsen for his poor leadership. The cabin grew tense as Amundsen and Johansen spoke to one another in tense clipped sentences. Amundsen then left the cabin and walked alone in the cold darkness. Returning later in the day he announced that Johansen would not be joining the pole expedition but would partake in a side mission. Johansen looked to the others for support, but no one gave him any. All the team had agreed to the early start, and all knew that Amundsen was the only one to lead them if the mission was going to be successful. Johansen withdrew quietly. 

While this false start was costly, it wasn’t without merit. They had gained survival experience and had managed to leave more supplies to the first depot. Meanwhile Scott had taken off on a side mission to explore potential mineral resources of Antarctica. Part of his Royal Geographic Society charter was to conduct scientific exploration. He and two men set out on foot to locate rumored mineral deposits near the coast. They spent the last two weeks of September walking about in waist deep snow, at one point nearly perishing in a blizzard, but found little in the way of mineral deposits. 

Rather than attempting to deposit more supplies along the route, Scott opted to spend the first parts of October attempting to re-work the motor sleds and also to increase the horse’s feed to help them gain strength. He writes extensively in his diary about one horse in particular who bites and kicks severely whenever an attempt is made to harness it to a sled. 

Scott’s crew did manage to establish a second base camp some fifteen miles from the first. Even more impressive, they managed to string a telephone wire between the two huts in order to speed communication. This was another scientific experiment which turned out to be very useful in WW I which broke out just three years later. 

Amundsen and his men hoped to make a second start on October 15. However, the weather conditions remained cold and stormy. Finally on October 20 the weather had improved enough (-3F) to make a new start. Amundsen wrote, “At long last we managed to get off. We have four sleds with 13 dogs each. For some reason we ran too far East and into an unknown maze of cracks and crevasses. Suddenly a large piece of the surface fell away next to the sleds and exposed a gruesome abyss – big enough to swallow us all. Luckily, we were so far to the side that we were saved.” That first day they made 20 miles. Amundsen noted that the five men slept comfortably in their improved tent. 

Two days later they were traveling through a fog when suddenly the leading sled disappeared. Four of the dogs fell into a hideous crevasse, which would easily have swallowed them and their cargo also if the driver had not managed to stop.” It took about an hour and a half to pull the dogs and sleds out. They decided to stay still until the fog lifted. When it did, they discovered that they were in the middle of danger. Amundsen wrote, “On closer investigation, it turned out that the terrain around us consisted entirely of crevasse after crevasse and enormous chasms.” Carefully they slowly made their way to more solid terrain. For the next several days Amundsen’s team made steady progress. 

On October 27, Scott wrote that he and his men left their primary base and made it to the advance base some 15 miles away. The motor sleds were still going but making very slow progress. The operators frequently had to make mechanical adjustments on the fly. He noted that they had a splendid cup of tea upon arrival. That night there was a problem in the corral as the horses had begun fighting with one another. 

I’d like to stop for a minute and credit a book called Race to the South Pole by Roland Huntford. Mr. Huntford gives a great amount of background information about both Amundsen and Scott and their team members. He also includes large portions of both of their diaries as well as the diary of one of Amundsen’s crew. I highly recommend the book as it goes into much greater detail than we are going to be able to today. He proceeds chronologically showing what each man wrote on a specific day and then adds further clarification explaining their writings. 

We have taken this long to just get both men started on their race to the pole. For the sake of brevity, we are going to skip ahead now several weeks. 

ODDITY DU JOUR: ALUMINUM FOIL and Now I Know email newsletter.

Have you ever wondered why aluminum foil is shiny on one side and dull on the other? Is there an advantage to cooking with the shiny side or are you supposed to cook with the dull side?

The reason there’s a difference in the surfaces of the foil has to do with the manufacturing process. Foil is of course very thin with regular foil being 0.016 mm thick, and the heavy-duty stuff is typically 0.024 mm thick. It’s the perfect thickness for household use but too fragile to make it through the milling process.

To create foil, aluminum is rolled between two rollers over and over making it thinner each time until it reaches the desired thickness but a single sheet of foil between .016 and .024 mm thick would break in this process so the factories mill two sheets at the same time. That is what accounts for the difference in the sides. The side of the foil sheet that comes into contact with the milling rollers comes out very shiny, close to being mirror-like, while the other side that comes into contact with other sheet of foil comes out much more dull.

As for cooking, there is no right or wrong side as they both conduct heat the same. When making a tin foil hat however, the shiny side of the foil goes to the outside to reflect the alien thought control waves and the dull side goes on the inside closest to your brain.

I got my info from and the Now I Know email newsletter except the part about the tin foil hat. That’s just common sense.

Now back to the Race to the South Pole…    
By November 19, Amundsen and his team had reached the foot of the Transantarctic Mountain Range. To this point they have fallen into a steady pace of traveling 5 to 6 hours a day covering an average of 20 miles per day. Ascending the mountains their pace slows as they have to double team the dogs. In other words, two teams pull one sled to the top of a pass and then return for the other sled. Descending the other side of the pass can also be dangerous as the dogs tend to want to go too fast. 

At this same time, Scott, having abandoned the motor sleds is progressing at about 13 miles per day with his horses pulling their sleds along with one dog sled team. His men are walking or skiing as best they can. One unsavory part of both expedition teams is that when dogs or horses became seriously injured, the animals were put down and then the meat was prepared and eaten by the men and eaten by the remaining dogs. This helped both teams to stretch their supplies but was the source of some criticism by the reading public in the years to come.

By December 8, Amundsen and his team have endured several days of intense fog and were able to move only a few miles per day. However, on this day the sun broke through bright and clear. Using their sextants, they were able to determine that they were now at 88.25 degrees South latitude. They had passed the Englishman Shackleton’s mark from 1908. A cheer went up and the Norwegian flag was unfurled and placed on the lead sled. Amundsen wrote, “We had the best weather for a long time. Sunshine and almost calm, temperature 0 degrees F. Extra chocolate was given to the men in honor of the occasion.”

On December 14th Amundsen notes that they are at 88’45” South. “Tomorrow if all goes well, we will be at the South Pole. I feel like a boy again! My only wonder is, will we see a British flag when we arrive?” At 3:00 p.m. the following afternoon, December 15th, 1911, a final check of their instruments proved that they had indeed reached 90’ S. There was no sign of the British. “We are the first!” exclaimed Amundsen. They planted the Norwegian flag at the South Pole and proclaimed the land to be King Hakon the VII’s Land. “Thanks be to God!” wrote Amundsen. The team spent two nights at the South Pole making detailed notes of the area. At the pole they left an empty sled, a tent, the Norwegian flag, and a pennant marked Fram. At that moment, Scott and his team were still some 350 miles to the north. 

Of course, the return trip could prove to be treacherous. The Antarctic summer sun doesn’t set, but rather makes a circle of the horizon. Amundsen and his men traveled while the sun was at their backs so as not to be blinded by snow glare. Again, they averaged around 20 miles per day. On January 25th, 1912, they reached their home base which they had left 99 days before. Of the 52 dogs that began the trek, only 11 survived. In total the crew had traveled nearly 2,000 miles. Five days later Amundsen and his crew loaded the remaining dogs and the more valuable equipment on board the Fram and set sail. On March 7, the Fram docked in Hobart, Tasmania. There Amundsen cabled his brother and also King Haakon informing them of his successful journey. He also learned that no word had been received from Scott.

On January 17 Scott and his men are trudging forward, pulling their own sleds. Suddenly one of his men spies a black spot on the horizon. Scott wrote in his diary, “Soon we knew that it was a flag tied to a sledge nearby the remains of a camp; sledge tracks and ski tracks going and coming and the clear trace of dogs’ paws – many dogs. This told us the whole story. The Norwegians have forestalled us and are first at the Pole. It is a terrible disappointment, and I am very sorry for my loyal companions.” He consoled himself with the fact that it was still a great accomplishment even if they weren’t the first. “Now for the run home and a desperate struggle to get the news through first.”

On January 19 Scott wrote, “I’m afraid the return journey is going to be dreadfully tiring and monotonous.” 

On February 4, one of Scott’s team, Edgar Evans, suffered a serious fall. Two weeks later he fell again and died. The weather was dismal for the return journey. To make matters worse, when they reached their supply depots, there was a lack of cooking fuel to heat their camp stoves. On March 16 another member of the team named Oates told his mates, “I’m going outside the tent and may be some time.” He never returned. On March 19, Scott and his three remaining men stopped at their final camp. During the next nine days with their supplies running low and with stormy weather prevailing outside, Scott and his two companions wrote letters to their families. Scott made his last entry in his diary on March 29. “For God’s sake, look after our people.” It turned out that they were only 12 miles from a supply depot that had plenty of food and fuel to sustain them. 

The bodies were discovered by a search party the following November. Scott’s diary and other records were retrieved. Next to their bodies lay several pounds of tree fossils which they had dug up. These were the first tree fossils ever recovered from Antarctica and proved that the continent had once been much warmer and likely connected to other continents. The tent was lowered over their bodies and a hill of snow was built over the sight. A rough cross made of skis was placed on top of the mound. 

In his notes, Scot had written a Message to the Public that reads as follows: 

We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last. Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for. 

The Terra Nova arrived in New Zealand on February 10, 1913 and cabled the news about Scott’s death. Overnight Scott became a hero. Within a year his diary became a bestseller. British school children were required to read it. A sense of national pride surged in the British Empire which would carry them into the coming war. 

When Amundsen returned from Antarctica he was hailed as a national hero. The young country of Norway was bursting with pride over his accomplishments. Congratulations poured in from all around the world including the former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt as well as England’s King George. Even the British press was mostly kind to Amundsen, expressing admiration for his accomplishment even though they were disappointed that their countryman had not made it first. He gave lecture tours throughout Europe and the U.S. Even the RGS invited him to speak, though one member snidely proposed, “Three cheers for the dogs!” 

But when news arrived of Scott’s death, the public mood changed. According to Roland Huntford, the author mentioned earlier, “Amundsen the victor was eclipsed by Scott the martyr.” In England the narrative became that Scott the upright gentleman had been usurped by Amundsen, a mere glory seeker who had behaved dishonorably in concealing his true intentions, had used dogs rather than hones man-hauling, and had then eaten those same dogs. (It was conveniently forgotten that Scott had also eaten his animals.) This mythical narrative held firm throughout most of the 20th century. It wasn’t until the 1980s that researchers began to categorize Scott as a heroic bungler whose failure was largely the result of his own mistakes. 

As for Amundsen, he did his best to justify his actions on the South Pole journey. For the most part, people outside of the U.K. still honored him. He continued his involvement in polar exploration. After WW I ended he led an expedition to re-trace the Northwest Passage only from west to east this time, and also to explore unknown areas of the Arctic Ocean. Two members of his Antarctic expedition joined him in this new venture. Later, in 1926, Amundsen took part in the first airship flight over the North Pole. Some credit them as being the first people to reach the North Pole and the works of Cook and Perry have fallen into suspicion. Two years later, on June 18, 1928, Amundsen died while flying on a rescue mission in the Arctic. It is assumed that the plane crashed in the Barents Sea and that Amundsen and his crew were killed in the accident. Their bodies were never found. 

Today in Antarctica the Amundsen – Scott International research station sits at the South Pole and hosts scientists and researchers from nations around the world. 

Sources for this episode come from,  from the Fram Museum in Oslo as well as a book called Race for the South Pole by Roland Huntford. We have not quoted anything directly other than quotes that came from Amundsen and Scott’s personal diaries which are both public domain.

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Remnant Stew is part of Rook & Raven Ventures and is created by me, Leah Lamp. Dr. Steven Meeker and I research, write and host each episode along with commentary by our audio producer, Phillip Sinquefield. Theme music is by Kevin MacLeod with voiceover by Morgan Hughes. Special thanks goes out to Brandy Nichols, Judy Meeker, and Harbin Gould.

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