Ghosts of Scott and Amundsen still haunt the South Pole

Roald Amundsen and team at the South PoleExactly 100 years ago today, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole, effectively ending a race that he had been engaged in for years with his British rival, Robert Falcon Scott. Both men had been eager to become the first to plant his country’s flag at 90ºS, and in doing so, they created one of the most indelible and tragic stories in the history of exploration.

As the first decade of the 20th century came to an end, both Amundsen and Scott had become seasoned polar explorers. The two men had spent years in the remote, cold regions of our planet, and while Scott had remained largely focused on the Antarctic, and reaching the South Pole, his Norwegian counterpart had split his time between both the North and South Polar regions. Along the way, he had also managed to become the first person to traverse the Northwest Passage, where he learned the secrets of arctic survival from the indigenous Inuit tribes. Those lessons would come to serve him well in the Antarctic too and play a large role in his eventual triumph at the South Pole.

In the spring of 1910, with an air of optimism and determination, Scott set off from London for New Zealand aboard his ship the Terra Nova. He held no sense of urgency however, as he believed that he would have the Antarctic to himself, while Amundsen would be content to head north once again aboard his ship the Fram. When he arrived in Melbourne in October of that year, Scott was surprised to find a telegram from the Norwegian awaiting him that simply read: “BEG TO INFORM YOU FRAM PROCEEDING ANTARCTIC–AMUNDSEN.”

The race was officially on, as Amundsen and his crew had set sail in June and were in hot pursuit of Scott and the Terra Nova. Scott didn’t panic however, as he knew that he had a considerable lead on his rival and a good strategy for proceeding south. Those plans were disrupted by a series of mishaps however, which included his ship being trapped in the Antarctic pack ice for 20 days and the onset of particularly bad weather. Those mishaps caused Scott to miss his window of opportunity during the austral summer of 1910, although he was able to establish a series of supply depots which would give him a potentially large advantage the following year, when he and Amundsen would duel head-to-head for the Pole.Robert Falcon Scott and his men at the Pole tooScott’s plan for reaching the South Pole was grounded in tradition and years of British exploration on the continent. He would take a small team of men, and a mixture of both dogs and ponies to help pull the sledges and the carry gear. They would proceed along a route that had been pioneered by his countryman, Ernest Shackleton, who had turned back just shy of the Pole only two years earlier. The team had been outfitted with the best cold weather gear of that era and they had their supply caches in place from the previous year, so there was a general sense of optimism about their chances.

In contrast, Amundsen elected to employ sled dog teams to help carry his squad to their destination. He had become an experienced musher while living with the Inuit tribes, and he knew the value of using that method of transportation in the harsh arctic conditions. He also preferred the use of animal skins over the heavy wool clothing that Scott’s team was equipped with – something he had also adopted from the Inuit. The use of sled dogs and warm furs would prove to be a great advantage for the Norwegian and would ultimately contribute greatly to the success of his expedition.

On October 19, 1911, Amundsen took another calculated risk by launching his expedition along a route that had never been explored before. The team started at a point that was closer to the Pole, but would wander over the uncharted Axel Heiberg Glacier, which could present unknown challenges and barriers to their passage. On November 1, Scott set out from his base camp along his longer, but much more well known, route.

In the weeks that followed, both teams endured brutally cold temperatures, unexpected storms, and days of whiteout conditions. Their support teams dwindled the closer the got to the Pole and numerous dogs and ponies died from exposure. Ultimately though, Amundsen’s strategy proved to be the wiser, as his sled dogs traveled quickly and efficiently over the frozen wastes and his crude looking, but highly effective, furs provided more warmth and protection from the elements.

On December 14, Amundsen, and four companions, arrived at the South Pole at last. Planting the Norwegian flag at 90ºS and establishing a temporary camp at that location, they took little time to celebrate their accomplishment. Amundsen and his men spent three days at the Pole before they started the trek back to their teammates, who were awaiting them at the coast. In the event that the did not make back however, Amundsen left a lone tent and a letter denoting their arrival.

33 days later, on January 17, 1912, Scott and his party reached the Pole as well. They were greeted by the disheartening sight of Amundsen’s flag, tent, and letter. As you can imagine, this was tremendously deflating for the explorer and his companions, who expected glory, but found that they had been beaten by their rivals. That night, a defeated Scott wrote in his journal that all of his “day dreams must go.” His love affair with the Antarctic was clearly over and he lamented his situation, saying “Great God. This is an awful place.”

Amundsen and his men returned to the Fram on January 25 and soon set sail for warmer climes. They arrived back in Melbourne on March 7, and word of his accomplishment soon spread across the globe. Stories of his adventures held readers enthralled, as every major newspaper led with the tale of the conquering of the South Pole at last. Back in the U.K. however, Scott’s countrymen watched and waited for word of his fate.

After discovering that they had come in second in the race to the Pole, the British explorer and his men turned back for their ship and companions as well. They faced a very long and cold 800-mile trek to the coast, and early on they were able to set good pace. But after several weeks, things began to take a turn for the worse. Weather conditions began to deteriorate and their pace slowed to a crawl. Along the way, one of Scott’s five remaining companions took a nasty fall that left him “dull and incapable.” Several days later, that same men would tumble again, this time resulting in his death.

With exhaustion setting in and a dark mood falling over the party, Scott and his remaining men pressed on, even as temperatures plummeted further and whiteout conditions returned. Frostbite and snow blindness became a part of their daily existence, as they stumbled on mile after mile. With their food supplies and fuel dwindling there only hope was in reaching one of their precious supply depots.

On March 16, two months after their arrival at the Pole, another of Scott’s men died. While lying in the tent that evening, the man suddenly stood up, mumbled that he was “going outside and may be awhile.” He disappeaed into the blisteringly cold night and was never seen again. It was another moment of anguish and dispair for the doomed expedition.

After that, Scott and his two remaining companions managed to cover another 20 miles before they were caught in a blizzard that raged outside their tent for ten days straight. Trapped and unable to move forward, the last of their meager supplies ran out, and the three men died in their tent. Scott’s last entry into his journal was recorded on the 29th of March and simply said “For God’s sake look after our people.” They were just 11 miles from what would have been a life-saving supply depot.

Eight long months passed before the final resting place of Scott and his companions was discovered by search parties from the Terra Nova. It would be another three before the world learned of their fate. Back home in the United Kingdom, the public both mourned and celebrated their hero. Scott and his men may have lost the race to the Pole, but in true British fashion, they showed an indomitable spirit, and a never-quit attitude, that stuck with them to the end. Nearly a century after his death, Scott remains an inspirational figure to his countrymen to this day.

Amundsen, who mourned his respected rival as well, would continue a life of adventure and exploration. His travels would take him to other remote places, although the polar regions seemed to always call to him. Eventually he became the first person to visit both the North and South Pole and he pioneered a route through the Northeast Passage as well. The Norwegian explorer died in 1928 when the plane he was flying in went down over the Arctic Ocean. He was leading a rescue mission to save two other downed pilots at the time.

Today, there are many travelers to the Antarctic each year, and some of them still follow in the footsteps of these two great explorers. The Amundsen-Scott Research Station, located at the South Pole, is named in honor of both men, and in their respective home countries, there are numerous statues, monuments, and museum displays dedicated to their legacy. Both men inspired generations of explorers that followed, and the story of their great race is as compelling now as it was a century ago.

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Amundsen’s accomplishment, a special ceremony will be held at the South Pole today. A number of visiting dignitaries will be on hand, including Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who will be joined by a host of explorers and adventure travelers.

I have a feeling the ghosts of Amundsen and Scott just might be there as well.

Gadling goes to Greenland!

So, there’s this huge, ice-covered country at the top of the world–a place that we all fly over and love to overlook. Though perhaps you are more conscientious–perhaps you count yourself among the rare breed of traveler that is drawn to remote, disregarded landmasses where the mighty musk oxen roam. If that is the case–well then, Greenland is definitely the place for you.

I can say that with a straight face because I am blogging from Greenland right here, right now, even as the glowing green northern lights swirl outside my nighttime window. I’ll be up here all week, investigating the country that all the maps tend to chop in half, or else distort wildly. To kickstart our Gadling coverage, I’m sending you this cheerful message of hope LIVE (nearly) from Greenland and–get ready for this: in Greenlandic! That’s right. Good travelers know that learning a few words in the local tongue is always the best way to blend in with the locals, as is wearing national dress. For example, this reindeer-skin parka is de rigueur in much of Greenland (although quite inappropriate for the warmer month of September).

The local Inuit populace call their country Kalaallit Nunaat, which simply means “Land of the People”. Now right away, I can tell you this is false advertising because honestly, there are not that many people in Greenland at all. This wee video clip was filmed in a village boasting exactly 50 inhabitants, all of which you can hear milling about in the background. In point of fact, Greenland is mostly empty, which is why it’s so awesome.

*The author traveled to Greenland as a guest of Branding Greenland. This does not mean he is confederate to a sinister public relations plot. He is merely blogging from and about Greenland. Even so, the opinions expressed do not reflect those of the Greenlandic government, Gadling, or AOL.

Could global warming solve Greenland’s problems?

Melting icecaps could turn Manhattan‘s streets and avenues into canals someday, but why focus on the negative? This could be a real perk for the 57,000 people who live in Greenland. For now, the Inuit are stuck hunting seals and freezing most of the year. As the permafrost recedes, though — thoroughly screwing up their environment — the locals are finding oil and mineral resources. So, the hunting trips are getting more dangerous, literally putting the Inuit on thin ice at times, but at least they can make some real cash!

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, more than 18 billion barrels of oil and natural gas can be found under the sea between Greenland and Canada, with another 31 billion barrels off the coast of Greenland itself. The same situation exists in the North Sea, and Norway hasn’t been shy about tapping into it to make a fortune.

For Greenland, which is at best quasi-independent from Denmark, finding some natural resources could help it sever the $680 million-a-year umbilical cord that connects it to the mother ship. But, we’re not there yet. So far, no oil has been found in the waters around Greenland, and the optimists don’t see that happening for at least another 10 years. It will take time to develop the infrastructure, but that’s only part of the problem.

Greenland still has to pierce the ice.

Eighty percent of Greenland is covered by a sheet of ice that can be up to 2 miles thick, effectively preventing oil and mineral exploration. This is where global warming comes into the equation. As we pump out our fossil fuels and change the climate, we’re helping Greenland melt that slick coat of ice and access its key to financial independence. Again, the heavily populated coastal cities of the United States may get screwed, but we’ll be able to access oil and minerals in Greenland.

In all seriousness, Greenland has struggled with economic growth. Mostly hunters and fishermen, they lack the skilled resources needed to kickstart just about any operation. Alcoa is thinking about building an aluminum smelter and two hydroelectric plants, but it would need to import construction workers from Europe or China, because Greenland lacks the appropriate labor. Engineers would have to come from other countries, as well.

Further, the small population is continually battered by a variety of social problems. It has the world’s highest suicide rate, according to the World Health Organization (100 per 100,000 residents). Residents over 15 years of age drink an average of 12 quarts of pure alcohol a year — a bar in Tasiilaq now sells only beer, since liquor was banned. The ban has helped, according to local officials.

Is global warming really the answer? That might be a stretch, but something has to give.

Montreal Musts, to do: Sample the art galleries

Montreal has an abundance of art galleries and museums, stretching from one side of the city to the other. But, if you’re looking for one spot where you can surround yourself with more galleries than you could conceivably enjoy in a day, head down to Old Montreal and explore la rue Saint-Paul Ouest. From la rue McGill to boulevard Saint-Laurent, it’s packed with galleries large and small, including some that are artist-owned and others that represent a broad spectrum of creative minds.

The first gallery that caught my eye was Galerie Elca London. Unique on St. Paul Ouest, Elca London focuses on art created by the Inuit. Sculpture and flat art are available and come to the gallery based on their availability. Unlike most, it buys the art rather than take it on consignment, and there are no entangling relationships that limit what it can carry. So, if it measures up to the standard, it lands on the shelves. Of course, the gallery’s theme is evident from the inventory – there are a lot of polar bears and native masks. You’re more likely to pick up a piece or two for your collection, I suspect, than make this the cornerstone of your home décor.

Atelier Art Bressan is a single-artist gallery, featuring the works of Pauline Bressan, though a few pieces by her daughter (also a talented artist) have found their way onto the walls. Bressan’s style is decidedly abstract, and her influences vary. One piece, for example, comes from the effect a Senegalese poem had on her. The artist has shown her work around the world – in France, the United States and many other countries – which supports the quality of her creations in terms of investment potential (something to keep in mind as the art market starts to work its way up from the floor).

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One of my favorite art spots in Montreal is still Les Passants du Sans Soucy Auberge. A boutique hotel, its lobby includes a small art gallery, mostly featuring the works of Jacques Clement. Clement’s work includes more landscapes than it did last year (my first visit to this lobby gallery), but he still has enough work on the human body (which has a Francis Bacon style to it) to keep me excited.

Further up Saint-Paul Ouest, you’ll find several art galleries that are similar to what you’d find in New York: multiple artists are featured, and the work is stylish, modern and exciting. Galerie Le Luxart tops the list for me in this group, with a labyrinthine gallery featuring a variety of contemporary techniques that will definitely force you to stop and look for a while. Galerie Saint Dizier and Galerie le Royer are of the same ilk.

Of course, if street art is more your style, you’ll find murals painted on buildings throughout the city. For the best concentration, head up to the trendy Plateau neighborhood, where you’ll find carefully crafted graffiti art in many of the alleys.

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Disclosure: Tourisme-Montreal picked up the tab for this trip, but my views are my own.

Last Chance to Get to Greenland on the Cheap

Okay, it’s not at the top of many people’s travel lists. Who thinks about Greeland? Well, I do, and I’ve wanted to go for a while. Hurtigruten is pretty sympathetic to this fact and has a new deal that makes it pretty easy to get it to one of the most remote destinations in the world … but, you have to act fast. This deal expires on August 31, 2009, and space is limited.

Hurtigruten’s new ship, MS Fram, has 318 berths and takes its guests around a seascape that hasn’t changed in 5,000 years. On land, much is frozen in time as well, with Hurtigruten’s passengers able to move among villages that have seen little of what the rest of the world would call progress. Eqip Sermia Glacier, icebergs in Disko Bay and Jakobshavn Ice Fjord (a World Heritage Site) are on the itinerary, as well as guided walking tours of Inuit towns, such as Qeqertarsuaq, Ukkusissat, Itelleq and Ilulissat.

Curious about the deals? Check them out after the jump.

“Three Countries – One Deluxe Ship” – a At a savings of 64 percent to 67 percent ($8,667 to $13,117 in savings), the voyage starts in a European country and ends in New York (by way of Canada). Along the way, you’ll explore one of the world’s most remote destinations (Greenland), and guests on the 18-day voyage aboard the MS Fram are treated to a unique historical perspective as they are joined by Benedicte Ingstad, the daughter of the famed explorer Helge Ingstad. Ms. Ingstad joined her parents, Anne Stine and Helge, on their expedition to L’anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland in 1960, where they discovered and excavated what is believed to be the “Vinland settlement” of Leif Eriksson from around AD 1000 – 500 years before the Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of North America. Other highlights include visits to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: L’anse Aux Meadows, Red Bay (provisional World Heritage list) and Gros Morne National Park. The September 22 departure ranges from $4,249 to $7,249 and include flights from New York/Newark, one night hotel in Copenhagen.

“25% Off + 2 Hotel Nights” – This deal results in a cost savings of $1,990 to $5,745 per person and comes with a pretty hefty perk: two free hotel nights in Copenhagen, Denmark. Guests will have a chance to poke around the medieval city. And, the stop in Denmark stretches the 8- and 15-day Greenland sailings into 10- and 17-day vacations. The reduced prices for the four August and September departures are $4,597 to $15,862 per person.

“Go Solo And Save” – Interested in checking out Greenland on your own? Solo travelers can pay the same rate as if they were sharing a cabin, a savings that can reach 47 percent ($3,065 to $19,034 off brochure prices). Single passenger prices are $6,129 to $21,149.