Antarctica

By the time you're reading this, I'll be camping in the Dominion Range of the Central Transantarctic Mountains. Much of Antarctica is empty land, with little or no previous interaction by humanity. In contrast where we are this season has been mapped, traveled, and visited for over a hundred years.

Today is the 105th anniversary of fast-and-light alpinism beating a siege-style expedition. I'm referring to Roald Amundsen's dash to the South Pole, which beat Robert Scott's slogging team by 34 days. Weakened and suffering from scurvy, Scott's team eventually died of exposure and malnutrition when storms prevented them from finding a key cache of supplies.

Scott's team had challenges. In Victorian fashion, they chose to man-haul sledges instead of using dog teams, and insisted on collecting rock samples and make climate observations along the route, which required carrying the extra equipment needed. Amundsen, in contrast, had spent the winter cutting down his team's weight to the absolute minimum, including shaving down the wooden sleds, and had only one goal: to reach the Pole. He even factored in the dogs - as the trip progressed and supplies were consumed, the number of dogs needed to continue would drop. Therefore, dogs were periodically eliminated and their bodies fed to the other dogs, further reducing the amount of extra food (and mouths to feed) needed to be brought along. While this wasn't an unheard of survival technique in the arctic, it was criticised in the press.

While generally supportive of Amundsen's success, the English press always mentioned Scott's heroic failure in the next breath, casting a shadow over Amundsen's success. At Amundsen's presentation to the Royal Geographic Society the following year, the society's president proposed a toast, calling out "Three cheers for the dogs!"

Scott's route to the Pole used the Beardmore Glacier to gain the polar plateau from the Ross Ice Shelf, right past where I'm camping in the Dominions. I'm surprised that no one attempted a re-enactment expedition of either team's route, especially as the 100th anniversary came and left us. On a light-hearted note, in 2011 a group of staff from McMurdo Station, located near the start of Scott's expeditions, filmed this "Drunk History: The South Pole" on location and taking up a huge amount of their limited free time. It's classic - and mostly as accurate as a drunk mechanic can be - enjoy!