The late 19th and early 20th centuries were exceptionally exciting times for polar explorers, who were well aware of the dangers of their travels, particularly since Sir John Franklin’s fleet and crew had disappeared without a trace in search of the fabled Northwest Passage.
At the other end of the world, the race was on to reach the South Pole. A number of explorers set out in search of it, but it was Brit Robert Falcon Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen who went head to head with each other in a race to the Pole in 1911.
Two Famous Explorers Race to the South Pole
Well, they weren’t nearly as famous as they are today, though both were respected explorers. Falcon Scott had attempted to reach the South Pole once before, in 1902, but sickness and adverse weather conditions had forced him to turn back.
In June 1910, Falcon Scott set out from Cardiff, Wales, aboard the Terra Nova, with a crew that included men he’d recruited from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod. A £20,000 grant from the British Admiralty and government, plus the participation of paying members, helped send Falcon Scott and his crew on their way, with much fanfare.
Meanwhile, Amundsen took a different approach. When he and his crew set off aboard the Fram, they made as though they were heading north, to the Arctic. But once out of sight, they promptly went south, reaching the Ross Ice Shelf in mid-January 1911.
Photo Credit; Natiaonal Archives of Norway
Roald Amundsen: A Born Polar Explorer
Born in Borge, Norway, in 1872, Amundsen became interested in polar exploration as a child, when he would sleep with his windows open even in the dead of winter, to condition himself for his future endeavors. He tried his hand at university, but eventually quit when the lure of an arctic whaling expedition proved too strong for him to resist.
In 1899, at 27 years of age, Amundsen wintered aboard the Belgian ship Belgica in Antarctica (the first expedition in history to do so). By 1903, he had set sail for the Northwest Passage aboard his own Gjøa, and by 1906, he had become the first explorer to successfully traverse the famous route.
Although Amundsen had planned to reach the North Pole next, to claim it for his country, he soon learned that Robert Peary and Frederick Cook had beat him to it.
Amundsen wouldn’t give Falcon Scott the chance to do the same at the South Pole.
An Antarctic Explorer’s Secret Mission
Amundsen’s tactic of misleading others for the purpose of his mission served him incredibly well. It enabled him and his crew to focus on what was already an arduous journey without feeling as though others were breathing down their necks. And even though Falcon Scott was most certainly hot on their trail, Amundsen and his team beat the Terra Nova to the South Pole by a full 33 days.
On 14 Dec, 1911, Amundsen claimed the South Pole for Norway.
Crushed by the defeat, Falcon Scott never made it back to England.
The Polar Regions are rich in the history of whalers and adventurers, as well as industrious countries and fascinating individuals. Join Quark Expeditions®’ online community to learn more about the lore and legends of the areas we visit.